South Carolina has built a tradition over the last 25 years of developing high-level talent in the defensive backfield. From Terry Cousins to Sheldon Brown and Andre Goodman in the late 90s and early 2000s all the way to Jaycee Horn being an NFL first-round pick in 2021 and Jaylan Foster being an All-American last fall. In between, NFL Pro Bowlers Jonathon Joseph, Dunta Robinson, Darian Stewart, Captain Munnerlyn, and Stephon Gilmore among others have all roam the secondary in garnet and black. This season looks to be no different, as the 2022 Gamecocks corner tandem is among the best in the nation.
Gamecocks Corner Tandem Among Nation’s Best
Cam Smith has grabbed the headlines during the offseason, getting loads of hype for the upcoming season and some 1st round NFL draft buzz for next spring. The other half of the Gamecocks’ corner tandem is Darius Rush, and he has proven he is not one to be overlooked. South Carolina led the SEC in the fewest passing yards allowed last season. They will look to repeat that feat in 2022. Despite being thought of as a weakness due to a lack of proven depth, the secondary outperformed expectations in 2021. That unit should be improved even more in year two of Clayton White’s defense. They will also have better overall talent and depth to utilize.
Caught on Cam
Smith’s career in Columbia started off a bit rocky. He was a highly touted recruit but did not make the best first impression as a Gamecock. He only played sparingly in two contests in 2019 and ultimately redshirted. Then he had a poor game coupled with some bad luck in the season opener of 2020. In what was a bad campaign from top to bottom at South Carolina, Smith took his lumps as he learned on the job.
Those long nights paid off last fall, as the Blythewood native stepped his game up as a sophomore. He ended the season as an All-SEC cornerback, and even got an Honorable Mention All-American nod from Pro Football Focus. Smith finished 2022 with 41 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 passes defended. He can lock down his side of the field with elite cover skills. He also brings physicality and attitude to the secondary. This season starts with high expectations, as Smith has been named a preseason 1st team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation.
The road to starting corner was much longer and filled with detours for Darius Rush. He was recruited as a wide receiver, and barely saw the field his first few years in Columbia. In the new age of transfers, Rush was a bit of an anomaly, sticking around and fighting for his chance to show what he can do. That opportunity came last season when he earned one of the starting corner spots. As he learned the nuances of his new position, the Kingstree, SC native used his athleticism and length mask where his techniques fell short. Now he has a season and off-season learning and growing as a corner.
Combining his natural ability with more knowledge and comfort playing in the secondary could lead to Rush having a huge season. His deflection of a deep pass against North Carolina in the Belk Bowl showed his range and recovery skills while in coverage. He had eight passes defended, a sack, and an interception as a junior. At 6’2″ with long arms and excellent speed, Rush has all the qualities you could want in an elite corner.
The Gamecocks’ corner tandem will allow them to be aggressive on defense. A strong trust in the backend coverage will let Clayton White be more exotic and a little riskier in his use of blitzes. However, as the college game has changed to a more spread out and wide-open style, depth at corner is a huge necessity. Marcellas Dial and David Spaulding are the two most experienced names providing that depth in the secondary. Both played significant roles in 2021, and that should be the case again this season. Dominic Fortune could also factor into the rotation. There is also a group of freshman defensive backs that could see playing time this fall. Most of those are more suited as options at safety, but there could be some crossover work.