LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans opened up the 2013 spring ball practice session with a spirited workout, which is typical for the first day of spring.
“I thought things looked good today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “That is usually the case in spring, guys are fired up to get out here and start going to work. I also liked what I saw from our coaches, especially since some of them have only been with us for a short time. They were really ready to go.”
One of the new items to watch for the Trojans this spring is the 5-2 defense which is run by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Kiffin said that getting the new defense set is the top priority of spring and the highlight play of the day was an example of how the defense can shine. Jabari Ruffin -- who was lined up at defensive end -- had an interception of a Cody Kessler pass after dropping back into coverage and leaping in the air to make the play.
Kessler is part of what is expected to be an intense quarterback competition along with Max Wittek and Max Browne. Kiffin said Kessler was on schedule to be named MVP of the day until the interception and he also liked what he saw from his true freshman.
“Cody made a lot of plays today but I couldn’t give him MVP after an interception,” Kiffin said with a smile. “I liked what I saw from Max Browne, he just handles himself so well. There is no timetable on naming a starter.”
Kiffin also said there is no set time frame to decide who will call offensive plays, something that has yet to be finalized even though quarterback coach Clay Helton has added the title of offensive coordinator.
“We’re going to focus this spring on getting better as a team,” Kiffin said. “We’re not going to worry about play calling until we get to the fall.”
Roster update: Kiffin confirmed that three players will miss all of spring drills: Dion Bailey, Gerald Bowman and Scott Starr. There are also three players out with injuries who should return later this spring: J.R. Tavai, Cody Temple and Greg Townsend. Four players have been removed from the USC roster; Christian Heyward, Christian Thomas, DeVante Wilson and Junior Pomee.
The speed is the thing: The common phrase that was uttered from all of the early enrollee freshmen is that the speed of the game was the biggest difference during their first day of practice at the college level.
“The speed is completely different,” said Su’a Cravens. “It’s so fast and intense, you think you know what to expect after the winter workouts but it’s a different level out here. I need to work on taking better angles and that will come in time.”
Rotating on the line: There was a lot of shuffling with the offensive line unit, especially considering there are five returning players with starting experience. Kevin Graf took the reps with the first unit at right tackle and was backed up by Zach Banner. John Martinez and Jordan Simmons each took reps as the first unit right guard, somewhat of a surprise since Martinez is a returning two-year starter. The biggest eye-opener was Max Tuerk at center, he started last fall at both left tackle and left guard. Cyrus Hobbi was also at center. Marcus Martin was the left guard with Giovanni Di Poala as the back-up. Aundrey Walker shared time at left tackle with Chad Wheeler.
Top plays: In addition to the interception by Ruffin, there were plenty of other notable plays. Kevon Seymour had a nice pass break-up on a pass intended for George Farmer. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick caught a pass in the flat and was met with a solid smack by Torin Harris. Wittek threw a short pass to Victor Blackwell, Seymour went for the pick but missed and Blackwell sprinted for a long gain. Tre Madden took a pass over the middle and looked good as he continues to rehab his knee.
Notables in attendance: Among the guests watching from the sideline were USC president Max Nikias, Pat Haden, J.K. McKay, John Robinson, Matt Kalil, Khaled Holmes, Rhett Ellison, Steven Mitchell and Nico Falah.
“I originally hurt my shoulder my freshman year against Syracuse. The doctor said there was a 20 percent chance it would heal itself. I hate needles and I didn’t want to miss spring so I tried to let it heal but it didn’t happen. I’ll be learning both the safety and linebacker spots, whatever will help the team is where I want to play.” – Dion Bailey
“It was great to finally get on the field to be coached by Coach Orgeron. It was everything I expected it to be, he coached me hard. I will be playing nose tackle in the 5-2 and will move to three-technique in a four lineman set.” – Kenny Bigelow