USC Trojans: Anthony Brown

As the Trojans move into the fourth week of spring ball drills, the coaches are still searching to balance the desire for physical play with the need to keep players healthy on a reduced roster.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe USC defense is likely to look much different in the fall with injured players like Josh Shaw back in action.
When Steve Sarkisian set the agenda for spring ball, he made it clear that one of his goals was to have all the injured players healthy for the fall. With injured veterans like Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw, the decision was made to sit them out entirely. And there was a lot of caution shown in terms of bringing other players back as well.

Sarkisian chose to focus a lot of attention this spring on the installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball, including morning walk-throughs and in-practice teaching sessions that would allow those injured players the opportunity to mentally stay with the rest of the team.

One of the trade-offs has been fewer opportunities for live tackling during practice, a concession that no coach wants to make but that sometimes can come into play. There were a few dozen live plays during a recent practice session at the Coliseum -- including a spirited Oklahoma drill -- and other isolated physical sessions, but they have been limited in scope.

“You would love to practice [live tackling] all the time, but you have to be smart about the way you do it,” USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “You work on tackling in controlled environments where you limit the number of bodies potentially going to the ground, you work that way in one-on-one drills, you work it on bags. But when you get to go live, you have to go. There’s nothing like live tackling.”

It’s not like the Trojans don’t have plenty of opportunities to tackle if they want. Through nine days of spring ball, the new up-tempo offensive system has run more than 1,000 plays (more than 2,000 if you include morning walk-throughs), and there is an added benefit there as the defensive players must also adapt quickly to the new pace of play.

“The offense can have the advantage late in the game with the up-tempo,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why we practice this way, to prepare for games.”

That late-game advantage would be evident based on what Wilcox has seen so far from his defense.

“We have a tendency to start practices fast and we play well for the first half, but we don’t do as well in the second half,” Wilcox said. “That’s where we have to continue to emphasize finishing strong because the end of the game is when you get up there in play count. When you get to plays 100 to 120, that’s when you really need to sustain things mentally and that’s something we’ve got to work on. The effort has been good, we just have to get better. I would have thought through nine days that we would have it down pat and look great, but I don’t know if that’s reality.”

It would be natural to expect things to look better in the fall, especially when so many of the injured players return. In addition to starters such as Williams and Shaw, there are also players with starting experience like J.R. Tavai, Lamar Dawson and Anthony Brown who are expected back in action.

In the meantime, other players will continue to fill in during the last two weeks of spring to get as much experience as they can.

“With the injured guys out, there’s some guys taking reps right now who won’t be getting reps in the fall,” Wilcox said. “But that’s OK, we need everybody and you’re always looking to build on your depth. It’s a chance for those guys to show us something to maybe earn a bigger role.”
There’s definite reason for optimism for first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading into spring ball. After all, he inherits some key pieces from a unit that finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total defense (334.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 1 in red zone defense (63 percent scoring percentage).

Still, for the defense to really take off under Wilcox in 2014, there’s one position group that will need to elevate its level of play -- the cornerbacks. Plagued by injuries, the USC corners struggled at times in pass coverage, particularly in games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame. As such, expect Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward to hold an open audition this spring as they look to find the most productive starting duo.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesUSC's Kevon Seymour, who was inconsistent in 2013, has challengers for his starting cornerback spot.
Of course, with potential instant-impact freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons all set to arrive this summer, the upcoming slate of spring practice sessions will almost certainly serve as just the first phase of a lengthy competition at cornerback that will extend through fall camp. Without those blue-chippers around to steal valuable reps, the March and April workouts will be crucial for the candidates currently on the roster to make a lasting impression on the new staff.

Josh Shaw, who started 11 games at cornerback in 2013, stands out as a virtual lock at one of the spots, but with an influx of talent on the way, might we see him make the move back to his more natural free safety position? With Su’a Cravens, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman -- who is coming off shoulder surgery -- serving as the only other scholarship safeties, there is certainly a lack of depth back there, so a potential switch for Shaw seems to make sense. Having proven himself as the team’s most dependable cover man last fall, however, the USC staff might not have the luxury of making that change unless other cornerbacks prove that they can be counted on.

The primary starter on the other side in 2013 was Kevon Seymour, now entering his junior season. The Pasadena (Calif.) Muir product had his ups and downs, but he did cap off his season with an outstanding performance in USC’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State. The big question now is, was that an anomaly or just the beginning of something special? The answer will likely determine whether or not he remains atop the depth chart in the long run.

