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August 10, 2011

Gridiron Extra: Separation Saturday?




To read Wednesday's FREE practice REPORT, click here.

The following is our NOTEBOOK from Wednesday's practice.


South Carolina will conduct its first official scrimmage of preseason camp this weekend.

As far as USC wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. is concerned, it's Separation Saturday (the scrimmage is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.) for his deep unit since there are fewer spots available on the depth chart (six) than the available supply of talented receivers (10 or more).

By Saturday night, Spurrier Jr. expects to have some answers on which direction the wide receiver corps will head in 2011.

"Saturdays (are) what really separates guys," Spurrier Jr. said after Wednesday's practice. "(We want) guys who are ready to go, guys who can compete when it's live. We'll find out a lot then. I have a good group and like my group, but we're unproven at a lot of positions."

What will Spurrier Jr. do? Easy. Once enough practices have passed and the players have been given a reasonable opportunity to prove themselves, he'll digest the data and pick out the top six.

"You just have to pick out the best," Spurrier Jr. said. "(You just tell a guy that) you're a good player and I like what you do. But this guy is a little better than you. Usually, they know. I've let people know I'm trying to identify what you do better than anybody else. As a player, you have to make sure you own one of those skills.

"I'm constantly talking this guy does this well. This guy blocks well, this guy runs well, this guy is quick, this guy is tough. What do you do better than anybody else? Make sure you recognize him and point that out. But if you're not one of those guys, well, you're a good player and I respect you, but this guy is a little better than you and he's probably going to play more."

Before preseason camp started, Spurrier Jr. said he wouldn't mind spreading the wealth a little more among the receivers and not focusing as much on Alshon Jeffery, who had a school-record 88 receptions in 2010. But the Calhoun County High School graduate is a leading contender for the Biletnikoff Trophy for a reason.

"I don't mind seeing Alshon catch 150 balls this year, that would be fine with me," Spurrier Jr. said. "More than likely, it won't happen. You hope it doesn't happen because it means you have some other guys that are playing well. We're hoping a couple of guys step up. Ideally, Alshon will catch less balls this year. But if he catches 90, that's fine too."

But when push comes to shove, and a play has to be made, USC will probably look in Jeffery's direction.

"We're still going to have a lot of situations where we need a ball caught and we're probably going to throw it to him," Spurrier said. "I think we're going to have one or two other guys show up and be a reliable substitute for Alshon in important situations."

Spurrier emphasized he is in no rush to rank the Gamecock receivers below Jeffery. Thus, we know the names, just not the order.

"This isn't the NFL, where you need a number one, a two and a three and they need to be specific," Spurrier Jr. said. "Honestly, I've always wanted to have three really good ones and three or four behind them. You can live with that. Alshon has separated himself because he is clearly the best. But you hope not to specifically call out a guy as being the number two. I hope I have two other guys who can come in there in a three-receiver set and they're my best three."

Behind Jeffery are redshirt sophomores DeAngelo Smith and Lamar Scruggs. Jason Barnes and Ace Sanders are battling for the slot receiver job with freshman Damiere Byrd close behind. D.L. Moore leads the race at the second outside spot. But, the conversation always seems to return to Jeffery.

"I wish they would say, 'I would like to be as good as him,'" Spurrier Jr. said. "They all know Alshon is clearly better than they are and he can do things they can't do. But I hope he presses them to be as good as he is. He runs well, he competes hard, he practices hard, he catches well, he's tough. He does things that I hope we strive to be like him. It's not like he's an average guy and everybody is below him. He's a great player and we all know that. He does a great job of being a leader and representing himself in the best in everything he does. Hopefully, everybody strives to do what he does."

Will freshmen Byrd, K.J. Brent and Shamier Jeffery break through and earn playing time in 2011?

"Damiere has really good hands for not being a big guy," Spurrier Jr. said. "He has really good balance. People try to shove him around and he maintains his center of gravity well. For a smaller guy, I thought he has done an excellent job with that."

Because of his blazing speed, Byrd, who has a jammed thumb, is the best option for the go route, and he's worked hard to perfect that route. But he realizes he has to expand his repertoire.

"As a receiver, you always have to work on your routes," Byrd said Wednesday. "I'm always working on my routes. I'm learning how to get off the line with linebackers and even getting off the line with the bump and run. I'm very comfortable with the offense right now."

