COLUMBIA — South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington practiced fully with the football team for the first time Tuesday — 13 days after USC’s basketball team ended its season in the Southeastern Conference tournament, with Ellington at point guard.
Ellington, a Berkeley High graduate, didn’t have a catch Thursday in USC’s first spring scrimmage, but he said afterward that he plans to play football and basketball next season for the third straight school year. In his first school year at USC, 2010-11, he played just basketball.
Ellington is USC’s leading returning receiver. He ranked second on the team last season in catches (40) and touchdown receptions (seven), behind Ace Sanders in both, and first in yards (600). Ellington said he planned all along to return to football for his junior season in 2013.
“There was no doubt,” he said. “I was coming back.”
The 2013-14 basketball season will be his final year of eligibility in that sport. He is eligible to complete his college football career in 2014. But if he has a big 2013 season, he could opt to graduate next spring and turn pro in football. His kickoff returning abilities would surely help his draft stock if he puts together a big receiving season this fall.
“It depends on how I do, how my year goes, but right now, I plan on coming back (for football in 2014),” Ellington said. Ellington had just 17 catches in 2011, his first year of football at USC. He played primarily quarterback in high school.
“He had to learn some things and he made a few mistakes early on,” receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “But even as he said, ‘This is only the third year I’ve ever played receiver. There are things you’re telling me about Cover 2 and 3. I don’t know that.’ I sometimes fail to realize that. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do next year.”
Last season, USC successfully put four defensive ends on the field at the same time, in pass rushing situations. USC calls this its rabbits package, because of the ends’ speed, and it utilized backup ends Chaz Sutton and Aldrick Fordham along with starters Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor.
This season, Clowney returns and Sutton replaces Taylor as a starter. When USC goes with its rabbits package this fall, Sutton and Clowney will move inside to the defensive tackles’ spots, while lighter backup ends, redshirt freshman Darius English and sophomore Mason Harris, will handle the edge rushing spots. English is 225 pounds, Harris 215.
Harris has also played linebacker, but is now an end. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward was happy with how Harris rushed the quarterback during Thursday’s scrimmage.
“That’s exciting to see, because that’s what he’s going to have to be able to do for us, if he’s going to help us,” Ward said. “He’s not going to be as big and physical as you want inside, but I think he can use his speed and quickness. We’ve just got to pick the spots to use him. Darius can rush the passer also. We’ve just got to make sure we put them in position to make plays and not ask them to hold up on 300-pound tackles. We’ll definitely use the rabbits package. I think you put the offense at a disadvantage when you put four guys out there that can get to the passer.”
Mitch gets action
Quarterback Connor Mitch graduated high school early to enroll at USC this semester. On Thursday, he threw his first touchdown in Williams-Brice Stadium, albeit in a scrimmage. It was a 5-yarder to Shamier Jeffery, on a fade route, to the back corner of the end zone.
Mitch completed nine of 11 passes for 78 yards and the touchdown.
Mitch will redshirt this season, but is trying to learn as much as he can this spring. What has his biggest adjustment been?
“Looking at the coverages and it’s not always what you think it’s going to be,” he said, adding that in high school, opponents “never” disguised coverages before the snap. “You can look and see what they’re running (in high school) and you just know what’s going to happen.”
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