USC Trojans: Football

I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
Happy Friday!
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.
LOS ANGELES -- It’s been nearly four months since USC wrapped up spring ball, but that doesn’t mean that the team hasn’t been hard at work this summer. Here’s a look at 10 players who have stood out during the team’s volunteer workouts, giving every indication that they’ll hit the ground running when fall camp opens Saturday.

1. WR Marqise Lee (6-foot, 195 pounds, Jr.)
The fact that Lee -- the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner -- shined during the team’s passing sessions was hardly a surprise. What was somewhat eye-opening, however, was the way that the dynamic playmaker attacked each workout, competing with the focus of a player who was still fighting for a starting job. Showing tremendous hunger and drive, he looks ready to have another banner season as the headliner of the squad.

2. WR Nelson Agholor (6-0, 185, So.)
Building off an impressive spring in which he seized the No. 2 wide receiver job, Agholor continued to produce on a consistent basis this summer. Making highlight-reel catch after catch during the team’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, there’s reason to believe that he can step right in and fill the shoes of Lee’s former star receiving mate, Robert Woods.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SMILeonard Williams feels that he's better this year than he was a year ago, which is a scary thought for USC's opponents.
3. DE Leonard Williams (6-5, 290, So.)
On the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland awards, Williams appears poised to follow up a tremendous freshman campaign with an even bigger sophomore season. Having recently said that he feels stronger and faster than he was in 2012, the hulking Williams was dominant at times when the team came together for 11-on-11s this summer, both as a run stopper as well as a pass rusher.

4. S Josh Shaw (6-1, 205, RS Jr.)
The starter at cornerback for the Trojans’ final seven games in 2012, Shaw moved back to his more natural strong safety position this past spring and continued to line up there throughout June and July – looking more than at home, particularly after bulking up and adding 12 pounds to his frame. Showcasing fantastic ball-hawking skills during the workouts, he also emerged as a leader of the secondary. While he’s involved in a position battle with Su'a Cravens and Gerald Bowman, it’s hard to imagine him not playing a major part as a key piece in the USC defense in 2013.

5. QB Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.)
Embroiled in a highly publicized competition with Max Wittek and Max Browne for the No. 1 quarterback job, Kessler picked right up where he left off after a stellar spring and continued to stand out. Showing the same poise, accuracy and command in the pocket that he did this past March and April, he certainly appears prepared to make a strong case for that starting role.

6. S Dion Bailey (6-0, 200, RS Jr.)
After starring as the team’s starting strongside linebacker for the past two seasons, Bailey made the move back to free safety -- where he excelled in high school -- this summer and looked sharp from the get-go. In competition with Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job, Bailey was at virtually every volunteer workout, playing fast and physical while also showing off some notable playmaking skills in coverage that the Trojans could certainly use this fall.

7. LB Hayes Pullard (6-1, 230 RS Jr.)
A seasoned veteran with 25 starts and 188 tackles to his credit, Pullard has emerged as an unquestioned leader of the team over the last five months and is one of those rare players who makes everyone around him better. A smart and heady performer, he also just might be in the best shape of his career, looking strong, fluid in his movement, and playing quick to the ball at each workout.

8. TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-4, 255, So.)
Originally making a name for himself in the spring after filling in for standout tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer -- who both battled injuries -- Cope-Fitzpatrick certainly didn’t let up this summer. The most consistent attendee at the tight end position for the throwing sessions, he caught everything thrown his way, showing off soft hands and providing the quarterbacks with a big target downfield. With only three scholarship tight ends on the current roster, you can be sure that Cope-Fitzpatrick will see the field this season in at least some capacity. The good news is that he appears up for the challenge.

9. FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Pointed out by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member of his group in the spring, Pinner continued to make noticeable strides this summer. Strong and athletic, he was especially impressive over the course of the last three weeks, making some nice receptions coming out of the backfield. That's more than welcome news for USC coach Lane Kiffin, who said back in April that he wanted to see more offensive production out of the fullback position.

