USC Trojans: USC Trojans

The tailback recruiting picture got a little clearer for the USC Trojans on Monday night with the verbal commitment from Aca'Cedric Ware.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian had stated at the beginning of the recruiting cycle for the Class of 2015 that he would be looking to take two tailbacks, and that was before the transfer of Ty Isaac at the end of spring ball. With only one underclass scholarship tailback on the roster (Justin Davis), there was a definite need at the spot and it figured the Trojans would have their pick of players to choose from.

The Trojans scored a big get on Monday night when Cedar Hill (Texas) Class of 2015 running back Aca'Cedric Ware committed to USC. The Trojans, who likely need two tailbacks in this class, just lost out on Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany's Dominic Davis to Washington State last weekl. There simply aren’t a lot of prospects at the position on USC’s radar, so Ware’s commitment is significant.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound ball carrier attended the Rising Stars camp earlier this summer, and he obviously impressed enough for the Trojans staff to continue in their pursuit of him. Ware rushed for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, and he averaged 9.27 yards per carry. He chose USC over Iowa, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he becomes the 13th commitment for Trojans from the Class of 2015.

There they were, sitting together for an ESPN SportsCenter interview the other day, Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen.

The new head coach at USC, and the coach who might have been. The former head coach at the University of Washington, and the coach who arrived in Seattle as soon as the other passed him on the way out.

Appearing there side-by-side on television seemed so appropriate, considering they will be inexorably linked for the rest of this fascinating transition season, for the season after that and probably for the remainder of their college coaching future. Their unique career paths literally dictate the constant comparison.

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Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans feel the need for speed.

If you're looking for signs of where the new USC coach is going to make his biggest imprint this fall, it would be a good idea to look at the up-tempo offense that the Trojans will utilize.

Huddling? That's a thing of the past, the Trojans will be too busy hustling to the line of scrimmage for the next play. And don't expect to see the quarterback under center much either, Cody Kessler will line up primarily in the shotgun with a single back. That means USC, the home of the modern I formation, will not use a full-time fullback and will run a lot of three-receiver sets.

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USC chat: Pac-12 media days

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
7:00
AM PT
Garry Paskwietz will talk all things Trojans in conjunction with the beginning of Pac-12 media days. His chat begins at 2 p.m. PT and can be found here.

Our preseason Pac-12 standings 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
3:15
PM PT
With Pac-12 media day coming up on Wednesday the WeAreSC staffers give their preseason rankings for the conference along with title game participants and projected winner.

Garry Paskwietz

North

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Roundtable: Summer workouts

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
11:00
AM PT
WeAreSC staffers look back on the USC summer workouts.

One player who stood out (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Running back Buck Allen on offense. The first thing you notice about Allen is how much he has bulked up in the upper body over the offseason. Then you notice the leadership, the once quiet kid from Tallahassee has become a vocal team leader, and he has the kind of respect that comes when other players know you have a unique talent. Leonard Williams on defense. The All-American is at the peak of his game right now and the defense feeds off his energy, which always seems to be positive.

Johnny Curren: On offense, Nelson Agholor picked right up where he left off after an outstanding spring and shined throughout the summer. Leading the wide receivers through their drills each day, he was remarkably consistent, and he certainly appears poised to take his place as the next great USC pass-catcher. On defense, Williams looks better than ever after post-season shoulder surgery. With incredible physical tools to go along with outstanding technique, he was flat-out dominant at times during the 11-on-11 periods.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nelson Agholor picked up where he left off after an outstanding spring and put his leadership on display during summer workouts.
Greg Katz: Since there is virtually no real skill position contact in the summer, I would say Agholor stood out for me on offense. Not only was he running the routes of an experienced player, he was consistent in catching the ball and very explosive once he caught it. Like one should be shocked or surprised, but with renewed confidence following successful shoulder surgery, it appears Williams looks even quicker and more intense. His spin and swim moves and explosion past determined offensive linemen was at times breathtaking.