Fifth-year senior Anthony Brown has flashed at times, but he has never been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. A veteran with six starts to his credit, it looked like 2013 was going to be his season to make a name for himself. But he suffered a knee injury in the team’s opener at Hawaii that would keep him on the sideline for almost the entire season. He actually returned to start against Notre Dame, but his injury hampered his outing, and he wouldn’t see the field again for the remainder of the season. Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds, he lacks the size of some of his counterparts, but he makes up for that with his speed and quickness. It hasn’t been announced whether or not he’ll be available to practice this spring, but if he is, he'll be in the mix.

Devian Shelton is another player whose status for the spring is still unknown after having foot surgery this past fall, but he too, could factor heavily into the discussion if healthy. Listed at 6-1, he gives the Trojans a taller look, but having redshirted as a freshman, and then missing almost all of 2013, he still lacks experience. Impressing at times last fall in camp with his size, he could even conceivably make the transition back to safety -- where he saw time in high school

One of the more interesting names to keep an eye on is Chris Hawkins. Could this be the time when he emerges from anonymity into a major contributor? A highly touted Class of 2013 prospect, he spent his first season on campus learning the tricks of the trade while redshirting. Although somewhat raw, he showed plenty of ability in practice, especially as the season wore on. If his development continues on its forward path, there’s reason to believe that he has the skills to push for playing time.

Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard are two more contenders who have seen limited action in the past in reserve roles. Henderson’s athleticism is undeniable -- he was the 2010 SPARQ Rating National Champion -- but so far that hasn’t translated over to the football field at USC. Dillard, meanwhile, is a walk-on who has certainly held his own, but he would still appear to be somewhat of a longshot. This spring will mark an important time for both players as they attempt to make a move up the depth chart for the first time.
When the 2013 season opened last August, there was a tremendous amount of angst that the USC secondary would have so many holes, it would resemble Swiss cheese. However, the Cardinal and Gold secondary surprised many by finishing second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.

While much of the credit for the secondary’s success goes to a superior front seven and the defensive schemes of former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who also doubled as secondary coach, the fact remains that the secondary showed marked improvement through the course of the season.

Since his arrival, first-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has mostly revamped the staff, which also meant bringing aboard former University of Washington assistant Keith Heyward, who will be Sark’s secondary coach.

The hiring of Heyward appears to be a twofer – not only a widely respected secondary coach, but also a native Southern Californian whose knowledge of the region won’t slow down the recruiting process.

“Technically, this is home for me,” Heyward said with a smile. “I went to Taft High School in Woodland Hills and was coached by Troy Starr. This is awesome to be back down in Southern California and USC. It’s an awesome place, and we all know about the tradition. I am excited to be back and get it rolling.”

[+] EnlargeKeith Heyward
Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMIKeith Heyward says the Trojans secondary is talented but lacking in depth.
Part of the transition for Heyward was getting to know his returning secondary personnel and finding out what makes these guys tick. Call it a bonding session and a chance to just chill.

“I know most of all the guys,” said Heyward, who was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a senior corner at Oregon State in 2000. “Josh [Shaw] is a kid I tried to recruit out of Palmdale. I tried to recruit Chris Hawkins, Anthony Brown from the Inland Empire, Devian Shelton from Inglewood. I recruited Su’a Cravens down in Vista Murrieta.

“I recruited all these guys. I tried to recruit them whether I was at Oregon State or Washington, and this is a great group of guys. This is a great foundation for what we want to do. I don’t feel I have to go out there and rebuild this secondary. I think their pass defense was ranked near the top in the conference last year, so I am going to have fun.”

Spring ball will arrive in early March, and Heyward has a preliminary plan to promote himself to his new secondary, but believes it works both ways.

“Basically, you open up to the kids and let them know who you are,” Heyward said. “It’s a two-way street. They have to earn my trust and I have to earn their trust. From there, it’s about what you do.

“They have to know I am putting them in the right situations, and they have to know I care about them and not just wins. I want them to understand I do care about what they’re doing off the field and staying out of trouble socially and in the classroom. When it’s time to talk about football, we’ll talk about football. It’s a trust thing. You can’t just come in here and give a speech. They’ll read right through you.”

As mentioned, the Trojans had great success in the secondary under Pendergast, but with a new system comes new concepts and strategies. Heyward believes the new Trojans defense can be very effective, and he brings a multiple set of secondary schemes.

“We have to be multiple,” Heyward said. “We’re going to press. We’ll play some man and play some zone. It’s going to be a lot of different things we do. I told them they’ll need a DB tool belt.

“You can’t just do one thing. If we only do one thing in this conference, the offensive coordinators will eat you alive. The players will learn a lot of new concepts in blitzing, pressing, man-zone and all that stuff. Our tackling has to be great and we need to be multiple.”

Heyward knows the expectations at USC, and he also has an idea of what he is getting into, especially on the defensive side. Coaching at a powerhouse school such as USC brings high expectations, the highest in the Pac-12.

So, how much does this 34-year-old coach know about the Trojans overall on returning defense?

