COLUMBIA — One light year is about six trillion miles. Or, the distance between the secondary South Carolina has in spring practice and the one the Gamecocks hope to put on the field in the season opener Sept. 1.
At least that’s according to head coach Will Muschamp, who said his secondary was “light years away” following last weekend’s scrimmage. If there’s been one common theme in Muschamp’s first spring practice at USC, it’s been concern over the defensive backs, a unit that was inconsistent at best in last season’s 3-9 campaign.
“We’ve just got to focus on the details,” defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson said after Tuesday’s practice. “… We need to be tackling better. We need to get off blocks. We need those different things to make us successful. But it’s just the details. If we take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
With Muschamp working with the safeties and Robinson overseeing the cornerbacks, the secondary is perhaps more scrutinized than any other unit on the field. “We’re a long way from being good as a secondary. That’s just kind of the way it is,” Muschamp told reporters earlier this week. According to Robinson, players are hearing the same message.
“Ain’t nothing we tell you guys (in the media) we don’t tell them,” he said. “They’ve heard that every single day. That’s one thing we tell our kids, ‘Just know who you are. Right now, this is the standard that we have for you guys, and you ain’t meeting it.’
“But we’ve got to continue to work on that every day. We’re not down on the guys. It ain’t anything like that. They understand what they have to do to get better. They watch the same tape we watch. We correct it every single day, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
The Gamecocks have some experience at corner with returning starters Chris Lammons and Rico McWilliams, and under Muschamp a focus has been working on press-man coverage. Former defensive coordinator Jon Hoke had his corners play several yards off receivers, a tactic that often allowed easy underneath completions and generated plenty of criticism from fans.
“They hadn’t been much of a press team,” Robinson said. “… You come out to practice, you ain’t going to see a lot of different drills that we do with the corners. It’s the same exact drills every single day and understanding that they have to be able to play bump-and-run in critical situations.”
Safeties remain a work in progress, particularly with D.J. Smith out with a torn thumb ligament. Muschamp, like Robinson a former college defensive back, wants “guys with a little more attitude” in his secondary, and toward that end the Gamecocks have ramped up the physicality in practice.
“Practice is set up for us to be physical,” Robinson said. “The way we’re doing things right now, we’ve just got to continue to do that and we’ve got to embrace it. That’s the one thing we talk to our guys about — embrace it. Embracing the physicality of practice, embracing the physicality of the practice schedule.”
USC will add one more defensive back in preseason camp when corner Jamarcus King, an honorable mention All-American in junior college, joins the roster. But beyond that, the group Robinson has now is the unit the Gamecocks will take to Vanderbilt for the season opener.
“We are getting better,” Robinson said. “But we’re also, like coach Muschamp said, light years away from where we need to be Sept. 1.”