COLUMBIA — It must be time for South Carolina football — another defensive back is injured.
Coach Will Muschamp officially kicked off the season last week by announcing that redshirt sophomore Jaylin Dickerson is out for the year, his body betraying him for a second time in three seasons. This time it’s an unusual growth on his femur which caused problems with the muscles in his hip, which combined with the shoulder nerve that ended his 2017 season, are two injuries Muschamp hasn’t seen in 20 years of coaching.
It’s nothing against Dickerson. Stuff happens.
Yet it makes a lean spot going into the season — and a problematic spot last year due to injury — leaner and a bigger problem. The Gamecocks like who they have on the back end of the defense but they may have to play musical safeties as much as they did in 2018.
“Thin is probably the best word for the secondary,” Muschamp said. “But we’re really talented back there.”
USC rotated what it could last year, moving around All-SEC freshman Jaycee Horn to four of the five spots and working in fellow rookies Israel Mukuamu and R.J. Roderick. That helped take the load off veterans Keisean Nixon, Steven Montac and Rashad Fenton, and cover the losses of J.T. Ibe (after four games), Javon Charleston (seven), Jamyest Williams (eight) and Nick Harvey (four).
The three veterans are gone: Harvey and Charleston transferred; Williams is coming off his second shoulder surgery in as many years; and Horn, Mukuamu and Roderick gained valuable experience last year and will be counted on this season, but they’re still sophomores.
The oldest scholarship players there are fifth-year senior Ibe, a former transfer from Rice; redshirt junior Jamel Cook, a transfer from Southern Cal who sat out last year; and Williams, a junior who’s logged the most minutes of the eldest but has not finished the last two seasons due to the injury. Then there are the three sophomores and a promising freshman class.
Muschamp signed four highly regarded defensive back prospects. Shilo Sanders, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, comes in with the most notoriety, but all (Jammie Robinson, Cam Smith, Johnny Dixon) will play. Running back A.J. Turner, keeping with how he finished last year, will also play some cornerback.
Kevin Pickens, Jordan Villafane and Dawson Hoffman can also fill in, and don’t underestimate the potential of a walk-on having to play important snaps. With so many injuries last year, Beaufort’s Jason Senn was pressed into service for the final three games after he had been on the team since 2015 and had yet to play a down.
“We tell those guys in the recruiting process, ‘You’re going to play,’ ” Muschamp said. “Their role will be defined in training camp about how well they catch on, how well they play at a high tempo, and how productive they can be as players, but based on all the information I’m hearing, I’m very excited about them all.”
Excitement’s good. Talent is good. So much youth can be a negative, but it can also turn into a positive if those players show what they can be.
Or if staying injury-free allows them to be.