USC Trojans: De'Von Flournoy

Five things: USC at Colorado

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
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Five things to watch as No. 23 USC (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) travels to Colorado (4-6, 1-6) on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. PT kickoff:

1. “Get through it” game: There are the usual questions this week about the possibility of this game being a letdown for the Trojans. The team is coming off an emotional victory over Stanford and there is the looming prospect next week of a matchup with crosstown rival UCLA that could have some very high stakes. Sandwiched between those two games is Colorado, an opponent with a single conference win this season, in a cold, nighttime environment in front of what is expected to be a sparse crowd. Ed Orgeron says his players will not let down because they trust the process of preparing for the game and they know what is still possible for this season.

2. Attack mode: The Buffs are ranked last or next-to-last in the conference in all four major defensive categories (scoring, pass, rush, total). They have the fewest sacks and are giving up the most yards per rush. That means Cody Kessler should have time to run the offense and the Trojans should be able to run when they need to. Kessler has been efficient lately and is putting up good numbers, but with these weather conditions, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clay Helton pay special attention to the run game. Regardless, the Trojans will look to score early and often to take control of the game quickly and get the starters to the sidelines.

3. Don’t let Rich get richer: Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson is a legitimate big-play guy, a player who is very familiar to members of the USC program. He played Pop Warner football with Dion Bailey, was a high school teammate of Marqise Lee and trained in the offseason with Josh Shaw. It will be Shaw who is charged with the assignment of making sure that Richardson – who ranks No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards per game - doesn’t have the kind of night that would allow Colorado to stay in the game.

4. Say hello to reserves: If the Trojans can get a comfortable lead, look for Orgeron to make sure the reserves get plenty of playing time. It could be another opportunity for Max Wittek to show off his arm, for De’Von Flournoy to get a few catches as his career winds down or for Abe Markowitz to get some well-deserved reps at center. On defense, look for players such as Jabari Ruffin, Scott Starr, Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings to show what is waiting for them as the future of the USC linebacker group.

5. Keep the Orgeron train moving: There is a lot of momentum for the Trojans right now under Orgeron and USC fans aren’t looking for that to end in Boulder. In fact, they are looking for the train to pick up speed on the way to the showdown next weekend in the Coliseum. The Trojans have shown steady improvement each week under Orgeron to the point that they are playing their best football of the year at the right time. And, as has been thoroughly discussed in the national media this week, Orgeron has put himself squarely in the mix as a candidate for the full-time job.
USC wide receiver De'Von Flournoy has always been there waiting for his chance. Biding his time as he sat behind the likes of Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Brandon Carswell, Brice Butler, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, he grew to learn the virtue of patience in a big way during his first four years in the Trojans program.

But now, as a fifth-year senior, Flournoy is finally getting an opportunity to see the field, and it’s safe to say that he’s making the most of it -- never more so than this past weekend.

[+] EnlargeDe'Von Flournoy
Harry How/Getty ImagesWith injuries ravaging USC's receiving corps, fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy is getting a chance to produce.
With the Trojans wracked by injuries at seemingly every position heading into their matchup with Utah, USC head coach Ed Orgeron told the team in no uncertain terms that some of the lesser-known contributors would have to step up. It’s a message that Flournoy, who is a member of a wide receiver group that was down to three scholarship players, heard loud and clear.

“He made a point that I’ll never forget,” Flournoy said. “He said, ‘When the big brother leaves, it’s time for the little brother to step into his shoes and take over the household.’ ”

Flournoy did precisely that against the Utes. With Lee, as well as Victor Blackwell, unable to suit up, he made the second start of his career and came through with two receptions for 45 yards, bringing his season total to five catches for 69 yards.

Flournoy’s second reception of the day, a quick toss from Cody Kessler that the Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham product turned into a 31-yard gain after breaking a pair of tackles, ultimately set up a field goal and was one of the highlight plays of the afternoon in a 19-3 USC victory.

“I try just to never stop my feet when I catch the ball,” said Flournoy, who missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury. “You catch the ball and you move north and south. That’s what the game is all about … getting first downs. And the line did a nice job of holding things up, Cody made a great read and delivered the rock, and I just had to go get the first down.”

For a player who entered the 2013 campaign having amassed just one reception in the previous three seasons combined, his performance against Utah marked the realization of a dream.

“Any way that you can contribute always feels good, but to contribute on the stat sheet to help get a W, it feels tremendous,” Flournoy said. “The emotion kind of took over, and my teammates told me how proud they were of me, and the coaching staff did too. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. To have your parents in the stands, and you actually get on the field to make plays for your team, it’s a great feeling.”

The joy that Flournoy’s teammates and coaches took in his outing is well justified. As one of the Trojans’ most dedicated practice performers, he’s garnered a reputation as a leader-by-example whom the younger players gravitate towards for guidance.

