Jonathan Walton has seen his role at South Carolina wax and wane.
The senior linebacker saw his time on the field grow as his sophomore year came to a close, but it tapered off as 2015 wore on. Then he got an alternative job, subbing in as a fullback in a heavy package late last fall, catching a scoring pass against Tennessee.
And while he’s received first-team defensive looks through much of spring, he didn’t rule out a return to the offensive side.
“It’s kind of a two-way thing for me,” Walton said Tuesday after the team’s first open practice. “If I end up doing it, I wouldn’t mind it. And if I don’t, I’m fine.”
Working with a new staff has meant a fresh start, he said, and he’s seeing the game with a more mature eye, what he called a coach’s mindset.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp revealed that Tuesday was safety D.J. Smith’s final practice of the spring. The junior tore a ligament in his thumb the opening practice after catching it on a jersey, but played through since. He’ll have surgery Thursday morning.
Center Alan Knott was held out with a sprained wrist and guard Cory Helms filled in. Muschamp said Perry Orth, who broke his collarbone Saturday, should be healthy by June 1 and the coach hoped Lorenzo Nunez would return next week from a hyperextended knee.
Wide receiver Jalen Christian did not practice Tuesday because of personal issues at home. Buck defensive end Darius English was out with a groin injury, and defensive tackle Ulric Jones had a minor shoulder injury during the practice.
Senior defensive lineman Abu Lamin is hoping a leaner frame will help him make a bigger impact for the Gamecocks in 2016.
“I’ve lost about 20 to 30 pounds,” Lamin said. “It was time for a change. I’m moving quicker. I’m trying to work on my body quickness, trying to be faster off the ball. I’m a lot slimmer, a lot leaner. I don’t have a lot holding me down.”
At 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Lamin said he is playing more at the four technique tackle spot this spring. The impetus behind his body restructuring came from coaches in winter workouts telling him he could play multiple positions on the line.
He’s done just that so far, he said.
“They said I have the body frame to play defensive end,” Lamin said. “The four consists of a smaller body type. I’ve played nose, three, four, end, I’ve played it all so far.”
▪ Quarterback Brandon McIlwain took the first-team snaps with Connor Mitch working mostly on the second team. McIlwain threw some solid passes, but also tossed at least three interceptions, one in team drills when he threw a long pass across his body and the receiver fell down.
▪ McIlwain also showed some nice mobility when several plays broke down.
▪ Despite the thumb injury, D.J. Smith played with the first team.
▪ The defense showed a few more looks with Buck defensive ends standing up, including Bryson Allen-Williams and Daniel Fennell.
▪ Tight end K.C. Crosby caught a swing screen, motioning out of the backfield.
▪ Wide receiver Terry Googer caught a couple nice deep balls and receiver Javon Charleston was active, breaking a few short passes for longer gains.
▪ The staff rotated running backs with the first group, including redshirt freshman A.J. Turner.
▪ Defensive end Marquavius Lewis had an emphatic bat-down of a pass.
▪ We saw one drill pitting three bunched receivers against three defensive backs, likely to test the defenders’ ability to read and match different route combinations.
▪ During a blocking drill, the Gamecocks showed a bit more of their running game, including counter plays and a variation of a power play with a pulling guard.
Dwayne McLemore contributed to this report.