Football: Coaches seek matured Saunders

Tight end has irked some coaches with his comments; Johnson's work is a snap

semerson@thestate.comApril 7, 2010 

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USC tight end No. 88 Weslye Saunders jogs during warmups and stretching during practice.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

After being suspended from team activities earlier this year, South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders has been on the field throughout spring practice.

But his position coach, Jeep Hunter, indicated that Saunders still has some work to do.

"Weslye has improved on his blocking, and if he can just learn to be a team player and continue to do well, we'll be fine," Hunter said.

The 6-foot-6 Saunders was third on the team in receptions last year with 32, including two touchdowns against archrival Clemson. He has been ranked by some experts as one of the top tight end prospects in the 2011 draft.

But Saunders has peeved coaches on occasion with some of his public comments, which they viewed as giving other teams bulletin-board material. (The team turned down an interview request for Saunders on Tuesday.) His suspension in January came after missing the first team meeting of the semester.

"I think he's growing up. He's understanding that sometimes when you say things, it can kind of put you in a unique situation. I think he's learning from it and maturing as a young man," Hunter said. "He's quite intelligent, but he's growing up, he's maturing. He can see it is a process. It's a process with all of us in life."

Snapping to attention. First-year center T.J. Johnson received some first-hand pointers on snapping the ball after Tuesday's practice - and the teacher was coach Steve Spurrier.

Johnson was practicing underneath snaps, because USC mainly has been doing shotgun snaps this spring.

But Johnson needs the practice anyway. He never has played center before this season.

"I'm working on it," Johnson said. "I'm not there yet, but I think with every practice I'm getting better."

Johnson has been doing some homework, too. His assigned roommate this spring is quarterback Connor Shaw, and the two often walk outside to do some snapping.

"I don't know if it was for that reason, but they hooked us up together (as roommates)," Johnson said.

How long can they go? Spurrier still isn't sure what the format will be for the Garnet and Black game. He has discussed playing two-and-a-half quarters.

A big issue is having enough healthy players to divide playing time. The line, for instance, just reached 10 healthy bodies following Tuesday's return of Rokevius Watkins.

"I don't how we're gonna quite do it right now. We'll have a good half and see how we are," Spurrier said.

The plan at quarterback is to play the four scholarship players - Stephen Garcia, Shaw, Zac Brindise and Andrew Clifford. Spurrier also would like to get walk-on Seth Strickland some playing time.

He said it. Spurrier made a point of congratulating the new NCAA men's basketball champs - Duke, where Spurrier coached football from 1986-89.

"Good game last night, enjoyed watching," Spurrier said. "Glad to see my old school that I worked at win the national championship. Hopefully we can win one here pretty soon."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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