“My role has always been the guy that knows all of the plays,” Flournoy said. “If you come to me with any questions, I’ll always have the answer. I’m able to be fluid in every position.”

Having now moved beyond just being a mentor, Flournoy figures to continue to get plenty of playing time this Friday when the Trojans face Oregon State, particularly with Lee’s status still up in the air. It’s another opportunity that he’s more than ready for.

“I definitely hear my number being called a lot more,” Flournoy said. “It’s just time for me to execute.”

Trojans show some grit under Orgeron

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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With three games under his belt as the interim coach of the Trojans, Ed Orgeron is continuing to put his stamp on the USC football program.

The Trojans sit at 2-1 on Orgeron’s watch, and it has certainly been an interesting ride. There was a gut-wrenching road loss to the Irish, a pair of home wins that might have lacked style points but were celebrated nonetheless, and then there were injuries. Lots and lots of injuries.

Through it all, the defense has continued to play hard for Orgeron, and the move of Josh Shaw to corner should plug what has been the biggest hole of the year. Orgeron’s handling of a shaky placekicking situation seems to have worked with Andre Heidari responding by making 4 of 5 field goals last week. Orgeron also has shown more of a willingness to use players lower on the depth chart -- in part due to the injuries -- and it has resulted in some good production from guys such as J.R. Tavai, Demetrius Wright and De'Von Flournoy..

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsEd Orgeron has infused the Trojans with a better attitude duringi his tenure.
There are still some issues that remain. The inconsistencies on offense are puzzling with a unit that can look so good on one drive and then stumble for long periods of time. At various times you can point the finger to play-calling, penalties, specific position groups or players or the aforementioned injury bug. Orgeron has done a good job of making sure injuries are not used as an excuse, but at some point he doesn’t need to say a word. The impact is obvious when you see just how many players are out right now.

That attitude of “no excuses” helps explain the biggest success Orgeron has seen so far. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the X’s and O’s. It has more to do with keeping the program above water through a shaky transition time. It’s hard to imagine how tough it is to change coaches in the middle of the season, especially when a change is being made because things aren’t going well.

Orgeron knows all too well how low the morale of the team was because he saw it every day and he knew that any key he had to finishing the season in a strong fashion was to get that attitude turned around. He has tried to change the climate, to return the energy and fun to the program and not let any negative feelings creep back in.

Have the results been perfect? No, but they haven’t been all that bad either. The Trojans might not have always played pretty football, but they have fought to the end in every game for this coach who shows how much he cares. And that has gone a long way to endear this team to the fans. The tone is noticeable on the message boards in support of the way this undermanned team has quietly shown some grit.

There might be no better example than the way Dion Bailey changed from street clothes to uniform and played the whole second half against Utah. Bailey is a warrior so for him to be out of action in the first place meant that he was legitimately hurt. But when Su’a Cravens went down at the end of the first half, Bailey realized the team needed him. That’s not an insignificant moment. It’s the kind that should be paid attention to because it shows how the players feel about playing for this coach.

For Orgeron, nothing will serve him or the Trojans better down the stretch of this season than a team of players willing to play hard for him. There is a lot of football remaining, and, if some of the walking wounded can return, then let the chips fall where they may.

3 up, 3 down: Arizona State 62, USC 41

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC's 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Saturday.

THREE UP

1. Justin Davis: A true freshman who has flashed at times this season as a change-of-pace complement to Tre Madden at tailback, Davis was flat-out stellar on Saturday. Showcasing a rushing style marked by a combination of power, speed and exceptional vision, he ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 12.2 yards per carry. His dazzling 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was arguably the highlight of the night for USC.

2. Tre Madden: While Madden ultimately was responsible for two turnovers, he also was the rock that the offense relied upon throughout a majority of the game, and once again, he came through with impressive numbers. Going over the century mark on the ground for the fourth time in five games this season, Madden ran for 128 yards and one touchdown while also making three receptions for 66 yards and two more scores.

3. Offensive fight: The Trojans were certainly far from perfect on offense, but the one thing that Cody Kessler and Co. never did was give up. Fighting until the bitter end, they put up a season-high 41 points and 542 yards of total offense. Kessler, who showed plenty of grit in the face of a frenzied ASU pass rush, completed 20 of 29 pass attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

THREE DOWN

1. Team defense: Coming into the game ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense (230.5 yards allowed per game), Clancy Pendergast's unit never even came close to containing the Sun Devils' high-octane offensive attack, giving up 612 total yards. The highly touted Trojans' front seven -- which spearheaded a USC defense that entered the contest averaging four sacks per game -- failed to record a single sack, and ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 23 of 34 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, while also leading the Sun Devils with 79 rushing yards. The 62 points scored by Arizona State ties the record set by Oregon in 2012 for points scored on a Trojans team.

