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August 5, 2013

Practice insights: 8/4

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South Carolina held an open practice on Sunday night and GamecockCentral.com was there to capture photos, video, provide live updates and analysis. Here is my take on several players from the team after three practices:

- Through three practices, the most impressive receivers to me have been Bruce Ellington, Shamier Jeffery, Damiere Byrd, Kane Whitehurst, and K.J. Brent. Ellington's quickness and hands make him an extremely tough one-on-one cover and unsurprisingly, he has been dominant in that setting. Byrd has been pretty consistent with his hands from what I've seen. Brent's hands have always been his strong suit and he's been productive as well. Whitehurst brings his 4.3-range speed to the field and he beat Chaz Elder badly twice in one-on-ones. He's a guy that has the capability to make some big plays. Shamier Jeffery looks like a totally different person; he's dropped a lot of bad weight since when he first arrived at USC and looks the quickest he ever has, even improved from back in the spring in that department. His work in the offseason is paying off, it seems.

- Up until Sunday night, we did not have a great look yet at Shaq Roland. He was out of the first practice for academic reasons, and on Saturday was on the far side of the field away from our vantage point. He had a solid night on Sunday, his best play coming on a throw to the sideline that he high-pointed and held on to despite taking a shot from the cornerback.

- I thought Kwinton Smith had a good night on Sunday as well; he caught several passes, probably one of his more productive performances as a Gamecock during practice.

- Na'Ty Rodgers does not look like a typical true freshman on the offensive line. He has already shown that he is not afraid to mix it up physically in practice, and when A.J. Cann got a breather with the first team on Sunday night Rodgers was inserted at right guard and Ronald Patrick moved to left guard. It remains to be seen whether a true freshman lineman will be able to pull down some snaps as a backup, but Rodgers has some tools and versatility. He has lined up at left tackle and both guard positions so far this preseason.

- The move of Kyle Fleetwood to spur is one I think is interesting and one that very well could stick. Coming out of high school, the staff saw Fleetwood as a big safety that could potentially move to spur at some point. He definitely has the size and the physical mentality for the position. Jordan Diggs and Sharrod Golightly will continue the preseason battle for the starting job but given that USC has basically been working with those two guys mainly at the position, Fleetwood can add some depth.

- I have been impressed with three of USC's cornerbacks the most during practice. Vic Hampton has been very solid, but two that have really stood out are Jimmy Legree and Ahmad Christian. I expected Christian to maybe have some more rust given that he missed the spring being with the baseball team, but he came right in and has looked ready. Christian is a speedy player and that helps him in coverage but he's been around the ball a lot and made some plays on the ball as well. Legree has to have the most interceptions and pass breakups on the team right now. He's been in the right position consistently and has really done a great job breaking on the ball and showing his instincts.

- It was still tough to get a great feel for the running backs but Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds are USC's two top backs and both have looked good through three days. Davis has that quickness that surprises you given his size and Wilds is smooth and can run for his size as well.

- I spent some time watching Brandon Shell on Sunday night and he impressed me. Several of USC's offensive linemen had great summer programs and he was one; the staff really believes he can take a step forward this season. Same for Corey Robinson, who is a big human being at 6-foot-8 and 330 pounds. Physically, he looks to be in the best shape he has ever been in and he's moving around well.

- Kelcy Quarles had another strong performance. He was again showing he's one of the leaders of the defense with his encouragement and being vocal in drills, and he was in the backfield a lot during the team sessions.

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