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August 17, 2011

Gridiron Extra: Johnson snaps to it



It was another classic Steve Spurrier moment.

Spurrier rode up quietly in a golf cart as South Carolina center T.J. Johnson spoke to the media on Tuesday underneath the goalposts closest to the entrance to The Proving Grounds.

Conveniently, the subject was Johnson's tendency during preseason camp to snap the ball too high. A couple have sailed over the quarterback's head.

Spurrier smiled and asked, "What'd he say about his high snaps?"

Johnson turned and faced his good-natured coach.

"Starting center all last year and kept snapping the ball high," Spurrier continued. "Had two tonight and one last night."

Johnson replied, "I won't have any more the rest of camp, coach."

Spurrier retorted, "You all heard him," before driving off.

Johnson turned back and again faced the reporters. He was promptly asked a question about Spurrier riding him.

"Yeah, that's coach Spurrier for you," Johnson said. "There is a lot more that goes behind it than what's been going on. My snaps will be fine. They'll be ready for the game."

Johnson has experienced an occasional hiccup in the first 14 practices of camp. Last week, Spurrier put in backup center Travis Ford after Johnson sailed a shotgun snap a few feet over the quarterback's head. Spurrier blamed the errant snap on Johnson's concern about blocking the nose tackle before snapping the ball.

"The center snap is very important," Johnson said. "You can ask coach Spurrier about that. If it's anywhere but dead center, it's not good."

After being dominated by the defensive line on Monday, Johnson says the offensive line performed better on Tuesday and held its own at some points.

"They got us last night, there is no doubt about it," Johnson said. "We came out here tonight, we made a few corrections and did some decent things. But we still have a long way to go. We're looking forward to the scrimmage tomorrow where we can go full out and everything."

Johnson, who has started 27 straight games for the Gamecocks, maintains knocking helmets every day with one of the top defensive lines in the SEC has helped the offensive line improve and adequately prepare for the conference wars.

"I feel like going against them every day has made me personally better and our line so much better," Johnson said. "Some of those guys can do some pretty amazing things. It's been really good for us to go against that competition."

Because Travian Robertson has been held out for the last several practices, Johnson said he has battled Byron Jerideau and Aldrick Fordham on the interior. Jerideau, the strongest player on the team, has been a handful for Johnson.

"Byron is so squatty," Johnson said. "Myself, Byron and Aldrick, we love the competition. It's kind of a personal thing between us."

BRENT BATTLING: Last week Spurrier favorably compared USC freshman wide receiver K.J. Brent to former Florida great Chris Doering, the SEC's all-time leader with 31 career touchdown receptions. However, Brent was a toddler when Doering last played for the Gators in 1995, so he never saw him play live.

"I've seen him in highlights, classics," Brent said in his first interview as a Gamecock. "He's pretty good, too. I'm excited about that (the comparison). I didn't know that."

Even though he's been part of the program for just 2 1-2 months, Brent has impressed the coaches and teammates with his acute ability to catch the football. He's had very few drops in the first 14 practices.

"It feels pretty good. I've been working hard all offseason," Brent said. "I got here in May. I wanted to get here a little bit early so I could get the offense down. It's pretty tough, but I think I'm doing pretty well right now. The receiving corps is doing very well. We had a good practice today. So we're going to keep grinding it out."

Is the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Brent performing well enough to earn a spot among the top six receivers, assuring him of meaningful playing time in the season-opener on Sept. 3? He said an additional five to 10 pounds would boost his chances of early playing time.

"I just came in with my nose to the grindstone, working hard," Brent said. "I didn't have any expectations to play, redshirt or anything. I just wanted to learn (the offense) quick and see if I could produce and try to contribute to the team as soon as I could. Coach Spurrier hasn't given any hint. He's been pretty quiet about that. We all know who can play, but we have no idea who is going to be in the top six or whatever he has, so we're just working hard every day to see if we can play."

What has been Brent's biggest adjustment so far? Adapting to the speed of the defensive backs.

