Gamecocks' search for the next Alshon under way
COLUMBIA -- The tall guy wearing a white T-shirt and standing on the sideline at Saturday's South Carolina football scrimmage was impossible to miss. And the presence of Alshon Jeffery as a spectator at the Gamecocks' first spring scrimmage reminded everybody at Williams-Brice Stadium about the importance of finding a big wide receiver to replace him before next season.
The Next Alshon Jeffery probably won't emerge at USC in 2012, or maybe not even any time soon, since he was, after all, one of the best receivers in school history. Nobody was stunned when he decided to leave early for the NFL.
"That's hard to put those shoes out there and ask somebody to grab them," said wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr.
However next season's receiver situation develops, USC's mission to replace Jeffery began in earnest Saturday. Though Jeffery had a down year in 2011, statistics-wise, he was by far USC's leading receiver. He caught 49 passes for 762 yards and eight touchdowns. The No. 2 receiver was Ace Sanders, who caught 29 balls for 383 yards and two touchdowns.
But Sanders, now a junior, is an inside slot receiver because he is 5-8 and 175 pounds. USC needs to find an outside receiver in the physical mold of Jeffery, who played last season at 6-4 and 229 pounds.
Among the candidates to be that reliable big target: 6-1 DeAngelo Smith, 6-2 Lamar Scruggs, 6-1 Shamier Jeffery (Alshon's younger brother), 6-5 D.L. Moore and 6-4 K.J. Brent. Smith had a catch for 10 yards in the scrimmage, Scruggs six for 52 yards and Brent two for 52, including a diving, 34-yard TD catch. Jeffery didn't play because he tweaked his knee Friday.
At this point, Spurrier Jr. seems to be highest on Smith, who had three catches for 22 yards last season as a sophomore. In last year's spring game, Smith caught four passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Smith caught one pass in the 2010 season.
"He was behind Alshon last year, and he knew it, so I think that kind of tempered his demeanor a little bit," Spurrier Jr. said. "He knows right now, if he goes and plays as well this spring as last spring, he's the guy."
Smith entered the spring ahead of Scruggs and Jeffery at one outside receiver position. Moore led 5-7 Nick Jones at the other spot. Brent this spring moved inside, from Moore's spot to the slot role occupied by Sanders and 5-9 Damiere Byrd. But Brent continues to be an option at Moore's outside position.
Brent and Jeffery, both redshirt freshmen, are two of the more intriguing receivers this spring -- Brent because of his position change, Jeffery because he is Alshon Jeffery's brother.
Brent said his transition inside, from the "B" receiver spot to the "Z" position, means he will run fewer varieties of routes, but will have to read defensive pass coverages more often. Plus, he must play more physically, since he might find himself lined up against outside linebackers. Brent arrived at USC weighing about 170 pounds and had always struggled to gain weight.
"I was a little worried about that," he said.
But he is now 191 pounds, and wants to get heavier. During Saturday's scrimmage, he said, "I could tell that I had gotten a lot stronger, getting off people (while running routes)." While Brent might resemble Jeffery's height -- though not bulk -- he smartly shied away from comparisons.
"I'm trying to be the next K.J., I guess," he said.
Shamier Jeffery, who looks like a smaller version of his brother, spent some of the offseason training with Alshon in Tampa, Fla., and honing his route running -- one of the main things he said he must improve. Shamier is shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Alshon's playing weight last season. But he believes they share at least one trait, besides their modest and quiet personalities.
"My hands are almost like his," Shamier said. "I've got great hands. I'm not trying to brag."
USC head coach Steve Spurrier expected to know by the end of this week whether receiver/kickoff returner Bruce Ellington wants to play football, basketball or both next season. Ellington had said he would only play basketball, but USC is looking for a new basketball coach. "I think I know what he wants to do, but I was hoping that he could tell his basketball coach what he wants to do and (tell) me at the same time," Spurrier said. "So anyway, we'll wait until next week on that." ... Spurrier continues to say he expects backup running back Kenny Miles to be with the team next season as a senior. Miles, who was considering a transfer, has yet to publicly reveal his decision.