10. QB Max Wittek (6-4, 235, RS So.)
Missing some of the early summer workouts after coming down with mononucleosis, Wittek eventually rounded back into form and finished the last month of passing sessions off strong. Putting his trademark rifle of an arm on display, he also worked hard to correct some of the errors in decision-making that plagued him at times during his two starts in 2012.
With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information
LOS ANGELES -- Justin Davis certainly didn’t bother wasting any time this past spring. Arriving at USC in January as one of seven early enrolling freshmen for the Trojans, the highly touted tailback out of Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln arguably was the revelation of spring practice.

With veteran ballcarriers Silas Redd, Tre Madden and D.J. Morgan all limited at times, Davis took full advantage of the extended opportunity to put his talents on display, showcasing a no-nonsense rushing style marked by a perfect blend of power and speed that quickly had USC coach Lane Kiffin singing his praises.

Still, even Davis was a bit taken aback when he found himself sitting atop the post-spring depth chart along with Redd -- the team’s leading rusher in 2012 -- and Madden. But rather than letting the boost in confidence get to his head, Davis instead used it as a source of motivation this summer.

Justin Davis
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comJustin Davis' surge this spring put him atop the depth chart at running back along with Silas Redd and Tre Madden.
“I was surprised when the depth chart came out, and in the end, it’s really made me work just that much harder this summer, because I’m right there,” Davis said after a recent workout on campus. “It’s pushed me that much harder, and it makes me want to work really hard this coming fall camp with the idea of staying right there and hopefully getting the No. 1 spot.”

And with that starting tailback job up for grabs, the focus with which Davis has attacked his training regimen has only intensified as the summer has progressed, a fact made clear during the Trojans’ recent volunteer passing sessions on Cromwell Field. Increasing his workload dramatically during the team’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills over the course of the last three weeks, he’s worked hard to get himself into the best shape possible for the start of fall camp, set to begin this Saturday.

“I really used the summer, because this is a time to get a couple of things down and to clear my mind before we get back to it,” said Davis, who currently stands 6-foot-1 while weighing in at just under 200 pounds. “I’m working on the little things, especially the things that I struggled with in camp, like just knowing all of my pass protections. I really got into the playbook, and I worked on my footwork ... just little things that have helped me to refine my game. I’ve been trying to get into that game mode, getting used to getting carries in the backfield again so I’m prepared for camp.”

It’s a good thing too, because Davis has a tall task ahead of him. Part of a highly talented tailback unit that includes not only Redd, Madden and Morgan, but also Javorius Allen -- a star of the spring -- and incoming freshman standout Ty Isaac, he’s set to take part in what figures to be one of the fiercest position battles at USC. Rather than feeling any element of pressure, however, he’s looking forward to a competition that he believes will only elevate his game in the long run.

“We’ve got Tre, we’ve got Silas, we’ve got really great backs up and down the group, and they’re just going to push me that much harder, and it’s going to be a really intense competition,” Davis said. “I’m definitely going in with a mindset to come in there, work, and do some big things.”

Of course, Davis readily admits that he wouldn’t be in the position that he currently is without having received a little help along the way, particularly from USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson, as well as veteran players such as Redd. But it was the experience of participating in spring ball after graduating from high school a semester early that has had perhaps the greatest impact on his development.

“That was really big,” Davis said. “I was a little skeptical at first, but it has just been a tremendous help for me. I didn’t get all of the plays down until the last week of spring, and I can’t imagine coming in now and not knowing what I know. This is when the real battles start, during fall camp. I would be lost. Now I actually know what I’m going into. I’m definitely coming into camp with confidence, because I actually know where I have to be and I know what I’m doing. I can play that much faster because I know what I’m supposed to do on the field.”

After a summer of tireless work that came directly on the heels of an eye-opening spring, Davis is in the perfect position to make an immediate impact for the Trojans in 2013. And while he still has a whole lot more to prove in his first go at fall camp, he appears to be more than up to the challenge.

