COLUMBIA -- As much as the return of South Carolina's quarterback has been talked about, how about the Gamecocks getting back their defensive quarterback?

Weak-side linebacker Shaq Wilson missed last season, taking a redshirt, because of a hamstring injury.

"He's so much sharper, quicker," said Ellis Johnson, the team's defensive head coach. "When he's out there, he's a quarterback of our defense."

Wilson said the first practice of camp this year was his first healthy practice since the first one from camp in 2010. He attempted to return for the Auburn game in late September, and he did recover two fumbles, but it was obvious he was a step slow and needed more time.

"It's exciting to be out here with everybody, just doing what I love doing," Wilson said. "I mean, I'm thankful for the chance to be out here again, to play football. I don't take it for granted at all anymore."

Wilson has 108 career tackles, including 85 in 2009, when he was forced into action after Rodney Paulk was lost for the season due to an injury.

Snapping to

Junior T.J. Johnson is now in his second year at center, after a period of adjustment during his sophomore season.

"I think the main thing with that is repetition," Johnson said. "The more reps you get, the more comfortable you feel. It was a little awkward at first, but now I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable."

Last month, Johnson was one of 43 centers to make the Rimington Award watch list.

Baseball for Carson

Shon Carson, the freshman running back in a battle for the No. 2 tailback spot, could be playing baseball for the Gamecocks in the spring.

Carson, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 44th round of this year's baseball draft, said he's been cleared by football coach Steve Spurrier and baseball Ray Tanner to play both football and baseball. He would miss spring football practice if he does join the baseball team.

Safety squeeze

How many safeties in the country are kickoff return men? Count USC's D.J. Swearinger as one, according to what Spurrier said Sunday.

"I take that with a lot of pride," said the 5-11, 206-pound Swearinger, who originally played cornerback as a freshman before moving to safety. "I'm going to do both (defense and special teams) to the best of my abilities."

Swearinger was named the team's top defensive player of the spring.

For more on South Carolina football, go to postandcourier.com/gamecocks.