Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring ball. There were other position battles that took place on the field this spring, as well, and the WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following competitions and who they would name as the starter.

WR opposite Nelson Agholor

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with Darreus Rogers right now, but I’m not going to rule out George Farmer being the starter by the season opener. Rogers has all the tools and flashes them often, but the one thing Sarkisian has noted is his inconsistency. Farmer, on the other hand, has been steadily consistent as he continues to come back from a knee injury. He is looking strong and mature right now and if his health holds up, he could make a push for the spot.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCould former five-star prospect George Farmer be in play as a starting wide receiver?
Johnny Curren: While the performance of Farmer as of late makes this decision more difficult than anticipated, I would still give the nod to Rogers. With his combination of size, athleticism and sure hands, he really adds a unique dimension to the offense. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone -- something he showed last Thursday when he hauled in three touchdowns with the offense in close.

Greg Katz: Although Farmer and Victor Blackwell have made strides, the vote here goes to Rogers, who has made some standout plays and continues to improve on his consistency and concentration.

DE opposite Leonard Williams

GP: The Trojans have a pair of veteran options to replace George Uko in Delvon Simmons and Claudeson Pelon. Both are big, strong bodies in the middle who will contribute this year, but if I have to name a starter I will choose Pelon. He got praise from Sarkisian this week for the way his conditioning seems to be paying off, and looks to be an impressive run stuffer.

JC: Simmons is the choice here. Not only does he possess 6-foot-6, 300-pound size, but what has impressed me most this spring is his quickness, and perhaps most of all, his stamina -- something Pelon and Kenny Bigelow appeared to struggle with at times. When you throw Simmons into a lineup that will also include Williams and an improved Antwaun Woods, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will have one of the nation’s most formidable starting defensive line units in 2014.

GK: Simmons is the choice, having shown his experience of having already played for two seasons at Texas Tech. Simmons, while still striving for consistency on a play-by-play basis, is big and talented and has shown the most progress, which hasn’t been entirely unexpected.

SAM linebacker

GP: There are two really good options with a lot of upside in Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. I would have said Powell at the start of spring, and while he didn’t do anything to lose the spot in my mind, Ruffin has showed me a little more. Any way you look at it, the Trojans are fine here.

JC: This is the toughest one to choose because Powell and Ruffin have each been stellar this spring. Still, if I have to pick one, it’s Powell. An explosive athlete with strong football instincts and the length that the USC coaches look for at SAM linebacker, Powell is really the total package. I think he has the potential to develop into a difference-maker down the line, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.

GK: With Scott Starr having been moved to rush end, it’s a battle between Powell and Ruffin. Powell has the quickness and the attitude, but as Sarkisian recently pointed out, Ruffin is one heck of an athletic who really brings a physical game. I’ll go with Powell for the moment, but the way Ruffin is improving, Powell better do the same if he wants to hold on to the position.

CB opposite Josh Shaw

GP: Kevon Seymour is the choice, and he should be, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of Adoree' Jackson making a run in the fall. Chris Hawkins has stepped up his game to the point where he is in the mix too.

JC: A more refined and physically mature Hawkins certainly proved himself to a certain extent this spring, but I’d still give the edge to Seymour here. Not only has he had a solid spring, but with 11 starts under his belt, he has the undeniable edge in experience. I’d need to see more of Hawkins in fall camp before I’d be comfortable putting him ahead of Seymour, who is coming off the best performance of his career in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

GK: There is no reason not to start Seymour, who had an outstanding performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, like Ruffin and Powell, the competition gap is closing, and look for Hawkins to continue his quest to unseat Seymour.

A look at USC's rehabbing players

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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LOS ANGELES -- They observe in jerseys, and for those who can, they participate in controlled spring conditioning drills, walk-throughs, and mental preparation. Some even walk the steep steps of the Coliseum from bottom to top and back down again.

