Practice report: Johnson looks past 2010 hype

Assistant coach says SEC will be as tough as ever; Ajiboye returns to practice

jperson@thestate.comApril 1, 2010 

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USC assistant head coach Ellis Johnson walks onto the practice field before practice.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

Greeting South Carolina coaches and players Thursday outside the entrance to the practice field was a sign suggesting at least one fan is tired of waiting ‘til next year:

“We the fans do our part every year, now do yours! 2010 SEC championship.”

With 15 starters back and question marks surrounding a few of their rivals, the Gamecocks have become a trendy pick to challenge Florida in the SEC East this season.

And while USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson believes preseason polls and rankings are good for stirring up fan interest, he is not sure they’re worth more than the paper they’re printed on.

“It really doesn’t mean anything. Everybody said Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are in turmoil. All of them had top-10 classes in recruiting (Rivals had Georgia 15th). Who you kidding?” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to tie it up and get ready to go every time we play in this conference. Just because somebody else has a problem in the kitchen, we think we’re all going to catch up with them. We’ve got our own problems we’ve got to worry about.”

Johnson said USC’s defense has the potential to be better than the 2009 unit that finished third in the SEC and 15th nationally in yards allowed. But with 14 years of SEC experience, Johnson knows how well the Gamecocks must play to contend.

“This conference never goes backwards. You’re always trying to keep up with the front dogs,” he said. “It’s going to be as tough as ever.”

Ajiboye returns

Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye returned after missing several practices with a sprained right foot.

But don’t go to the spring game expecting to see Ajiboye play: Defensive line coach Brad Lawing does not want to risk an injury to a player he believes could be among the SEC’s best interior linemen in the fall.

“I think he’s got the ability, if he has an outstanding year next year, he could be an All-SEC defensive tackle,” Lawing said. “If he sustains it through an entire season – because he really came on last year in the last half of the season.”

Ajiboye was suspended for the first three games of last season, but finished with 45 tackles, including 10 in the bowl loss to Connecticut. The junior said he is down 10 pounds to 275 because he eats “normal” during the spring.

“During the season we eat more. They feed us like it ain’t nothing,” Ajiboye said. “But I’m going to get it back easy when it’s go time.”

Back home

If defensive back D.J. Swearinger looks more comfortable this spring, it’s because the freshman is back at safety, the position he played at Greenwood High. Swearinger, who played in all 13 games last year at cornerback and on special teams, has turned heads this spring with his physical play.

“I like hitting,” Swearinger said. “That’s my number one priority: to hit somebody.”

Johnson said Swearinger is challenging Akeem Auguste, who also moved from corner to safety, for the starting spot.

“I thought the first couple or three practices, it was the same old D.J. – a lot of bad mistakes that will get you costly errors in the back,” Johnson said. “I think he’s done about as well as anybody as far as improvement level. He’s really looked good.”

Up next

The Gamecocks will practice at 4 p.m. today before taking the Easter weekend off. USC might scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium at the end of today’s practice.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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