“They say that the spring is just a little preview, but fall camp is the real deal because we’re getting ready to play the real games,” Davis said. “It’s exciting because you can focus on just football, because there’s no school. We can dedicate those three weeks before Hawaii entirely to football. I’ve been jacked this whoIe summer and I just can’t wait.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Class of 2014 safety Quincy Wilson won’t be announcing his decision until the first week of August, but he has narrowed his list of schools to Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, South Carolina and USC.

The 6-foot-1, 197-pound standout from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School of Nova South -- whom ESPN ranks as the No. 12 safety in the country -- made that announcement after participating in Florida’s Friday Night Lights one-day camp. Wilson said he had a good time at Florida Field and spent a lot of time with UF commits Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day), J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee), Dalvin Cook (Miami Central), and Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla./Dixie County) as well as fellow uncommitted recruit Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), the nation’s No. 5 overall player and No. 2 cornerback.


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Kiffin joins 'SVP & Russillo' to talk USC

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
6:25
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USC coach Lane Kiffin joined "SVP & Russillo" (hosted by Ryan Russillo and Danny Kanell on Thursday) and chatted about moving on from a disappointing 2012, the efforts to improve the Trojans' defense, the process of replacing Matt Barkley and Robert Woods and how he is perceived by college football fans around the country.

Click here to listen to the full interview.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the USC football team as fall camp approaches, and we will look to answer as many of them as we can.

1. When will Lane Kiffin name a quarterback?


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With the days leading to fall camp dwindling down to a precious few, there are almost as many pressing USC issues hovering in the air as there are sarcastic comments on Twitter.

There is the small matter of finding the right candidate to fill Matt Barkley’s ample cleats at quarterback. There is the large, somewhat hulking question mark at left tackle. There is the mystery of how the new 5-2 defensive alignment will fare in the pass-crazy Pac-12. And then there are the holes at cornerback that, all by themselves, seem big enough to fill the Coliseum tunnel.

The 2013 Trojans’ season will be about all those things. But in reality, it will really be about one thing.

It will be about Lane Kiffin.


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- ESPN 300 linebacker Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) is one of the most sought-after inside linebackers in the country, ranked third at his position and No. 59 overall in the 2014 class. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound prospect visited Florida with some of his 7-on-7 teammates before they played in the IMG 7v7 National Championships in Bradenton, Fla., over the weekend.


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The accolades are growing by the day for defensive tackle Garrald McDowell (Covington, La./Covington).

Becoming an Under Armour All-American, being invited to The Opening and getting ranked No. 105 in the ESPN 150 is not a bad way to start a spring.

Oklahoma has taken notice as the Sooners are the latest of many top schools to enter the race to land McDowell, who is 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds. With offers from Alabama and Florida and USC, among several others, it’s going to be a busy few months coming up for McDowell.


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Matt Barkley, Robert WoodsCal Sport Media via AP ImagesRobert Woods (right) heard his name called at the NFL draft on Friday, but Matt Barkley (left) is still waiting.

Two Trojans were selected on Day 2 of the NFL draft as Robert Woods and T.J. McDonald both heard their names called during the Friday session.

Woods was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round – the No. 41 pick overall – and he provides an instant weapon at receiver for the Bills to put opposite Stevie Johnson.

This becomes especially important when you consider that the Bills spent their first-round pick on quarterback E.J. Manuel from Florida State, so they wasted no time in giving him a dependable option to throw to. The Bills also added speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin from Texas in the third round.

When Woods requested an evaluation from the NFL last fall, he was given a projection of a second-round grade if he came out for the draft, which is exactly how things played out.

The pick of McDonald by the St. Louis Rams in the third-round (No. 71 overall) was a bit of a surprise as there hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, who had a subpar senior year after earning All-America honors as a junior.

The scouting report on McDonald was that he was a physical and aggressive athlete that didn’t match up with some of the other elite safeties in the draft.

The good news for McDonald is that the Rams are coached by former USC defensive back Jeff Fisher, who played for the Trojans a few years before T.J.’s dad, Tim, also roamed the USC secondary.

