COLUMBIA — There were times last season when South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing wanted his prodigious end, Jadeveon Clowney, to show more consistent effort in practice. But all things considered, Lawing had to be pleased with Clowney’s first season.
After all, the true freshman finished with eight sacks and five forced fumbles, despite not starting.
At USC’s pro day in the spring, Lawing said New York Jets coach Rex Ryan approached coach Steve Spurrier. Ryan had watched video of USC and Clowney caught his eye.
“He told (Spurrier), ‘If he came out right now, he’d be a first-round draft pick,’ ” Lawing said. “That was after his freshman year. I tell (Clowney) all the time, ‘You can be a first-rounder or you can be the first guy.’ It’s your choice. Usually those guys who are the first guy (drafted), they have great work ethic. If those teams are going to invest all that money in a guy, they want somebody that’s going to work.”
Lawing has seen Clowney develop a better work ethic this preseason, but that doesn’t mean he is pushing him less often during practices, as Clowney prepares to start opposite Devin Taylor.
“No, I’m pushing him more because my expectations go up when they’re sophomores,” Lawing said. “As they get older, you’ve got to keep turning that dang knob up to six, to seven, to eight. I told him when he came here that he’s going to get coached, and I promised that to him and I’m not going to let him down.”
Lawing also said his second-stringers are set: junior Chaz Sutton and senior Aldrick Fordham at end, and redshirt freshmen Phillip Dukes and Gerald Dixon Jr. at tackle.
Senior receiver D.L. Moore is a big target at 6-5 and 198 pounds, but he is not particularly experienced. He has 32 career catches, including eight last season. His position coach, Steve Spurrier Jr., sees him playing a bigger role this season, which begins a week from tonight at Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks are looking for receivers beyond their only proven returner at the position, Ace Sanders.
“D.L. has had a really, really good camp,” Spurrier Jr. said. “We need to find a way to let him play a little bit, because he’s done really, really well. He’s playing faster. He’s playing stronger. He knows where he’s going. He’s come a long way. When he first got here, shoot, it seemed like the next three years, he never had real confidence in everything we were doing offensively. He’s just gotten a lot more confident in all that stuff. He’s made a lot of plays this preseason.”
Davis eager for chance
When running backs coach Everette Sands recently told true freshman Mike Davis that Shon Carson would be out indefinitely with a wrist injury that required surgery, Davis didn’t hide his excitement.
“You could see his eyes light up,” Sands said.
Obviously, Davis didn’t want to see a teammate get hurt, but Carson’s injury — and Brandon Wilds’ sprained ankle — means Davis is in the mix to be the No. 3 tailback behind Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles.
Sands said Lattimore and Miles will get the bulk of the carries, but he wants to have a third back ready for the Vanderbilt trip.
And if Davis wants to contribute, he must polish a few parts of his game, which is typical for a true freshman. Sands said Davis missed a pass during Saturday’s scrimmage “just because he was trying to run before he caught it. That’s just a focus thing.”
Blocking is also a hurdle for most true freshman tailbacks, including Davis, who was the highest-rated recruit in USC’s incoming freshman class. He has the bulk (216 pounds) and willingness (according to Sands) to become a better blocker.
“He understands that to be on the field consistently, he’s got to get that done,” Sands said.