David Cloninger

Turner begins second week as Gamecocks’ No. 1 running back

For the record, A.J. Turner doesn’t care about the raised eyebrows caused by his ascendance on the depth chart.

It’s not that he dislikes any of his running back mates he’s now leading; quite the opposite. For the record, he’s also not taking the No. 1 spot for granted. It’s the first week of practice.

Not that he has plans to give it up.

“I know I’ve been putting in the work,” Turner said Monday after a lengthy, rain-sprinkled practice. “Like I said, I’m not betting on anything. I’m getting first-team reps, I have been for almost a week now, but I’m not banking on anything until the season starts.”

Turner is South Carolina’s top tailback as the second week of preseason camp dawns, leading a “first-string” group of himself, Darius “Bear” Paulk and Rod Talley. The pre-camp presumptive starter, David Williams, is with the other group of Mon Denson, Rico Dowdle (who’s nursing a slight injury) and Ty’Son Williams (ineligible this year).

The redshirt freshman from Virginia has finally received a chance to show off his skills after a wrist injury cost him most of his senior year of high school and he took a redshirt as a true freshman. Before that, he scored 32 touchdowns among 1,287 yards in leading Centreville High to a state title.

Turner didn’t want to talk about what might be keeping others behind him, but cheerfully detailed what’s pushed him to the top.

“They like my effort, my speed and I’m working on my assignments, knowing where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “My different techniques and stuff like that. What I’m trying to do, trying to stay after practice and do some extra work, you know?”

The 5-foot-10 runner estimates he’s between 195 and 197 pounds and shoveling 5,500 calories down his neck daily, trying to gain weight. He’s in the weight room as much as possible, which can be tough with meetings and practice and even tougher once class begins.

He’s always finding something to work on, be it studying his playbook so he knows what to diagram when coach Bobby Bentley puts him on the spot, or keeping in mind the numbers Bentley reads to his group. Turner believes his “21-point-something” miles per hour is the fastest speed of the backs and as the offense continues to find what it does well, he plans to be in the middle of it.

“We’re not so obsessed with inside zone,” he said. “We want to get people out in open space and get in one-on-one.”

Turner continues to construct his pass protection, as much a mental game as physical since blocking guys a head taller and a body wider is an unnatural act. But he also keeps hearing his name called with the first-team offense, leaving the goal of Gamecocks starter brightly glowing.

“I view every day as putting distance between myself and the other running backs,” he said. “Every day is a day to compete, a day to get better. Got to do what you got to do to get that starting job.”

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