The WeAreSC staffers discuss three things that have jumped out so far from the opening days of fall camp.
1. Lots of bodies. For a team with limited roster numbers due to scholarship restrictions, the Trojans sure have a lot of available bodies to start camp -- enough that Steve Sarkisian has been able to utilize three full units during practice time. That has meant a lot of development time for the entire squad and some long three-hour practices to get the camp sessions started. Kenny Bigelow is the only player ruled out for the season, and there have been a few players sitting out that should come back soon. Otherwise the full squad is on the field and getting work.
2. There has been a lot of attention paid to the up-tempo offense but it’s important to note that this defense has a chance to be pretty good. The unit is led by a strong front seven with veterans such as Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams but it’s been the secondary that has shown well early on. It helps to have Josh Shaw back at corner and Chris Hawkins has filled in well at the other spot with Kevon Seymour out due to stomach flu. And Adoree' Jackson and Lamont Simmons have made strong impressions as true freshmen. Su'a Cravens is up to 225 pounds at the safety position.
3. The snapping issues between the quarterback and center in the shotgun have been there through the start of camp. At some point you want to see them go away but it hasn’t happened yet. There have been stretches where things are fine but it simply needs to be more consistent than it is right now before the regular season starts. The good news is that this is what fall camp is for with players who are new to the center spot.
1. The improved depth of the team. This is the healthiest and deepest that the Trojans have been in what seems like forever, and it’s resulted in more competitive practice sessions marked by an improved overall level of play. Even with what is still a limited roster, Sarkisian and his staff have what appears to be talent on top of talent at virtually every position, even at the cornerback and wide receiver spots that were noticeably thin a year ago. The ability of the team to stay healthy will obviously be a key factor to watch as fall camp progresses.
2. The defensive front seven. USC’s defensive front seven entered fall camp with a fair amount of hype, and it’s safe to say that this group has lived up to those lofty expectations so far. Not only have established big time performers like Williams and Pullard stood out, but younger and lesser-known players such as Quinton Powell, Jabari Ruffin and Claude Pelon have done a stellar job of picking up the slack left by the departure of stalwarts from last year’s squad like Devon Kennard and George Uko. On Wednesday this unit was flat-out dominant, and it should be extremely entertaining to watch them on the field this fall.
3. Freshmen stepping up. One of the big surprises of fall camp so far has been just how quickly many of the newly arrived freshmen have been able to make their presence felt. Jackson, JuJu Smith, Ajene Harris, Bryce Dixon and Simmons are some of the young newcomers who have shined at times early on, and it’s going to be interesting to see if they can continue to do so once the pads come on, and once more of the playbook is incorporated into practice.
1. The defense seems to already be in great form, especially the starting down three led by Williams. In a number of practice series, the offense has had its challenges trying to contain “Big Cat” Williams. One position battle that has jumped out to me is the competition at defensive tackle between Delvon Simmons and Pelon. Both are really bringing it, and it presents a challenge to the developing offensive linemen to respond accordingly.
2. I am impressed just how good the 2014 recruiting class is because there doesn’t seem to be a lemon in the group. Jackson and Smith have lived up to their billing and the freshmen offensive linemen are really fun to watch. The key to the young offensive linemen will be whether Viane Talamaivao or Toa Lobendahn -- currently starting at left guard -- becomes the backup center for Max Tuerk. It would be safe to say that both of these freshmen linemen are still learning the center position and are a work in progress.
3. Offensively, the surprise to me is how far true freshman quarterback Jalen Greene has come since spring ball. He’s throwing a very catchable ball and his accuracy has greatly improved. It appears to me that Greene will be a competitive force down the road and really could be the “surprise” recruit of the Class of 2014.