There’s nobody with a more forlorn look at USC football practice than injured linebacker Shaq Wilson.
The junior remains out with hamstring issues that have forced him to miss the majority of preseason camp, and his weariness over not being able to participate with his teammates is obvious. However, he remains hopeful that he can make it back for a few practices before the Sept. 2 opener against Southern Miss.
“If I can get through some practices, I want to play,” Wilson said. “If it’s the day of the game, I want to play. I just want to feel better where I can be my normal self and feel good.”
Assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said if Wilson can practice at least three days, he would start him. But if Wilson can’t play, Johnson is exploring his options.
“Quin (Smith) is just a nose ahead of Tony (Straughter), but they would split time. They’ve both had a pretty good four or five days. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about them,” Johnson said.
“It’s just when you lose a guy with Shaq’s experience and his leadership and his poise – I was talking to (Eric) Norwood the other day and he was laughing about how the veterans wouldn’t ever tell him anything at camp because they don’t want to give away any secrets. And he said, ‘Man, Shaq always told you where to line up.’ It was the first time I ever knew that Shaq knew more than Norwood.”
Wilson, the team’s leading tackler last season, feels like he’s letting his teammates down. But in the meantime, he tries to help support his fellow linebackers off the field.
“If I know everything I should, those linebackers should know exactly the same as me because we’re in the same meetings. I’m just trying to make sure they know everything,” he said.
Defensive linemen Kenny Davis, a 6-3, 303-pound sophomore, and Byron McKnight, a 6-5, 235-pound junior, are starting to round into form and make Johnson feel better about his depth upfront.
“Kenny was probably one of the most pleasant surprises in the last scrimmage. I thought Byron has made steady improvement along the way,” Johnson said. “But the first couple of scrimmages, they were both very disappointing in the way they fought through the heat and the effort and those type of things. But they’ve been a pleasant surprise the last two scrimmages.”
Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye, who missed part of practice, and defensive backs Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock, who missed all of practice, continue to have lingering problems related to their residence at the Whitney Hotel.
Tailback Jarvis Giles and fullback/tight end Patrick DiMarco remained in yellow (no-contact) jerseys, but they both participated in the practice. Receiver Dion LeCorn, who has a sprained shoulder, and offensive guard Terrence Campbell, who has a high ankle sprain, continue to remain out of practice.
... Plenty of wide receivers continue to get work, which means the USC quarterbacks have plenty of targets. DeMario Bennett, the redshirt freshman, is trying to stay in the mix.
“We have a lot of great receivers, a lot of depth, young,” Bennett said. “All of us are competing to play. You get out on the field and everybody brings a different aspect to the game. The coaches use who we need in certain situations.”
... Sophomore D.J. Swearinger has played boundary safety the last two practices just so he can work out the nuances there. But Johnson also wants him available to play free safety. “Our hope is that still he can learn both as we go down the stretch,” Johnson said.
Quote of the day
“He’s a very talented player. He had a serious injury a couple of years ago, but he had a great year last year and it didn’t seem to affect him. He’s made big plays on a lot of folks. He looks a lot like Alshon (Jeffery), and they claim he’s even faster. He’ll be a threat every time we line up.” – Johnson on DeAndre Brown, a 6-6, 239-pound receiver for Southern Miss
The Gamecocks will practice Wednesday at 4:15 p.m.