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August 7, 2011

Spurrier, Ellington set record straight



Steve Spurrier went on the offensive on Sunday.

Of course, he's done that a lot throughout an accomplished 40-year playing and coaching career at both the major college and NFL levels.

But this time it was different.

Angered by media accounts he contended were inaccurate about how Bruce Ellington decided he wanted to play football, Spurrier and Ellington addressed the issue during a Media Day press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I asked Bruce to give the time frame and how he decided he wanted to play football to get the story straight," Spurrier said. "There was a misleading, fabricated story that I tried to recruit him and I jilted the basketball program. It wasn't true. But a lot of things we read aren't true."

A local columnist in Columbia wrote a couple of months ago that Spurrier "poached" Ellington from the basketball team.

Ellington told reporters he first spoke with USC basketball coach Darrin Horn following the conclusion of the 2010-11 season about playing football before approaching anybody on the football staff to inform them he was interested.

He officially announced his intention to play football in late March, but was prohibited by NCAA rules from working out with the Gamecocks until late May when summer conditioning began.

"I talked with coach Horn about wanting to come out and play football because I missed it," Ellington said. "I talked with him first before I ever came and talked with coach Spurrier about playing football. So, to get the story straight, coach Spurrier never talked with me until I went to him."

Ellington told reporters earlier this week he has spoken with USC coaches about directing the "Wildcat" offense, a role formerly held by Stephon Gilmore, and installation of that offense could begin soon. He did not take any Wildcat snaps in Sunday's practice.

He led the Berkeley Stags to the South Carolina 2009 Class AAAA Division II championship (he carried 23 times for 191 yards in the title game) and was a finalist for the Mr. Football Award, won by Marcus Lattimore.

Ellington, who has already made a positive impression at wide receiver and kick returner, is slated to return to the basketball team once football season is over. Spurrier said previously he would allow Ellington to practice with the hoops team during the two-week quiet period in early December following the SEC championship game.

If USC doesn't win the SEC East, Ellington could theoretically return to the basketball program as early as late November and play for the Gamecocks until bowl practice begins.

SUNDAY'S PRACTICE: USC practiced in full pads for the first time during preseason camp on Sunday at The Proving Grounds. The full-team drill was dominated by the defense as it confused the offense with a variety of looks. Several times, blitzing defenders off the edge went untouched as they raced toward the quarterback. Often, the quarterback had little time to get rid of the football.

The offense started the 11-on-11 strong with a nice run by Lattimore and had consecutive completions before the defense took command. Even when the quarterbacks had time to throw, they couldn't find an open receiver and were forced to scramble. When USC ran a reverse to Damiere Byrd, it was quickly blown up.

The domination by the defense produced the night's one moment of comedy relief when Damario Jeffery started talking smack to quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus, who was calling some of the plays and signaling them in through backup quarterback Seth Strickland. Mangus returned the fire briefly.

In a play that was reminiscent of his pick-six against Tennessee last season, Devin Taylor intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. Moments earlier, Byron Jerideau came up limping but later appeared to be OK.

In the final set of plays called the "First-Down Challenge," the offense completed two passes in 14 snaps, one to K.J. Brent and the other to Shon Carson. Both players are true freshmen. However, on Carson's catch, Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott chastised Kenny Davis for being too far downfield when his path should have be horizontal in order to avoid an illegal receiver downfield penalty.

The deep wide receiver corps again shined early, making several outstanding catches during the 1-on-1 segment, including crowd-pleasing grabs by Ace Sanders, Ellington and Jason Barnes.

"The receivers have done very well," Spurrier said earlier Sunday. "Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington are two really quick, fast guys. Jason Barnes has done well in the preseason. Lamar Scruggs had his best practice ever (Saturday) as a Gamecock. We should have given him a practice ball. He was fired up. We have a lot of good receivers. They've all been here for a while. Amazingly, Bruce Ellington just about knows the offense. Ace Sanders taught him most of it. He pretty much knows what to do. We have plenty of guys other than Alshon."

Preseason camp enters Week 2 on Monday when USC practices at 9:30 a.m. at The Proving Grounds. Spurrier is pleased with how the first week transpired, although he probably wasn't happy with the offense's performance on Sunday.

"The first four days of practice have been pretty good," Spurrier said. "But it's just practice. We have a ways to go. We were not a dominant team last season. Everything is on schedule."

Spurrier raved about USC's team speed after the first practice. He didn't back off from those comments on Sunday.

"We've got a little bit more speed out there than it seems we had last year," Spurrier said. "Several freshmen, several new players are on the team now. Hopefully, it will show up on game day."

