Could R.J. Roderick be the answer at nickelback?
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS FOOTBALL
South Carolina's starting nickelback position remains open, though it would be inaccurate to call the spot a question mark. Regardless of who's manning the nickel in 2019, it should be in good hands.
As South Carolina closes out its final week of spring practice, Jaycee Horn and R.J. Roderick are primarily rotating at the position with Israel Mukuamu and Jamyest Williams, who is limited as he returns from injury, also rotating in.
Roderick, a sophomore who played 525 snaps as a freshman safety last season, has added nickelback duties to his workload this spring and the move has been smooth, according to nickels and SAM linebackers coach Kyle Krantz.
"It's been really, really good," Krantz said. "He's smart, really really smart, so he's able to learn what he's supposed to be doing and the technique in doing it. I think it's helped him play safety too, but he's a big body, he's not afraid to tackle, he's physical. The safety position and the nickel are very similar in terms of their man-to-man technique they need to have, so it's been a good fit for him, and he's done a really good job with it."
Last season, Horn excelled at nickelback, earning freshman All-SEC honors as one of the league's best young defensive players.
But defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson made it clear last month that his preference this year is to play Horn at cornerback, where he can use his size and coverage ability to match up with opponents' top wide receivers.
So while Horn continues to spend some practice time at nickel, and he could always ultimately end up there, the sophomore sensation is also working at cornerback, with Roderick taking plenty of snaps with the first team at nickel.
"(Roderick) is a ball player and I think he's the kind of person that whatever's best for our team, he'll do, and I think he likes the physicality of being down there," Krantz says. "And again the techniques and all that stuff he's doing is the same as playing safety, we're just moving him a little bit closer to the box."
And that's perfectly fine with Roderick, who has already developed a reputation as an old-school enforcer over the middle.
"I really like playing closer to the box anyway, so just being at nickel, I'll be down closer to the box, like more hook/flat drops [in zone coverage], but also man-to-man and doing some things I do at safety as well," Roderick said.
Both Horn and Roderick are part of the nucleus of a young, talented secondary that teammates say has brought an increased confidence to the entire defense. Both players are sure starters this year, whether its at nickel or cornerback, in the case of Horn, or nickel or safety, in the case of Roderick.
But there is an incoming freshman who could potentially allow Horn to stick at cornerback and Roderick to play safety.
Krantz singled out Jammie Robinson, a four-star signee from Lee County High School in Leesburg, Ga., who could push for playing time immediately this fall.
Like Horn and Roderick, Robinson's skillset fits the position.
"They have to have the ability to do both -- we put a lot on them as far as coverage, man-to-man, but they also have to be able to tackle and get in there and be physical," Krantz said. "I think all three of those guys have shown the ability to do it and we're excited about the competition that we're going to have in there going into the fall."