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August 12, 2011

Gridiron extra: Wilson eyes multiple roles

Shaq Wilson isn't tied down to one position.

Wilson has bounced back and forth between middle (Mike) linebacker and outside (Will) linebacker since the beginning of spring practice and the junior from Jacksonville, Fla., expects to line up at both positions at some point this season.

"It's whatever coach (Ellis) Johnson decides," Wilson said. "They're both the same to me. I'll make plays wherever I'm at. Yeah, I want to lead the team in tackles again, but you can do that from any position, Stephon (Gilmore) did it from corner last season."

Johnson has pointed to the depth at linebacker as one of the keys to the season, and Wilson agrees.

"We have about seven guys who can play," Wilson said. "Everybody is working hard and learning the defense. They know it. It's good competition. I like coming out here knowing I have somebody who is pushing me and making me better and trying for the same position."

One of Wilson's competitors at middle linebacker is Reginald Bowens, who finally appears to be healthy after three injury-plagued years. Bowens has plenty of physical ability and could become a star once he masters the mental side of the game.

"Reggie is a very good linebacker," Wilson said. "He knows what he is doing. He can run. I think Reggie is going to do a lot of good things this year."

Wilson has dropped over 10 pounds from a year ago when he reported at about 240 pounds. He now weighs about 228 pounds and is as quick and fast as ever.

Johnson said recently he thought Wilson's weight was a contributing factor in his hamstring injury which occurred on the first day of preseason camp last August.

"I feel very comfortable anywhere 225 and 230 pounds," Wilson said. "I've been enjoying camp because I didn't get to play last year. In fact, everything we're doing I'm enjoying."

Wilson created a murmur recently when he changed his number from No. 16 to No. 54. He had worn the former number since his freshman season in 2008 when he appeared in all 13 games and saw action at both linebacker and special teams.

"I just wanted a linebacker number," Wilson said. "I figured if you want to play in the NFL, you have to wear a NFL number anywhere from 50 to 90. You can't wear number 16. So I got a number in the 50s."

Now in his fourth year with the program, Wilson has seen one significant change since joining the program in January 2008 after graduating from First Coast (Fla.) High School in December 2007.

"There is more unity and the coaches and players have far better relationships," Wilson said. "Everybody is taking care of one another. We love one another. It's more like your brother's keeper. Everybody looks out for each other. We have fun and we enjoy playing football. The coaches and leadership (have been the biggest difference)."

Wilson was USC's first commitment for the 2008 recruiting cycle, turning aside offers from Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Ole Miss and USF, among others, to sign with the Gamecocks.

Asked to identify some of the young players that have impressed him the most, Wilson named Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker Cedrick Cooper and Jimmy Legree at free safety.

"I'm really impressed with Jimmy," Wilson said. "He has been doing a good job back there controlling things and talking a lot. That really helps out."

CHANGE AT SPURS: Antonio Allen and DeVonte Holloman remain the top two players at spur - and the ones most likely to grab most of the meaningful playing time - but behind that duo the USC coaches made some subtle changes this week.

Freshman Kadetrix Marcus, a 6-foot-1, 182-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga., was moved to spur after he showcased his impressive physical skills in the first half-dozen practices to so.

"He is a great athlete," USC assistant John Butler said Thursday. "The position of the spur is a hybrid DB cover-guy athlete. He possesses all of those characteristics. We are trying as a defensive staff to get the best 11 guys on the field and find the best capable backups at each position. We are going to take a look at him there and see how that works out."

Butler coaches the spurs in addition to his duties as special teams coordinator. Simultaneously with the addition of Marcus, freshman Mason Harris was shifted from spur to outside linebacker. Harris was initially recruited as a defensive end, the position he played at Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Ga.

"As a staff we just talked about how we could get the best combination of the first 11 and the next available guys in as far as the depth situation is concerned," Butler said. "That is kind of the direction we are headed."

Butler, who joined the staff in February, has overseen Holloman's move from strong safety to spur, and believes the decision to shift him to the second level of the USC defense was the right one.

"He is doing well," Butler said. "He is a conscientious kid and plays physical. He has all the characteristics that we look for at that position. It is a position that he can naturally play without a whole lot of coaching just because he has that body type and he plays with good balance. He is a good tackler and good blitzer. I think he is a guy that is going to be on the field a lot for us in different situations this year."

Right now, freshman Edward Muldrow is the fourth player at the spur spot. He is likely headed for a redshirt season in order to give him time to develop.

"As a freshman, just like most programs, he is kind of swimming right now," Butler said. "The thing he does very well is he plays very hard. As a defensive player, as a young player, the number one thing you got to be is a guy that runs around to the football and plays really hard. You are going to be confused a lot, but he plays hard and that is good. He is going to be a good player somewhere down the line."

ROBERTSON HIGH ON CLOWNEY: Travian Robertson is a fifth-year senior, but he doesn't mind all the attention showered on Clowney.

"He's our teammate and he was a great player coming out of high school," Robertson said. "He's a great player now. He deserves the attention. Everybody loves him as a brother. He knows his role and what he has to do. We don't worry about the attention at all. We'll let him enjoy it.

Is the 2011 edition of the USC defensive line the best Robertson has played with? As far as he is concerned, the answer is inconclusive.

"I don't know. We'll have to see," Robertson said. "We'll still working on it. We'll wait until the end of the year to judge that. We have a lot of depth and a lot of youth. We're just trying to put everything together now. Byron Jerideau is working hard and he has lost a lot of weight. We're trying to put the pieces on the field right now."

NEXT WEEK'S SCHEDULE: Starting with Saturday's 4 p.m. scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, all Gamecock football practices for the rest of the season are expected to be closed to the media and public. Here is next week's practice and scrimmage schedule, as announced by USC on Friday:

Saturday - 4 p.m. - Scrimmage
Sunday - 7:30 p.m.
Monday - 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday - 7:30 p.m. (Scrimmage)
Wednesday - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday - 4:15 p.m. (First day of classes)
Aug. 19 - 4:15 p.m.
Aug. 20 - 10 a.m. (Scrimmage)
Aug. 21 - Off day

Once classes start on Aug. 18, the 20-hour rule as mandated by NCAA regulations takes effect. Preparations for the 2011 season opener on Sept. 3 against East Carolina in Charlotte are expected to begin in earnest during the week of Aug. 22.

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