SHELL: USC received a scare on Saturday when freshman offensive lineman Brandon Shell was overcome by the late-morning heat and had to be transported to a local hospital for observation. He was later released and returned to Williams-Brice Stadium in time for team meetings. Still, it was an episode Spurrier doesn't want to see repeated, especially with morning practices scheduled for this week.

"Brandon had a little heat-related problem," Spurrier said. "All of our other guys were fine. But sometimes those big guys, maybe we should hold them out of that last run across the field. He got a little dizzy and so forth. Our trainers acted quickly and got his temperature down quickly and got him into the cold tank. As a precaution, they took him to the hospital and checked him out. He was back at the meeting in the afternoon. But it's always a scare when one of your players gets dizzy."

Spurrier lauded the work of the USC medical staff in keeping Shell cool and keeping his situation under control until the ambulance arrived.

"Our trainers were super," Spurrier said. "Clint Haggard was textbook on how to handle it. Our assistant trainer and our doctor were right on top of it. It worked out. It was a good lesson for us. I never want to see that again, a player getting dizzy from the heat. We should have held him out. He just wasn't ready to run across the field that many times. He's a big young man.

"Fortunately, everything is fine now, but we're going to try to make sure we don't push those big guys like the little guys. The little guys can run all day. Those big guys can't quite do that. We'll do a better job of monitoring how much running some of the big guys do."

"WELL-ROUNDED YOUNG MAN": Freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had every reason to feel smug. At this time last year, he had dozens of recruiters calling him at all hours trying to convince him to sign with their school. In his first week of camp, Clowney has impressed Spurrier with his level-headed, down-to-earth attitude and approach.

"Jadeveon is a well-rounded young man," Spurrier said. "He's not a cocky kid. He doesn't come in here talking this, that or the other. He's just trying to be the best player he can be. He realizes he has a way to go and things to work on. He's practicing hard and doing a good job. We definitely plan on him getting a lot of action from the first game on."

Elliott is still searching for an O-lineman who can consistently block Clowney from the left tackle spot. So far, his quest has been fruitless. Sunday, Clowney was even getting around Rokevious Watkins, regarded by most analysts as USC's most physical blocker.

"Obviously, he can come off the ball and he can run around just about all of our tackles right now," Spurrier said. "But it's still a ways off until we really play. He's right on schedule. In high school, he moved at a faster speed than just about everybody on the field. He hasn't really had an opportunity yet to turn it on much. We'll put him in some scrimmages the latter part of this coming week and let him go then. Then we'll probably really watch him play some."

MISCELLANEOUS:

-- USC worked on two returner sets during punt team practice midway through Sunday's workout. Gilmore, Byrd, Sanders, Victor Hampton, Ahmad Christian and Sheldon Royster all worked as punt returners.

-- DeVonte Holloman lined up periodically at Will (outside) linebacker during Sunday's practice as Ellis Johnson continued to experiment with different combinations. Johnson has told Gamecock Central he wants Holloman to stay at the second level of the defense, meaning his chance of moving back to safety are slim.

-- Spurrier noted there were about 35 players in the freshman-class picture. "That means we have a lot of ballplayers down the road here at South Carolina," Spurrier said. "A lot of them may play this year, who knows?"

-- Spurrier pointed out USC graduated 25 football players in the last 12 months. The program continues to set grade-point average records with each passing semester. "We have a very high percentage of guys graduating right now," Spurrier said. "It hasn't always been that way around here. Our guys do a good job in the classroom."

-- The best attribute about Alshon Jeffery? Spurrier said it was his "ability to catch the ball" along with his size and strength. "Even when the guys are hanging on him, he has a tendency to come down with the ball. But he's very good at running routes, cutting off the right foot and using his feet. He has excellent feet. We're trying to get him to use those just a little but more to get open. We tell our quarterbacks just get the ball up so he can get his hands on it. Throw it high. Those are good odds if we can get the ball in that position."

-- Spurrier said even after just four practices he can tell Stephen Garcia has a greater commitment level towards preparation and getting better. "He's not goofing as much as he used to," Spurrier said. "In fact, he's not goofing around at all, really. He's trying to play the position and make good decisions out there. And he has. He's making better decisions than he has in the past. We're hoping his fifth year is the best."

-- Spurrier said Andrew Clifford "has been a little bit surprising. He's made some good throws here and there."

-- Spurrier confirmed D.J. Swearinger will be USC's No. 1 kickoff returner, and praised new special teams coach John Butler along the way. "I'm really impressed with John Butler," Spurrier said. "I know I say it every year, but I truly believe our special teams are going to be better this year. One of these years I'm going to be right about that. I think it's this year."

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