2. Offensive turnovers: While the USC offense did rack up its biggest numbers of the season, it also shot itself in the foot with four crucial turnovers, all of which were converted into points by Arizona State. The most damaging of these came in the third quarter, when an Alden Darby pick-six off Kessler, as well as another Darby interception off a Madden pass, helped spring the Sun Devils to a 48-21 lead.

3. Injuries: On a night when USC's lack of depth was all-too apparent right from the get-go, De'Von Flournoy, Su'a Cravens and most notably, Marqise Lee all went to the sideline with injuries. It's the injury suffered by Lee -- who earlier in the game had become the Trojans' all-time leader in receiving yards -- that appeared to be most significant. Going down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, Lee was carried off the field by teammates and later taken to the locker room on a cart.

Lane Kiffin conference call highlights

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 35-7 victory over Boston College.

Opening comments:

“It was just really a great day for our players and fans after the week that they’d been through. I just really was excited for them, and I really saw a lot of emotion in the players throughout the game. … As I said after the game, I really feel like the decisions made in January -- our staff decisions, schematical decisions and practice decisions -- are paying off.”

On the performance of the USC defense:

“Our first defense, they go two weeks in a row now where they’ve only given up one field goal. You really can’t play much better than that.”

On the play of the USC running backs:

“I thought all the backs ran really well. All four backs averaged over 5 1/2 yards a carry each. Justin [Davis] had two really special runs. Unfortunately, he had another long run that was called back on a penalty. Otherwise, he’s well over 100 [yards] on the day, and over 10 yards a carry. And Tre [Madden], three games in a row over one hundred yards -- you can’t start much better than that. Unfortunately, he put the ball on the ground for the first time this year toward the end of the second quarter. Luckily we got that back and we were able to not turn the ball over the entire day.”

On the improvement of the USC offense on third downs (5-of-10 on third-down conversions) against Boston College, and the play of quarterback Cody Kessler:

“We started slow again on third downs, but really had a good second half with that, and that came from the efficiency of running the ball well and completing balls. You know, when you complete … whatever that is … almost 90 percent of your passes, that’s going to help in those situations. It’s kind of amazing that [Kessler’s] first pass was incomplete, his last was incomplete, and he completed the 15 in between. … So, really a good day by him, and then Max Wittek came in and played well.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on the performance of the offensive line:

“There is some good stuff going on up there. The left tackle (Chad Wheeler) played really well in his third college game, and he’s going to be a special player. … Max Tuerk played really well. Max and Marcus [Martin] had actually been really sick the last part of the week there, including during the game. So, they kind of sucked it up and went out there and played on a hot day, and it was good to see. And Kevin Graf played well too.”

On where the offensive line is in terms of their cohesiveness and communication-- there were two instances where Boston College defenders appeared to come in untouched due to a breakdown up front:

“Both were communication issues on the right side. We’d like to play perfect, but we didn’t.”

On the strong production of the USC ground attack so far this season, particularly with last season’s leading rusher, Silas Redd, sidelined with an injury:

“I think it’s strange … if you would have said that really the only two running backs with experience, not just [Redd] but D.J. Morgan -- neither of those guys have been available to play for us. I think it speaks to those other guys working hard, stepping up and seizing the opportunity. And hopefully Silas will play this week.”

On the status of Darreus Rogers, who appeared to be injured against Boston College:

“Darreus wasn’t able to finish the game. We hope that he plays this week for us. De’Von Flournoy stepped up and had a catch in there, Victor Blackwell played a few snaps, so that’s what we got.”

On the Trojans’ 10 penalties on Saturday:

“I thought we did a really good job for the most part of not having penalties, especially the week before. We unfortunately had some yesterday … some poor decisions. We made some poor decisions sometimes there on holding penalties and then on two roughing-the-passers. Those are big penalties … we’ve got to fix that.”

On the impact that running backs coach Tommie Robinson has had in his first season at USC:

“I think he’s done a really good job with a very inexperienced group -- the two experienced guys have been down the whole season. To get those guys ready to play as well as they’re doing, and all of those guys going over 5 yards a carry in the game … he’s done a great job with them. “

When a group is playing as well as the USC defense has been as of late, is it difficult to keep them motivated at times? And what does the coaching staff do to keep them on track?

“We stay really hard on them. There is stuff to improve on. They’re going to have a cut-up film ready for them at 6:30 in the morning when they come in here to talk to them about. … We haven’t really been challenged yet that much comparable to what’s coming. Coming down the road there’s some high-octane offenses coming in, and it starts this Saturday. This is a huge test. This is a really, really good football team coming in here, and a great dynamic quarterback.”