“I have watched some games and know they have a very good group up front and linebackers,” Heyward said. “The secondary is good, too, but there is a lack of depth.”

As part of his responsibilities, Heyward will be in charge of recruiting not only in Southern California but also covering the Oakland, Stockton, and Sacramento areas of California. This means not only players for his secondary, but for the team in general.

And what kind of athlete is Heyward looking to recruit?

“I think we have to bring a high level of character with players who will compete and win and win a national championship and uphold the academic standards,” said Heyward, whose wife, Cameo, is a former University of Oregon track athlete.

There's no question that Heyward, who played cornerback professionally for the BC Lions in the CFL, the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe and the L.A. Avengers in the Arena League, has his sights set on a specific type of secondary recruit.

“First, I would say guys that can cover and have ball skills,” Heyward said. “He has to be able to disrupt receivers and tackle well. I have to have smart guys.

“Even though you’re a great athlete, you have to know how to play smart and know what’s going on with other offenses and what they’re trying to do to you. You have to know their formations and certain plays. You have to have FBI: football intellect.”

By the sound of it, it looks like this new Trojans new secondary coach has got everything just about “covered.”

2013 review: USC defense

December, 24, 2013
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Determined to find a greater level of success against those uptempo, spread offenses that have shredded USC in recent years, Clancy Pendergast was brought in this past offseason by Lane Kiffin to replace his father, Monte Kiffin, as the team’s defensive coordinator. Installing a vastly different defense, both in terms of look and philosophy, this unit showed tremendous improvement, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in passing defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

Defensive line

A fast and attacking bunch, the Trojans defensive line spearheaded a defense that compiled an impressive 91 tackles for loss, including 35 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSophomore defensive end Leonard Williams had an All-American season.
Headlining the group was defensive end Leonard Williams. A 6-foot-5 sophomore with off-the-charts physical tools, he had arguably the best season of any Trojan, ranking No. 2 on the team with 74 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss, on his way to garnering ESPN.com First Team All-American honors.

Fourth-year junior George Uko lined up opposite Williams at the other end spot, compiling 36 tackles and five sacks of his own, and Antwaun Woods did a solid job at nose tackle when the Trojans went to their 5-2 look. He also took reps at end on occasion.

The outside linebackers emerged as a key piece of the puzzle in the new defensive scheme, with SAM linebacker Devon Kennard and Predator linebacker Morgan Breslin providing steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Kennard, who has played everywhere from middle linebacker to defensive end in his career, finally found his niche standing up on the outside, pacing the Trojans with nine sacks. Breslin, who made a huge impact in 2012 as a junior college transfer, had his season cut short because of a hip injury, though he still managed to record 4.5 sacks in five games. Sliding into the lineup for Breslin midway through the season was J.R. Tavai, who had spent the entirety of his career on the interior. An exceptional athlete with unique football instincts, his standout play allowed the defense to continue on its forward path without a hitch.

Jabari Ruffin, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr and Kevin Greene were others who played at outside linebacker.

Inside linebackers

Under the direction of first-year coach Mike Ekeler, the inside linebackers set the tone as a group that played with a high level of physicality, with fourth-year junior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard serving as the leader. Racking up 14 tackles against UCLA, he finished with a team-best 94 stops.

After a spirited competition with sophomore Anthony Sarao in the spring, junior Lamar Dawson emerged as the starter at WILL linebacker, recording 35 tackles before going down with a torn ACL during an October practice. With Dawson sidelined, Sarao stepped in and looked right at home, showcasing a nonstop motor and a nose for the ball.

Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell are freshman reserves who figure to factor heavily into the equation down the line.

Secondary

It was an up-and-down season for a secondary that struggled at times in coverage, particularly at cornerback. They did end on a high note, helping to corral Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and the nation’s No. 1 passing attack in the Trojans' 45-20 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory.

[+] Enlarge Josh Shaw
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw, a natural safety, responded well at cornerback, often covering a team's top receiver.
Kevon Seymour was one of the primary starters at cornerback. An athletic-looking sophomore who arrived at USC in 2012 with plenty of hype, he was victimized at times this year by opposing offenses, but he certainly finished up strong in the bowl matchup, collecting a team-best seven tackles on his way to earning defensive outperformer of the game honors.

With Torin Harris and a hobbled Anthony Brown unable to provide stability in starting opportunities, Josh Shaw, a natural safety, found himself sitting atop the depth chart at the opposite cornerback spot for the second consecutive season. Commonly pitted against the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, he did a nice job of containing elite pass-catchers such as Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Colorado’s Paul Richardson, finishing up with four interceptions to go along with 67 stops.

Ryan Henderson, Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton also saw brief time at cornerback.