Most Improved (offense/defense)

GP: Max Browne on offense. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Cody Kessler’s football team, but Browne continues to make the kind of progress that you want to see from a talented backup. There is a lot of talk about the possibility USC is looking at more of a dual-threat quarterback for the future, but at some point you still need to throw the ball and Browne does that extremely well. On defense, I’ll go with Leon McQuay. There was plenty of focus on Su'a Cravens last season as a star freshman safety -- deservedly so -- and the Trojans could be looking at their next big-time pair of safeties with the way McQuay looked this summer. He is filling out on his long frame, yet he is so fluid with the way he moves, we really saw him emerge as a guy making plays on a lot of balls.

JC: Building off an excellent spring, Zach Banner continued to develop throughout the summer and I’m impressed with where he is these days. He is more flexible and noticeably quicker out of his stance, and he also emerged as a real leader. Defensively, I thought Claude Pelon really showed he is ready to take on a big role in the fall.

GK: Given his youth and inexperience, the offensive player that seemed to really make improvements was true freshman offensive tackle Chris Brown. Although he is young and inexperienced, he was very coachable and seemed to improve each time I saw him. The least heralded of the new offensive linemen, he really showed me something. It certainly wouldn’t be considered an insult to an experienced player to be called most improved, but I liked what I saw from senior J.R. Tavai on defense. In voluntary workouts, he seemed to know exactly where he should be, did what he was supposed to do, and looked extremely quick and agile. I was impressed with his overall improvement.

Biggest surprise

GP: How good Adoree' Jackson looked on offense. If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have said his main position would be in the cornerback rotation while getting spot duty on offense if possible. After seeing him in workouts, however, I think his role is going to be bigger on offense this season. The starting receivers will be Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers, but if you’re judging by what we saw on the field this summer, I would put Adoree' next on the list of receiver options, because he is just so dynamic with the ball in his hands.

JC: He wasn’t one of the highly publicized prizes of the Trojans’ most recent recruiting haul, but arguably no incoming freshman was more consistent throughout the summer than Ajene Harris. A high school quarterback and defensive back, he looked remarkably at home at wide receiver. Showcasing sure hands and a high level of athleticism, he provided reason to believe that he just might be able to earn some playing time right off the bat.

GK: The player that was the biggest surprise to me was true freshman Ajene Harris. A former quarterback at L.A. Crenshaw, his transition to wide receiver caught my eye immediately. His potential is very intriguing, and it would appear he has a very bright future. He could be the most overlooked freshman of this incoming class.

Keep an eye on ...

GP: The offensive guard spots. There was anticipation coming into the summer to gauge the health of Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee). Though both saw limited action in workouts, it wasn’t enough to know for sure what their status is going to be for fall camp. The other options might be inexperienced, but there is talent to choose from with Khaliel Rodgers, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. At some point, however, those 18 starts under Walker’s belt would be welcome for a young line, particularly with an opponent like Stanford waiting in Week 2.

JC: The USC tailback corps. With Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis all in the fold, the Trojans have a uniquely talented group. So long as they stay healthy, all three members have shown they are ready to put up some big numbers, especially with USC head coach Steve Sarkisian having expressed a desire to pound the ball. Allen, in particular, looks to be in phenomenal shape.

GK: This question could be best answered by the offensive line, namely its young group of very talented true freshmen. In Lobendahn, Talamaivao, Brown, and Mama, it was surprising to see how well they were able to hold their own against an experienced group of returning defensive linemen. The freshmen offensive linemen might be inexperienced, but they didn’t back down one bit to their older teammates.
The USC Trojans are currently sitting in the No. 17 spot in the ESPN Class of 2015 rankings with 12 verbal commits, including six members of the ESPN 300. With this being the first full signing class of the post-sanction era for the Trojans, Steve Sarkisian and his staff are not even halfway to the 25-man limit they can sign.

Here is a position-by-position look at who has given a verbal commit, how many scholarships the Trojans may use for each position, and what the outlook is for each spot.


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The running back position for the Trojans this year would appear to be one of the strengths of the team. Not only is there a trio of proven backs available in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, but there are also a pair of big fullbacks capable of carrying the ball in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.

As fall camp approaches, however, there will be a couple additions to the group that bring the unique element of speed. D.J. Morgan is returning from a knee injury that has limited his on-field work over the summer, while Anthony Brown is transferring over from the cornerback position for his final year of eligibility. There's a deep logjam ahead of them on the depth chart but the fact that they bring speed to the table could be a big factor in their favor.

