On the day South Carolina put the pads on for the first time this spring, middle linebacker Rodney Paulk did not want to feel left out.
Paulk was in pads for the first time since sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the opener at N.C. State last year. Paulk, who has played in five games the past two seasons, knew he could not practice Thursday but suited up, anyway.
Theyre still not letting me practice, but I came out here anyway just to get used to it the feeling of pads and practicing with this (protective) brace on, Paulk said.
Paulk, who had ACL surgery on his right knee in September, plans to be back for the start of preseason drills in August, if not sooner. He said there is a possibility he could get a few, limited snaps this spring.
I feel good. Honestly, I feel I can go play tomorrow if I need to, he said. But theyre just taking it easy on me right now, being smart about it.
Paulk is one of four defensive regulars recovering from surgeries. Cornerback Chris Culliver and end Cliff Matthews had shoulder operations, while tackle Travian Robertson had his ACL repaired.
Weve got a lot of young players, and they need this experience to learn and get better, Matthews said. Because us veterans, we already know it. It just gives them an opportunity to learn.
Matthews said he has had no setbacks with his shoulder, which he dislocated against Tennessee. Matthews, a junior who tied for the team lead with seven sacks last season, was projected to be drafted in the first three rounds by the NFLs underclassmen advisory committee.
Though Matthews said the high grade was nice, he was returning to school regardless of his injury.
I wanted to come back and get my degree. I really didnt have a thought of leaving.
No help in no-huddle
The offense has yet to huddle in three spring practices, and will not do much huddling in Saturdays scrimmage, either, coach Steve Spurrier said. Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus, who has been signaling in the plays, and new offensive line coach Shawn Elliott both have experience with the no-huddle offense.
I like it. But the guys need to communicate a little bit better, Spurrier said. Its OK to tell your buddy what the play is if he didnt get it. Theyre keeping it a secret from some guys.
USC is emphasizing its kickoff coverage after allowing three touchdown returns last season.
Were trying to cover kickoffs better and trying to return some, also, Spurrier said. We covered pretty well most of the year. But when you have three runbacks on you, thats not real good.
Adam Yates handled kickoffs last season, but coaches are also looking at transfers Jay Wooten (North Carolina) and Joey Scribner-Howard (Carson-Newman). None had a good day Thursday, prompting special teams coach Shane Beamer to tell the kickers they would do all onsides attempts in the fall.
USC expects 100 coaches or more for its annual clinic, which features talks today by Chesterfield coach and former Gamecocks quarterback Steve Taneyhill, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant and ex-USC aide Rich Bisaccia and former S.C. State coach Willie Jeffries.
Tailback Jarvis Giles was OK after appearing to injure his knee when he slipped making a cut. It turned out to be a cramp.
Running backs gotta play with their feet on the ground. But Jarvis is jumping and falling and slipping, Spurrier said. He made some good runs earlier in the day, though.
Chris Payne, the Columbia High safety who signed with USC last year, attended practice. Payne is taking night classes in Columbia after he was dismissed for Fork Union (Va.) Prep in December.
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.