But no matter what they do, USC's walking wounded aren’t remotely in the same condition as their healthy brethren, who are fit enough to stretch the limits of their physical being in Steve Sarkisian’s nonstop practice pace.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJustin Davis isn't a factor this spring, but his work ethic and motor will help him be ready for fall camp.
Sarkisian, USC's first-year head coach, is a great believer in muscle memory, which basically means one learns from doing rather than watching. In his incredibly fast paced, no-huddle offense and rotating defense, muscle memory must also go hand-in-hand with muscle conditioning.

Despite watching their teammates practice and condition at a pace not seen on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields, there is an uneasiness that come regular season camp, in the heat of summer, the currently rehabilitating players could be in for a major conditioning shock.

Sarkisian feels that his available players in spring ball are now rounding into the type of shape needed for the regular season, and spring ball has been a catalyst to being in the type of condition needed for fall competition.

“That’s why we practice the way that we do,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why we make it as hard we can throughout practice. This prepares our guys for a game-like atmosphere.”

Come practice in August, Sarkisian expects his healthy players to return ready to go from a conditioning standpoint, and he also knows the conditioning challenge is even more pronounced for those rehabbing.

“The guys [who] are injured have their work cut out for them when they get back,” Sarkisian said.

Here are six rehabilitating players being held out of spring ball (for the most part) who are expected to be key contributors in 2014. They all will be faced with the challenge of getting into “Sarkisian shape” by early August:

• RB Justin Davis: Given the sophomore’s early track record of success on and off the field, Davis -- who suffered a season-ending broken ankle in 2013 -- figures to be ready with an indisputable work ethic and relentless motor. Expect him to enter fall camp in top condition.

• LB Lamar Dawson: Recovering from a left knee injury, this senior will not only battle junior Anthony Sarao for his starting inside linebacker position, but he will have to be in the type of shape that Sarao knows all too well. Sarao has really come on and plays with a high motor and intelligence, so Dawson has his work cut out for him in more ways than one.

• WR Steven Mitchell: The redshirt freshman is an electrifying player when healthy. Recovering from tearing ligaments in his right knee during the summer of 2013, Mitchell says he is still on the mend but expects to be in ready to go in August. A hard worker, the former Bishop Alemany star’s return would be a major addition for the currently ultra-thin receiving corps.

• OG Jordan Simmons: With his size (6-foot-4, 335) and the pace of the offense, will the sophomore be able to come into camp in the type of shape needed for the no-huddle offense? Simmons, recovering from knee surgery, could very well be a key and the final piece of the offensive line. So far Simmons is still potential and an unproven talent.

• TE Randall Telfer: With Xavier Grimble leaving early for the NFL draft, it appeared that Telfer would step right in. The senior might still do so, but he has been held out of spring ball with a knee issue, and his absence has opened the way for an impressive March and April by junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. It would behoove Telfer to be in the best condition of his Trojans career to hold off Cope-Fitzpatrick and the incoming presence of true freshman talent Bryce Dixon.

• OG Aundrey Walker: There are those both within the team and onlookers who say that Walker, now a senior, has the talent. But does he have the motivation? The Ohio native has spent spring practice observing and going through “soft” drills, but one wonders how the 6-foot-6, 300-pound guard will cope with the physical and mental conditioning demands to play in Sarkisian’s never-take-a-breath offense.
1. When USC finished practice Tuesday, center Max Tuerk and quarterback Cody Kessler stayed behind to work on snaps. Tuerk, a junior, has started 14 games at guard and six at tackle. But the Trojans need a center, so he’s learning the position this spring. He learned to tape his fingers -- two rings of tape on two fingers, one ring of tape on the other two -- and to carry a towel, all to keep sweat off the ball. He has learned to stay lower and, as he put it, get his feet in the ground faster. “The more reps you take, you don’t have to think about the snap as much,” Tuerk said. “You can think about the blocks.”

2. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is working more under center this spring. “It’s different,” the redshirt junior said. “Being under center and being in the shotgun are two different views. When you are under center, you are right there. ... You have to take your seven-step drop, push up in the pocket while keeping your shoulders (level).” If Hundley has a peccadillo, it is maintaining the balance of his shoulders. UCLA coach Jim Mora said he wants to work Hundley under center to expand the offense. If it helps Hundley in the 2015 NFL draft, even better.

