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August 19, 2011

Spurrier Jr. continues to evaluate receivers



Steve Spurrier Jr. isn't stuck in sixth gear, so to speak.

Over a week ago, he said that his main objective in preseason camp was to find six receivers who could play on Saturdays. However, after 16 practices, it's clear he will have some tough decisions to make as far as who's in and who's out of the "Super Six."

"I say six guys and all of a sudden everybody wants to know who the six are," Spurrier Jr. smiled. "I like to keep two-deep at each position. The top six will play. We have a good group. They all know that. They realize they have to battle each other. But they help each other as well. We haven't done anything yet. We haven't proven much at the wide-receiver corps. I expect them to perform."

Because he wants to make sure the top six receivers get on the field, Spurrier Jr. won't be afraid to shift receivers around the different positions to find the best spot for them.

"It will work its way out," Spurrier Jr. "But it's a good problem to have. We have a lot of good players. We're still a couple of weeks away before we have to go play. I'm getting them all ready to play. In a week or so, we'll clearly define who we're really getting ready to play. They will work things out and we'll find out who the top two-deep at each position are."

Just don't expect a lot of razzle-dazzle when Spurrier Jr. finally decides on the final six.

"I'm not going to come out and have a big press conference to say, "Here are my six," Spurrier Jr. said. "The best six guys will play. It will change. I'm probably going to practice eight or nine guys and every week they'll earn their way. It's a good problem to have. In years past, I've had one good player and 10 that weren't very good. Who is going to play? Who are the top six now? It gets a little more difficult now."

Spurrier Jr. will have another opportunity to evaluate his players when USC scrimmages at 10 a.m. on Saturday for the third and final time in preseason camp.

Although he contended Thursday had not been a great day for the wide receivers, Spurrier Jr. praised his unit for their performance in Wednesday's scrimmage. The first play from scrimmage was a 70-yard touchdown pass connection to Jason Barnes, while freshman Damiere Byrd showed off his speed again with an 80-yard TD reception.

"The guys are playing well," Spurrier Jr. said.

Top receiver Alshon Jeffery sustained a calf bruise during his brief stint in Wednesday's scrimmage and didn't do much on Thursday except spend a lot of time with USC's medical staff.

"He's fine. Actually, he started practice and was limping around," Spurrier Jr. said. "I told him to go hang out with the trainers because he wasn't doing much here."

Jeffery's absence from Saturday's scrimmage should give another receiver the opportunity to step up. So far, Byrd has done just that, becoming USC's best deep-ball threat.

In a way, Byrd has turned into the offense's version of Jadeveon Clowney with his incredible speed. The Gamecocks' secondary has yet to find somebody who can stick with the freshman from Sicklerville, N.J., (hence the "Jersey Jet" moniker) on the go route.

"It's not that his progress has been great, because when he showed up he was pretty good," Spurrier Jr. said. "The first day out here he was pretty good. He ran well, caught well, cut well, he's physical, he's tough, he's intelligent. He has a very good look in his eye. He is very impressive for a guy who is skinny and fast. He does a lot of really good things at wide receiver. He'll find his way."

Because two weeks still remain before the first game, Spurrier Jr. won't go as far to assert Byrd has clinched a spot in the wide receiver rotation. But it's apparent Byrd is close.

"He is going to play," Spurrier Jr. "That puts him somewhere, wherever we're going to put him."

With Barnes, Byrd, Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington, the slot receiver (Z) spot is extremely talented and deep. Inevitably, Spurrier Jr. might have to move some of the chess pieces around to assure the top six guys get on the field.

"As we work our way out, the top guys will play at whatever position they find," Spurrier Jr. said. "They're mature and tough. They all want to get better."

Spurrier Jr. credits Sanders with helping accelerate Ellington's progress as far as learning the playbook and knowing where to line up.

"Bruce is a special young man," Spurrier Jr. said. "He's a neat guy. He's a very intelligent and sharp young man. He's SEC-proven and he wants to play. He's a tough exciting kid and he is going to get an opportunity to play this year. There are still a few little things that he is unrefined at. I've told him that he looks a little like Ace did last year. And Ace this year is twice the player just because he knows what he is doing and he can run full-speed.

"Bruce isn't full-speed right now because he's not 100 percent sure exactly of everything that is going on. But he is very talented and he has a great personality to play the game. He is going to be fine. I'm very impressed with him. He is not struggling with the playbook because he is intelligent."

Who has been the more pleasant surprise, Byrd or K.J. Brent? Tough call. Brent is long, lean and has magnets for hands.

"K.J. Brent is intelligent, dependable and sharp," Spurrier Jr. said. "He has very good hands. He's a very good player, and I knew he was a good player. We offered him a year-and-a-half ago during his junior year. We knew who he was and evaluated him and really liked him. We were really impressed with him. He didn't get the accolades of some of these other guys, but he is a very talented young man. He has a very bright future."

Brent was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, so from that perspective his quick rise into a threat for early playing time was somewhat unexpected. But now it's game on.

The rapid emergence of the newcomers like Byrd, Ellington and Brent means veteran receivers like D.L. Moore haven't received the amount of publicity in the first 16 days of camp that they probably deserve. But Moore is savvy and knows the offense as well as everybody. Moore is ahead of Brent and Nick Jones at his position.

"He's a good player, a tough player," Spurrier Jr. said. "He's been here for a few years and he's as confident as he's ever been. I'm looking forward to seeing him on the field."

But, with 13 practices left until the 2011 season-opener, anything can happen, and probably will.

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