On what Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton brings to the table:

“He does everything. I think he’s like the guy up in Seattle. You can’t tackle him, he runs around, makes every throw, doesn’t seem to get rattled, plays great in big games … he’s just a real special player.”
While USC coach Lane Kiffin did praise the way that the defense performed on a hot, balmy Tuesday, the topic of injuries quickly turned into the dominant theme of the post-practice media scrum. Kiffin called the current situation “very concerning,” particularly with the team’s season opener just a little over a week away.

“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”

Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.

“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”

Marcus Martin
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergUSC center Marcus Martin returned to practice Tuesday.
On the positive side, center Marcus Martin returned Tuesday after getting nicked up during the team’s scrimmage on Sunday night, so the offensive line featured a starting lineup that was comprised throughout practice of Kevin Graf at right tackle, John Martinez at right guard, Martin at center, Max Tuerk at left guard and Chad Wheeler at left tackle.

With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.

“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”

Highlights from practice:

  • The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
  • Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
  • Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
  • A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
  • The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.

Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.

“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”

The Trojans held the second scrimmage of fall camp Friday with a lot of attention being paid to the quarterback competition.

Max Wittek got the start with the first unit today after Cody Kessler had started in the first scrimmage. Unfortunately for Max, he was going up against a fired up first unit defense today and he was never able to get things going as evidenced by the fact that the first four series for Wittek and the first unit were all three plays and out.

Among the highlight plays for the defense in those early series was a sack by Leonard Williams and a tackle for loss by Su’a Cravens who did a good job tracking down Buck Allen from the back side.

Meanwhile, Kessler led the second unit to a touchdown on his opening drive. Things got started with a first-down pass to Darreus Rogers and then a powerful run for another first down by Buck Allen, who ran over Devian Shelton. Quinton Powell slowed the momentum of the offense for a moment by getting into the backfield for a five-yard tackle for loss on Allen. The ball was eventually moved to the seven-yard line where Kessler hit Rogers for a touchdown.

“That first long drive gave us a sense of confidence,” Kessler said. “You get in a rhythm right away and start making plays so it feels good.”

On the next drive for Kessler, the most notable play was a screen attempt to the right side that was read by Chris Hawkins, who got a great jump and had two hands on the ball with nothing but green grass between him and the end zone but the ball was dropped.

Kris Albarado came on to do some punt drills. He kicked one that Nelson Agholor took deep in his end and returned for a long touchdown against a defense that was not in full tackle mode.

Devon Kennard had a pass break-up on an attempt from Wittek to De’Von Flournoy.

Kessler hit Buck Allen on the run with a pretty pass for a first down and then hit Rogers with another first down pass. Allen then caught a screen pass and weaved nicely through the defense for a 32-yard score.

The quarterbacks then switched with Kessler going with the 1’s and Wittek with the 2’s. Both went three and out on the first series, George Uko had a nice pursuit on Buck Allen to force a loss.

On the following possession for Kessler we saw just how impressive Rogers can look. Kessler launched a pass 50 yards in the air down the right sideline and Rogers was able to come down with the ball over good coverage from Kevon Seymour. Kessler then hit Agholor with a bubble screen, he shook Seymour and was able to gain additional yardage. With the ball on the three-yard line, Kessler rolled right and lofted a jump ball to Rogers against Seymour for the score.

“I just put it up there and Darreus came down with it,” Kessler said. “It’s a trust thing, I trust that he’s going to make the play if I give him a chance.”

Max Browne came on with the third unit offense that featured a lot of running from Ty Isaac. Browne ended a nice drive by hitting walk-on Aaron Minor, who made a great catch for the 29-yard score.

On the final drive of the day, Cravens had a sack on Wittek and Pullard had a big hit on Isaac.

Key stats

Kessler 19-28, 231 yards, 3 TDs; Wittek: 2-7, 15 yards; Browne: 2-2, 42 yards, 1 TD

Allen: 11 carries, 22 yards, 3 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD; Isaac: 12 carries, 38 yards

Rogers: 8 catches, 99 yards, 2 TDs; Flournoy: 6 catches, 49 yards

Bowman: 6 tackles, 1 sack; Powell: 5 tackles, 1 TFL; Cravens: 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL

68 plays; 3 penalties; 0 turnovers
As the Trojans prepare for the second scrimmage of fall camp Friday, the team got in a shorts-and-shoulder-pads practice session on Thursday under a hot sun, and Lane Kiffin said the defensive line continues to stand out.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIDevon Kennard, along with linemate George Uko, continues to draw praise from Lane Kiffin.
“It was a good day for the defensive line, especially when you consider how many guys are banged up,” Kiffin said. “I thought George Uko and Devon Kennard played great, and that has been a theme throughout camp. Every day those two guys bring it. Every day, every drill, they bring a championship effort. I told the other guys on the team to watch them and how they work.”

Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams sat out practice. Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin alternated for Breslin, while J.R. Tavai stepped in for Williams.

Dion Bailey -- who suffered a hip injury on Tuesday -- was on crutches and did not take part in the Wednesday session, but Kiffin said he is day-to-day and the injury "looked worse than it is."

Marqise Lee continued to get more work, and he was very active when he was on the field. One particular good play was a catch over the middle from Max Wittek. According to Kiffin, Lee got banged up a little at the end of the day and was pulled out for the remainder of practice.

Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers also were back on the field. Both began the day in yellow jerseys but eventually took them off to take part in contact drills.

Speaking of receivers, former USC star Mike Williams was in attendance at practice.

There was a lot of Ty Isaac in action, which was good to see after Isaac had sat out in recent days.

Anthony Brown had a nice day at corner. He had a pass break-up early against Lee, then came back later to read a screen attempt to Agholor and break up the play. Kiffin said the scrimmage Friday will be big for the cornerback position, because things are not clear yet.

Of course, the scrimmage also will be huge for the quarterbacks.

"It will be good to get them in that setting," Kiffin said. "To be in the Coliseum, to see how they manage the offense, how they make the play calls, understand the wristbands, etc."

Among the highlight plays Thursday were a 25-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Xavier Grimble, while Wittek hit Agholor in the end zone after rolling left and lofting a nice pass. Kessler also hit De'Von Flournoy in stride for a nice gain on a post.

The Trojans will scrimmage at 2 p.m. PT at the Coliseum on Friday, although it is closed to the public.
LOS ANGELES -- Taking part in the first of two practices on the day, the Trojans were back out on Dedeaux Field on Wednesday morning for a low-key workout in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets.

The biggest bit of news to come out of the two-hour session was that star USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, while still sidelined for the vast majority of the practice, did appear to take a step -- albeit a small one -- toward a potential return sometime soon. Wearing a yellow jersey and helmet, but no shoulder pads, he stepped in at wideout briefly during a half-speed 11-on-11 period, then fielded punts during a late, no-contact special teams drill. It’s the most activity seen out of Lee since he went down with a bone bruise in his shoulder last Friday.

Max Wittek
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek and the USC offense worked with a short roster at receiver and running back in the Wednesday morning session.
Still, without Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers on the field, however, the USC offense still had just two scholarship receivers at its disposal for the remainder of the day: De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. Javorius Allen and Tre Madden – wearing a yellow jersey – were the only two available tailbacks during the team period, and the tight end unit was still without Randall Telfer.

On defense, Su’a Cravens continued to run with the first-team defense at strong safety in place of Josh Shaw, who left Monday morning’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Morgan Breslin, Cody Temple and Torin Harris also didn’t take part, but defensive ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai both returned and each moved well throughout the workout.

On the offensive line, Aundrey Walker got the bulk of the snaps with the first-team group at right guard ahead of two-year starter John Martinez, who ran primarily with the second unit.

During an early 11-on-11 period, quarterback Max Wittek got things started off right by going deep and hitting Blackwell in stride for a 70-yard touchdown score, but then things went downhill for the offense in a hurry. Free safety Dion Bailey came up to stop Allen for no-gain on a run, a snap from Marcus Martin to Wittek was fumbled, and soon thereafter there was a fumbled exchange between Cody Kessler and John Akiba that Tavai recovered. Other defensive highlights included a Devon Kennard sack on Wittek, a Marquis Simmons tackle for loss on Madden and a sack of Kessler by Tavai.

During a period in which the first-team offense and defense went against scout units, the offensive group spent a lot of time focusing on the ground game, with Madden and Allen putting together some nice runs.

The team then got together for some final two-minute drill work that had Kessler running primarily with the first unit and Wittek with the No. 2 group.

Kessler completed a pass over the middle to Blackwell, who was then leveled by Hayes Pullard. A little later on, Kessler threw a pass to the outside, but Anthony Brown stepped in front of it and returned it for a touchdown. Williams also made his presence felt in this session, rushing in and batting down a Kessler pass. Wittek ended the day with a nice drive, completing passes to Aaron Minor, Shane Sullivan and Christian Guzman and capping it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Flournoy.

Injuries piling up for Trojans

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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The Trojans are at the midway point of fall camp and, with the injuries mounting, USC coach Lane Kiffin said the impact is being felt on the field.

“We’re starting to lose guys and it’s affecting our ability to rotate guys as much as we want,” Kiffin said.

There were no new injuries to report on Tuesday but among the players sidelined with previous issues were Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers, Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac, Jordan Simmons, Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai and Josh Shaw.

Tre Madden
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comTre Madden is running with more burst, a bright spot for a Trojans team that's dealing with bumps and bruises.
From what has been reported, it doesn’t appear as if any of the injuries will put the players in jeopardy of missing the season opener, but they are still missing valuable practice reps.

