January 4, 2008

Look Back, Look Ahead: Secondary

As the calendar flipped over into 2008, we have a good idea regarding the identity of three of the four starters in the secondary for South Carolina next season.

The safety position appears to be in solid hands with both starters returning, while at least one cornerback spot could be the subject of an intense battle during spring practice, which concludes with the Garnet and Black game on April 19.

Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart emerged this season as one of the top safety combinations in the SEC. Despite missing the opening game of the season for multiple reasons and playing only sparingly in the second, the fearless Cook led the Gamecocks in tackles with 92 from his strong safety spot.

Cook also contributed four sacks, second on the club behind defensive end Eric Norwood, three pass interceptions, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Starting with the S.C. State game when he finally entered the lineup on a full-time basis, Cook averaged 8.9 tackles per game for the rest of the season.

It was enough to earn the native of Riviera Beach, Fla. a spot on the All-SEC Second team Defense.

Stewart became a household name among USC fans with a spectacular showing in the Georgia game, and remained the starter at the free safety spot for most of the rest of the season.

When spring practice opens in late March, Cook and Stewart will be heavy favorites to retain their starting jobs.

Stewart, who hails from Huntsville, Ala., was third on the team in tackles with 68, one behind Norwood in second, to go along with a team-high seven pass breakups and two recovered fumbles. Stewart was one of four sophomores to lead the Gamecocks in tackles.

At the all-important cornerback position, Captain Munnerlyn enjoyed a solid campaign with 47 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups before suffering a foot injury in the Arkansas game that limited him to one snap in the Florida game and prevented him from suiting up against Clemson.

Despite missing nearly two full games, the rising junior from Mobile, Ala. finished seventh on the Gamecocks in tackles. The league coaches were so impressed they voted him onto the 2007 All-SEC First Team Defense.

The multi-dimensional Munnerlyn also served as USC's primary punt returner, averaging 9.2 yards in 18 returns.

His presence was sorely missed in the loss to the hated Tigers, particularly on the final drive when Clemson escaped a third-and-18 situation with a pair of clutch plays against USC's depleted secondary.

While Munnerlyn has a solid grasp on one of the cornerback spots, the other is more up in the air. Carlos Thomas started seven games at cornerback in 2007 and finished with 17 tackles and six pass breakups.

Addison Williams served mainly as a reserve during his true freshmen campaign in 2007, but started the Clemson game when Munnerlyn was unavailable because of his injury.

Williams had eight tackles and one pass breakup this past season and will try to become a full-time starter in the spring. It was apparent secondary coach Ron Cooper's confidence in the Atlanta, Ga. native grew as the season progressed, as his number of snaps escalated sharply from the beginning of the season to the end.

Stoney Woodson, the final member of the secondary that signed with the previous staff, started three games as a junior in 2007, collecting 26 tackles and one interception with four pass breakups.

He played a season high 76 snaps against Florida while helping to fill in for the injured Munnerlyn.

Woodson, one of the fastest players on the team, has started 13 games in his career with four interceptions. Nine of those starts came in 2006 when he had 47 tackles, third highest on the team.

Woodson and Thomas will be the lone seniors in the secondary next season.

Jamire Williams, who signed with USC last February after starring at First Coast High School in Jacksonville, will try to impress the USC coaches after redshirting in 2007.

Chris Hail knocked heads with the coaching staff on at least one occasion during the 2007 season and will try to redeem himself during spring practice. He has eight tackles this past season.

Reinforcements will arrive on campus in January with the enrollments of Antonio Allen, Akeem Auguste and Charles Whitlock into the university.

Allen and Auguste both signed with USC last February before poor grades forced them to attend prep school for a semester. Allen was a high school teammate of USC wide receiver Dion Lecorn (27 receptions in 2007) at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla.

A year ago, Auguste was a highly regarded four-star recruit out of Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood, Fla. Rivals.com rated him as the 14th best cornerback in the nation during the last recruiting cycle.

Whitlock graduated early from Chester High School as one of the top 10 players in the Palmetto State. He represented South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl and has impressed observers at the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando, Fla. this week.

Whitlock is certainly talented enough to compete for playing time in spring practice at either of the cornerback positions.

PROJECTED SPRING 2008 DEFENSIVE BACKS ROSTER:
Antonio Allen*
Akeem Auguste*
Emanuel Cook (SS)
Chris Hail (CB)
Captain Munnerlyn (CB)
Darian Stewart (FS)
Carlos Thomas (CB)
Charles Whitlock*
Addison Williams (CB)
Jamire Williams (CB)
Stoney Woodson (CB/S)

* Planning to enroll at USC in January














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