Damiere Byrd working to get better

Damiere Byrd came in with a lot of hype before the 2011 season. An unfortunate NCAA suspension sidelined him for four games and cost him some valuable experiences on the field. So far this year, Byrd seems to have worked hard to improve as a player and its starting to show.

When Damiere Byrd became a Gamecock, there were high hopes the speedster would make an immediate impact.

The 5-foot-9, 168-pound wide receiver had legendary speed with his 4.27 second 40-yard dash. Byrd was the speed threat that this Gamecock offense wanted. It looked like he would make a quick impact with his performance in the fall camp of 2011.

Those thoughts were put on pause when Byrd was handed a four-game suspension by the NCAA based on his involvement with a mentoring organization. The suspension put a hold on the true freshman's chances to crack the wide receiver rotation for South Carolina. Byrd returned against Auburn but never could quite catch on in the passing game. Byrd would fail to record a catch at all in the 2011 season and would rush the ball ten times for 73 yards.

Not big numbers from a highly-rated recruit who had the look of a star.

Fast forward to the 2012 season, and two games in, Byrd is leading the Gamecocks in receiving yards with 94. He has three catches for an average of 31.3 yards per catch including a big 53-yard catch against East Carolina that seemed to spark the offense, and Dylan Thompson, in the first series of the game for the Gamecocks.

"The play ended up sparking the offense for the game. I'm pleased to be out there and making plays for the team," said Byrd.

The Gamecocks had an opening for a big-play wide receiver this year after the departure of Alshon Jeffery to the NFL. Byrd knew this was a chance for him to step in and he spent the offseason working to get better.

"Just learning the system. Just making plays and going out there and not thinking and just going out there and playing."

Steve Spurrier mentioned the other day that the receivers needed to work on their route-running this week. Byrd said it's been a major focus from Coach Spurrier and Coach Spurrier Junior.

"We've focused a lot on route running this week with Spurrier and Spurrier Jr. We've worked on peaking before we break and not getting our full depth. It's something you can improve on no matter who you are."

Blocking is just as important as route-running for the Gamecocks, and Byrd said that the smaller receivers for South Carolina try to go out there and hold the opposing defender up as much as possible. He says sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but they work to get in the way to help out in the run game.

As a wide receiver, Byrd is reliant upon his quarterback to be able to make the necessary throws as part of this South Carolina offense. The quarterback situation was turned upside down in the first game of the season when Connor Shaw suffered a shoulder bruise against Vanderbilt. Shaw ended up sitting out the East Carolina game and gave way to Dylan Thompson, who performed extremely well in relief.

Byrd said Wednesday that it doesn't really matter who throws the ball based on their knowledge of the offense.

"All of our quarterbacks know the system, know what they're doing and can make all the throws." As far how Connor Shaw looked in Wednesday's practice Byrd said, "He's looking good. Shaw's getting better so he can come on back and help us make plays and help us win the games."

If Shaw is unable to go once again this weekend, Byrd said that Dylan Thompson has gained the right confidence to lead this football team. He mentioned how that game against East Carolina really boosted his confidence level.

The wide receivers, and Byrd, all want their strong performance from last week to carry over this week to UAB. 11 different players for South Carolina had receptions last week with two receivers having two touchdowns a piece.

Byrd knows how much of a spark a big play can be and hopes that will be the case this week. Ultimately, though, the main thing is to help his team win.

"Every game I feel like our offense needs that one play to spark. Every game we want to go out there catch as many balls out there to help our team win the game."

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