Believe it or not, Alshon Jeffery didn’t catch all of the 252 completions by South Carolina passers last season. And chances are that he won’t come close to catching all the completions the Gamecocks have this fall, either.
Jeffery is human and the Gamecocks have more weapons in the receiving corps. They might not be as big and intimidating, but they have the skill to frustrate opposing defenses this fall.
“We’ve got plenty of guys other than Alshon,” coach Steve Spurrier said.
Those weapons are smaller -- some are much smaller -- but have a little extra quickness and speed to make them dynamic options in the passing game.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Ace Sanders returns as the second-leading wide receiver on the team. The sophomore, who reported to Columbia last season at a mere 160 pounds, recorded 25 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns last season. He’s a speedster in the slot and understands that it’s time for other receiving threats to take pressure off Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore in order to keep the offense less predictable.
“There are going to be a lot of double-teams on Alshon, stacking the box on Lattimore,” Sanders said. “Somebody has to step up and I look at myself to be that person to step up.”
Sanders won’t be alone. He’s actually taken it upon himself to make sure he isn’t. During the offseason, Sanders worked with fifth-year senior Jason Barnes, who moved to the “Z” receiver. Barnes had never played there, so Sanders tutored him on it, improving his route running and coming out of breaks.
Another player making strides has been sophomore Lamar Scruggs, who caught just three passes last season. He has elevated his practice play and was even publicly complimented by Spurrier and given the practice ball one day after he made a couple of diving catches on plays.
For you basketball fans out there, Ellington’s name should ring a bell or two. He was the starting point guard for the Gamecocks last season, leading the team with 12.8 points per game. He approached basketball coach Darrin Horn about playing football and once he was given approval, he met with Spurrier.
Per NCAA rules, he wasn’t allowed to participate in spring football practice, but returned from the summer with his playbook almost memorized, and while he hasn’t played football since high school Spurrier admired the 5-foot-9, 197-pound athlete’s quickness and called him “a natural.”
As for Byrd, he was a track star in high school, winning the indoor 60-meter dash at nationals as a senior and being clocked at 10.36 in the 100m. He also represented the US at a track event in Japan this spring.
He’s very slender, barely touching 167 on a scale, but the 5-foot-9 Byrd expects his speed to give him an advantage.
“Speed really helps me with my size,” he said. “If a guy really kind of gets a hold of me, it’s definitely not going to be in my favor. With the speed, I’ll usually be able to get around him and make plays.”
South Carolina’s interior receivers aren’t expecting to win wrestling matches, but they do intend to get by opponents.
Sanders said his extra bulk gives him more confidence to go out and be physical with defenders, but when it comes to lining up against linebackers he suggests he and his fellow miniature receivers let their feet do the work.
“If he [the linebacker] misses at the line, then nine times out of 10 we’re open,“ he said, “so all we have to do is make the play.”