It has been an eventful month for a number of Trojans who shined during fall camp, particularly for those lesser-known and younger members of the team who took the opportunity to make a major statement with their play.
With that in mind, here are five players who made a big impression over the course of the last three weeks, providing evidence that they’re ready to make an impact on the field for USC this fall.
OL Chad Wheeler (6-foot-7, 290 pounds, RS Fr.)
Originally lining up at left tackle in the spring before going down with a knee injury, Wheeler came into fall camp in fantastic shape, with a bulked-up, 290-pound frame. Moved to right tackle to compete with veteran Kevin Graf, he switched back to the left side to run with the first-team offense early in August when Aundrey Walker went down with an injury, and he remained there throughout camp -- prompting Walker to move to guard. Drawing praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin, Wheeler provided stability at a position that struggled in that regard in 2012. A unique talent who plays with a nasty demeanor on the field, he appears to have won the starting job. It will be interesting to watch his development this season.
WR Darreus Rogers (6-2, 210, Fr.)
A Class of 2012 recruit who didn't enroll until last January, Rogers flashed at times in spring ball, but it’s safe to say that Rogers took his game to a whole new level this month.
Possessing a skill-set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC star receiver Mike Williams brought to the table, the Carson (Calif.) product showcases a perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and sure hands. Making strides throughout camp, he utilized some strong scrimmage performances -- including a 10-catch, 106-yard and 2-touchdown outing on Aug. 16 -- to nail down the role of No. 3 wide out.
With the Trojans paper-thin at receiver, he should get plenty of chances to produce this season as a complement to Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, and from what he’s shown, he’s ready to do just that.
S Su'a Cravens (6-1, 215, Fr.)
Arguably the most highly touted prospect in the Trojans’ recruiting class of 2013, Cravens was another mid-year enrollee who has more than lived up to expectations. One of those rare playmakers on the defensive side of the ball who always seems to be in the thick of the action, he looks and plays more like a seasoned veteran than a green freshman. His fall camp highlighted by an outstanding performance in the team’s second scrimmage -- one in which he compiled five tackles with two sacks -- he has been part of a highly competitive battle at strong safety. For the last week or so of fall camp, however, he was taking the majority of the reps with the first-team defense, and he figures to see the field early and often, whether he starts or not.
FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Declared by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member in his group during the spring, Pinner continued his progression throughout the summer, allowing him to hit the ground running in fall camp. With Soma Vainuku sidelined for most of the workouts with an injury, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout carried the bulk of the workload at fullback and excelled in the expanded role.
Always known as a tough-as-nails lead blocker, what was most impressive was the receiving skills he put on display -- something lacking from the position in 2012. Hauling in a number of passes in the team’s most recent scrimmage, there’s hope that he can bring a Stanley Havili-like presence back to the Trojans’ offense.
LB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Starting out at outside linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 defensive alignment, Powell made the switch inside to WILL linebacker midway through camp, and the energetic freshman began turning heads right from his first day there -- despite the fact he never lined up at the position in high school. An emotionally charged athlete who plays with aggression and a nonstop motor, Powell really came on over the last two weeks, collecting five tackles in the team’s Aug. 16 scrimmage. Receiving more and more snaps with the second unit as of late, and even with the first group when Hayes Pullard was limited recently, he obviously is someone who has caught the eye of the coaches.