COLUMBIA -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier considered almost everything but making defenders play blindfolded with a hand tied behind their backs to prevent the defenses from dominating today's spring game.
Spurrier toyed with giving the offenses a two-man advantage -- creating a football version of the power play -- before deciding to limit the number of schemes, pass-rushers and star players the defenses can use.
Although Ellis Johnson will be without six starters who will sit or play sparingly today because of injury or competitive balance, the first-year defensive coordinator still hopes to accomplish something.
"Mainly, what we're trying to do is find some players," Johnson said Friday. "So it doesn't matter if we run one defense or 100 defenses, we'll find out whether those kids out there can play."
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The 56-year-old Johnson has been around long enough to know that offenses might make for entertaining spring games, but defenses win the games that count. While no one is ready to declare the Gamecocks' defense a finished product after 15 practices, the early returns on Johnson's group have been promising.
"I certainly like everything Ellis Johnson does on defense," Spurrier said recently. "The defense has a chance to be a lot better than we've been."
Johnson inherited a core of 10 returning starters from a defense that finished last in the SEC and 109th among 119 teams nationally in run defense. Although several of the returnees have been shelved by injury, Johnson believes the Gamecocks had a productive spring.
"We probably put more in than I thought we would," Johnson said. "As we went along, if it was something that was going to be radically different for them -- unless it was real critical to my scheme -- we didn't fool with it. If it was pretty close to something they'd already done, we'd try to go on at it."
Johnson, the Winnsboro native who was The Citadel's coach from 2001-03, said installing his 4-3 scheme was easier than anticipated because the Gamecocks used two of the same base coverages under former coordinator Tyrone Nix -- a three-deep zone and a man-free look.
"It's kind of where we start teaching. It's where we start installing our base defense," Johnson said. "They had run those two packages almost the same way I run it, not exactly. So we were able to get those in and get it cleaned up pretty good. We got a lot of work on that."
Johnson could not implement everything in a month. He will introduce an additional short-yardage package, featuring four linemen and four linebackers, and roll out the rest of his blitzes and pressures in August.
Although there will be no blitzing today, Johnson believes an experienced secondary will allow the Gamecocks to play man coverage and rush extra defenders this fall -- a tactic Johnson seldom employed at Mississippi State.
"I look at our personnel and I really think we can be a good man pressure team and a man blitz team," he said. "I have not been the last three or four years because we didn't have man cover people. We played more zone pressure. I think we can be a pretty good man pressure team here because we've got kids that can cover."
USC's four returning starters in the secondary are upperclassmen: cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas and safeties Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart. The top reserves include Stoney Woodson, who has 13 career starts, and freshman Akeem Auguste, who made the biggest impact among the newcomers this spring.
Johnson likes the Gamecocks' depth up front, where ends Cliff Matthews and Jordin Lindsey and tackles Ladi Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper (recovering from knee surgery) are the projected starters.
Ironically, the position Johnson seems most concerned about is the one many consider a strength -- linebacker. Although the group includes a pair of All-SEC players in Jasper Brinkley and Eric Norwood, Johnson is not sure either can rush effectively carrying 270 pounds.
"I'm a little concerned about our blitz speed at linebacker," said Johnson, who coaches the position. "That's not their deal. Eric's a great rush end, but he's not that fast off the edge. He can be. He'll drop about 10 pounds and be better."
But those are issues for another day. Neither Norwood nor Brinkley will play much today, giving Johnson a chance to look at younger players such as Alonzo Winfield and Shaq Wilson.
"I know that disappoints fans. But after the first few snaps those (older) kids ain't going to play," Johnson said.
They will play soon enough -- and with no restrictions.
n EXTRA POINTS: Reserve linebacker Melvin Ingram underwent surgery Friday to have screws inserted in his foot, which he broke falling down some steps, Spurrier said. The freshman is expected to be out six weeks to two months. ... It appears offensive lineman Gurminder Thind's career is over. Spurrier said a medical redshirt is likely for the oft-injured senior, who has been out with a back problem. ... Guard Heath Batchelor missed another practice because of an academic issue that Spurrier said does not affect Batchelor's eligibility.
WANT TO GO?
• What: Garnet and Black Spring Game
• When: 1 p.m.
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• Admission: Free