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August 8, 2013
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After an offseason that included losing his mentor D.J. Swearinger to graduation, missing the spring while rehabbing a season-ending knee injury, and undergoing a position change to strong safety, sophomore T.J. Gurley - the former heir apparent at free safety - finds himself falling behind in a heavily-contested position battle with junior safety Kadetrick Marcus.
Despite his most recent setback - learning that Marcus has the edge to be named the starter - Gurley has no intentions of letting up. The 5-foot-10, 196-pounder from Cairo, Ga., said after Wednesday night's practice that he is 100 percent back from knee surgery, and that he is excited to continue competing with Marcus for playing time this fall.
"It's still a battle, but I'm steady pushing, trying to push up the depth chart and come out and work every day," said Gurley, who picked up SEC All-Freshman honors in eight games of work last season. "Nothing is set in stone."
Gurley spent his freshman campaign trailing Swearinger seemingly everywhere the senior went. They became roommates on nights before games, and Gurley spent several nights a week watching film at Swearinger's place, trying to soak in all the advice his mentor could give him.
Gurley got his first career start when Swearinger was suspended for the Missouri game, filling his position well and picking up two tackles in the 31-10 win over the Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium. One of only four true freshmen to play in the season opener against Vanderbilt, Gurley spent time in the secondary and in special teams in 2012. He racked up 13 tackles on the season before a knee injury suffered while covering a punt against Florida sidelined him for the final five games and the spring.
Still, Gurley said he wasn't worried about making the adjustment to strong safety when the coaching staff switched Brison Williams to the free safety at the beginning of fall practice.
"I was playing [strong safety] some last year," Gurley said. "They both do the same thing. One rolls down, one goes to the post. It's not really an adjustment."
A three-star prospect out of high school, Gurley said he understands the nature of position competitions and what he has to do to see playing time in the fall.
"It's a business. The best man is going to win the job," Gurley said. "J.J. (Marcus) is starting right now, but I'm trying to push him. It's a business. They're going to play the best man, so I've just got to keep coming out and pushing every day."
For Swearinger's former pupil, that will mean plenty of hours working on the physical aspects of his game during and after practice, and even more time watching film on his own - all in an effort to eliminate his weaknesses and get a better grasp of his position from a mental standpoint.
"I'm trying to be more vocal and position myself well," said Gurley of a few things he's worked on. "It's just practice but I'm trying to run to the ball and get in position, so when it's live I'll be in the perfect spot for the tackle. I'm working on being more aggressive, playing more wild and physical and just doing everything the right way."
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