USC Trojans: Christian Heyward

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.

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Spring preview: USC defense 

March, 4, 2013
With Clancy Pendergast set to unveil an attacking defense that will run primarily out of a new 5-2 base look, more than a few eyes are sure to be focused squarely on this side of the ball this spring. With that in mind, here’s a possible look at how the players on the current Trojans roster just might fit, as practice gets under way on Tuesday.

Defensive line

Early look: 2013 defensive depth chart 

February, 8, 2013
Leonard WilliamsCal Sport Media via AP ImagesIt will be interesting to see how much Leonard Williams, the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year, sees his role change in USC's move to a 3-4 defense.
With USC’s recruiting class of 2013 now signed, sealed and delivered, here’s a look at where the newest Trojans might potentially fit into the depth-chart in a possible 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Defensive Line
DE: Leonard Williams (6-foot-5, 270 pounds, So.); Greg Townsend Jr. (6-3, 260, RS So.) OR Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, Fr.)

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Crisp day for USC offense

September, 19, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans practiced under beautiful conditions out on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones field once again on Wednesday, and there was a definite upbeat tone on the day for what turned out to be a sharp practice, particularly on the offensive side of the ball -- a positive sign considering how the Trojans struggled in that department against Stanford.

“It was a really good practice today,” Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. “I thought the offense came out and was really crisp in both the running game and the passing game, and it was good to see. It’s obviously going to be needed to get back on track, and we fully expect that to happen on Saturday.”

That offensive crispness was immediately evident early on when the quarterbacks were working with the tight ends and wide outs. USC quarterback Matt Barkley was in-synch with his receiving options all day, and it wasn’t just the usual Marqise Lee and Robert Woods show either -- tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer made their share of receptions too.

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USC begins Stanford prep

September, 11, 2012
The Trojans hit the field on Tuesday to prepare for their Pac-12 opener at Stanford this Saturday, and while much of the media attention has focused on USC’s three-game losing streak to the Cardinal -- in particular last season’s 56-48 triple overtime loss -- quarterback Matt Barkley commented afterward that the team is only focused on the task at hand.

“We’re just approaching every game the same,” Barkley said. “It’s the next game, it’s week three, we’re going up north -- an away game -- there’s nothing special about it.”

Trojans running back Curtis McNeal -- who turned the ball over with a fumble on USC’s final possession against Stanford last season -- echoed those sentiments.

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Notes: USC-Hawaii analysis 

September, 2, 2012
D-line encouragement: It’s no secret that one of the biggest concerns for the Trojans heading into the season was the lack of experience along the defensive line, a situation that wasn’t helped when Wes Horton was forced to miss the game. What this group did against Hawaii, however, was nothing less than encouraging.

It wasn’t just that a single player or two stood out, it was the fact that so many players along the line did something to make a play. Morgan Breslin had a pair of quarterback pressures on third downs that forced incompletions and punts. He also added a sack and two tackles for loss. Greg Townsend, Jr. had a sack that could have qualified as a mauling. Christian Heyward recovered a fumble that led to the Silas Redd touchdown run. Leonard Williams had a sack, a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss and a pass break-up.

Remember, these are all guys who had never played a down for the Trojans before this game. George Uko, the veteran of the group, had a sack and a forced fumble. J.R. Tavai had good intensity and Kevin Greene looked as good as he has in his USC career. When you take this performance and add in the potential return of Horton, suddenly there is reason to be optimistic about the growth curve of the d-line.

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LOS ANGELES -- The No. 1-ranked USC Trojans returned to practice on Monday afternoon after Sunday’s scrimmage, which saw a disciplined defense but a lackluster offense. Here are today’s practice highlights:

• The Trojans worked out in helmets, pads, and black shorts.

• Preferred walk-on Nathan Guertler continued to start at right tackle for Kevin Graf, who was suited up but did not participate due to an undisclosed injury.

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Notes from USC's first scrimmage 

August, 10, 2012
The Trojans held their first scrimmage of fall camp on a hot Friday afternoon at the Coliseum. It wasn’t a crisp performance as several front-line starters were held out or limited in action and there were ball security issues for the offense.

“It was good to see the guys in action,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “It was a typical day for a first practice in the Coliseum. We had some young guys who made mistakes but that’s normal for a lot of guys when they play here for the first time. The defense was ahead of the offense a lot of the time but we got in some good work.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesReceiver Robert Woods had four catches for 55 yards in Friday's scrimmage.
The Trojans had one interception – from Cody Kessler to Will Andrew – and a pair of lost fumbles. All told there were three fumbles from the offense with D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen and Jahleel Pinner all putting the ball on the ground.

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The first thing Lane Kiffin talked about Tuesday after practice was how it was a normal second day of fall camp in which the veteran players do well but the young guys struggle as the coaches are adding more stuff for them to learn.

Kiffin was then quick to start pointing out some second-year players who are examples of guys who are making the transition from their freshmen seasons and are ready for bigger things. Here were some of his comments:
  • Soma Vainuku: “He’s a special athlete. He’s 250 pounds and he’s faster than most of our tailbacks.”
  • Buck Allen: “He looks different than he did in spring but that’s common for a second year player.”
  • Andre Heidari: “He’s really made a physical transformation, that’s only going to help him.”
  • Aundrey Walker: “He’s a 300-pound guy who can run and move. He’s definitely shown flashes.”
  • Junior Pomee: “He’s got tremendous upside, at some point he’s going to be really good.”
Tailbacks Shine

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Interior D-line concerns for Kiffin 

April, 23, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Lane Kiffin said one of his biggest concerns coming out of spring ball was the depth on the interior of the defensive line.