"High school is nowhere near SEC speed," Brent said. "The first time we put the pads on, the first snap, Antonio Allen knocked me off the ball. I knew I had to get faster and quicker. I haven't had a real big problem yet with getting jammed. Hopefully, I won't. Coach (Steve) Spurrier Jr. tells us to look at the cornerback, not the ball and listen to the cadence."

Brent has worked mostly at B receiver behind D.L. Moore and Nick Jones.

SANDERS IS FASTER: Ace Sanders created a sensation early in the 2010 season as a freshman when he used his blazing speed to make a couple of big plays, including a 53-yard scamper in the season opener against Southern Miss. This year, Sanders contends he is faster than ever.

"I've put a lot of work in the weight room and on my conditioning and progress was made," Sanders said. "You can cut time on your takeoff, shorten up on dipping instead of just bursting out and my first step is quicker. I'm accelerating faster."

Sanders is competing with Jason Barnes for the starting job at the Z receiver, commonly known as the slot receiver.

"I'm doing a lot less standing around while the play is going on," Sanders said. "I'm actually playing the whole play out. I know what's going on as a receiver. I know the angles to take when I'm blocking and I know when the ball should be coming to me."

Does Sanders dare dream about a lineup that features himself and freshman Damiere Byrd on the field at the same time? Yes.

"That's scary, that's a lot of speed out there," Sanders said. "Plus, even with Alshon out there, it stretches out the field even more."

THE FREAK: Fellow Gamecock defensive linemen commonly describe Melvin Ingram as a "freak." Now the senior from Hamlet, N.C., is mentoring the athlete many college football analysts consider as arguably the most freakish player in a decade - Jadeveon Clowney.

"I just want to get him mentally ready and show him the plays and get him focused and make him play hard every play," Ingram said. "We have to show him this isn't high school any more, show him that he has to go hard every play and listen to the coaches."

Ingram vowed to teach Clowney "everything I know." After four years with the program, that's a lot of information for the freshman to digest.

"Of course he impresses me," Ingram said. "Coming out of high school, he was a great player. I love him to death. He and I will hold things down. I would never try to limit him by not showing him stuff. I'm going to show him everything I know, everything other people have shown me. He has speed and power. He is a great football player."

Speaking of playing hard, USC defensive line coach Brad Lawing described a conversation with Ingram during the recruiting process when Ingram told him he would play hard for a Gatorade.

"God gave me this gift to play football and we're going to come out and play hard," Ingram said.

Ingram's unique skills were showcased in a recent practice when he blanketed running back Marcus Lattimore on some wheel routes.

"I just feel like if I can guard Marcus, then I can guard everybody," Ingram said. "Marcus is one of the best backs I've ever been around."

Ingram finished third in the SEC with nine sacks in 2010 to go along with 11 tackles for loss and 28 tackles overall.

"I'm just trying to be relentless and trying to be around the ball wherever the ball is," Ingram said. "That's the philosophy of the entire defense. We want all 11 guys being around the ball. If we do that, we can have a successful season."

Lawing said recently Ingram initially resisted moving to defensive line, but has now accepted the move as the best way to help himself and the team.

"It was a hard transition, but I feel like it's all competition and I want to move anywhere the coaches want me to play," Ingram said. "Coach Lawing kept telling me to buy into it and I bought into it about a year or year-and-a-half ago. I'm very happy. The coaches wanted me to do it and I'm willing to do whatever they want me to do."

MISCELLANEOUS:

-- For the first time since 2007, a Spurrier Vineyards commemorative wine is being offered for sale with proceeds benefiting the Steve Spurrier Foundation and the University of South Carolina golf programs. Through a partnership with Southern Wine and Spirits of South Carolina, "Gamecock Garnet" is hitting the shelves of retailers throughout the state. "We are excited about the milestone (SEC East championship) reached by Gamecock Football last year," stated Tom Collins, Vice President and General Manager of Southern Wine & Spirits. "The wine is a great way to recognize the title and also benefit South Carolina golf and coach Spurrier's charities."

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