Will Muschamp has been asked multiple times about his starting cornerback tandem, Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, saying they have the potential to be the best cornerback tandem in not just in the SEC, but all of college football.
South Carolina’s head coach doesn’t mind his players having that confidence.
He obviously wants that projection to become reality, and he knows his two true sophomores are talented enough to do it.
But for now, with fall camp set to begin on Aug. 2, it’s all talk. While five players are listed as projected starters, there are more question marks at the position than answers.
It’s a position that has talented players, but also one that’s inexperienced. The Gamecocks have 10 healthy scholarship players at the position, including three true sophomores, four true freshmen and three other players who played sparingly, or not at all, last season.
“We are a little thin in the secondary, but we are really talented back there,” South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said during spring practice. “I like the guys we’ve got.
“You look at Jaycee Horn, you look at Israel, you look at R.J. Roderick, you look at some of those, Jamyest Williams, those guys are talented players who know our system and have played a lot of football and played very well. I’m excited about those guys.”
SC’s secondary projects to have three true sophomore starters — Horn, Mukuamu and safety/nickelback R.J. Roderick, who played mostly quarterback in high school and didn’t factor into the Gamecocks’ plans in the secondary until mid-season last year — and a senior, J.T. Ibe, who started the only four games he played in last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Senior A.J. Turner, who has primarily played running back during his SC career, enters fall camp listed as the primary backup behind Horn and Mukuamu. Jamyest Williams comes into camp having missed five games last season with a season-ending shoulder surgery.
In 11 games (10 starts), Horn had 45 tackles, two sacks and eight pass breakups last season en route to being named to the Coaches’ SEC All-Freshmen Team.
“[Facing them in practice] definitely makes me better as a quarterback. It’s hard, it’s challenging. It makes you play differently,” Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley said. “You can’t just throw a fade up to a guy because they are going to go get it more than the receiver. You have to be strategic in how you throw.
“Jaycee and Israel are just really two great corners.”
In 13 games (two starts), Mukuamu had 17 tackles, one interception, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.
“His most talented attribute is work ethic. The guys works extremely hard. He attacks the offseason program the right way,” Muschamp said. “I have a high expectations for him because I know he has high expectations for himself. And I think athletically, he’s what you want. He’s got good length and he’s got good top-end speed to finish. But his most talented attribute, in my opinion, is his competitive edge.”
Safety will be a position the Gamecocks need to find stability during fall camp, especially since the team has already lost Jaylin Dickerson to a season-ending hip injury.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation, but he’s going to be fine and he’s going to have an opportunity to get back there in the spring,” Muschamp said.
That leaves the Gamecocks with Ibe, Cook (who’s coming off a season in which he sat out after transferring from the University of Southern California) and Williams.
“Jamel made some strides in the offseason and came along in the spring,” Muschamp said. “His biggest challenge was his consistency. … I really challenging him on that, but I think he’s in better shape when he first came in. I think that was a huge challenge for him. Obviously, a guy we are counting on.”
“He’s definitely shown a different mindset,” Bentley said. “I think J.T. Ibe had kind of been there to help him along with that. J.T. is one of the most structured, routine guys that there is on our team and I think Cook has learned from that and started to want to be like J.T. in that aspect.”
South Carolina also has a talented incoming freshmen class that features Cam Smith, John Dixon, Shilo Sanders and Jammie Robinson.
“We told those guys in the recruiting process, you are going to play,” Muschamp said. “Their role will be defined in training camp about how well they catch on and how well they play at a high tempo and how productive they can be as players.
“Based on all the information I am hearing, I am very excited about them all.”
Said Bentley, “They’re super confident. That’s one thing that kind of jumps out at you. They are not backing down from anyone. I think I have heard it from all of them multiple times, ‘Hey man, throw it at me.’ For a DB to want it to get thrown at them shows a lot about them.
“All four of them are all confident and just really a great group of guys who are going to be special.”