3. Stanford wide receiver Jordan Pratt will be 29 years old when the football season begins. He enrolled after spending eight seasons pitching in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. “I’ll make a comment, ‘Yeah, I remember, Sept. 11, 2001, I got called out of my high school class,’” Pratt said. His teammates respond, “‘High school? I don’t even remember that. I was in preschool.’ There is this time gap. Sometimes I relate better to the TAs in my class than I do the other students. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to the professors. It’s a little easier for them to relate, too.”
As he has done the past five seasons, ESPN contributor Phil Steele takes a crack at projecting the preseason AP Top 25 Insider.

Steele has been pretty solid the last couple of years -- picking all 25 ranked teams in consecutive seasons. If he’s projecting your team, chances are they’ll be the list. He notes that this isn’t his personal preseason ranking, but rather his projection of how the AP will likely vote.

The Pac-12 is represented with Oregon at No. 3 and UCLA at No. 7 and three other teams in the projected Top 25.

Steele on Oregon:
While the Ducks, under new head coach Mark Helfrich, failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time in five seasons in 2013, they still managed their sixth-straight season with double-digit wins. This year they return 15 starters, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is clearly one of the Heisman favorites heading into 2014. The biggest question might be how they adjust to long-time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's retirement. However, they do return linebacker Derrick Malone, their leading tackler, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could be the best cornerback in the country.

Stanford and USC check in at 12 and 14, respectively, and Washington rounds out the group at No. 22.

He raises an interesting point regarding the Cardinal:
The biggest question for the Cardinal in 2014, however, is how they will navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country: Stanford plays Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA --- all on the road.

The Pac-12 finished up 2013 with six teams ranked in the Top 25. ASU is the only team that was ranked to close the season that isn’t projected by Steele. But the Sun Devils are likely to receive some votes and have a chance to slip into the Top 25 in the first couple of weeks with a softer schedule. But then it ramps up for ASU with four straight games against teams in Steele’s projections, starting off with a home date against UCLA. Recall the last couple of seasons that game has essentially decided the Pac-12 South title, and the road team has won in consecutive years. Then ASU is at USC, home to Stanford and at Washington.

Arizona ended the season receiving votes and should start out 4-0 (vs. UNLV, at UTSA, vs. Nevada, vs. California). Then the Wildcats have back-to-back games against Oregon (in Eugene, can you say revenge game?) and home to USC. A 4-0 start and a win in either of those games keeps the Wildcats in the Top 25.

Oregon State may receive a few votes as well -- though voters will likely be timid with the Beavers considering how last season started. Still, with three projected nonconference wins (vs. Portland State, at Hawaii, vs. San Diego State) the Beavers should be undefeated heading into conference play at USC. A 4-0 start and a win over USC would go a long way toward getting OSU in the Top 25.
Max Browne likely knows what's going on.

You can see it in his eyes. You can read it in his body language. As much as he wants it to be different, he understands.


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Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The USC Trojans appear to have their quarterback of the future -- perhaps even two if they sign both Ricky Town and longtime commit David Sills -- but who will protect them?

Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff hauled in a stellar 2014 offensive line group in February, led by highly-rated guards Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and mid-year enrollee Toa Lobendahn. The Trojans also signed ESPN 300 tackle Chris Brown and promising tackle prospect Jordan Austin, using more than a quarter of their 2014 scholarship allotment to shore up the offensive line.

Still, the presumed weak point would be the lack of depth at the offensive tackle spot. The Trojans addressed their needs, but Brown might need another year to bulk up and Austin admitted he needs some time to develop. On top of that, Nico Falah was the only offensive tackle the Trojans added in the 2013 class, a major effect of the scholarship reductions that could create serious concerns for whoever is standing in the pocket in a couple years.

From the looks of it, USC has made the tackle position one of its top priorities in the 2015 class.


