HOOVER, Ala. | Defensive end Cliff Matthews has assumed Eric Norwood’s mantle as the face of the South Carolina defense.
Unlike Norwood, Matthews has company on the preseason All-SEC team.
Matthews was joined by cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the first team of the media’s all-conference team, which was released Thursday, the final day of SEC Media Days. The two, both of whom also were first-team selections on the coaches’ preseason team, were the only Gamecocks recognized by the media.
SEC coaches had three USC players on their second team — receiver Alshon Jeffery, cornerback Chris Culliver and defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye.
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Matthews, a senior from Cheraw, tied with Norwood last season for the team high with seven sacks. With Norwood now playing for the Carolina Panthers, Matthews knows he has to take over as the leader of a unit that has finished in the top 15 nationally in assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson’s first two seasons.
“Eric pretty much handed me the crown. He left this defense to me,” Matthews said this week. “So I’ve got to do whatever I need to do to have us ready to play every week.”
Gilmore, a sophomore from Rock Hill, started every game last fall after arriving at USC as a Parade All-American. Gilmore had one interception and eight pass breakups in 2009 and was fifth on the team with 56 tackles.
The full team is listed below.
Neither heat nor rain — nor scheduled off-days — has slowed Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton during his first summer on the Plains. The junior college transfer has wasted little time taking on a leadership role, according to Auburn tackle Lee Ziemba.
“Cam Newton is extremely hard-working,” Ziemba said. “The neat thing about the summer is that we get Saturday and Sunday off. And yet, I’ll drive by on a Saturday and see him dragging receivers onto the field, even in the rain, throwing into the net or working on routes.
“He’s also becoming a more vocal leader, so it’ll be exciting to see him in the fall.”
Newton was Tim Tebow’s backup at Florida before off-the-field problems prompted his transfer to Blinn (Texas) College, where he led the two-year school to a national title.
“It’s a good thing he’s had a little bit of experience in this league, just traveling around and being in different stadiums, seeing it, knowing it,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “The fact that he went to a junior college, was able to lead that team to a national championship, I think that was big.”
Chizik said the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Newton has the physical tools but must prove he can perform “in front of 90,000. Obviously, that’s the question.”
Back to school
LSU finished sixth in the SEC in total defense last year in defensive coordinator John Chavis’ first season with the Tigers. And though LSU lost seven defensive starters, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard expects the Tigers to play more aggressively in their second year under Chavis, a Dillon native and former Tennessee defensive coordinator known as “Chief.”
“Last year after the season, coach Chavis told me that was only half the playbook,” Sheppard said. “I laughed and said, ‘Are you serious.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time.’
“I’m looking for him to open it up. We’ve got young guys, but they’ve been through the system so, hopefully, you’ll see more blitzes and it’ll be more exciting.”
Preseason All-SEC teams chosen by reporters covering league media days with votes in parentheses (out of 177 voters):
QB--Ryan Mallett (118), Arkansas
RB--Mark Ingram (165), Alabama
RB--Trent Richardson (69), Alabama
WR--A.J. Green (142), Georgia
WR--Julio Jones (123), Alabama
TE--D.J. Williams (105), Arkansas
OL--Lee Ziemba (114), Auburn
OL--Barrett Jones (103), Alabama
OL--Clint Boling (85), Georgia
OL--James Carpenter (77), Alabama
C--Mike Pouncey (109), Florida
DL--Marcell Dareus (126), Alabama
DL--Jerrell Powe (77), Mississippi
DL--Cliff Matthews (46), South Carolina
LB--Dont'a Hightower (158), Alabama
LB--Kelvin Sheppard (84), LSU
LB--Josh Bynes (72), Auburn
LB--Brandon Hicks (65), Florida
DB--Mark Barron (127), Alabama
DB--Patrick Peterson (116), LSU
DB--Ahmad Black (67), Florida
DB--Stephon Gilmore (61), South Carolina
PK--Blair Walsh (72), Georgia
P--Drew Butler (104), Georgia
RS--Derrick Locke (45), Kentucky
AP--Randall Cobb (123), Kentucky
QB--Greg McElroy (44), Alabama
RB--Derrick Locke (40), Kentucky
RB--Mario Fannin (22), Auburn
WR--Darvin Adams (19), Auburn
WR--Randall Cobb (14), Kentucky
TE--Luke Stocker (26), Tennessee
OL--Carl Johnson (53), Florida
OL--Marcus Gilbert (48), Florida
OL--Derek Sherrod (47), Miss. St.
OL--DeMarcus Love (27), Arkansas
C--William Vlachos (27), Alabama
DL--Pernell McPhee (34), Miss. St.
DL--Justin Trattou (31), Florida
DL--Kentrell Lockett (29), Mississippi
LB--Chris Marve (62), Vanderbilt
LB--Nick Reveiz (32), Tennessee
LB--Courtney Upshaw (31), Alabama
LB--Justin Houston (30), Georgia
DB--Janoris Jenkins (56), Florida
DB--Will Hill (41), Florida
DB--Brandon Boykin (39), Georgia
DB--Zac Etheridge (33), Auburn
PK--Wes Byrum (65), Auburn
P--Chas Henry (34), Florida
RS--Julio Jones (42), Alabama
RS--Warren Norman (42), Vanderbilt
AP--Chris Rainey (35), Florida