To help get you through college football’s slow days of late June and early July -- before conference media days launch the preseason festivities -- we’re counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. One Gamecock and one Tiger every day, so you can spend part of your summer studying the players who will make a difference for your team come autumn.
Position: Defensive end
Height/weight: 6-3, 225
Hometown: Adairsville, Ga.
Last year: Just 20 tackles, but an eye-popping eight sacks as a reserve – including a 3-sack performance against North Carolina State
CLEMSON’S NO. 4 – VIC BEASLEY, JUNIOR, DEFENSIVE END
Last year: Started for the first time and had 40 tackles, including three for loss and a sack, to go with one interception and six pass breakups.
The talk of the spring, specifically on defense, Vic Beasley positioned his name to be heard when all those television personalities and media outlets rattle off their favorite breakout candidates – you know, names you haven’t heard who you’ll know very soon based on their play. (So, ahem, let this publication beat those others to the punch.) While Clemson coaches reeled in the excitement from bubbling over, Beasley clearly has great promise, not to mention opportunity to significantly improve this defense. The trick will be finding an ideal playing weight (230? 250?) for Beasley, looking for the ideal blend of power and quickness.
Corey Crawford was supposed to be that fly in the ointment, that monkey in the wrench of opposing offenses in the past. And Crawford indeed will still have that chance. In a way, because Crawford holds name recognition, he’ll probably still field the most attention from offensive lines … until Beasley forces them to focus primarily on him. With a marquee matchup to open the season, why not start from day one to make the nation take note of the Tigers, and not just because of offense?
USC’s NO. 4 VICTOR HAMPTON, JUNIOR, CORNERBACK
Can Hampton be the next elite USC cornerback? He is entering his second season as the starting boundary cornerback, a role previously occupied by Stephon Gilmore, who left early for the NFL after the 2011 season and was drafted No. 10 overall.
Boundary corner requires more physical play and one-on-one coverage (in tighter spaces) than field corner. In short, the boundary corner must lock down elite receivers.
Hampton has the skills and speed to do it. His low center of gravity lets him cut quickly, said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. He is able to not just run fast, but reach his top speed quickly, said defensive backs coach Grady Brown.
Hampton had maturity and discipline issues earlier in his career, but he said he is past those now. He understands how important this year is for him, to prove his dependability (both on and off the field) to NFL teams.
After redshirting in 2010, he had one interception in each of the next two seasons, and broke up six passes in 2012 – twice as many as he broke up in 2011. Brown said Hampton left some plays on the field last season, and his numbers reflect that.
If he can take advantage of the balls that are thrown his way this season, since opponents are more likely to target Jimmy Legree, then Hampton will go a long way toward proving himself as an elite corner, and continuing USC’s recent pass defense success. The Gamecocks ranked No. 21 nationally in 2012 and No. 2 in 2011, after ranking No. 97 in 2010.
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