While the situation was somewhat muddled at cornerback during the early stages, it immediately became apparent that the Trojans had a wealth of talent at safety. Fourth-year junior Dion Bailey, who made the switch from linebacker to safety, more than proved himself at nickelback. Announcing Monday that he will forgo his senior season to enter this May’s NFL draft, he paced the Trojans with five interceptions.

With Shaw settling in at cornerback, senior Demetrius Wright was the primary starter at free safety. Having been buried on the depth chart for much of his career, he stepped into his new role and was solid. At strong safety, the impact of freshman Su’a Cravens was a revelation. One of those rare playmakers who only comes around so often, he played more like a seasoned veteran than a green, first-year performer, and there’s no doubt that he has a bright future.

Another freshman, Leon McQuay III, also earned valuable playing time. He also looks primed for a big 2014 campaign. Senior Gerald Bowman played sparingly early, but was ultimately sidelined with a shoulder injury and will be back next season after redshirting.
One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It wasn’t that fans pinned the loss on Orgeron but the general consensus was that the loss did great damage to his long-term hopes of getting the permanent job. There were some who thought the damage was too much to overcome while others thought there was still a chance Orgeron could go a run to keep the job. There is still time to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game although there is very little wiggle room left. The Trojans would simply have to go on an amazing run through the rest of the season and there couldn’t be a repeat of what was seen on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUSC interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought some positive energy to the Trojans.
That will be a daunting task for Orgeron to achieve when you consider the schedule that lies ahead for the Trojans, but he seems bound and determined to keep things positive. His postgame quotes following a crushing loss to the Irish were nothing more than gratitude for the players. And that could be the thing that matters as much as anything for Orgeron and athletic director Pat Haden during the remainder of this season.

It’s not like the Trojans got blown out or embarrassed in any way. They lost a tough game on the road where the realities of this particular team were on full display -- injuries, penalties, key mistakes, etc. at the wrong time.

One of the consistent praises you heard after the game, however, was for the effort from the team. Even in the face of one of those nights where so many bounces of the ball went against them, the Trojans fought to the end. And that’s where Orgeron wants to keep them. He wants to build upon the good energy he has brought during his tenure and not let one defeat put a halt to that momentum.

Kicking open the door of competition

Orgeron announced on Monday that he would be opening up the kicking competition this week in practice after Andre Heidari -- for the second time this year -- missed two field goals that could have provided the margin of victory in a game.

Other candidates in the competition will include Alex Wood and Craig McMahon, both of whom have seen action with extra points and kickoffs but have yet to attempt a field goal for the Trojans. The odds are that Heidari will end up keeping his job at the end of this week but it doesn’t hurt to have a little competition to get things kick-started, no pun intended.

Injury woes

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat what is going on with the Trojans and injuries right now. A look at the offensive side of the ball during the Tuesday practice showed a veritable MASH unit of sidelined players and a whole lot of walk-ons sprinkled among the active players.

At wide receiver, the Trojans ended the practice with only one scholarship receiver -- Darreus Rogers -- but that must have seemed like a bonus to the tight end spot, where no scholarship players were available. Add to that a running back position that is dealing with the news that freshman sensation Justin Davis will be out for the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury and you have the makings of a real depletion of talent at the skill positions.

Position switch

It appears as if Josh Shaw is on the move again. After beginning his USC career at safety in 2012, Shaw got moved to corner midway through last season and played well. In spring 2013, however, he moved back to safety and seemed to have found a home in a spot where he was comfortable. But injuries and inconsistent play have reversed that course and this week Shaw finds himself back at corner.

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.
The USC Trojans (4-2 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Sunday after a rare weekend away from action following the team’s 38-31 victory over Arizona on Thursday night. Taking part in a short, no-pads workout with a heavy emphasis on game planning and conditioning, it was their first practice in preparation for Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame. USC coach Ed Orgeron is encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

“Our guys came back really rejuvenated today,” Orgeron said. “We had a good meeting on Friday … covered the film. They had Friday night off, yesterday off and had a Monday practice today. We gave them a little scouting report on Notre Dame … just breaking some stuff in. We had some corrections from the film from the game Thursday night, and we’re moving forward.”

The Trojans’ win over the Wildcats not only marked the team’s first over a Pac-12 opponent this season, but it was also their first under Orgeron, who was making his debut as interim coach.

“It’s been overwhelming,” said Orgeron of the support and feedback that he’s received over the last three days. “The response has been positive. It’s all about the players. I’m just excited to see the Trojans win, and obviously there’s a lot of things that need to get better, but the style in which they played and the energy and the emotion … and again, to see that locker room, it just relieved a lot of pain.”

With that said, Orgeron and Co. have now firmly turned their focus toward a Fighting Irish squad that currently sits at 4-2.

