Top 10: #9 - T.J. Johnson

For South Carolina to reach its goals in the 2012 season, 10 players have to step up and have a big year. We begin the top 10 today and will conclude with the #1 player prior to the opening game against Vanderbilt. Today we take a look at the #9 player, center T.J. Johnson

9. T.J. Johnson

This isn't T.J. Johnson's first rodeo.

The fifth-year senior enters his final season at South Carolina as Carolina's most experienced player. Johnson has started all 40 games the team has played in since 2009. Johnson's wealth of experience will play a pivotal role for a Gamecock offensive line that is still relatively young.

With Johnson's experience have come many accolades. In 2009 he earned freshman All-SEC honors and honorable mention Freshman All-American. In 2010 he was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the season opener. He earned first-team All-SEC honors as well as second-team. In 2011 he was listed on the Rimington Award watch list, an award given to the best center.

This season he is on the Rimington Award watch list again, as well as the Outland Trophy list, given to the best interior lineman. Johnson was also on several All-SEC teams.

The center plays an important role in any offense, particularly in offensive line coach Shawn Elliott's zone-read offense, the bread and butter play for running back Marcus Lattimore. Most remember it first coming up big in the 2010 Georgia game when Lattimore ran for 182 yards in just his second collegiate start. Against a 3-4 defense, the center moves the nose guard in either direction and the running back runs off the center's backside. Against a 4-3 it is a bit more complicated, but still the center must seal off his defender for the back to have a place to run.

No doubt that plays into the strength of Johnson. The 6-6, 319-pound center has long, strong arms and he is able to get his arms on the defender and move him in either direction. If Johnson has the kind of season he's had the last two seasons under center, Lattimore should have plenty of room to run. Johnson must have a strong season and be the leader of an offensive line that should be a strength on this year's team.

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