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August 15, 2011
As preseason camp approaches the halfway point, it's a virtual certainty that one or more of the freshman wide receivers will play in 2011.
The best bet, of course, is Damiere Byrd, whose blazing speed and soft hands have catapulted him into the top six receivers, if not the top three or four.
Considering the group of returning receivers include Alshon Jeffery, DeAngelo Smith, Jason Barnes, Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore, Nick Jones and Lamar Scruggs, and USC added Bruce Ellington over the summer, Byrd's feat should not be discounted.
Because of his overwhelming success as a sprinter in high school, some people might look at Byrd as a track guy who happens to play football. However, the Sicklerville, N.J., native views it differently.
"I think I'm a football player running track," Byrd said Saturday following the first of three official scrimmage during camp. "I actually started running track for football. That was my main reason. If I didn't play football, I probably wouldn't have ever run track."
Byrd said one of his biggest adjustments in making the leap from high school to college is the safeties at the SEC level aren't afraid to "come down that way" and encounter receivers over the middle.
Of course, there's also the hot and humid weather. But Byrd said it's not much hotter here in Columbia than back home in south New Jersey.
"Right now, it's just as hot in New Jersey as it is here, so I'm used to it," Byrd said. "I'm enjoying it. School is about to start. We'll have fun with that."
When he arrived at USC, Byrd expected to play as a true freshman because even then he was already being discussed as a possible contributor on kickoff or punt returns. Wide receiver, though, was a different deal.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Byrd said. "I just had myself prepared to be ready to play if I was called. I knew it was going to be hard, and it's still hard now, but I've been able to make plays and I'm satisfied with that."
Byrd is behind D.J. Swearinger on the kick returner depth chart, so he didn't get any work in Saturday's scrimmage, he said.
"We pretty much did first-team kick returners (on Saturday)," Byrd said. "Right now, I'm not sure (where I figure in. I guess we'll figure it out more as the season gets closer. I thought I would help out more in the return game than the offense at this point, but things are subject to change."
K.J. Brent has performed well, too, catching just about everything thrown his way in the first two weeks. Watching practice through last Friday, the confidence the South Carolina quarterbacks had in Brent seemed to be growing by the minute.
"K.J. is a good one," USC coach Steve Spurrier said. "The receivers are catching everything. They're doing well."
When the coach compares a receiver favorably to former Florida wide receiver Chris Doering (SEC's all-time leader with 31 career touchdown catches), it's plainly evident he has high expectations.
Brent, though, could still end up redshirting because of the talent, depth and experience the Gamecocks possess at wide receiver. The coaches may not want to waste a year of eligibility in exchange for a few catches here and there.
What about the third freshman receiver, the one with the familiar last name?
Shamier Jeffery, younger brother of Alshon, hasn't spent much time in the spotlight since camp started on Aug. 3 as he has gone about learning the scheme, knowing where to line up and developing his skills. Shamier is about three inches shorter than his older brother but is regarded as better overall athlete.
"We're different players," Jeffery said. "He is more physical than me. He is very aggressive and taller."
Redshirting is not in Jeffery's plans for 2011, but, like Brent, he knows it's a possibility because of his youth and lack of experience.
"It feels great playing with my brother," Shamier Jeffery recently said. "He's been teaching me a lot of things, as has coach (Steve) Spurrier Jr. Alshon has been a great mentor. He is very humble. Hopefully, I will get on the field and not redshirt. I hope things work out for the best."
How many snaps does Jeffery expect to get in 2011? Right now, he's behind his brother, Smith and Scruggs on the depth chart at one of the outside receiver spots.
"I'm not really worried about that because I'm playing right behind him and a couple of other players," Jeffery said. "So, I'm not really worried about getting on the field. Everybody has to prove themselves. The competition is very hard and very difficult."
Byrd said the freshman receivers have looked up to Alshon Jeffery since Day 1 of preseason camp.
"Alshon has definitely been a good mentor," Byrd said. "All of the freshmen in our receiving corps have definitely been watching him and see how he works and his demeanor for practice. He's definitely helping us out a lot."
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