“There are a lot of skill guys who aren’t available and that has hurt us in terms of developing an identity for the offense,” Kiffin said.

One position that has been relatively healthy is quarterback, as the battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek continues. Kiffin pointed out that both quarterbacks have done a good job of taking care of the football against a defense that does a lot of attacking from multiple spots.

“The number one theme for this team this year is about taking care of the football,” Kiffin said.

Wittek had an opportunity for a big play early today when he hit De'Von Flournoy in stride with a deep pass, but the ball was dropped. Wittek later hit Victor Blackwell with a pass over the middle that went right through Ryan Henderson’s hands.

He ended practice with a pair of completions to walk-on Robby Kolanz -- the first was a throw across the middle in traffic and the second came in the left corner of the end zone where Kolanz was able to fight off coverage from Chris Hawkins to make the play. The offensive players came over to celebrate with Kolanz, ending the practice session on a good note.

Kessler had an impressive touchdown thanks to some good running by Tre Madden, who caught a pass in the flat and outran Devian Shelton and Gerald Bowman to the end zone. Madden continues to look better and better with more work. He is still wearing a yellow jersey to indicate no contact, but it’s pretty obvious that he is getting close to full playing speed.

Kessler also showed his agility when he rolled left and hit Xavier Grimble with a first-down pass.

Hayes Pullard and Xavier Grimble were late to practice due to a class and, in Pullard’s absence, both Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao were on the field at the same time at the two inside linebacker spots. With Breslin out at OLB, Marquis Simmons and Jabari Ruffin have been alternating reps.

Anthony Brown had a nice pass breakup at the goal line of a Kessler pass attempt for Blackwell.

There was work on kickoff coverage drills at the start of the day, with John Baxter timing the coverage team getting downfield. The coverage unit which started the drill featured Andre Heidari, Dion Bailey, Quinton Powell, Shelton, Kevon Seymour, Su'a Cravens, Leon McQuay III, Henderson, Ruffin, Simmons and Soma Vainuku.

Quotebook:

“The left side of the offensive line is playing well together. I’m really excited about how they look and the fact that these are two young guys who could grow together. It will be really good to see how they play when you line up a couple veteran tight ends next to them with Grimble and Telfer.” -- Kiffin talking about left tackle Chad Wheeler and left guard Max Tuerk.
The Trojans came out in full pads for the first time during fall camp on Wednesday, with USC head coach Lane Kiffin using the practice as a tuneup of sorts for the team’s initial scrimmage, coming up on Thursday in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“Normally this really is the day that we scrimmage because it’s the first day that we’re in full pads, but we really wanted to make sure that we were still working on our basics, that we were still working on our fundamentals of tackling in our first day that we were allowed to do that,” Kiffin said. “So, it was good to have this day and to set it up this way so that we’re giving our players everything, so that we can really have a good test tomorrow when we have a full-live scrimmage.”

Predictably, the workout was marked by some physical play, with the defense getting the better of the offense in what has become a trend in the early portion of this year’s camp. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- who took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback -- struggled at times to find open receivers against tight coverage from the secondary and an effective pass rush by the defensive line.

Defensive end George Uko set the tone right off the bat in an early team period, stuffing tailback Justin Davis on a run up the gut. Linebacker Lamar Dawson picked off a Kessler pass soon after that, and then just a few plays later it was safety Leon McQuay’s turn, stepping in front of a Wittek toss over the middle. Kessler came back to connect on a deep touchdown pass over the middle to Marqise Lee, but the session ended with a pair of two-minute drills, one led by Wittek and the other by Kessler, neither resulting in a score. Kessler’s drive ended on an interception by cornerback Ryan Dillard on a ball that was initially tipped in the air by safety Dion Bailey. Kessler was picked off once more later on, this time by linebacker Hayes Pullard during a 9-on-7 period.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Devon Kennard was the standout of Wednesday's practice.
During the final team session of the day, Wittek connected on a couple of deep passes to Victor Blackwell and Lee, while Kessler found Blackwell on a nice toss over the middle.

In the end though, the defense was the big story, with Pullard coming up with a big stop on Davis for no gain near the end of the day, and then SAM linebacker Devon Kennard capping it off by stripping the ball from Kessler, and then taking it in for six.

“Devon would be up there, if there was an MVP or something like that, on the whole team so far,” Kiffin said of Kennard. “I think that he’s playing really well at that position. We do a lot of things with him, he gives the tight ends a lot of problems and then at times he ends up on the tackles. I think that he’s really making the right steps to have a really good year.”

Kiffin also had high praise for the safeties and cornerbacks -- a question mark heading into fall camp.