Fisher liked what he saw in the younger McDonald enough to draft him in a spot that will give him a chance to compete for the open safety positions with the Rams.

The biggest shock of the day was the fact that Matt Barkley has yet to be selected through the first three rounds.

The pre-draft speculation for Barkley was all over the map, with some analysts thinking he would slip into the first round while others figured a more likely landing spot was in the second round. To think that Barkley would still be around when the final day of the draft starts is something that nobody predicted.

In addition to Barkley, other Trojans looking to get selected on Saturday in the final four rounds include center Khaled Holmes and cornerback Nickell Robey.

Instant analysis: USC spring game

April, 13, 2013
4/13/13
6:07
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Player of the day: Junior All-America wide receiver and 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee dazzled the 15,284 in attendance with eight receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns, showing no ill effects of a knee injury suffered earlier in the spring.

Standout performers: Looking every bit a suitable replacement for departed wide receiver Robert Woods, sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor hauled in seven receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns of 1 and 44 yards, respectively. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler passed for three touchdowns and a game-high 242 yards, completing 15 of 22 pass attempts. Defensively, senior free safety Demetrius Wright had two interceptions while sophomore defensive tackle Leonard Williams had a team-high six tackles.

Biggest play: Early in the first quarter, Kessler, who has battled redshirt sophomore Max Wittek all spring for the starting quarterback position, connected with Lee on a 70-yard touchdown strike.

Biggest surprise: Former Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei wide receiver Victor Blackwell, a redshirt sophomore, accounted for seven receptions for 155 yards and a 29-yard touchdown. Blackwell made a case for himself as the No. 3 receiver, especially after another candidate, junior George Farmer, suffered a season-ending ACL/MCL injury late in the spring.

Spring game final analysis: The heralded receiving duo of Lee and Agholor lived up to the type, accounting for a combined 264 yards and four touchdowns. USC coach Lane Kiffin has said he won’t name a starting quarterback until fall camp, but Kessler had the edge over Wittek on Saturday in passing yardage (242-145) and touchdown passes (3-2). Kessler did not thrown an interception while Wittek tossed two picks. Defensively, the Trojans' secondary looked vulnerable to the pass while the front seven applied good pressure and was stout against the running game. Senior defensive end Morgan Breslin was a force off the edge.
LOS ANGELES -- It was a day for the offense on Saturday at the Coliseum, as the Trojans put together one of their most impressive offensive displays of the spring.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Harry How/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee made up for lost time this spring, showing his dominating Biletnikoff Award-winning skill set Saturday.
There were multiple contributors during the scrimmage, including Max Wittek and Marqise Lee, who seemed to be making up for lost time after each sat out earlier portions of spring with knee injuries.

"The story of the day was the passing game and the offense in general,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “All three quarterbacks played great and it was obviously great to have Marqise back.”

Wittek got the start with the first unit and quickly hit De'Von Flournoy with a nice touch pass over Anthony Brown for 25 yards. On another drive he completed a 40-yard pass to Lee and then closed out the drive with a 20-yard scoring pass to Nelson Agholor. Wittek also had a 4-yard touchdown to Lee with a back shoulder throw against coverage from Brown. Wittek ended the day completing 14 of 17 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

Lee wasted no time in showing everybody that he is officially back. In the early part of the scrimmage he caught a 60-yard touchdown on a go route from Cody Kessler. Later in the day he caught a bubble pass and put a juke move on Chris Hawkins to set up a 20-yard gain. Simply put, Lee looked every bit the reigning Biletnikoff winner with 10 catches for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Those weren’t the only standouts for the offense, though.

Justin Davis continues to impress, as he had 17 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown. Davis showed some power on a short run, overpowering Lamar Dawson. He also read a good block from Kevin Graf to get a first down on a 3rd-and-short. His prettiest run came near the end of the scrimmagewith the ball at the 30. Davis broke up the middle and was headed for the end zone before Josh Shaw tracked him down at the 3-yard line. Davis punched it in from there two plays later.

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