WATKINS IMPRESSED BY CLOWNEY: Rokevious Watkins has shared snaps with Kyle Nunn at left tackle during the last few practice, so the fifth-year senior from Fairburn, Ga., has had plenty of opportunities to engage in one-on-one battles with highly touted freshman Jadeveon Clowney. So, when someone asked him which freshman players had impressed him the most, he spoke from first-hand experience.

"It would have to be Jadeveon," Watkins said. "He has some natural ability that I haven't seen in an 18-year old freshman. He has both speed and power. He's long, so when he's sprinting off the line, he's picking up two or three steps to my one or two. You have to be in position to stop him. He's a great player."

But Watkins pointed out that, right now, Clowney isn't that much different from a lot of defensive linemen in the SEC.

"It's every week," Watkins said. "I saw it last year playing offensive guard last year when I was lined up with a defensive tackle. They're moving just as fast. It's the SEC."

Has Clowney lived up to expectations? Watkins says that's not for him to judge.

"I don't really know. I'm not the coach. That's my teammate," he said. "I'm going to support him whether he's starting or he's on the bench or he's rotating or doing whatever. I'll support him either way it goes."

Among Watkins' goals for 2011 was "bring a little mean streak to the offensive line," in addition to the typical goals such as performing to the best of my ability and no missed assignments.

"I need to work on finishing my blocks and my pad level at the beginning," Watkins said. "But we have a long way to go. I'm just trying to get better."

LATTIMORE ECSTATIC OVER ELLINGTON: Instead of feeling threatened by the addition of Bruce Ellington, Marcus Lattimore has embraced him as yet another weapon for an offense that doesn't lack for firepower.

"I already knew he was good," Lattimore said Wednesday. "He's real shifty. He can play any position on the field. He could play running back if he wanted. He's going to be a great part of our offense. We can keep opposing defenses on their toes. We have a lot of guys out here like that. They can play any position on offense. They can make somebody miss. That's going to be real important for our offense."

Few relationships in football are more important than the one between a running back and his offensive line. Lattimore doesn't just talk about how good USC's offensive line is, he lives it by spending quality time with his blockers.

"We just know our assignments better," Lattimore said when asked how the O-line will be better in 2011. "But we have to keep learning. We have a lot of new guys up there. It's going to be real important to keep learning the offense and master the offense. We watched film together all the time this summer. T.J. (Johnson), Rok will get together to watch film and draw up plays. We're trying to master the inside zones and all the kind of plays we run."

SHAQ IS THE LEADER: D.J. Swearinger is regarded by the coaches and teammates as the leader of the USC secondary. But even he admits he takes a back seat to Shaq Wilson when it comes to naming the overall leader on the field for the Gamecock defense. Ellis Johnson has frequently described Wilson as the "quarterback" of the USC defense because of his personality and encyclopedic knowledge of the defensive scheme.

"It means a whole lot (to have Wilson back)," Swearinger said. "My freshman year (2009), Shaq pretty much ran the defense. He was calling all the shots. To have Shaq back means a lot. He controls the D-line and the linebackers. Shaq and myself control the entire defense. His hamstring is much better and he's feeling real good. Shaq is going to have a real good year."

MISCELLANEOUS:

-- Byrd is competing for the kickoff job and he told reporters on Wednesday that he likes the scheme and is confident he will make some plays. Lattimore told reporters that Byrd and Marty Markett are considered the two fastest players on the team and the freshman from Sicklerville, N.J., won a close race. "It's Damiere now," Lattimore smiled. "He's the big man now. He has the rep."

-- Steve Spurrier said on ESPN Wednesday that he has spoken with Lattimore about halting talk concerning possibly winning the Heisman Trophy in 2011. Spurrier wants Lattimore to focus on team goals.

-- Watkins said he and Terrence Campbell refer to themselves as the "Smash Brothers" when they're lined up next to each on the right side of the offensive line. "We're like two big turtles over there," Watkins said.

-- Watkins said he "loves" playing for offensive line coach Shawn Elliott.

-- Lattimore confirmed freshman Shon Carson is the fastest running back on the roster. "He can take it 80 yards," he said.

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