First practice draws huge crowd: Thousands flock to practice fields to get a glimpse of Gamecocks
COLUMBIA -- Jadeveon Clowney practiced. Alshon Jeffery did not. And head coach Steve Spurrier marveled at the Gamecocks' improved speed.
Football is again back at South Carolina, where expectations and the talent level have perhaps never been higher. That's why more fans than usual -- maybe as many as 2,000 people -- lined the sideline of the Bluff Road fields for the first practice of preseason camp.
Jeffery, standing to the side with a towel around his neck, was rear-ended in a minor car accident Tuesday. The junior receiver suffered a back injury that is not considered serious. Spurrier said the All-SEC selection is getting medical treatment and might be back by the weekend.
There is another notable injury, one that could be more serious. Cornerback Akeem Auguste could miss a week or more with a sore foot, coaches said.
So many fans cluttered the area where Clowney went through drills that it became impassable to those trying to get from one side of the field to the other. It sounded as if the freshman defensive end, the nation's top recruit by every service, was certainly eager to make an impression in his first night on a college field.
"He plays too fast out here," Spurrier said, laughing. "We've got to teach him the practice speed. He was going right around (offensive tackle) Will Sport faster than we could (slow him down). We try to let the quarterbacks throw the ball in these drills with no pads down.
"We can't slow Jadeveon down. I think you have to take him out of the game to slow him down."
Clowney has been well received by his new teammates, as well.
"Running with him during the summer, we already knew what he was," linebacker Shaq Wilson said. "He's out here giving good effort. He's willing to learn. He asks a lot of questions. He's a smart guy. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do."
Defensive head coach Ellis Johnson said he didn't hear Clowney being corrected very much by line coach Brad Lawing, even though he said the first day was rather intensive for putting in chunks of the team's scheme.
"We'll find out if he can beat those guys in pass rush when we put on the pads," Johnson said. "You could see his explosiveness, obviously. He's talented in that respect. You could see that."
Clowney was not made available to reporters, and he might not be until Sunday's media day.
Clowney included, Spurrier's immediate reaction to the practice was that USC has more speed than it has in the past. That was particularly noticeable to Spurrier on the outside, with a lot of foot races between the receivers and defensive backs on team sessions.
He said returning players such as Stephon Gilmore, C.C. Whitlock and Ace Sanders all appeared faster. And then there were rookies, such as Berkeley's Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd at receiver. Both of those players are expected to make an impact in the return game, as well.
Does best team speed in Spurrier's translate to most talented team?
"Well, hopefully," he said. "Time will tell if they play like it, if we can coach 'em up. But everybody else is good, too."
Like past years, Spurrier initially said he wanted to close camp -- only to change his mind and open the first part of the month to fans and media.
"I noticed all those pro teams, they let their fans come," Spurrier said. "It seems like us college boys, we're not supposed to let them come. We may be about the only SEC team that opens it up that I know of.
"We're going to keep it open a week or two. We might as well. ... We don't have any secrets to hide out here. Maybe the guys run a little faster when they see a couple of thousand (fans) out here."