As A.J. Cann was finishing talking to the media after a recent South Carolina spring practice, quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson walked by and offered opinions of their most experienced offensive lineman.
Shaw said Cann was the Big Man on Campus, while Thompson called the 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior the best offensive lineman in the country.
That’s big praise, but offensive line coach Shawn Elliott might agree.
“A.J. is a great player,” Elliott said. “He can be as good as he wants to be. He should be one of the best in our conference, if not the country, and I will tell him that to his face. I’ve seen leadership. He’s the hardest working guy on our football team, and I expect him to step up and be a really great football player next fall.”
Cann has done most of his work with little notoriety. The native of Bamberg has started 25 of 26 games in his two years and has the most starts of any player returning. The only start he missed was at Florida last season.
The offensive line returns four of five starters, but Cann will be counted on to be the leader of the group. He is not the most vocal guy but that suits him and Elliott fine. The only starter who must be replaced — center T.J. Johnson — was not very vocal but managed to be a leader almost from day one. Johnson started every game over the past four seasons and Elliott sees some of the same characteristics in Cann.
“There is no difference in the way A.J. and T.J. lead our football team,” Elliott said. “(Cann) is not a big vocal guy but he shows it on and off the field. He’s not a guy that will yell at a guy when they mess up but he shows it in what he does and the other guys feed off of that.”
Cann he is making progress with the new mindset.
“I’ve tried to be a more vocal guy,” Cann said. “I guess since I’m the older person along the offensive line, I have to step it up a little more and be more vocal.”
Many observers believe the line holds the key to the success of the offense this fall. Even though the Gamecocks lost leading rusher Marcus Lattimore and leading receiver Ace Sanders, there are playmakers in place if the offensive line can do its job.
Cann was on several first-team Freshman All-American teams in 2011 but didn’t earn postseason accolades last season. He has taken that as motivation going into his junior campaign.
“I tried to get stronger in the weight room this offseason, and, hopefully, that will carry over to the field,” Cann said. “I know I can get a lot better at pass blocking. It’s something we’ve struggled with over the years so that’s something we all can get better at. We understand a lot of eyes are on us. We need to be better as a group and I feel like I can help with that process.”