USC Trojans: Gerald Bowman

With spring practice set to start back up again for USC next week, here’s a look at 10 players who entered the March and April workouts as somewhat hidden commodities but who showed in the first week of spring practice that they just might have the potential to take on a larger role for the Trojans in 2014.

TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-foot-4, 255 pounds, junior): With Xavier Grimble off to the NFL draft and Randall Telfer currently sidelined by injury, Cope-Fitzpatrick is the lone active scholarship tight end available for the Trojans this spring, and he’s made the most of what has been a golden opportunity to demonstrate what he’s capable of doing in USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo, tight end-friendly offense. Cope-Fitzpatrick displayed sure hands and a high level of athleticism in the first week, catching virtually everything thrown in his direction.

OLB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, sophomore): Powell was one of the more exciting practice players to watch last fall as a reserve Will linebacker, and now that he’s made the move back outside -- where he played in high school -- to Sam linebacker, he looks to have found the perfect spot to showcase his talents. Long, athletic and extremely active, he was equally as strong coming off the edge as he was in pass coverage while running with the No. 1 defensive group.

[+] EnlargeNathan Guertler
AP Photo / Chris BernacchiFormer walk-on Nathan Guertler earned a scholarship and is in the mix on the offensive line.
Rush end/OLB Scott Starr (6-2, 220, redshirt sophomore): Hampered by injuries early in his career, Starr is now healthy and it’s made a world of difference. Lining up with the starting group at rush end in Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense, he’s obviously already gained a level of confidence from the new coaching staff with his ability as a pass rusher and as a disruptive force, in general, near the line of scrimmage.

CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, redshirt freshman): There’s little denial the Trojans need to shore up the cornerback spots heading into the 2014 season, and with Josh Shaw sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot, Hawkins got plenty of work during the first three workouts of spring. He was solid, for the most part. After redshirting as a freshman last fall, he looks to be playing with a greater level of confidence than he did just a few months ago. His interception of a Cody Kessler pass on the first day of practice was one of the highlights of the week.

DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, redshirt junior): Forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring to USC from Texas Tech, Simmons has stepped into the starting lineup this spring at defensive end and looks primed to make an instant impact as part of what should be an outstanding defensive line. Possessing a huge frame to go along with a strong motor, he already has the veteran experience that comes with having started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012.

OL Nathan Guertler (6-5, 280, redshirt senior): Originally arriving at USC as a walk-on in 2010, Guertler was recently awarded a scholarship by the new coaching staff, and it’s safe to say it’s an honor he more than deserves. A tireless worker who made the switch to tight end last season when the team had low numbers at the position, he’s now getting an extensive look with the first team at right tackle. And while it certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion that he’ll remain there in the fall, he’s shown enough to ensure that he’s worthy of being in the discussion.

OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, redshirt freshman): Figured by many to be a prime contender for the open center spot going into the spring, Rodgers instead ran with the 1s at right guard and looked to be at home. As an aggressive blocker who possesses a mean streak on the field, he would appear to be a perfect fit as part of an offensive line unit that, under Tim Drevno, has placed an emphasis on being physical. Figuring to face plenty of additional competition in the fall in the form of freshmen Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the experience Rodgers is gaining now could give him a leg up heading into fall camp.

DL Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, redshirt freshman): Fairly raw when he first arrived on campus a little more than a year ago, Bigelow looks to have made strides in terms of where he is physically, as well as mentally, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him factor heavily into the defensive line rotation in 2014. With players such as Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend Jr. sidelined, Bigelow worked with the first team at one of the interior defensive end spots for a majority of the first week of practice.

S Gerald Bowman (5-11, 195, redshirt senior): Back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the 2013 season, Bowman has re-emerged this spring as one of only three available scholarship safeties. With the ability to play both safety spots, he served an important role throughout the first three practices as a backup and a key contributor in nickel situations.