“We realize that this is a rivalry game … USC-Notre Dame, and we have a lot of respect for our opponent,” Orgeron said. “But again, we need to take care of what we can control, and that’s us, the fundamentals and the style of play. But it’s going to be an exciting game, and we know it.”

Help on the way in the secondary?

While Thursday night’s victory was filled with positives, the one glaring negative was the performance of the secondary -- a unit that was continually victimized by Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

“All of the things were correctable,” Orgeron said. “We had some coverage things that we looked at, and [we] let the guys get behind us a little too much. We’ve just got to emphasize just being in the right positions … stuff like that. The coaches did a great job of illustrating what we need to get better at.”

Additionally, the Trojans defensive backfield could get a big boost in the form of Anthony Brown this week. Out of action since spraining his knee against Hawaii on Aug. 29, the fourth-year junior cornerback returned to action on Sunday and started for a majority of the practice opposite Kevon Seymour.

And while the Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser product appeared to look healthy and in command during the light workout, Orgeron said that it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll be able to go this weekend with 100 percent certainty, listing him as “probable.”

“We’ve got to see this week,” Orgeron said. “That’s a big decision on our staff. It’s hard for a guy that’s been out for as long as he’s been out to come back. We don’t know if he’s ready yet. It’s going to be very, very critical this week to find out if he’s going to be ready and if he can play.”

Injury report

In addition to Brown, all eyes were on star wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has been sidelined since going down against Arizona State on Sept. 28 with a knee sprain. Wearing a brace on his left knee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner didn’t participate in drills, but he did run sprints on the sideline, and appeared to do so without a limp.

Others who sat out Sunday’s practice included Kevin Graf, Victor Blackwell (ankle heavily taped), Tre Madden, Xavier Grimble, Marquis Simmons, and Morgan Breslin.

Nathan Guertler filled in for Graf, while Darreus Rogers appeared to go full speed at wideout.

In his post-practice media scrum, Orgeron said that Brown, Graf, Rogers, Grimble, Madden and Simmons are all probable for Saturday’s game, while Lee, Blackwell and Breslin are questionable and D.J. Morgan is out.


Change is in the air at USC as Ed Orgeron wraps up its first week as the interim head coach of the Trojans.

In an effort to pump more energy into the team, Orgeron implemented a series of changes designed to shift the fortunes of a team that had been playing inconsistently through the first five games of the season. Last week, Orgeron restored desserts to the training table menu and held a “Trojan Bowl” game during the bye week which showcased younger players and walk-ons while being coached by the team veterans.

On Sunday, the quarterbacks came on the field without the yellow “no-contact” jerseys. Offensive players are wearing Cardinal this week (the colors change depending on if the next game is home or away) and Orgeron wanted to emphasize that everybody on the team will wear the same jersey.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterbacks Max Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) won't be wearing the no-contact jerseys in practice under Ed Orgeron.
“He told us that we were going to wear the same colors as the other guys,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I think it’s great.”

One non-quarterback who was back on the field on Sunday was tailback Silas Redd, who has gone through very limited action this fall as he continued to rehabilitate his injured knee. Redd got a lot of reps in the Sunday session and looked strong, especially when you consider how long it had been since he had that much work.

“We got Silas a little taste today,” Orgeron said. “We will see how he goes through the week in terms of how much we can use him. He runs the ball the way we expect a back to run.”

Justin Davis was limited in action at tailback with his injured ankle – Orgeron called him probable for the game – and that meant additional work for guys like Ty Isaac and Buck Allen as well. It will be interesting to see how Orgeron chooses to work the tailback rotation in games because while the Trojans certainly have option, the run game has been one of the few consistent areas on the team, with Tre Madden and Davis leading the way.

Also missing from the Sunday session were wide receivers Marqise Lee (knee) and Darreus Rogers (ankle), along with outside linebacker Morgan Breslin (hip) and cornerback Anthony Brown (knee). Orgeron didn’t have any firm information about their availability for the game Thursday against Arizona.

To add to the receiver depth issues, Victor Blackwell left the Sunday practice early because of illness but it isn’t expected to impact his participation in the game. Nelson Agholor had a nice day with several deep catches.

There was a lot of work in this practice with the tight ends, particularly Xavier Grimble. This has been an area of frustration for many USC fans so far this season, with the lack of production by the tight ends, and it could be one of the changes that are seen in the offense moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, Josh Shaw got reps at safety – his original position this season – with Kevon Seymour and Torin Harris getting the first unit reps at corner. Quinton Powell was back as a reserve inside linebacker after missing some time recently. Devon Kennard and Scott Starr both had sacks and Lamar Dawson had a nice tackle for loss on Allen.

“The key for us on defense this week is to tackle,” Orgeron said. “We were back on our heels a lot against ASU and I want to see us be more aggressive.”

