Practice report: Johnson likes what he sees

nwhite@thestate.com ... jperson@thestate.comAugust 12, 2010 

Stephon Gilmore caught a punt, Wednesday during practice at the USC practice field. USC football practice, Wednesday morning, held on the practice field.

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USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson still isn’t quite sure what to make of his defensive unit nine days into preseason camp. But he’s hoping to learn a lot more by the end of this week.

After viewing video of Tuesday’s scrimmage, he liked some things he saw, although most of the team’s starting defenders did not participate. He wanted to get a look at the younger players in order to begin figuring out his depth chart.

“I thought we did OK. The younger guys, the real new guys, gave great effort,” Johnson said. “They were kind of sloppy, but they fought hard. They actually ended up stopping (the offense) a few times and causing some turnovers, stuff like that. But they don’t really know what they’re doing right now. They’re just playing hard.”

He expects to learn a lot more when the team scrimmages again this weekend, when his starters will be on the field.

“I’m anxious to see Saturday. I hope we’ll have more of the ones (starters) out there at least for 20 to 30 snaps or maybe 15 to 20 snaps, whatever we choose to do,” he said.

Johnson will feel better about his group as the nagging injuries begin to sort themselves out.

He has seen bright spots in senior Chris Culliver’s switch from safety to cornerback and the solid play of sophomore safety D.J. Swearinger. He also noted that junior linebacker Rodney Paulk is working his way back into form after two consecutive seasons cut short by a knee injury.

“You can tell he really hasn’t been out there for two years. Even as smart as Rodney is and as old as he is, when you don’t have reps, you get a little rusty and you lose a little edge,” Johnson said. “With another four or five days, he’ll be back to his old self.”

Staying put

Reserve receiver DeMario Bennett said he was frustrated earlier this week when he approached the coaching staff about transferring to Coastal Carolina.

Bennett, a redshirt freshman listed as a third-teamer on the preseason depth chart, decided to remain at USC after meeting with Steve Spurrier.

“I was thinking out of frustration. I’m going to stay, though. I’m happy to be here, competing to play. Hopefully, I’ll earn a spot,” said Bennett, who caught two passes for 27 yards in Tuesday’s scrimmage. “Sometimes players get down and they don’t think before they act.”

Stock rising

USC defensive end Cliff Matthews is one of 36 preseason candidates for the 2010 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.

The 6-4, 268-pound senior from Cheraw, a consensus preseason All-SEC pick after garnering second-team honors last season, is coming off a season where he had 47 tackles, 10 for loss, with seven sacks. The team captain also is listed on the preseason Lott Trophy, Nagurski and Lombardi watch lists.

Stock falling

Linebacker Shaq Wilson, tasked with replacing All-American Eric Norwood, has missed more than a week after pulling his hamstring halfway through the first practice. Johnson said Wilson was close to returning a few days ago before aggravating the injury while jogging.

“I hope we’ll get him back in a few days,” Johnson said. “I know Shaq knows what he’s doing. But if they don’t get repetition, they get rusty.”

Extra points

... Johnson confirmed the coaches have liked the morning practices better than the evening practices, especially from a time management aspect. But not all of the players are onboard.

“I like morning better than the night. The players are about 50-50,” Johnson said. “But the head coach is like the vice president when he walks in the (U.S.) Senate and breaks a tie.”

... First-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has seen his position thinned by knee injuries this week to backup center Ryan Broadhead and freshman tackle Cody Gibson. Asked if he was satisfied with the depth behind his first-team unit, Elliott said, “There’s only five more after the first five, so you’ve got to be happy with it.”

Injury report

Senior fullback/tight end Patrick DiMarco sat out Wednesday with a bruised left forearm, which he hurt in Tuesday’s scrimmage.

Also sidelined was senior wide receiver Dion LeCorn, who sprained his shoulder in the scrimmage as well. Junior guard Rokevious Watkins didn’t practice because of a stinger. Shaq Wilson, sophomore running back Kenny Miles and sophomore linebacker Qua Gilchrist remain out with hamstring problems.

Defensive back Corey Addison was held out with a concussion, while Reginald Bowens was out with a knee sprain.

Quote of the day

“Listen, I’m going to wait to worry. Understand? When we can’t put five out there on the field, then I’ll start worrying about things. You can’t worry about what happens. … We’re going to coach the guys we have, push them to the limit, get them ready to play, and we’ll go from there.” – Elliott, on dealing with several early injuries to his linemen

Up next

The Gamecocks will practice Thursday at 8:30 a.m. It is closed to the public.

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