With preseason football practice starting on Aug. 3, Gamecock Central presents a new series that takes a look at three players per day who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.
DAMARIO JEFFERY, junior linebacker
Before South Carolina: Jeffery was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect out of Columbia High School. Considered an athlete, Jeffery was also offered by Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Marshall, North Carolina, Southern Cal and Virginia Tech.
The measurables: 6-foot-3, 230 pounds
2009: A freakish athlete who could play linebacker or defensive back, Jeffery worked into the backup spur role and played in 12 of 13 games. He accumulated 15 tackles with two for loss and broke up one pass as he put his name forward as one to be reckoned with in the future.
2010: Still sticking at spur, Jeffery played in all 14 games and started the first three before Antonio Allen re-claimed the gig. Jeffery still managed to get 35 tackles with two for loss, breaking up three passes while forcing and recovering one fumble.
There's no question that Jeffery has the skills to be somewhere on the field, but he has yet to stick in one spot. He'll have some dynamite plays in one quarter, then disappear for the next five or six, which has gotten him lower and lower on the depth chart. With the coaching staff wanting to give DeVonte Holloman a try at spur, Jeffery has been moved to weakside linebacker, where he's listed third behind Rodney Paulk and Quin Smith. The Gamecocks are stocked with veteran talent in the secondary and in the linebacking corps, but the LBs haven't quite distinguished themselves after playing nearly the entire season without Shaq Wilson last year. Jeffery has a chance to get back on top of the chart, but it may be at a new position. Still, if he can just keep making the plays, he'll be rewarded.
BYRON JERIDEAU, redshirt junior defensive tackle
Before South Carolina: Jerideau was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect out of Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College.
The measurables: 6-foot, 315 pounds
2008: Redshirted at Fort Scott CC.
2009: Posted 70 tackles with 16 for loss and 4.5 sacks as the primary run-stopper in the middle of the line. Opponents couldn't find a way to get around Jerideau's sheer bulk and he also showed surprising range for a man of his size, able to cut off holes and also able to get enough push to where he blocked five field goals.
2010: While getting his weight to a manageable size and playing behind Travian Robertson and Ladi Ajiboye, Jerideau became a fast riser, from playing only in certain packages to being the first man called when the two starters needed a breather. Although Jerideau only had 10 tackles, three were for loss and two were sacks, including his first against Furman, also his first career Division I tackle.
Jerideau lost 25 pounds and is now a much more svelte player, although he will always be the fire hyrdrant in the middle of the line. Still, his speed has improved enough so that he's listed as Robertson's backup, and if Aldrick Fordham can't hold on to the job as the other starting DT, perhaps Jerideau can move into the starting rotation. He's at his best against running teams, as the spread option attacks of the SEC took him out of many equations, but Jerideau still always seems to be around the ball. He's always been a hungry and intense player, which fits right into the SEC, and now that he's got his weight under control and won't get winded after three plays at full contact, he should be a vital contributor.
T.J. JOHNSON, redshirt junior center
Before South Carolina: Johnson was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Aynor High School. He was also offered by Duke, East Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, NC State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
The measurables: 6-foot-4, 314 pounds
2009: Started right away, plugging the hole at right guard and staying there for the season as it was apparent his redshirt year was spent doing exactly what it was supposed to -- getting Johnson bigger and stronger for four years of SEC football. He was the only O-lineman and one of just five players on the team to start all 13 games, and Johnson was named freshman All-SEC after the year concluded.
2010: Taking over for Garrett Anderson at center, Johnson became known as one of the team's hardest workers and most dependable players. During the offseason, he had huddled with freshman quarterback Connor Shaw to work on snapping during his downtime, and he has been a constant in the weight room. Again starting every game, Johnson was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after the Gamecocks rolled Southern Miss for 224 rushing yards, and after USC bulldozed Florida for the SEC East crown, tailback Marcus Lattimore specifically thanked Johnson for opening holes the size of Texas for him to run through.
Exactly the kind of player a coach wants on his team, Johnson has been sturdy and dependable as the mainstay for 27 straight games. His contributions were vital last year as the offensive line went through several injuries, but Johnson held down his spot and helped direct some of the replacements in theirs. The Gamecocks' sack totals were still a bit high -- 30 -- but with Stephen Garcia and Shaw running so much, it was bound to happen. Johnson has been a leader and outstanding player, and still has two years to go; it should be no surprise that he was on the Rimington Award watch lists after spring and heading into the preseason. Give him another year and he could be as highly regarded as some of the league's other stalwarts.
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