Orgeron acknowledged that the good feelings that have been present over the past week with the coaching transition is nice – he and his staff were out recruiting over the weekend and he said the reaction was “great” – but he also knows that it doesn’t mean much because it’s not a game. He and his team will ultimately be judged by how they perform in games and that first test comes on Thursday the Coliseum.

“We want our players to feel comfortable and to play good football,” Orgeron said. “I think we’re all going to be excited about our first game together but we need to be careful about overemphasizing emotion. We need to make sure we play with poise.”

Injuries a concern going into rough stretch 

September, 24, 2013
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As the Trojans prepare for an important three-game stretch of games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame, it’s time to take a look at the injury status for some key positions.

The most glaring injury absence right now is tailback Silas Redd, the projected starter and leading returning rusher from last year who has yet to see action in 2013 while recuperating from a spring knee injury. Redd even underwent a procedure earlier this month in Florida with noted Dr. James Andrews in an attempt to get back on the field sooner. It hasn’t helped, although Redd did at least dress for the Utah State game.

In the four games without Redd, however, the Trojans appear to have found a lead tailback in Tre Madden, along with a promising freshman in Justin Davis. It remains to be seen where Redd would fit in the rotation if he does return soon. His hard running presence would be welcome but it’s hard to imagine him completely replacing Madden at the moment.

Planning for success: USC Trojans

September, 19, 2013
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The USC defense is off to a strong start in 2013, but its biggest test of the young season awaits on Saturday in the form of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a talented junior who has put up huge numbers in the Aggies spread offense. Keeton is completing 78 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns to only one interception, and he is also the team's leading rusher.

That kind of dual-threat ability makes Keeton a tough target and one that will receive the full attention of the Trojans defense. So far this year the Trojans have done a good job of playing assignment defense in a scheme that requires attacking from different angles on most every play. That will need to continue on Saturday to prevent Keeton from breaking a big play.

Look for the Trojans to try to get in the backfield quickly in an effort to prevent Keeton from having a chance to make an option decision. This will be especially important for front-line defenders such as Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard.

It will be interesting to see how the Trojans choose to use their personnel groups in the secondary, since they likely will be in a nickel package most of the game. In the first two games against spread teams, the Trojans played a lot of nickel with Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens at the safety spots and Dion Bailey playing in the slot. Against Boston College and its traditional pro-style scheme, Shaw was at corner with Bailey and Cravens at safety, plus Antwaun Woods was at nose tackle on the line. Assuming the Trojans are primarily in nickel against the Aggies, do they keep Shaw at corner? Does Bailey stay at safety or go to the slot? Could Demetrius Wright be an option at safety?

Injuries at corner could be a factor in that decision. Kevon Seymour was limited in action against Boston College, and USC coach Lane Kiffin said Seymour is continuing to recover from a recent injury. Anthony Brown left the Hawaii game with an apparent ankle injury and has not been seen on the field since. The Trojans are fortunate that experienced senior Torin Harris -- who has seen his share of injuries in his USC career -- is healthy enough these days to line up as the corner opposite Shaw.

Roundtable: WSU-USC observations 

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:30
AM PT
The WeAreSC staff answers questions heading into the Trojans' game vs. Washington State.

Who was your Game One MVP?

Garry Paskwietz: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. When Pendergast was hired, coach Lane Kiffin mentioned the fact that one of the appealing things about him was how quickly Pendergast turned around the Cal defense in his first year there. Well, it was only one game and it was against an overwhelmed quarterback for the Hawaii Warriors but the Trojans' defense certainly looked to be headed in a different direction from what was seen in 2012. USC was attacking, and multiple guys were making plays. That is a positive step to be taken from the opener.


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What we learned in Week 1

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
8:00
AM PT
The Trojans went on the road last week and defeated Hawaii 30-13 in a game that left almost as many questions as answers for the team moving forward. Here’s what we learned:

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler started the opener at Hawaii, but it's not clear if he will get the nod vs. Washington State.
1. QB battle does not look settled: Lane Kiffin went into the Hawaii game with questions about his starter, and fans took sides with their preferences in heated debates. After the first game, Kiffin now says he knows who his starter will be for the Washington State game, but fans are just as confused as ever, because neither player seemed to have separated from the other in the opener. Both quarterbacks -- Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- had nice moments, both had not-so-nice moments and both had drops from normally sure-handed receivers that could have added nicely to their stats. Regardless, the uncertainty about a long-term starter will continue for another week until we see how things play out against the Cougars.

