COLUMBIA — When South Carolina opens spring practice in a couple of months, USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will look to a key ally in his ongoing quest to improve his developing unit.
Preferring to pound on opposing running backs, Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t play offensive line, of course, but Elliott is persuaded that the 2013 Heisman Trophy contender’s presence on the practice field benefits his players as much as anything else as they prepare for the upcoming SEC wars.
“Jadeveon Clowney is such a special talent,” Elliott said recently in an interview on 107.5 The Game. “You can use him outside, you can put him down inside on a guard. He is so quick and explosive. Not many people can match it. I didn’t see a player we faced this past season that matched his speed and burst off the line of scrimmage.
“Just knowing you’re going against the most explosive player, I think, in all of college football, if we can become a solid blocking offensive tackle or inside guard against a guy like him, we have a chance to be a special football team up front with the offensive line.”
Elliott said that Clowney does more than just intimidate opposing offensive linemen with his remarkable physical skills, always testing their mental toughness.
“He brings such a competitive spirit,” Elliott said. “He loves to run his mouth. I think that’s one of his greatest things. He loves to call out our offensive tackles and inside guards. He shoots it straight with them.”
When Clowney starts talking smack in practice, Elliott gauges how the USC offensive linemen respond. Do they cower under the heat or do they buckle their helmets even tighter and fight back?
“I like to see the fight from these guys to bring it back to him,” Elliott said. “He’s an unbelievable player, but I always tell our guys that he’s not superhuman. He’s going to bring out the best in our guys. Before we know it, if we continue to fight and strive to be as good or hold him down certain plays, we’re going to be a step above when we face other teams on Saturday. It tests our competitive nature to go against a guy like him.”
With USC returning Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton along the defensive front, the Gamecocks’ offensive line should expect to be tested early and often when preparations for next season begin in earnest.
Elliott added another piece to the puzzle on Monday when freshman offensive lineman D.J. Park started classes, joining cornerback Ronnie Martin and quarterback Connor Mitch as early enrollees for the Gamecocks.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Park graduated from Dillon High School in December after starting at left tackle this past season for the Class AA Division I state champions. He appeared in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Carson, Calif., and is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Palmetto State by Rivals.com.
Could Park see action in 2013 as a true freshman? It’s not unprecedented, but conventional wisdom has always held that offensive linemen need a year of development before they’re thrown into the SEC frying pan.
“In a redshirt season, they’re going up against our top defensive players each and every day,” Elliott says. “There’s not a ton of depth over there on the offensive line to form a scout team, so when they’re going up against Clowney or Devin Taylor or Melvin Ingram from last year, or Byron Jerideau, they’re getting tough, tough reps against solid competition. It’s not like they’re getting 20 reps a day, these guys are getting 100 to 115 reps a day against this top talent.”
Elliott understands the opportunity to knock helmets in practice with an elite defensive line on a daily basis in spring practice, preseason camp and throughout the season is priceless.
“You can’t just go buy that. That’s a learning experience,” Elliott said. “They can go out there and mess up and not have the consequences of giving up a sack on an SEC Saturday. The valuable reps against top quality talent is something you can’t get anywhere else. You have to go out there and earn your stripes and become a tough, physical player.
“They’re beaten on, they’re battered, there’s not a lot of good things that are ever said to them. Do this, do this, I want it done better, faster, quicker, do it again. It’s one of the more invaluable things that you have to be part of as an offensive lineman in order to grow and become a great football player.
“I want these guys to get as many reps as possible.”
2013 SPRING OFFENSIVE LINEMEN ROSTER
A.J. Cann (G) (former Bamberg-Ehrhardt star)
Travis Ford (C)# (listed as backup center)
Cody Gibson (T)
Mike Matulis (T) (shoulder surgery may mean no spring practice)
D.J. Park (T)
Ronald Patrick (G)
Corey Robinson (T)
Brandon Shell (T)
Will Sport (C/G)
Brock Stadnik (G/C)
Clayton Stadnik (G/C)
Cody Waldrop (C)
Mason Zandi (T)