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August 16, 2011

Alshon talks SI cover; Graham talks RBs



In his usual low-key style, Alshon Jeffery just shrugged his shoulders and thanked his teammates when asked about becoming the first South Carolina athlete to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 40 years.

"I haven't seen it, but I've heard about it," Jeffery said. "It's a great accomplishment, but I have to give credit to my teammates. Everybody helped put me in that position. But just being on the cover doesn't mean much to me. Both myself and my teammates still need to go out on the field and prove something on the field."

Jeffery is featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated (Aug. 22 edition) along with four other key players from around the country, including Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones and Nebraska DT Jared Crick.

The photo session with SI photographers lasted about 30 minutes, he said.

Each of the five spotlighted players rotates as the central figure for their regional issue. Jeffery is front and center on the issue available in the Carolinas.

He acknowledged the photo presented him in a less than flattering matter, with a protruding belly. But he pointed to the new Under Armour uniforms as a possible source of the problem. He said his weight is about the same as it was last year. His comfortable playing weight is about 233 pounds.

"People are going to say what they want to say," Jeffery smiled. "It doesn't matter to me. But it's the uniforms. I heard we're supposed to be sending them back and getting some newer ones, but I don't know. I still have to go out and play no matter what the uniform is."

Growing up in Calhoun County, Jeffery contended one of his life goals wasn't to end up on the SI cover.

"I never dreamed about something like that," Jeffery said.

The SI college football preview issue declares the 2011 USC team as the "Best Gamecocks Team Ever." Considering the preseason hype surrounding USC, that could end up being true. Jeffery insisted the headline didn't put any more pressure on the Gamecocks to live up to the billing.

What about the supposed SI jinx? Jeffery said he isn't concerned about it.

Jeffery's comments to the media followed USC's 14th practice of preseason camp. The Gamecocks will officially reach the midway point of camp during Wednesday's full-contact scrimmage (USC moved the scrimmage back one night) at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Besides the generous publicity from the SI cover, USC received another dose of good news on Tuesday: defensive tackle Travian Robertson and defensive back Sheldon Royster returned to practice.

Heading into Wednesday's scrimmage, USC running backs coach Jay Graham said he is still searching for the No. 2 running back behind Marcus Lattimore, although redshirt junior Kenny Miles holds an edge over the other candidates.

"We have a scrimmage tomorrow. I think we're going to let it play itself out," Graham said. "Kenny has done well. Kenny has played in games. Obviously, he's in that position where he could easily be the number-two guy."

Lattimore didn't carry the ball a single time in the first official scrimmage last week, although he did have a reception. He has had some rushing attempts in a few mini-scrimmages.

"He's been in scrimmages and he's been tackled, but I think he works hard enough that he doesn't have to get tackled all the time," Graham said. "He's probably had 20 or 30 live plays. The important thing for him is to have great pad leverage, work hard and understand the offense, and not so much as get tackled.

"We're pretty intense out there when we're not going live. It's not walk-through out there. You can get knocked down in those full-speed thud drills. I think that's good for him."

Will he have a rushing attempt on Wednesday? Graham contended the season-ending ankle injury suffered by Knile Davis of Arkansas last week has not made the USC coaches reluctant to put Lattimore in harm's way.

"It can happen in any kind of situation," Graham said. "Running backs get hit. You can step on a shoe. It can happen very easily. I've seen guys get hurt in pre-game drills. It's just a situation where you let guys go."

What did Graham learn from last week's first scrimmage? USC totaled 105 yards on 31 rushing attempts, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

"The guys played well, but in pass protection, we need to get a little bit better," Graham said. "The guys ran the ball really well."

Because Lattimore is No. 1 and Miles is close to nailing down the No. 2 job, Graham is close to facing a decision on what to do with freshman running backs Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds.

"As we get closer (to the first game), we'll talk about it as a staff," Graham said. "Probably within the next 10 days or so. We're still 18 days away from the first game, so we have some little time. They need to understand the offense enough to go on a drive, on a series. That means understanding pass protection, catching the ball in the open field and doing all the things running backs have to do to help our offense be successful. They have to have a hold on that."

Graham said the young running backs showed growth on Tuesday as far as understanding the pass-protection schemes.

"Tonight was a good night," Graham said. "They did very well. This was one of the first nights where they got blitzed on and they did a good job."

Graham's goals for Wednesday's second scrimmage are the same: Running backs show "great ball security," break tackles and "pass-protect well when they get blitzed on."

"They just need to move faster as they learn more," Graham said. "They shouldn't look to me as much to understand things. That's when I know they're starting to get it and understand it. Just show some improvement between the first and second scrimmages."

Graham said the running backs have rarely fumbled in preseason camp, a positive sign they are using proper fundamentals.

"A part of that is holding the ball high and tight," Graham said. "It's pad leverage and being physical with the ball in your hand. There are a lot of things that go into good ball security."

The intense competition is also expected to continue at the wide receiver spots, where the starting job at one of the outside receivers, along with the slot receiver spot, is still up for grabs.

Right now, the only receiver guaranteed a spot in the rotation is Jeffery. For the rest, it's a battle.

"There's some pretty good competition because we're on each other trying to get better each and every day," Jeffery said. "Everybody has impressed me. No one has stood out above the others. We all hold each other up and try to work hard each and every day. We talked the other day about being more physical and playing better as receivers."

NOTES:

-- Impressive freshman receiver K.J. Brent said his only goal when he arrived at USC in late May was to learn as much of the offense as he could and be ready to produce if called upon.

-- Players practicing in yellow jerseys or sitting out were: DT Phillip Dukes (left ankle), S Brison Williams (broken arm), CB Akeem Auguste (left foot), DE Gerald Dixon (leg), OL Cody Gibson (right knee), WR Zach Broome (left knee), spur Jared Shaw, FB Matt Coffee, WR D.L. Moore (right shoulder) and DT Byron McKnight (hamstring).

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