It's well known that Steve Sarkisian will be bringing the up-tempo style to the USC offense this year and he is promising a run-first attack, one that will rely heavily on the explosive abilities of his skill players. At the very least, there could be a role for Morgan or Brown as change-of-pace backs late in the game, to provide that spark of fresh legs when the defense is tiring. Or there is always a chance they earn bigger roles or contribute on special teams. Regardless, the situation gives Sarkisian even more options with which to design his game plan to take advantage of their speed.

Morgan was a youth group world champion in the hurdles during high school and, after redshirting due to a knee injury suffered during the playoffs of his senior year, showed enough promise early in his USC career to start the first two games of his redshirt freshman year. Fumbling issues eventually landed him in Lane Kiffin's doghouse, and another knee injury in fall camp last year cost him the 2013 season. Morgan has 83 carries for 364 yards and a touchdown in his Trojan career.

Brown ran for 1,681 yards as a senior in high school (8.5 average per carry) so he has shown ability with the ball in his hands. He came to USC as a corner and had six career starts, including a promising stint as a redshirt freshman when he was inserted into the lineup due to an injury to Torin Harris, but a broken ankle against Cal kept him out the remainder of the season and he never really got back in the groove of the corner rotation.

This isn't the first time Brown has brought up the issue of moving to running back, it's something that was discussed after the 2012 season as well. With a deep group of young talent at corner for the Trojans, Brown decided it was worth another shot and this time the move will be made.
USC Trojans coach coach Steve Sarkisian added yet another solid recruiting piece to his 2015 class after San Clemente quarterback Sam Darnold committed to USC on Friday.


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LOS ANGELES -- USC fourth-year junior quarterback Cody Kessler made the trek to Thibodaux, Louisiana, last weekend to take part in the Manning Passing Academy, where he not only served as a camp counselor to the throng of high school players in attendance, but also to interact with and compete against a host of other top-notch college quarterbacks, including Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion among others.

"It was a great experience," said Kessler, who started all 14 games for the Trojans in 2013. "There were a lot of other great quarterbacks there which was really cool -- You know, getting to throw against guys from across the country."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertUSC QB Cody Kessler (not pictured) got pointers from Peyton Manning himself at the Manning Passing Academy.
And it's safe to say that Kessler, who completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season, more than held his own. In the main event of the camp, the Air-It-Out Challenge on Saturday night, Kessler advanced all the way to the semifinals. Mannion eventually won the competition.

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LOS ANGELES -- With the recent season-ending ACL injury to Kenny Bigelow, a talented redshirt freshman defensive tackle, it makes a USC Trojans fan ponder which players on offense and defense head coach Steve Sarkisian cannot afford to lose?

Here is our list of the top five offensive and defensive players the Trojans need the most in 2014:

Offense

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video
Mission Hills (California) Bishop Alemany wide receiver Desean Holmes gave the USC Trojans a commitment on Monday.


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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- The Battle of the Beach passing tournament was held Saturday at Huntington Beach Edison High School with a loaded field that included plenty of USC recruits.

One of the bigger highlights was the opportunity to watch two of the top 2016 quarterbacks in Malik Henry and K.J. Costello. Henry has a USC offer and was recently named the No. 2 prospect in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300, while Costello checked in at No. 61 on that list. The two had a chance to match up in the quarterfinals at the event, with Costello leading his Santa Margarita team to a victory over Henry and Westlake.


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LOS ANGELES -- They are the last of a dying breed, a true gridiron prep graduation. Once they were the unofficial gridiron transition from high school to college, a seminal moment in a young athlete’s life and the community in which he grew up.

Chances are great that a majority of those that are participating in The Opening, an invitation-only get-together of the nation’s elite high school football players, will never participate in them once they have concluded their prep career.

“They” and “them” refer to summer high school all-star football games for graduated seniors -- once an integral part of the summer fun. With the smell of BBQ in the air and footballs being tossed from one end of the parking lot to the other, the games had their own niche on the summer calendar.


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