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August 2, 2013

Jones ready to lead

At 5-foot-7, 174 pounds, redshirt junior wide receiver Nick Jones was often hard to pick out from the mass of hulking bodies that gathered at the practice fields outside Williams-Brice Stadium for South Carolina's first fall scrimmage Friday night. But the team's shortest player said he plans on making an impact for the Gamecocks this season.

South Carolina lost plenty of veteran leadership over the offseason to graduation and the draft, but Jones, penciled in as a starter as the Gamecocks begin fall practice, feels confident he can step in and help fill that void.

"One thing I've improved on in the offseason is being more of a leader," Jones said after practice. "I know all the positions so I try to help [the young guys] out with every position they're playing, and just try to make them better players."

Jones spent time at multiple receiver slots Friday night, as wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. likes his players to have a grasp of every position. The junior said he thinks he can handle the slot that Ace Sanders, USC's reception-leader last season, left vacant when he departed early for the NFL.

"I hope a lot more balls come my way," Jones said. "I know I'm working hard, so hopefully coach will look my way more."

Jones was South Carolina's sixth-leading receiver last season with just 197 yards, but he saw his production grow as the season progressed. He worked his way into Spurrier Jr.'s rotation of receivers down the stretch and amassed 143 yards in USC's final two games against Clemson and Michigan. The junior wideout said he's worked hard over the offseason to keep progressing.

"I'm just focusing on doing the little things - catching the ball, running the routes hard, getting faster, getting quicker," Jones said. "Hopefully I'll keep getting better."

Jones is also confident that the Gamecocks can continue to be successful through the air even if a big wideout doesn't emerge in the fall, stating that he, Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington have enough speed to stretch the field despite their diminutive frames.

"A lot of people don't know how good we [the shorter receivers] actually are," Jones said. "Other teams come off the field and say 'wow, y'all guys are pretty quick.' They hate guarding us and chasing us around all the time. We don't lack speed at all."

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