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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
10:00
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting some USC football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he could pick a starting quarterback before the Trojans end spring practice drills on April 19.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler finished with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions last fall.
At the beginning of spring practice, Sarkisian had declared open competitions for all positions, and that included the quarterback spot where incumbent starter Cody Kessler would face a challenge from redshirt freshman Max Browne.

At the time, Sarkisian said he was unsure if he would name a starter at the end of spring or wait until fall camp, but it appears as if the decision will come sooner rather than later.

“Honestly, yes,” Sarkisian said when asked if he was closer to naming a starter. “I would suspect we’ll name one before the end of spring. As I’ve said before, when I have a pretty good feeling for it I’m going to let it sit for a little bit, maybe watch for a bit and view it that way, see what that feels like. I feel like that’s a good way to go about it.”

Kessler -- a redshirt junior -- is expected to retain his starting spot after leading the Trojans to a 10-4 record last fall while completing 236 of 361 passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was also named MVP of the Las Vegas Bowl, where the Trojans defeated Fresno State.

Sarkisian praised Kessler earlier this spring for his quick release, arm strength and accuracy.

"Cody has gotten better every day. Max is improving as well, but maybe not at the rapid pace that Cody has been so far," Sarkisian said after a recent Coliseum scrimmage.

Browne is a former No. 1-ranked quarterback recruit who has tremendous touch on the deep ball and is considered to have a bright future in the program.

Offensive explosion plays: South

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
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Just as defenses like to create negative plays for offenses, offenses like to create explosion plays -- plays of over 20 yards.

So which Pac-12 offenses created the most explosion plays in 2013? And how? And who's coming back in 2014?

I appreciate you asking.

The number to the left is the team's national ranking. "TDs" is how many of the explosion plays produced touchdowns. The "returning in 2014" is the explosion plays produced in 2013 by players who return in the fall.

In the "lost" and "returning" categories, we list players who had five or more explosion plays in 2013.

T7. Arizona State (10-4)
2013 explosion plays: 86 (62 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 11 pass, 14 run

Returning in 2014: 50 (38 pass, 12 rush)

Lost: RB Marion Grice (15); WR Kevin Ozier (9); TE Chris Coyle (6)

Returning: WR Jaelen Strong (22); RB D.J. Foster (11); QB Taylor Kelly (7)
36. UCLA (10-3)
2013 explosion plays: 69 (45 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 12 pass, 5 run

Returning in 2014: 53 (31 pass, 22 run)

Lost: WR Shaq Evans (10)

Returning: RB Paul Perkins (9); WR Devin Lucien (8); QB Brett Hundley (8); RB Steven Manfro (5)
T40. USC (10-4)
2013 explosion plays: 67 (43 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 12 pass, 11 run

Returning in 2014: 49 (26 pass, 23 run)

Lost: WR Marqise Lee (10); TE Xavier Grimble (5)

Returning: WR Nelson Agholor (15); RB Javorius Allen (12); RB Tre Madden (9)
T53. Arizona (8-5)
2013 explosion plays: 61 (32 pass, 29 run)

TDs: 6 pass, 9 run

Returning in 2014: 27 (25 pass, 2 rush)

Lost: RB Ka'Deem Carey (16); QB B.J. Denker (9); WR Terrence Miller (6)

Returning: WR Nate Phillips (9), WR Garic Wharton (8)
T71. Utah (5-7)
2013 explosion plays: 56 (38 pass, 18 run)

TDs: 9 pass, 5 run

Returning in 2014: 38 (23 pass, 15 run)

Lost: TE Jake Murphy (6); WR Sean Fitzgerald (5)

Returning: WR Dres Anderson (15); RB Bubba Poole (8); QB Travis Wilson (6)
T104. Colorado (4-8)
2013 explosion plays: 43 (36 pass, 7 run)

TDs: 14 pass, 3 run

Returning in 2014: 24 (17 pass, 7 run)

Lost: WR Paul Richardson (19)

Returning: WR Nelson Spruce (7); RB Michael Adkins (6)

video

USC offensive line coach Tim Drevno took time out on Tuesday to talk to WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz about how his group is coming along this spring.
LOS ANGELES -- It has to go down as one of the top highlights of the spring so far at USC. During a late 11-on-11 period last Saturday, redshirt freshman quarterback Max Browne stepped back and launched a ball to Nelson Agholor on a post pattern. With the pass just a tad bit off target, the star wideout was able to adjust his position in time to make a beautiful grab on a 70-plus yard scoring play.

