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October 29, 2013

Brown noticing Elder's growth



South Carolina secondary coach Grady Brown said his unit did "okay" Saturday night, but praised the play and growth of one player in particular: redshirt freshman safety Chaz Elder.

Elder, a former four star prospect, recorded three tackles in the double overtime win at Missouri, just one week after missing the Tennessee game with a concussion. The Union City, Ga., native committed to South Carolina at the 2012 Under Armour All-American game, but got off to a slow start early in his college career, redshirting his freshman season while buried in the depth chart of a star-studded defense.

But Elder has become a regular in the secondary this season, recording 15 tackles on the season and making his first collegiate start at Arkansas two weeks ago. That progression hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He's slowly turning into the player that we all thought he could be coming out of high school," Brown said after practice Tuesday. "I'm pleased with his progress."

Brown said he's been impressed with Elder from a physicality standpoint, and that the 6-foot-2, 199-pound safety's mentality gives him the potential to make a big impact down the road.

"He's really athletic, and he has good length," Brown said. "To be a tall, slim guy, he really does not shy away from contact. A lot of times, slim guys shy away from contact, but he's a physical player, loves to tackle. And he plays very fast and hard, so he has all of the abilities to be really good."

But Brown said Elder, who logged 83 tackles and two interceptions in his senior season at Banneker High School in College Park, Ga., still has plenty to learn from a mental standpoint. Brown said Elder may have gotten by without studying film in high school, but that preparing mentally and understanding game strategy is something the safety is still working to pick up on at the college level.

"He just has to continue to develop the mental aptitude to play the position," Brown said. "Once his mental aptitude for the position reaches his physical abilities, he'll end up being a pretty good player."

Brown also named sophomore cornerback Ahmad Christian as another player who is "coming along." Christian entered the Missouri game with 17 tackles and one pass breakup, but didn't play a down against the Tigers. But Christian, who had played in every game up to last week, was left off the field because of strategy, not lack of skill, Brown said.

Backing up starting cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, Christian usually only sees the field as the nickel or dime defensive back, Brown said.

But "in that game, nickel or dime was not a big part of the game plan," Brown said. "Unfortunately for him, it just happens sometimes where some games he plays a lot, and some games he does not play a lot if there are no injuries."

Though the Gamecocks held the SEC's fourth-best passing offense to just 249 yards and one touchdown Saturday, Brown wasn't ecstatic with the way his secondary played. The secondary was able to contain Missouri's top three receivers, each of whom were at least 6-foot-4, for most of the game, but the Tigers' 96-yard second-quarter passing touchdown left Brown with a bad taste in his mouth.

"Obviously I'm disappointed with the long touchdown pass that we gave up, and that's one thing that we have to get corrected within these last four games that we have to play," Brown said. "You just can't give up long touchdowns. If we could take that one away, which we cannot, we actually did a pretty decent job against a really good group of receivers. But that one play stands out for me as a coach as disappointing."

Brown said he can't single out one person at fault for the mistake, but said multiple players could have stopped Missouri wideout L'Damian Washington from scampering into the end zone if they had been in position.

"It would have been a 45 or 50-yard completion or something like that," Brown said. "We had opportunities for it not to go for a long touchdown."

Up next for South Carolina are the 4-3 Mississippi State Bulldogs, who rank ninth in the league in passing offense with 250.6 yards per game. The Gamecocks will face a two-quarterback system for the first time this season, and Brown indicated that both players - sophomore Dak Prescott and senior Tyler Russell - are capable of inflicting damage if South Carolina doesn't play its best.

"The two quarterbacks are really good, and either one of them -- if you're not playing well -- can really hurt you," Brown said.

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