The Daily Gamecock

Defensive backfield returns key starters

Hampton, Legree will lead South Carolina’s cornerbacks in 2013

South Carolina’s depth chart at the cornerback position this year can be best described as top-heavy.

Redshirt senior Jimmy Legree and redshirt junior Victor Hampton, the projected starters at defensive back in secondary coach Grady Brown’s defensive backfield, combined to start 20 games last season.

With no starting experience in the rest of USC’s crop of corners, Brown’s challenge in 2013 will be to find the best complements to his two returning starters.

“We need four corners, definitely,” Brown said. “We need as many as we can get, but we definitely need four.”

Hampton’s 12 starts last year were the most by a Gamecock cornerback in 2012, and Legree made the most of his eight starting opportunities, tying for a team best with three interceptions last season.

While Hampton admits that he entered his career at South Carolina with a decidedly negative attitude, he has felt himself mature into the positive influence he’ll need to be this year.

“You get more confident. You become a leader,” Hampton said. “People look at you to do things the right way. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to lead by example.”

Outside of Hampton and Legree, there is one other cornerback who has earned consensus praise from his coaches and teammates throughout preseason camp.

Brown and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward have made it clear that redshirt sophomore Ahmad Christian has solidified his role as the tertiary corner entering the year.

“Ahmad is definitely third,” Ward said. “Ahmad could go in either side. If Vic went down or Jimmy went down, Ahmad would be the first guy in the game.”

While he didn’t receive any starts in 2012, Christian did see some limited playing time in 12 of South Carolina’s contests last season, recording eight tackles on the year.

Freshman Jamari Smith and redshirt freshman Rico McWilliams will continue to battle for the distinction of fourth option at cornerback, and Brown said he is confident the competition for playing time at corner is indicative of his group’s strength.

“I believe it represents guys putting in work over the summer, trying to become better players, watching film and everything,” Brown said. “It’s a long season, you know? We need all those guys to be the best players they can be.”

Legree, one of only five seniors on South Carolina’s roster this year, shares his coach’s comfort with the depth of his position group this fall.

“I have no problem with anything, really,” Legree said. “Whoever (the coaches) put starting, they can trust them and know that they’ll make the plays they’re supposed to make.”

South Carolina’s passing defense ranked No. 21 in the country last season, a distinction that will be challenged by three teams the Gamecocks will face this year. Arkansas, Tennessee and Clemson each had top-25 passing defenses last year.

Brown will look to make up for inexperience with talent and potential this year, and he said his cornerbacks will simply have to exert their will to win over their opponents in order to be successful.

“We just have to compete,” Brown said. “It’s about trying to out-compete the guy that you’re playing against and trying to be tougher than they are.”