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Practice report: Gamecocks lose free safety, but gain a spy

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South Carolina might be down a man at free safety, but the Gamecocks have added a new position to their defensive package – a spy.

Looking for a way to counter the running ability of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, USC defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he would use a linebacker to spy on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in passing situations Saturday at the Swamp.

Tebow, who set a school record with five rushing touchdowns last year against the Gamecocks, has run for 354 yards this season, second behind Auburn’s Kodi Burns among SEC quarterbacks.

“He can run the draw. He can scramble when you get the coverage. He just does too much,” Johnson said Thursday. “So he’s still the key.”

The linebacker assigned to shadow Tebow will vary depending on the defensive call.

“One of the linebackers in each coverage will be responsible the first time he pulls that thing down and hesitates, they’re going to have to come out of coverage,” Johnson said. “And if they hit it in that zone, we’ll have to live with it.”

Despite what armchair coordinators might think, Johnson said using a spy against a quarterback every play is not sound strategy.

“You hear these people call in radio shows and say, ‘Well, I’d just put somebody on Tebow all night.’ Well, that’s fine unless they run the triple option and you’ve got nobody else taken,” Johnson said.

“You can’t sit there and spy one player the whole game. But in passing situations, we’ll have a lot of calls to try to keep somebody on a late rush or a spy rush because he does pull it down a lot.”

Stock rising

Left guard Jamon Meredith. The fifth-year senior, considered one of the top NFL tackle prospects when the season began, played well against Arkansas after missing a week with a sprained ankle. Meredith could reclaim his starting spot this week.

Stock falling

Confidence in the back of the defense. Cornerback Stoney Woodson is expected to start at free safety in place of Chris Culliver, who is suspended for the first half after being ejected for fighting against Arkansas. Woodson has experience at safety, but not recently.

“They do all kind of weird stuff with formations and things,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a lot harder for him with three days of preparation as opposed to three months of preparation.”

Injury report

Free safety Akeem Auguste told Steve Spurrier his hamstring is about 75 percent healthy and hopes to be 90 percent by Saturday. But because of the missed practice time, Johnson is not sure how much Auguste will play. … Receiver Moe Brown (knee) should be OK, Spurrier said.

Extra point

Spurrier will play both Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia at quarterback, but might wait until pregame before deciding on a starter. Spurrier used the same approach last week when Smelley started and alternated nearly every play with Garcia.

“I like that philosophy,” Spurrier said. “We’re going to check the warm-ups and see which one we think needs to go out there first.”

Quote of the day

“I can tell when coach Hunt’s really fired up and wants to win. He wants to win all the time. But when he really wants something, I’m telling you he’s on. The anxiety comes on. That’s when I just be quiet and listen. I don’t want him to jump on me. But I see how serious it is for him,” – King on offensive line coach John Hunt, one of several USC assistants facing their former team.

--Joseph Person

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