It wasn’t exactly perfect, but after all, the end result is what counts most, isn’t it?

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler, Clay Helton
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesClay Helton has been impressed by how well his quarterbacks have adapted to USC's new offense.
Not according to USC offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton. Playing a vital role in the installation of Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo, no-huddle offensive attack this spring, he’s an admitted stickler when it comes to doing things right.

“These quarterbacks will tell you, I’m a perfectionist,” Helton said. “It was an unbelievable catch by Nelson, but where is that ball supposed to be? It’s supposed to be led away from him to lead him away from the corner. So, we point those things out, we correct it, and we’re always trying to make our players better mechanically, fundamentally and assignment-wise.”

It’s that attention to detail that played an integral part in Sarkisian’s decision to retain Helton from the Trojans’ previous staff, but it certainly wasn’t the only reason.

When Helton took over as interim coach following Ed Orgeron’s emotional departure in early December, Sarkisian was, in his words, “blown away,” by the manner in which the 41-year-old Texas native took command of the team and guided it to a victory in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

“For Clay to stand up in front of that team and take the reins -- I was so impressed by that alone,” Sarkisian said. “And his command in team meetings, and his command on the practice field, I just thought to myself, ‘How can I not have this guy on our staff?’”

For Helton, the decision to remain at USC was made just as easily.

“I absolutely love being a part of the USC Trojans staff, working with Coach Sarkisian,” Helton said. “You know, to be a part of this with a guy that is so brilliant, offensively minded, to be a part of this system again and to help in any role that I can is very satisfying and very rewarding.”

And with Helton in the fold, the Trojans have made what appears to have been a fairly seamless transition to the new offense this spring, all while going at a lightning-quick pace. In fact, Sarkisian noted on Saturday that the team has already run over 1,000 plays through nine practices -- over 2,000 if you include walk-throughs.

And while the new system differs dramatically from the prior one in a number of areas, most notably in terms of its tempo, verbiage and the fact that the quarterback now lines up exclusively out of the shotgun, Helton noted the similarities that have helped ease the changeover.

In particular, the emphasis on establishing a physical rushing attack that was present under former head coach Lane Kiffin, and virtually every other USC head coach before him, still exists. That, coupled with Sarkisian’s desire to make plays downfield has resulted in some solid production so far.

“When Coach Sark was at Washington, they were the 15th-best rush team in the country, but then what you see what I really enjoy is the explosion plays down the field,” Helton said. “He really forces the ball down the field. And I think the two go hand in hand, and I think when you add pace to that, and you’re a very explosive offense, and the quarterback makes good decisions, and we make our plays to 15 (Agholor) or to 84 (Darreus Rogers), those type of explosive guys, you’re going to be successful.”

And speaking of those quarterbacks, the position group that Helton has coached since his arrival at USC in February of 2010, all three members of an open competition that includes returning starter Cody Kessler, Browne, and early-entrant freshman Jalen Greene, have looked at home directing the new offense.

Helton was quick to praise each of them on Saturday, especially the two veterans who have been taking the vast majority of the snaps with the first unit.

“I feel like they’re progressing extremely quickly,” Helton said. “I like where they’re going, but we’re nowhere near being a finished product. The things that we’re working on are speeding up our decision-making, we’re working on being a little bit more anticipatory, getting the ball out quicker [and] not allowing for sacks. I like what they’ve done thus far in nine practices -- their completion ratios are right at 70 percent, both of them, and they’re protecting the football.”

