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August 24, 2010

Allen, Jeffery In Close Competition

For such a hybrid position, it makes sense that the starter will come from a mix of players.

Nine days before the season-opener, South Carolina's spur position does not have a clear starter, but instead a mix of two. Junior Antonio Allen, who started seven games at spur last year, is battling sophomore Damario Jeffery for the role, although position coach Shane Beamer says each is considered the No. 1 guy.

"We think of them both as co-starters," Beamer said at a recent practice. "They've both been really, really good. I can't think of either one having had a bad day yet."

Obviously, there can only be one true starter, unless the defense is overhauled in nine days to allow both on the field at the same time. But whoever gets the first call, the second will be right behind and ready to go in.

"Sometimes Antonio goes out there with the first group, sometimes Damario," Beamer said. "If one of them had to play 70 plays, we'd feel as confident with Damario playing 70 as Antonio and vice versa. We'll try to keep those guys fresh."

Allen has the most experience, taking over for Alonzo Winfield during the fifth game of 2009 and holding onto it for all but two games of the duration (Darian Stewart returned to the role against Tennessee and Arkansas). He had 35 tackles and two broken-up passes, contributing very solid but seldom flashy plays.

Jeffery, a freakish athlete, played in 12 games as mostly the backup spur and began to turn heads with his ability. While he was still learning as a freshman in 2009, there was usually a play or two where folks on the periphery looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

With two inches and about 20 pounds on Allen, Jeffery could be deemed a bit tall for the position (at 6-foot-3, he is four inches taller than Stewart). Yet he possesses the speed to play it and his 225 pounds can deliver a pop, but he has to do it more consistently.

"Last year was strange to me," Jeffery said at the beginning of camp. "I could have made a lot of plays. I didn't do as good as I wanted to, but I did better than I guess the coaches expected. I guess I did decent."

He did well enough to challenge for the role, but Beamer is happy with having both of them ready and working. Some of it may depend on the situation and some may depend on who looks the best after starting the game on special teams.

"Both of those guys will play a lot of reps in the first game, split reps," Beamer said. "They're doing a really good job and we're pleased with where they are at that position."

The position has become vital to USC's scheme, since the spur can take a few steps forward and help out the linebackers on the strong side or take a few steps back, into pass coverage as an extra member of the secondary. Helmed by Stewart in the first year of the role, the position became synonymous with hard hits and versatility; even when Stewart was switched to strong safety last year due to necessity, his memory lingered.

Allen played the position without a lot of highlight-reel plays in 2009, but was counted on as a steady contributor. He was never bad in the role.

Jeffery was the fast-rising rookie, massive potential but at the moment, still mostly untapped. The only problem there was stringing it all together, which was difficult for a freshman but is clearly within reach as a sophomore.

Beamer says each will play. Each wants to be the first one out there on Sept. 2.

"I'm pushing to start," Jeffery said. "I'm not going to say I'm going to be a starter, but I want to be a starter. Antonio's a very good guy, if he starts ahead of me, then he beat me out for it. I try to push him every day, he's going to push me."


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