The Trojans are under way with summer throwing sessions, and here are some thoughts based on what we’ve seen so far:
1. Organization: One of the first things to stand out when watching the workouts is noting how organized they are. In past years, a voluntary throwing session would usually be the players coming onto the field, throwing a few warmup routes and then getting right into 7-on-7 or full-team throwing. This year there is a walk-through, a stretching and agility warmup, rotating drill sessions that include medicine balls and tall bags, the actual throwing session, and then a series of post-workout sprints. This new structure is no accident, as USC coach Steve Sarkisian spent an entire spring ball practice going over the routine with the players.
2. Standouts: It’s hard to read too much into these sessions since they are in shorts and T-shirts, but there are still players who can shine for various reasons. Buck Allen looks as good as anyone -- there is kind of an aura around him these days after the way he exploded over the second half of last season. Leon McQuay III appears ready to step in as a starter; he seems in control on the field and his frame is growing well. The duo of McQuay and Su'a Cravens could be special, and Cravens already has multiple interceptions this summer. Darreus Rogers looks more and more like the starter opposite Nelson Agholor, as he offers a physical presence that the Trojans haven’t had in recent years. And Leonard Williams deserves mention. It’s no surprise that he looks great, but you also don’t want to take him for granted.
3. Bulking up: One of the rites of the offseason is to judge which players have bulked up in the weight room. Allen’s upper body is noticeably bigger this year, and receivers such as Rogers and George Farmer stand out, as does walk-on tight end Chris Willson. On defense, Quinton Powell has filled out and cornerback Chris Hawkins is now thicker in the upper body to go along with his long arms. The Trojans have a new strength and conditioning coach in Ivan Lewis, and it will be interesting to watch how he balances building the strength of the players while also getting them ready for the conditioning demands of the up-tempo style of play.
4. Early impact: Several of the incoming freshmen have arrived to take part in these sessions. The biggest performance came in Adoree' Jackson’s initial appearance, as he wasted no time in making a highlight play with a break on the ball to tip a pass that was eventually intercepted by Cravens. It was the kind of instinctive and athletic play that not too many corners can make, and Jackson made it within 20 minutes of stepping on the USC practice field for the first time. This kid is going to be good. Offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao has also been impressive. Talamaivao has seen work at center and both guard spots, and he has shown versatility at all three spots. The thing that stands out about Talamaivao is his athleticism for his size. I’ve long thought he could make a good center, and nothing I’ve seen so far has changed that thinking. Ajene Harris deserves a mention here as well. He has been playing slot receiver and has consistently made plays when given a chance.
5. Injury updates: There was a lot of anticipation about Steven Mitchell, who is returning from a knee injury suffered last summer, and so far the results have been positive. Mitchell looks smooth and fluid while providing multiple long pass receptions. There was also an appearance last week from D.J. Morgan, another player who sat out last season with a knee injury. It’s too early to know if Morgan can make a dent in a crowded backfield, but it’s was a positive step to see him on the field again. Guards Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee) have not taken part in full drills yet, but Simmons has been able to do limited work.