And while 70 percent isn’t quite perfect, in this instance, it is close enough, providing more than enough reason for optimism for Helton. And that goes for the offense as a whole, which Helton is just as eager to see in the fall as everyone else.

“I think this system right now fits our personnel perfectly with what we’re doing,” Helton said. “I can’t wait to see it live and in person.”
The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays here as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more importantly -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We start with the South Division.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

Arizona

Tackles for a loss: 77 (32.5)

Sacks: 24 (11.5)

Interceptions: 18 (12)

Forced fumbles: 9 (6)

Key returners: LB Scooby Wright (9.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception); S Tra'Mayne Bondurant (7.0 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: DL Sione Tuihalamaka (11 TFL, 5 sacks, forced fumble); CB Shaquille Richardson (3.0 TFL, 3 INTs)

Breakdown: The Wildcats must replace a lot of production, including their top two tacklers and tackles-for-loss producers. As has been the question for the past few years, it's uncertain who will lead the pass rush.

Arizona State

Tackles for a loss: 101 (16.5)

Sacks: 40 (5)

Interceptions: 21 (4)

Forced fumbles: 14 (6)

Key returners: S Damarious Randall (5.5 tackles for a loss, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); LB Salamo Fiso (5.5 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: DE Carl Bradford (19 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles); DB Robert Nelson (6 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: After losing nine starters, including six on the All-Pac-12 first and second teams, the Sun Devils are rebuilding on defense. Considering ASU's system is predicated on negative plays, developing new defensive playmakers is priority No. 1 for the defending South champions.

Colorado

Tackles for a loss: 71 (42.5)

Sacks: 17 (11)

Interceptions: 10 (10)

Forced fumbles: 12 (7)

Key returners: LB Addison Gillam (9.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT); CB Greg Henderson (4 interceptions)

Key losses: DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe (10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Other than Uzo-Diribe, just about all the key producers are back. But they need to take a decisive step forward this season. There's a sense in Boulder that the secondary might be ready for prime time.

UCLA

Tackles for a loss: 79 (31)

Sacks: 32 (8)

Interceptions: 14 (11)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: LB Myles Jack (7.0 tackles for a loss, 1.0 sacks, 2 INTs, forced fumble) CB Ishmael Adams (1.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Anthony Barr (20 TFL, 10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles); DE Cassius Marsh (9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks)

Breakdown: Obviously, the loss of Barr is huge, but Marsh and LB Jordan Zumwalt also were highly productive players. The Bruins welcome a lot of guys back but those guys need to step up their negative-play production in 2014 -- paging Myles Jack.

USC

Tackles for a loss: 91 (49)

Sacks: 35 (15)

Interceptions: 17 (11)

Forced fumbles: 8 (6)

Key returners: DE Leonard Williams (13.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); CB Josh Shaw (5.5 tackles for a loss, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Devon Kennard (13 TFL, 9.0 sacks); DB Dion Bailey (6.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 5 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: USC welcomes back its three leading tacklers. Replacing Kennard's production is the big question for the defense. It was a huge gain for the Trojans when Shaw opted to return, as he solidified what should be a good secondary.

Utah

Tackles for a loss: 80 (31.5)

Sacks: 39 (13.5)

Interceptions: 3 (0)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returner: DE Nate Orchard (9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Key losses: OLB Trevor Reilly (16 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble); LB Jacoby Hale (10 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Breakdown: Reilly was, by far, the Utes' best and most productive defensive player, but the loss of Hale to a serious knee injury this spring also hurts. It's pretty astounding that the Utes don't have a player coming back who had an interception in 2013.
Tyler Vaughns froze in his seat. The Class of 2016 receiver wanted to leap in the air and scream. He wanted to show emotion, but, in utter shock, he remained still.

Similar to many recruits in Southern California, Vaughns grew up idolizing former USC running back Reggie Bush. He admired the accomplishments of quarterback Matt Leinart. More recently, he followed the progress of receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.


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