With South Carolina's best cornerback sidelined with a foot injury, another one temporarily in the doghouse and a third hobbled by a pulled hamstring, cornerbacks coach Shane Beamer enjoyed the opportunity this spring to enhance the development of some of USC's younger players.
He believes the extra attention paid off.
"We were able to get the young guys some work, which was good," Beamer said. "We improved as a group overall and had some guys really show some things. Overall, I thought it was a productive spring. Right now, we've got five guys we can count on that could be starters."
Most of the younger players, particularly true freshman Akeem Auguste, took advantage of their opportunity to impress the USC coaches.
Auguste enrolled at USC in January after spending a semester at Fork Union Military Academy. He stepped in right away and looked like a veteran with his poise.
"He is very talented player, but we knew that coming in," Beamer said. "He definitely did some good things. He has a big future. But he also has some work to do. He made some spectacular plays that stand out in a lot of people's minds. But, as I told Akeem, everyone is going to be patting him on the back this summer. But he hasn't played in a college football game in his life. So, he has a long ways to go. But he showed this spring he's someone we can count on."
Auguste was a highly regarded four-star prospect out of Hollywood, Fla. when he initially signed with USC in February of 2007. While the initial reviews are good, Beamer points out his journey has just begun.
"A lot of things come natural for him," Beamer said. "For some guys, the position makes sense, and that's the way it is for Akeem. I love his attitude. He's very confident. I love his swagger. He feels like he's the best. You have to have that confidence if you're going to play corner.
"He just needs to learn to play full speed all the time and run to the football all the time. He needs to get a little stronger, too. He's not very heavy right now. He needs to have a great summer in the weight room and get stronger so he can be a factor in the run game too and physically matchup with some of the big receivers in the SEC."
Two other emerging cornerbacks - sophomore Addison Williams and redshirt freshman Jamire Williams - also made significant progress, Beamer said.
Addison Williams appeared in 10 games last year with one start against Clemson when he filled in for Munnerlyn. The Atlanta native enjoyed a stellar spring, Beamer said.
"Addison probably had the best spring of any corner we have," Beamer said. "He was consistent, day-in and day-out. I can't think of a bad day he had at the position. He worked to get better. From a mental standpoint, he understands what's going on with the entire defense."
Williams, whom Beamer said was 'thrown into the fire,' last season, overcomes his lack of size (5-foot-8, 181 pounds) with football smarts and aggressive play.
"He's not the ideal size you want in a corner, but he makes up for that with smarts and technique," Beamer said. "He's a very heady players. We're very pleased with the spring he had. With Captain out, he got most of the reps with the first group at boundary corner. He did a great job with it. He could very easily be a starter for us against N.C. State."
Jamire Williams, a former standout at First Coast High School in Jacksonville, the same school that produced LB Shaq Wilson, will likely see his first collegiate action this fall in the nickel and dime packages.
Right now, his blazing speed (his 40 time of 4.34 this winter was the fastest on the team) is his biggest attribute. But it can also present problems, Beamer said.
"He's so fast that sometimes he plays too fast," Beamer said. "He had a couple of plays in the spring game where he was in such a hurry and he was so much faster than the receiver that he got himself out of position. He just needs for the game to slow down a bit for him and relax. That will come from harnessing his speed and getting a little more fluid out there."
Once Williams is able to overcome the injury bug - he was hampered by a pulled hamstring this spring after fighting through injuries last fall - Beamer believes he'll start contributing on the field.
"Jamire has all the intangibles," Beamer said. "He has the size (5-foot-10, 186 pounds), he can run and he's not afraid to hit you. Jamire just needs to stay healthy. His hamstring injury this spring really reduced the amount of time he was able to spend on the field. If he stays healthy, Jamire is a guy we feel we can count on."
Williams will try to contribute as a special teams performer this fall, as well.
Senior Carlos Thomas, who started seven games last season with 17 tackles, missed the first couple of workouts after he was indefinitely suspended from the football program by head coach Steve Spurrier for behavioral issues. Thomas returned, but found himself battling Auguste for the starting job opposite Munnerlyn.
Thomas didn't record an interception in 2007 but he was credited with six pass breakups. His 20 career starts are the fourth-highest total on the team heading into the 2008 season.
"Carlos has all the tools and should be a heckuva player for us this season," Beamer said. "He's a senior. He needs to be a leader for us. He has everything you look for in a corner from a size and speed standpoint. Carlos is another guys that needs to be consistent all the time. He can't be an up and down player. He has to do what's right on and off the field. But he's on the right track and we're expecting big things from him this fall."
Thomas had a solid start to the winter conditioning program before a 'mishap' resulted in a suspension being handed down by Spurrier.
"In January and February, he had two good months from both a football and academic standpoint," Beamer said. "He was doing what was expected of him. Then he had one false step, one mishap that got him into trouble. But he learned from it and came back and had a productive spring after the suspension."
Stoney Woodson, another senior, also missed some time this spring with a hamstring injury. But once he stepped on the field for the second half of spring practice, his experience (35 career games, four interceptions) showed.
"He needs to be a leader for us," Williams said. "I really felt like he came on the final week of spring practice. He had a good spring game. He really finished on a high note. He's been in a lot of battles and he knows how to play every position. He's a very valuable player for us."
Munnerlyn spent the spring standing on the sidelines nursing a foot injury suffered against Arkansas that kept him out of the final two games except for one play.
When fall camp opens in early August, Munnerlyn, considered one of the top cover cornerbacks in the SEC, should quickly reclaim one of the starting jobs.
Munnerlyn started 11 games last season and finished with 47 tackles. He also tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He was a major reason USC had the top pass defense in the SEC last season (168.8 ypg).
"I know it was frustrating for Captain. He really wanted to be out there," Beamer said. "He did a good job getting mental reps since he couldn't be out there. His injury gave us a chance to see what some other guys could do. We're looking forward to getting him back. He needs to have a big year for us."
FALL 2008 CORNERBACKS ROSTER:
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