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September 16, 2010South Carolina's defense can see the day where it will be back to full strength.
Now to get to there from here.
Defensive head Ellis Johnson addressed his group's depth after practice on Thursday and while the picture isn't quite clear as glass, it's much less spotty than it has been. Spur Antonio Allen, the projected starter in the preseason, fully practiced for the first time since the week leading up to Southern Miss and is probable to play on Saturday, while the lingering question about effective pass-rushing has some definite candidates as answers.
Allen, after pulling a hamstring before the season-opener, has been limited in practice since but finally got to pull on his normal white defensive jersey on Wednesday. His former backup, Damario Jeffery, will start for the third straight game but if all goes well, Allen should play.
"Physically, he's fine," Johnson said. "Just a lot of little things he's got to pick back up on mentally, but he did well physically all week. Damario deserves to start, but we want to play (Allen) because he really needs to get back in the flow of things and he's physically OK."
A seven-game starter at spur last year, after taking the job from Alonzo Winfield and overcoming Darian Stewart resuming the spot for two games late in the year, Allen isn't quite the physical specimen that Jeffery is but he does have more experience. Jeffery backed up Allen all last year and was predicted to challenge for the starting job this season, but Allen had a strong finish in 2009 and did nothing to lose his spot.
Having him back should bring a bit more speed to the position and it also shores up the secondary's depth. Jeffery had six tackles against Southern Miss but only two against Georgia, both on assisted stops.
As for the pass rush, Johnson got at least one answer last week when defensive end Devin Taylor produced three tackles for loss. He and backup Chaz Sutton could get an extended look at playing on the edge, especially since Sutton is highly thought of but couldn't get in the game last week.
"Chaz Sutton has shown some flashes of it," Johnson said. "He didn't get to play last game because when Brad (Lawing) was ready to rotate him, we'd have a long series on offense or we'd have a real three-and-out on defense. Just never got a chance to roll him in or out of there."
Sutton had three tackles against USM while Taylor, playing in obvious passing situations, got two sacks and a mauling of tailback Washaun Ealey on a screen pass against Georgia. Stalwart Cliff Matthews could also take his fingers out of the dirt on some occasions and play standing up, since his impact on the Georgia game wasn't entirely told by the stat sheet.
"Cliff did well the other day," Johnson said. "He didn't have the stat sacks but he was the guy that forced the quarterback a lot of times to end up in trouble."
As for this week's opponent, Johnson followed coach Steve Spurrier's comments. The Gamecocks have become media darlings after their domination of Georgia and the coaches have downplayed it, saying the players will as well.
"No, Furman, like I said, they've probably been pointing to this game all year," Spurrier said earlier this week. "This is their chance for an upset. They're going to give it their best shot. We've got to be ready for anything -- onside kicks, fake punts, whatever."
Johnson concurred, remembering the long history he's had with Furman.
"I played and coached against them now 45 years and there's a common thread that's run through Art Baker and Dick Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, Bobby Johnson, Bobby Lamb," Johnson said, referencing the Paladins' coaching hierarchy. "A lot of their blocking schemes, a lot of their philosophy on offense has been continued through that span.
"They will stay on the field. Got to be poised and not get flustered on defense. If our kids come out there and think they're going to smoke 'em, they're going to be in for a rude awakening."
Johnson conceded that the players probably won't get up as much as if they were playing a Georgia or Alabama or Clemson, but said it's their job as coaches to illustrate just how dangerous the Paladins can be. "Hopefully we're mature enough, tough enough mentally, we'll go out there and tee it up and get after 'em Saturday. They got tradition and they've won in that stadium before. They don't fear anybody."
WILSON UPDATE: Linebacker Shaq Wilson is out for Furman but Johnson said Wilson had the best week of dealing with his tender hamstring that he has had in a long time. While Wilson didn't fully practice, he has looked fine doing what he can do.
Redshirting Wilson and saving a season has been discussed but not finalized. Johnson said the deadline for that decision could come soon.
"The only way I would think of feeling like a redshirt possibility is if he's not ready through the open date," Johnson said. "I'm not sure of the exact technicality of the rule, but if he's still got a problem with it on this upcoming open date in two weeks, what would scare me the most is if he does come back on it, it could be re-injured. If it's taken that long to get back on it, I think it could be something that could get him again. But if he's ready to roll before the open date at any point in time, and the last eight games of the season, then I really feel like for our good, for his good, he needs to play."
The Gamecocks will travel to Auburn next week, then have their bye week before hosting Alabama on Oct. 9.
NOTES: Melvin Ingram has been working some at tight end but his play there will depend on how much he is needed on defense. Ingram starts in USC's third-down package and has averaged around 30 plays on defense per game. Terrence Campbell (sprained ankle) was in full uniform as well and should be fine to play. Garrett Chisolm, according to Spurrier on his radio call-in show, had a death in the family and the team is unsure if he will be back in town for the Furman game. Players in yellow or otherwise shelved were: Wilson (hamstring), Ryan Broadhead (knee), Mike Triglia (concussion), Hutch Eckerson (ankle) and J.T. Surratt (shoulder). Eckerson, according to Spurrier, will not be able to play on Saturday, leaving USC with three available tackles -- Jarriel King, Kyle Nunn and Cody Gibson.
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