For the second straight summer, South Carolina is searching for depth in its secondary.

A year ago, the Gamecocks faced this predicament following the departure of Rico McWilliams, a starter at cornerback who left the program in August and left the Gamecocks with three scholarship corners.

Yet despite multiple ejections by defensive backs, South Carolina finished sixth in the SEC in passing defense, with 15 interceptions. Defensive backs Chris Lammons and JaMarcus King each had three interceptions (as did linebacker T.J. Holloman). That all somehow overcame a host of self-inflicted wounds, such as when Lammons and D.J. Smith were ejected for throwing a punch and targeting against Tennessee. A week later against Missouri, Lammons was again ejected, that time for targeting. The Gamecocks also got into it against Clemson players in the pregame, and later reportedly said it was on racial grounds.

This week, head coach Will Muschamp and his staff are dealing with the loss of freshman safety Jaylin Dickerson, who the coach said would miss the season because of a nerve injury in his shoulder. Another safety, Steven Montac, is expected to be in a boot for 10 days to heal a stress fracture in his foot. While Dickerson was listed as a backup behind Smith on the pre-camp depth chart, he had about as good lead-up to the preseason as anyone on the roster, if not better.

“I hurt for Jaylin, he had a wonderful spring,” Muschamp said. “Was going to be a contributor for us this year. It hurts us, especially at a place where we need some depth. A good football player, that’s what he is, but I’m excited about his future as a Gamecock.”

After the Gamecocks’ scrimmage on Saturday, Muschamp said starting cornerback Rashad Fenton has had a good camp and that Lammons, who can play any position in the secondary, has played mostly safety but could play corner. If the entire unit is healthy, Lammons is listed at nickel. The other starting corner, King, needs to be more consistent, Muschamp said, while freshmen Jamyest Williams and Tavyn Jackson have done nothing to step out of favor with the coaching staff. They seem most in line to gobble up the additional playing time caused by the injuries.

Junior college transfer Keisean Nixon is also in the mix at nickel and safety.

Given the options, albeit with several players having varying levels of experience, Muschamp was mindful of how to incorporate the depth.

“We’re trying to create depth on our football team, so it’s not about putting the next guy in, it’s about putting the next best guy in,” Muschamp said. “So Chris (Lammons) is obviously going to be one of our best five. So we need to put him in situations where he can play nickel corner, safety, he’s extremely bright. Keisean Nixon, we’re trying to saturate him mostly at the safety position, and I think the last few days the light’s gone off for him. I’m anxious to watch the film to see how he performed today on his own. The coaches were off the field, we didn’t help him get lined up like we do every day, so that was a positive.”

Opening against North Carolina State in Charlotte, N.C., then playing at Missouri in the second week of the season, the Gamecocks will quickly learn how dependable the secondary is given the additions and new roles for some. Muschamp focused on some late penalties after the Gamecocks got a three-and-out on the first series of a 140-play scrimmage. He blamed them on a lack of focus related to fatigue.

“Our tempo between each play needs to pick up,” Muschamp said. “Because obviously we’re going to start the season defensively with two teams that are going to tempo us and I don’t know how quickly we’re playing right now, so it’s something we really need to work on next week is sustaining drives on both sides of the ball, keeping our mental focus and taking care of the football. Our tempo between plays is something we really need to work on. When you get fatigued, you’ve still got to do your job at a high level and not let your teammates down.”