Twice-defending SEC Defensive Player of the Week Melvin Ingram came into the room and there was an audible intake of breath.
Ingram was still there, still sporting the same hooded grin, but his left foot was encased in a black walking boot and there was a crutch underneath each arm.
In a week where anything and everything is being questioned about No. 18 South Carolina's season, to see perhaps the team's best defensive player hobbled was anything but comforting.
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"Melvin sprained his foot, not the one he had surgery on, which is good, and there's a chance he may not be able to play this week," coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. "He thinks he can play, now whether or not the trainers and doctors clear him, we'll just have to wait and see. But he's got his foot in one of those boots right now, so he's definitely not going to practice this week."
Ingram said that he's day-to-day and wants to play, but like Spurrier, said that everyone would have to wait and see. While it doesn't seem like too huge of a blow at first glance - Kentucky has the worst offense in the league and leads by far in giving up sacks, and USC does have Jadeveon Clowney slated to start in Ingram's place - it's a shame to have to sit down a player who is clearly at the top of his game.
Ingram leads the league with 5.5 sacks (Clowney is second with four) and is tied for the lead with 7.5 tackles for loss (Alabama's Courtney Upshaw). He has the same number of touchdowns as all of the Gamecocks' wide receivers put together (three). Not only has Ingram won SEC Defensive POY twice in a row, he won SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after the Georgia game.
The Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) feel confident that they can weather Ingram's absence, if indeed he is absent. But it's not comforting at all to see one of the only players who has had consistent game performances laid up.
"Hopefully he gets back, but if not, Jadeveon and all the other guys will do a great job," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "Those are big shoes to fill, but hopefully we can get the job done."
Ingram was injured, he said, in the first quarter when he felt something wrong with his foot. It wasn't really painful, but numb; Ingram said he mentioned it to some teammates but kept playing.
He showed no ill effects. Ingram had 11 tackles and came within a hair of grabbing hold of Barrett Trotter as he rolled out on the eventual game-winning touchdown pass. Trotter's target, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, caught the ball then but had seen plenty of Ingram beforehand.
Auburn attempted a fake field goal and Lutzenkirchen was open across the middle, but Ingram, showing frightening closing speed, raced over and intercepted. As Spurrier said, it was just dumb luck that Lutzenkirchen instinctively reached out and grabbed Ingram's jersey; otherwise, there were 95 yards of open field between Ingram and the opposite end zone.
And anyone saying that the Tigers could have run him down may have had a point, but Ingram ran away from Georgia on a fake punt, going 68 yards for a score.
If Ingram can't go, Clowney will start. He'll have a chance to get back on the positive side of things, after being held to just two tackles against Auburn. With the Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) not offering much in the way of offense, it seems like USC won't miss Ingram that much.
They will. It's about overcoming the loss and showing that it doesn't affect the team.
"He had an excellent preseason practice," Spurrier said. "In fact, our special teams coach, John Butler, was always coming and talking about, 'Man, this guy's amazing. We can't block him on the offensive line in pass rush and he can catch passes.'"
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