It would have taken an act of God to keep South Carolina defensive end Chaz Sutton off the field next week against North Carolina.

Sutton, a fifth-year senior, returned to practice Wednesday morning after missing nearly two weeks with a sprained foot.

“I don’t think I would have ever sat out a game,” Sutton said. “I think God would have had to have struck me with a lightning bolt to sit out.”

Sutton said he is certain he could have played had the injury occurred during the regular season and wouldn’t have missed a single game.

“It was all precautionary,” Sutton said. “They just wanted me to stay off of it and make sure I’m doing the right things, so it won’t turn into a bigger problem later down the road.”

Before each practice, Sutton would pepper the USC medical staff with questions about when he could return and how much he could push his rehabilitation. It was a frustrating two weeks for the Savannah, Ga., native.

“It wasn’t easy sitting on the sidelines,” Sutton said. “Even though I was hurt I would ask the trainers, ‘Can I practice today? Is there anything I can do?’ I just wanted to do anything I could to make myself feel like I was getting better.

“I was upset about it at first, but I got into the treatment room two or three times a day and rehabbed it. The doctors and trainers told me what to do, and now I’m feeling good and happy to be back out here playing again.”

In 2012, Sutton had five sacks for the Gamecocks, second only to All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Sutton said it will take a few practices to get his form and conditioning back.

“I feel great, I’m almost back to where I was before I left practice,” Sutton said. “I’m just trying to get back into the groove of things. I’m a little rusty, but I should be OK by next week. ”

Sutton said he plans on putting in some extra work after practices leading up to the season opener against North Carolina on Aug. 29. The time away from practice could mean he’ll have an extra jump in his step against the Tar Heels.

“I think I’ll be fresher, but I’ve got to get back into football shape,” Sutton said. “I’m going to go through practice every day, run a little bit after practice and do whatever else I can to make sure I’m in shape for the North Carolina offense.”

True freshmen will play

Most of the true freshman defensive players will see action this season, USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.

Ward expects all four linebackers — Larenz Bryant, David Johnson, Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton — to play this year along with defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin. Johnson could see time at defensive end as well.

“We’re going to play all four linebackers,” Ward said. “We think David (Johnson) will play some at end as long as he continues to learn what we do. Kelsey Griffin is still in the mix at defensive tackle. So right now, we’re planning on playing them all.”

Ward said he plans to redshirt a freshman or two in the secondary, including Ali Groves.

“We’ve got some young guys on the perimeter that might redshirt,” he said.

As more and more offenses around college football trend toward spread formations, Ward said you’ll see fewer and fewer defensive players redshirting.

“I think depth has become an issue because teams are spreading you out more, so you need as much depth as possible,” Ward said. “That’s why you don’t redshirt as many players as you used to. If the game was still played between the tackles, you’d see a lot more kids getting redshirted.”

Injury update

Wide receiver Bruce Ellington remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Other players who did not practice or avoided contact during practice Wednesday were Devin Washington (concussion), Jerell Adams (ankle), Carlton Heard (hamstring), James King (foot), Gerald Turner (ankle), Kyle Morini (elbow), Cedrick Cooper (elbow), Rory “Busta” Anderson (hamstring), Mike Matulis (shoulder) and Cody Gibson (sprained right knee).