2. Even without Redd, Trojans have some backs: Projected starting running back Silas Redd didn’t even make the trip to Hawaii, but that didn’t stop the Trojans from seeing some good production from the backs who were there. Tre Madden got the start, and while many of his runs were tough yards after getting hit early, he also showcased a couple long runs, including a nifty 34-yarder. Justin Davis got most of his work in the second half, and he showed a lot of promise with his energetic running style. Buck Allen even made a case for more playing time when he ran over a Hawaii defender near the goal line. Pay attention to the number of rushes in the game -- 45. That’s a good number for a USC offense that wants to run the ball more in 2013.

3. OL needs time to develop as a group: There is going to be a lot of attention paid to the progress of the O-line this year, a process that is made tougher by the insertion of a redshirt freshman at the key left tackle spot midway through camp. The line had a better day run blocking than pass blocking against Hawaii, as evidenced by three sacks and nine tackles for loss. One of those sacks resulted in a safety. It will be interesting to see how the line continues to jell in the coming weeks, especially if there is a continued commitment to running the football.

4. Devon Kennard is back and in the right position: It was considered a big loss last year when Kennard was out with a pec injury, but who could have known how perfectly he would fit into the new defensive scheme in 2013? For a guy who spent the early part of his USC career clearly out of position at defensive end, Kennard finally has found a spot for his talents as an outside linebacker in the 5-2. His stat line (three tackles, two for loss, 1 sack, two pass break-ups) earned him the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week award and, more importantly, the Trojans might have found an impact player for their defense.

5. Injuries add to issues at corner: Things were tenuous enough at the corner position before the opener, but it definitely added to the concern level to see both starting corners Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown leave the game with injury. There has been no official word from the university on the status of either player, although the speculation immediately after the game was that Seymour's issue was not serious. Torin Harris and Devian Shelton saw extended time as reserves against Hawaii with mixed results, and you can be sure Washington State coach Mike Leach will be focusing a lot of attention on who will be out there for the Trojans against his wide-open offense on Saturday.
Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call after the Trojans’ 30-13 victory over Hawaii.

On the USC offense against Hawaii:

“I didn’t feel very good about our passing game, and there were really a couple of plays there that significantly changed the feeling about it. There were three significant drops … the fourth-down drop early by Marqise [Lee], and then the two go routes, one by Nelson [Agholor], and one by Marqise … 101 yards receiving there that I think completely changes the way that our feelings would be. …I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before. … Tre [Madden] took care of the ball extremely well [and] ran for over 100 yards. Justin [Davis], if he doesn’t fumble the ball and lose 15 yards because the ball goes back, is over a hundred yards too. … I thought the offensive line, pass protection was poor, but the run game was very good.”

On the USC defense:


“On defense it was a really great day for the most part. I thought our guys played with great energy … five sacks by halftime. They were really relentless up front in the front seven. The three safety guys made significant plays … Su’a [Cravens], Josh [Shaw] and Dion [Bailey] all making interceptions. I think it speaks about who Su’a is as a player that in his fourth collegiate play of his career he gets an interceptions … a lot of good stuff over there on defense.”

On whether Kiffin has picked a starter between quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for the upcoming game against Washington State:


“I do know who our starting quarterback is … and you guys will see Saturday who he is.”

On whether Kiffin is going into the game with the anticipation that he will play both quarterbacks again:


“I don’t know that. We’re going to watch the game just like we would any game.”

Kiffin’s answer to, “So, you’re not going in with the anticipation that you’re going to play both as you did in the first game?”


“Not the exact same, no.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on Kessler’s performance against Hawaii:


“I thought that Cody started well in the opening drive there … you know, he picks up the big third down, and then makes a great throw on fourth down to Marqise that he drops … and then he kind of stalls out there and doesn’t have a really good rest of the first half until towards the end. And obviously he makes a poor decision on a screen pass … but then he ends the first half well. He has a touchdown drive earlier, and then gets the three points there at the end, so some good things for him to build on.

Kiffin’s thoughts on Wittek’s outing:


“Max, I thought had some good throws there. He really suffered from two long-ball drops. If you give those two completions to him for another 80 yards there, those are going to be very different numbers. So, Max did well.”

On Silas Redd’s visit to Florida this past weekend to see orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews:


“We sent Silas there right before we left for Hawaii, and he had a procedure done down there with Dr. Andrews. He felt positive about it coming back today, and that’s really all that we have on it.”

Whether he has any idea when Redd might be on the field again for the Trojans:


“I don’t. I hope this week.”

Kiffin’s feelings about the situation at cornerback, where the Trojans lost both starters -- Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour -- with undisclosed injuries during the game:


“We hope that both of those guys that got nicked up in the game will play this week for us, and if they don’t then other guys need to play well and step up. … We’re going to have injuries and guys have to be ready to play. We saw what happened with Devian [Shelton] in that game … coming in there and not holding to the standard of play that we had for those first 74 plays. So, everybody needs to be ready on our entire team, because there are going to be some guys that started way down on the depth chart that are going to end up playing for us.”

