August 5, 2010

Defense Welcomes Offense to Practice

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Through two days of fall camp, South Carolina's defense has consistently topped South Carolina's offense.

That's OK.

It's supposed to.

"I feel like we're more experienced than the offense is and we're trying to be a lot more aggressive with them," junior free safety Akeem Auguste said. "Trying to get that softened mentality that people think that we have on offense -- we really don't. I really think our guys are very tough. We're just here to make everybody better."

Even without record-setting linebacker Eric Norwood, the Gamecocks' defense is supposed to be the backbone of the team this year. The offense is nowhere near far behind, but with a few new faces at slot receiver, tailback and on the line, it will take some time to adjust.

The defense feels there will be no ease-them-in mentality. Might as well pop 'em in the mouth now and see how they react.

That's why Auguste covered D.L. Moore on a swing pass, tracked him to the sideline, grabbed two handfuls of his jersey and spun him around and down, raising both hands after it became apparent Moore was on his way to the grass. That got a rebuke from his coaches, but Moore didn't take it personally.

"We're ready to compete," Auguste said. "That's all you're basically here to do. Try to make our receivers better, so when they go up against some of the corners in the SEC on Saturdays, they perform."

Auguste is one of eight juniors or seniors projected to start on defense, and two of the remaining three (Stephon Gilmore and Devin Taylor) earned freshman All-SEC honors last year, with Gilmore a freshman All-American and Taylor on that same list as a third-teamer. Ellis Johnson's group is deep, talented and should be as vicious on the ball-carrier as it was last year, if not more so.

It's why the defense, still wielding "The Goon Squad" moniker, feels it is its responsibility to really work over the offense during the precious few days before the games hit. It's a big brother-type role, designed to get the offensive newbies to quickly get up to speed.

"We're quicker, we're older, making quicker decisions," Johnson said on Wednesday. "Probably a little more physically stronger, better conditioned, maturity, working in the offseason programs and things. We're playing quicker, maybe got a little stronger and faster a little bit."

That seems to be the case, even for a guy like Auguste, who has switched from cornerback to free safety. That move allowed senior Chris Culliver to switch to boundary corner, where he'll have more of a chance to track down ball-carriers and protect his surgically repaired shoulders, while Auguste becomes the last line of defense.

"I played it my freshman year so it really wasn't no big move for me," Auguste said. "I understand what I got to do in my role on the team. I'm trying to win, trying to win the SEC, that's what they need me to play and that's what I'm going to play."

Until Sept. 2 rolls around, Auguste will keep laying out the hits on his teammates because they're the only ones around. But he'll be sure to save some for the game.

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora has already made a few headlines by saying he and his Golden Eagles will come to Williams-Brice Stadium and not act surprised when they win. The Gamecocks heard.

"I heard a couple of things," Auguste said. "I'm really not going to comment on that. We'll see you on Thursday, that's all I got to say."

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