“I think that kind of a storyline so far is that the secondary is playing better than they did in the spring,” Kiffin said. “They’re not giving up as many big plays, and they’re playing better on the outside -- the corners are playing better than they were in the spring.”

Wheeler still at LT

The most significant news in regard to the offensive line on Wednesday was that -- with Aundrey Walker still sidelined -- Chad Wheeler continued to line up with the first-team offense at left tackle for the second day in a row. Initially slated to compete with Kevin Graf at right tackle, he’s more than held his own on the left side despite going up against an outstanding Trojans defensive line unit.

“Chad looks really good over there,” Kiffin said. “Obviously tomorrow will be a big test. I think that any time that you get a position like we have at outside linebacker -- that’s a very good position for us -- those guys really make your offense better, and make them have to work. So he’s really getting tested out there by some really good players.”

Redd continues to come along

Limited throughout fall camp as he’s continued to ease his way back after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee in the spring, tailback Silas Redd received his heaviest workload of the fall on Wednesday. Donning a yellow jersey to prevent contact, he even took a number of reps during the team period. And while he didn’t find a lot of room to run today, he certainly appeared to be close to 100 percent. Still, Kiffin is in no hurry to rush him back.

“Yeah, we threw him out there,” Kiffin said. “We put a jersey on him because he’s really not back. I don’t think he’ll go tomorrow, but it was good. I think the thing about Silas is that he’s a leader, he’s very confident, very emotional, he gets into the game and he gets into the practice, so that’s good to have.“

Other notes: In addition to Walker, safety Su'a Cravens and wide receiver De'Von Flournoy did not participate in Wednesday’s workout. Tailbacks Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan were also limited, and defensive end Leonard Williams was also held out later in practice.
With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information
As the Trojans have gone through their offseason workout schedule this summer, freshman wideout Darreus Rogers has been hard to miss.

A mid-year entrant who originally was a member of USC's recruiting class of 2012, he wound up sitting out the fall as a grayshirt before enrolling this past spring. In a very short time, Rogers has emerged as one of the most consistent performers during the team's volunteer passing sessions.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarreus Rogers is in the mix for USC's No. 3 receiver spot behind Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.
And for a wide receiver corps that lost both George Farmer and Steven Mitchell to season-ending knee injuries in recent months -- and is down to just five scholarship players in Rogers, Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy -- his lightning quick development couldn't be happening at a better time.

"It feels great to come out here and to work with great players like Marqise and Nelson," said Rogers, who compiled 64 receptions for 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at CIF Los Angeles City Section power Carson (Calif.). "I know that we need every single healthy body that we have out here contributing. We don't necessarily have the numbers, but we're coming out here competing like nothing I've seen before."

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Rogers possesses a skill set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC greats Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett brought to the table as big, physical receiving threats with off-the-charts athleticism. First showing flashes of his unique playmaking ability back in December, when he took part in two of the Trojans' bowl game workouts, Rogers continued to make strides this past spring.

Despite missing time because of hamstring and shoulder injuries, he came out of the March and April workouts with a newfound level of confidence.

"It was fast and physical -- a lot different than anything that I've ever experienced before," said Rogers, who is now back to 100 percent. "I was still used to what the speed of the game was like in high school, but I made the adjustment after a couple of weeks, and I really got in the flow of everything. Now it's starting to feel like it did in high school again, but now I'm faster, stronger and more explosive. I'm more comfortable, looser, and I'm able to just be myself now."

With Lee -- the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner -- and Agholor entrenched as the starting wide receiver duo, Rogers is currently involved in a fierce battle for the right to lay claim to the role as the team's No. 3 option, along with Blackwell, a star of the spring, and Flournoy, the veteran redshirt senior. And while both of his counterparts hold a leg up on him when it comes to experience and time spent within the program, with the job still completely up for grabs, Rogers certainly isn't backing down.

"The coaches have told me just to be ready, because it's open," Rogers said. "I'm just going to be working ... just coming out here and competing ... competing for No. 3. Nelson calls me on the weekends and tells me to work out, and I'm always there. Whatever it takes to play and to get on the field, I'm willing to do it."

It has been Agholor, as well as virtually every other member of the wide receiver unit, who has played an integral part in bringing Rogers along over the course of the last six months, and it obviously has paid off with big-time results.

"They all tell me what to do, what not to do ... they've all been there, and they've done it, and they've been a huge help," Rogers said. "I make a point of listening to them and to take it all in, because they're great guys and they have the experience. That really goes for all of them, but Nelson has probably played the biggest part, because he's closer to my age, but also a guy like Marqise -- he just keeps telling me, 'Be ready, be ready' -- so I'm taking it all in."

With a support group like that, on top of the promise that he already has shown, Rogers -- who has some pretty lofty aspirations of his own -- most definitely appears to have a very bright future.