On how Dion Bailey performed at safety after lining up at linebacker in 2011 and 2012:


“We stayed in Nickel for a majority of the game because of the tempo, so Josh, and Su’a and Dion were in the whole time. Dion missed a ton of time, and to come back with seven tackles, a sack, an interception -- and he almost had a second interception -- was a great start for him in our new system.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on Lee, who had two notable dropped balls against Hawaii:


“It’s going to happen to everybody … that’s [part of] sports. Nobody is perfect. Michael Jordan missed shots … the good thing that I look at is we know obviously that Marqise makes those, and he’s made them a bunch before … more than anybody in the history of the conference last year, so that’s the good thing, because you know that’s not going to keep happening.”


USC will next face a Washington State team that passed the ball 65 times this past weekend in a close 31-24 loss to Auburn. Does Kiffin have any concerns in going up against the Cougars’ offense, particularly with the Trojans lacking depth at cornerback?

“I’d have a concern about that even if we had great depth. I thought that they threw the ball awesome yesterday. I thought the quarterback was really in rhythm … the passing game was better than it was a year ago. Their protection, they only gave up two sacks … so I’ve got a lot of concerns with how well their offense did.”

Opener leaves questions for Trojans 

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
10:50
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When you’re finished analyzing and reanalyzing the opener, criticizing the young quarterbacks here and the feeble offensive line there, praising the energy and aggressiveness of the new defensive scheme and questioning the overly conservative play calling of the head coach, the bottom line is this -- that was Hawaii on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

That was a team ranked as low as 110th in the country by some preseason publications. That was a group expected to be your basic opening-game punching bag.

The fact it didn’t turn out that way -- that USC struggled to sustain blocks on the smaller, less-talented Rainbow Warriors, that it managed to score only one offensive touchdown in the first 30 minutes, that it actually fell behind by the baseball score of 5-3 at one wobbly point in that strange first half -- doesn’t exactly bode well for the immediate future.

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Roundtable: Top USC fall camp storyline 

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
1:00
PM PT
Roundtable with WeAreSC staffers: What was the most notable storyline of fall camp?

Garry Paskwietz
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.

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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday at the Coliseum and if you were waiting on a resolution to the quarterback battle, be prepared to wait a little longer.

Both quarterbacks had their opportunities in the scrimmage, which was a different format than normal. Instead of having one quarterback with the first unit and the other with the second, the quarterbacks alternated series with the first unit while going against the service team defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe last scrimmage didn't give any indicator on which QB, Max Wittek (left) or Cody Kessler (right), will start in the season opener.
In the first half, the service team defense held its own by limiting the offense to three field goals, intercepting Cody Kessler twice. Those were the first two interceptions Kessler had thrown in the Coliseum this year between spring ball and fall camp but, to be fair, both balls were tipped high in the air before landing in a defender's hands.

The first interception came on the opening drive. Kessler had driven the offense into the red zone -- helped by a nice Tre Madden toss sweep behind blocking from Chad Wheeler and Jahleel Pinner -- but was intercepted by walk-on Nick Schlossberg on a slant pass attempt to Marqise Lee.

Max Wittek came in and was promptly sacked by Delvon Simmons. Wittek had a long completion to Xavier Grimble on a real strong throw. Justin Davis got the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled and the offense settled for a 21-yard Andre Heidari field goal.

It was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, but Torin Harris must not have got that memo because he laid a pretty good lick on walk-on receiver Christian Guzman. George Uko added a sack.

Kessler was picked on the next series by walk-on John Auran.

Wittek hit Agholor deep on the first play of the next drive. Schlossberg came on a blitz on the next play and was met by a terrific block from Javorius Allen. Kevin Greene had a sack on third down to force a 42-yard field goal by Heidari.

Marcus Martin started at center but he went out as a precaution. Max Tuerk was moved to center with Nathan Guertler stepping in at left guard.

Chris Hawkins had a nice pass break-up of a Kessler attempt to Lee, resulting in another Heidari field goal.

Lee went out later in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his shoulder on the bench. By the end of the scrimmage the ice was off, and both Lee and Kiffin said things were “fine”.

The rest of the scrimmage basically belonged to Nelson Agholor. He caught two touchdowns from Kessler and one from Wittek to end the day with nine catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Lee had eight grabs for 107 yards.

There were plenty of players who sat out the scrimmage due to various injuries. Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Ryan Henderson, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr, Cyrus Hobbi, Cody Temple, Silas Redd, Jordan Simmons, Victor Blackwell, D.J. Morgan, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour and Randall Telfer were all sidelinded.

The starting lineups were as follows:

Offense: Kessler, Madden, Pinner, Lee, Agholor, Grimble, Wheeler, Tuerk, Martin, John Martinez, Kevin Graf.

Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.

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