LOS ANGELES – There certainly was a different feel on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field on Tuesday as the Trojans set their game plan in motion for Saturday’s game with the Hawaii Warriors. The team was in full gear today and it was a more spirited practice than has been seen in quite a while, with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron’s booming voice reverberating throughout the field right from the get-go.
The biggest news of the day came following practice when Lane Kiffin named Max Wittek as the back-up quarterback ahead of Cody Kessler. It was a close battle, but the Trojans head coach felt a decision had to be made -- at least for now.
“Somebody has to be No. 2, and Max is No. 2,” Kiffin said. “It has nothing to do with who will be the starter next season. Both have commanded the offense well, they both made a bunch of plays and had good numbers throughout the fall.”
There was a lot of special teams work early on, with special teams coach John Baxter focusing a lot on the punt return unit, and Andre Heidari off to the side booming some kicks.
As individual drills started today, it’s easy to see why the receiving corp is so highly regarded. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee start every drill off with the other wideouts taking their lead and making it look so easy. Nelson Agholor is eager to learn from those two standouts in addition to Tee Martin, whom he was taking instruction from.
There was an early 11-on-11 period that started off with a nice Victor Blackwell grab in traffic, followed by a Curtis McNeal carry where he was stopped in his tracks at the line by Scott Starr. The action really heated up when freshman Kevon Seymour -- who continues to impress -- jumped on a Wittek sideline pass for an interception that sent the sideline into a frenzy. The offense got its revenge on the very next play though, when D.J. Morgan went right and was off to the races without even being touched.
Later on there was a short skeleton 7-on-7 period that saw tight end Xavier Grimble haul in a pair of impressive downfield throws from Matt Barkley. Linebacker Dion Bailey had a nice play of his own when he read a Barkley pass perfectly, jumping in front of Lee for the pick. Drew McAllister got in great position for another interception for the defense, but he couldn’t quite pull it in. And Silas Redd showed some nice hands on a reception out of the backfield.
The day concluded with another 11-on-11 session. Here are some of the highlights:
Barkley fired a bullet over the middle that Lee brought in.
Defensive end Morgan Breslin made his presence felt, breaking loose at the line and batting down a Wittek pass attempt.
Wittek found Junior Pomee over the middle a couple plays later for a solid gain.
Cody Kessler found Agholor, who held onto the ball despite being drilled immediately.
On perhaps the play of the day, Seymour jumped on a Barkley pass but couldn’t hold on, with Woods eventually pulling in the tipped ball before darting off for a big gain.
Bailey intercepted Barkley a few plays later.
Redd had a series with a few nice carries up the middle where he showed off his ability to hit the hole and make people miss.
Starr ended the period with an interception on a tipped Wittek pass that Agholor couldn’t pull in.
Following practice it was learned that with the roster is now at 74 scholarship players, as former walk-ons Abe Markowitz and Tony Burnett were able to stay on scholarship while Will Andrew is not (pending Darreus Rogers' qualifying status).
Notable Kiffin quotes
On the inexperience of the defensive line:
“It’s about us more than anything. No matter who you play, no matter how many veterans are on a certain unit, you have to play really well. If you don’t get lined up right, if you don’t know your assignments, it doesn’t matter who you play.”
On managing expectations:
“We talk about it day one in camp and then we don’t go back. The players understand that whatever the media says or how many preseason All-Americans we have has nothing to do with winning the game. Winning the game has to do with how hard they practice, how they prepare all week and how they perform on Saturday.”
On Matt Barkley as a leader:
“He’s Matt, He does everything and really helps the young guys. He’s always been a good leader but even more now. It’s like we tell the team, ‘This is the seniors’ team. It’s not my team. It’s the seniors team. It’s their last shot.’”
“What was the best thing about your summer vacation?”
“Signing Silas Redd...by far.”