COLUMBIA – The decision by Ace Sanders to depart early for the NFL guarantees South Carolina will have its third different leading receiver in three years in terms of number of receptions.
But will USC actually have an undisputed No. 1, “go-to” pass catcher in 2013? Steve Spurrier isn’t so sure.
Based on past performance, Bruce Ellington would seem the logical choice since he was runner-up behind Sanders with 40 receptions for a team-high 600 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
However, the anticipated emergence of sophomores Shaq Roland and/or Shamier Jeffery along with enlarged roles for Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd could fabricate a receiver-by-committee approach this upcoming season.
“Bruce is going to get his share of the balls, we know he’s proven,” Spurrier said. “Shamier and Shaq, hopefully they’ll come around and we can spread it out. We don’t really have a number one receiver, per se. Whoever is the best one will get the most balls thrown at him, simple as that.”
The outlook for Roland, as gifted and highly touted an athlete on the roster as anybody except perhaps for Jadeveon Clowney, was brighter than the morning sun when he signed with USC in February of 2012.
Yet, the former “Mr. Football”” recipient caught just five passes for 80 yards and one touchdown last season as he struggled to adjust in multiple ways to the demands of major college football.
USC wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. hopes 2013 writes a different chapter for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Roland, although it could require changes beyond the football field.
“He’s worked hard and he had a good spring,” Spurrier Jr. said. “He did some things then that certainly showed he has potential and he has talent. But he still hasn’t done anything to prove he’s ready to go play yet.
“His determination has gotten a little bit better and he’s worked a little harder. He understands what it’s going to take to be a successful receiver. He has to go fast. He’s a fast player, but he hesitates a little when he plays. Some of that comes from a lack of knowing everything.”
Developing a nastier side could help Roland on the football field, too.
“His personality is kind of peaceful. His personality has to be a little more aggressive, which it has (been),” Spurrier Jr. said. “That’s a big thing. I’ll be looking for him to make some noise and play loud and play physical and attack the ball and play like the player he is capable of being. He can get stronger, but at that position you don’t have to be real strong.”
Spurrier Jr. recalled Alshon Jeffrey was quiet and reserved when he first arrived at USC in 2009, his personality not unlike Roland’s. But his true temperament steadily emerged and he grew into perhaps the greatest and most feared receiver in Gamecock history.
“I’ll never forget the first play I saw him get kind of physical with a guy,” Spurrier Jr. said. “I enjoyed that. He was a peaceful person with a peaceful personality, but deep inside he had some fire in him that came out too. That has to come out of you. Your personality has to have a little bit of competitive anger almost. It has to be important to you that I’m better than that guy.
“If not, you’re going to have a long day. In this conference, the DBs we play against are guys that want to have a personal battle with you to prove they’re better than you. You’d better have a personal battle with them too if you’re going to beat that guy.”
This could be the season to find out if Alshon’s younger brother Shamier, entering his third season with the program, finally lives up the family’s surname.
He responded positively in the spring after two frustrating, injury-plagued years, but needs to convert those virtuous vibes into production on the field in the fall when it counts.
Heart-to-heart talks with Spurrier Jr. – and possibly Alshon as well — may have convinced Jeffery that the time had come to turn over a new leaf.
“I saw him the other day and he looks good,” Spurrier Jr. said. “I had some good talks with him in the offseason and told him that he needs to make a decision if he wants to be a player. He is certainly talented enough. But he was a little overweight and a little slow and just didn’t have the work ethic he needed to play.
“He had a great spring and he’s had an excellent summer and he’s working hard. He’s as light and fast as he’s ever been. I’m curious to watch him this preseason, I really am.”
A little dose of brotherly in-your-face love might have given him a boost as well, Spurrier Jr. said.
“Maybe Alshon grabbed him too a little bit and told him that he wasn’t going to play here unless your attitude changes a lot,” said Spurrier Jr., who hasn’t hesitated in telling Shamier that he has a long ways to go to equal his brother on the field.
Jeffery shared Most Improved Wide Receiver honors with Roland in the spring after appearing in three games a season ago without compiling any statistics.
In essence, the upcoming season works as a clean slate for Jeffery, who perhaps thought his last name would allow him slide by without putting forth the effort.
“I remember telling him once that ‘I want you to know that you’re not as good as Alshon,” Spurrier Jr. said. “You’re going to have to work harder than he did. Alshon was naturally very talented. You’re going to have to work harder than he ever worked if you’re ever going to play here.
“I think he is starting to realize that too. He started to watch Ace and Bruce and Damiere, guys that are talented that really do work hard. So, he has had a little bit of a change in attitude and I think he’s ready to go.”
The head coach has faith Roland and Jeffery are on the verge of fulfilling the enormous promise both showed at the high school level.
“We think Shaq Roland is ready to have a bust-out year,” Spurrier said. “He is a tremendous talent, as we all know. He didn’t do a whole lot last year, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity. But I think he’s grown up and he’s ready to become a real ballplayer.
“Shamier Jeffery acts like he wants to play now. He’s in tip-top shape. By the end of spring practice, he came around and did some good things. Some of these young guys need to come around and catch a whole bunch of balls and get ready to go for us. We’ll see how it all plays out. I look forward to watching all those guys in August.”