Kiffin made it clear that he was talking about players outside of George Uko, who locked up the defensive tackle spot with flashes of dominant play this spring. When it comes to a starter at nose tackle or a dependable option behind Uko, that’s where things get pretty shaky.

The coaches tried Greg Townsend at the DT spot, but just as quickly moved him back out to end as a reserve to Devon Kennard. Walk-on Zack Kusnir ended the spring as the No. 2 DT on the depth chart but it stands to reason that either Christian Heyward -- who missed spring due to shoulder surgery -- or an incoming player such as Leonard Williams will eventually grab that spot.

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Saturday practice report

March, 10, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Just like Pete Carroll couldn’t control his fondness for the defense, Lane Kiffin hasn’t been shy about siding with the offense during his coaching tenure. But through three spring practices, it’s the other side of the ball that has caught Kiffin’s eye.

“Our defense is going to be better,” Kiffin said of what he will take away from the first week of spring ball. “Just watching them, they have a good look about themselves. They’re practicing as hard as they’ve practiced since we’ve been here. They’re holding each other accountable. I’m excited about their development.”

Kiffin heaped praise upon defensive end Wes Horton and cornerback Nickell Robey following Saturday’s practice. Both were responsible for turnovers, as Horton batted a pass in the air and came down with an interception, while Robey chased a ball carrier deep into the secondary and forced a fumble.

“I think Wes has pretty much dominated,” Kiffin said. “He looks faster and he’s doing a great job with his hands.”

Kiffin said the coaches have moved Horton to the right side of the line--a position vacated by Nick Perry -- in an attempt to produce more “explosive plays” from the quarterback’s blind side. Kiffin’s praise for Robey is nothing unusual, as he became an impact player during his first fall camp. Robey earned the MVP nod from Kiffin after day three.

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Tidbits from Tuesday practice 

March, 6, 2012
* Lane Kiffin called wide receiver George Farmer the MVP of day 1 of spring ball. It certainly came as no surprise to those watching. Early on in the day, I wrote next to Farmer's name in my notes: "Locked in." Kiffin said Farmer was playing with confidence and it showed. He made several nice catches, including one on a deep ball down the sideline where he went high over Isiah Wiley and came down with the ball while falling to the ground.

* Injury report: Kevin Greene (ankle), Josh Shaw (back), Nathan Guertler (hamstring), Jesse Scroggins (hip), Robert Woods (ankle), Torin Harris, Christian Heyward, Kyle Negrete, Christian Thomas, Chad Wheeler and DeVante Wilson. Greene and Woods took part in some of Tuesday's practice. Kiffin said Harris, Heyward, Negrete, Thomas, Wheeler and Wilson would all likely be out for all of spring. During practice, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Junior Pomee were injured and did not return to action.

* Not really any surprises with the starting lineups. Defensively, it was Wes Horton, George Uko, J.R. Tavai and Devon Kennard up front, Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard at linebacker, and Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Wiley in the secondary. Offensively, the line read Kevin Graf, Marcus Martin, Khaled Holmes, John Martinez and Aundrey Walker from left to right. Cyrus Hobbi took a few reps at left guard with the first team, and moved there for good when Martin left early for class. Matt Barkley started at quarterback.

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USC redshirt recap 

February, 8, 2012
Of the 28 recruits who entered USC last season and are still on the roster, 18 used a redshirt year in 2011 and will be anxious to hit the field for spring ball knowing that the training wheels are off and the competition for playing time truly begins.

WeAreSC offers a rundown of those 18, including the impression they made last season and what to expect in the coming year.

P Kristopher Albarado - Albarado couldn't overtake Kyle Negrete as the starting punter last season and with Negrete returning as a senior after a terrific season, it's difficult to imagine the coaches will make a change this year. Albarado will be ready to step into the role as a redshirt sophomore in 2013.

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5 defensive names to step up in 2012 

December, 5, 2011
As we look ahead to the 2012 season, there will be plenty of opportunities for increased contributions from USC players who have yet to prove themselves. Here are some of the defensive players who will look for more of a role beginning in spring ball:

DL Greg Townsend: The coaching style of Ed Oregeron was something that Townsend had to adjust to early. After a while, however, he settled in and his physical skills began to take over. Townsend is a talented football player and he has a chance to be a good one for the Trojans. His first real opportunity could come this spring if Nick Perry departs for the NFL and leaves a starting spot open.

DL Christian Heyward: Heyward is one of those guys who kind of sneaks up on you. He doesn’t look flashy or anything, but he is just a real steady presence in the middle. Heyward is strong with a solid base and he should fit in well at the defensive tackle spot behind George Uko.

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3 key issues for 2012 

November, 29, 2011
1) There are four positions where the Trojans are likely to have a player consider early entry to the NFL draft -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and free safety. Coincidentally, these four spots are pretty wide open in terms of a clear-cut successor to the current starter.

If Matt Barkley leaves, any one of the three backups could end up being the starting quarterback next year. The primary backup to Matt Kalil at left tackle is walk-on Nathan Guertler. Could current starting right tackle Kevin Graf or his backup, freshman Aundrey Walker, flip over if Kalil leaves? Kevin Greene has yet to show that he is ready to contribute behind Nick Perry at defensive end. Things look good for the emergence of Greg Townsend, but he will still only be a redshirt freshman next year. Drew McAllister is pretty game-tested behind T.J. McDonald at free safety, but his health is going to be an issue if he's expected to be the full-time guy.

Any way you look at it, the Trojans are either going to need to fill some big holes in a hurry or at least start to develop some eventual replacements.

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