"My goal is just to keep pushing ... to push and to be No. 1, really," Rogers said. "I know you've still got Marqise there, but the way that I look at it, to be the best, you have to compete against the best. And I'm here to compete."
The Trojans’ summer volunteer passing sessions have offered a glimpse at not only how the established standouts are coming along, but also at the progression of those lesser-known members of the team looking to make a significant impact for the first time in 2013.

With that in mind, here are seven under-the-radar skill players still fighting for playing time who have made a statement with their play at Cromwell Field this June.

LOS ANGELES -- With the Trojans back to the grind and hard at work at Cromwell Field, here’s a look at some of the early storylines that have taken shape during the team’s volunteer passing sessions.

Tons of talent at WR, not a lot of depth

The USC receiver corps was dealt a significant blow in the second throwing session of the summer when promising freshman Steven Mitchell went down with a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the entire 2013 season. Already without the services of George Farmer -- who suffered the same injury this spring -- the Trojans now have just five active scholarship wide receivers on the current roster.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInjuries have given freshman Darreus Rogers a chance to make a move at WR.
The good news is that those five players have looked stellar this offseason and, barring any more injuries, USC should be fine here. In particular, 2012 Biletnifkoff Award winner Marqise Lee, and sophomore Nelson Agholor have made a routine of putting on a virtual exhibition during the 7-on-7 drills, and it’s hard to imagine a better wideout tandem in the country. Just as importantly, with the role of the team’s No. 3 receiver still up for grabs, veteran pass-catchers Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy, as well as freshman , have come out each day more focused than ever, paying off with big time results.

Wittek returns to action, QB competition back on in full effect

The most notable player missing from the Trojans' early passing sessions was quarterback Max Wittek, who battled an apparent case of mononucleosis. The only member of the quarterback competition with starting experience returned to action this past Friday and looked sharp after shaking off some early rust.

The other two members of the quarterback competition -- fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler and early entrant freshman Max Browne -- have performed solidly this offseason. Kessler, in particular, has picked up right where he left off in the spring, looking poised and in command while also throwing with fantastic accuracy. Meanwhile, Browne has continued to make tremendous strides, neither looking nor playing like a green first-year youngster.

With Wittek having returned to compete alongside Kessler and Browne, the race for the role of USC's starting quarterback is underway once again. And with all three players back out there pushing each other, there’s reason for optimism, regardless of who the eventual starter is.

Key contributors back from injury

While the loss of Mitchell marked the obvious low point of the workouts so far, the return of a number of players who missed all, or a portion, of the spring due to injury has been one of the great positives. Fullback Soma Vainuku, offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr., cornerbacks Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour, as well as safeties Dion Bailey, Gerald Bowman and Su'a Cravens are just some of the players who have been spotted back in action. It’s provided a big shot in the arm for a team somewhat short in terms of numbers.

The most talked about return has been that of Bailey, who was out for the entire spring due to postseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Moving over to free safety after spending the last two seasons as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, he’s looked comfortable, and the competition between he, Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job is sure to be one of most closely watched position battles of the summer and fall.

Shaw still at safety

With Lane Kiffin underwhelmed by the production of the cornerback unit this past spring, the Trojans head coach noted on more than one occasion that the coaching staff was considering moving redshirt junior Josh Shaw back over from his strong safety spot to corner -- not a huge surprise considering he made seven starts at the position in 2012.

So far, however, there’s been no sign of the former Palmdale (Calif.) standout making that change. Lining up at strong safety during every passing session, he’s currently locked in a position battle with Cravens and Bowman. And while things could always change later in the summer or even during fall camp, it looks as if Shaw has settled in at safety at this time and that Kiffin will ride with what he currently has at cornerback -- collection that includes Anthony Brown, Ryan Dillard, Harris, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson, Seymour and Devian Shelton.

Sightings of the newest freshmen

All six of the Trojans newest freshmen additions are now on campus, and they’ve slowly begun to make their presence felt in the workouts. It was Mitchell who made the biggest impact early on with his unique playmaking skills, giving an all-too-brief glimpse of the kind of talent that the USC offense will have at its disposal down the line. Inside linebacker Michael Hutchings has impressed as well. Figuring to play a key role as the potential backup at the MIKE linebacker spot to Hayes Pullard, he certainly looks the part of an imposing run-stopper with a nice combination of athleticism and instincts to boot. Outside linebacker Quinton Powell has already shown off some nice pass-rush skills during the 11-on-11 periods. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, running back Ty Isaac is as big as advertised while also showcasing a surprising burst for a player his size. Rounding out the group, offensive tackle Nico Falah and guard Khaliel Rodgers have also been quick to jump into the action, gaining valuable tutelage from veterans such as Kevin Graf and John Martinez.

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