OL Giovanni Di Poalo (6-4, 275, redshirt senior): For Di Poalo, 2014 marks his last shot to make a real impact for the Trojans, and to his credit it looks like he’s doing everything he can to try to make that happen. Taking advantage of the fresh start he’s gained with a new staff in place, in addition to the fact that USC simply doesn’t have a lot of healthy bodies ready to go along the offensive line right now, he took reps exclusively with the No. 1 unit at left guard last week. Things will get a whole lot more interesting in fall camp when those highly touted freshmen arrive, but Di Poalo appears to be making a statement that he won’t back down easily.
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.



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.
Every season in college football there are previously unproven players who rise up to play major roles for their teams. For the Trojans in 2014, here are five players who will be looking to make their mark in a USC uniform for the first time:

1. DL Delvon Simmons: This 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech could have an immediate opportunity to step into the starting lineup to replace George Uko. Simmons started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and has 40 career tackles under his belt, along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At the very least, he is expected to be a key part of the interior D-line rotation next fall.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCan highly-recruited wideout George Farmer star for the Trojans in 2014?
2. S Gerald Bowman: There was a lot of hype surrounding Bowman when he transferred in as a highly-ranked junior college prospect but academic delays and injuries have prevented him from making an impact . There isn’t a ton of depth at the safety spot so Bowman will have the chance to get immediate playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that forced a redshirt year in 2013.

3. OL Jordan Simmons: It has been a rocky road for Simmons at USC. His freshman year started with knee surgery prior to the season but he came back in the second half of the season and was named offensive service team player of the year. Simmons was showing promise last fall as a road-grading guard until he hurt his knee trying to catch a pass before a practice and will be sidelined for spring.

4. WR George Farmer: It seems like forever since Farmer came to USC as the top-ranked receiver in the country. It has been so long that his high school teammates -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- have already wrapped up their college careers and will be playing in the NFL next year. Farmer, meanwhile, will be hoping that his knee rehab goes well enough to allow him back on the field to regain the momentum he was showing last spring before suffering the injury.

5. RB D.J. Morgan: Another player who has battled knee injuries, Morgan has two career starts under his belt with 364 yards on 83 carries and one touchdown. There is a clean slate waiting for Morgan when he returns -- Morgan had fallen in Lane Kiffin’s doghouse for fumbling -- but there is also a deep and talented stable of backs to compete with for carries. The one thing Morgan brings to the table is speed and if he is healthy enough to offer that he will have a chance to crack the rotation.

2013 review: USC defense

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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.

Five Trojans who have stepped up

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As the Trojans continue to battle injuries while they prepare for the final stretch of the 2013 season, here are 5 players who have stepped up when called upon due to injuries to other players at their position.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsAfter missing a few games with injury, USC wideout Darreus Rogers has caught 12 passes in his last three games.
RB Buck Allen: There is no bigger example of a player rising up and playing a key role than what Allen did last week in the win over Oregon State. There were flashes from Allen earlier in the season -- as well as his solid performance in fall camp -- but it was still a pleasant surprise for USC fans to see him get 16 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns in such a critical game. With Justin Davis out for the season with ankle surgery and Tre Madden battling hamstring issues, the Trojans might be relying on a whole lot more from Buck in the coming weeks.

WR Darreus Rogers: The freshman wide receiver had injury issues of his own early in the season but got healthy just as Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor both were hurting as well. In a two-game stretch against Notre Dame and Utah, Rogers had 11 catches for 122 yards and was a reliable mid-range target.

TE’s Nathan Guertler: Through the first three years of his career, Guertler was a little-used walk-on offensive lineman who was known for his rugged style of play. In recent weeks, however, the Trojans have found themselves with serious depth issues at tight end so Guertler has thrown on a new jersey with a tight end number and played well against Oregon State as an extra blocker.

OLB J.R. Tavai: After beginning this season as a backup to Leonard Williams at defensive end, Tavai was moved to outside linebacker when Morgan Breslin went down with a hip injury. Tavai responded with a pair of double-digit tackle games with his usual relentless motor and strength. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Tavai have such success considering he has played both inside and outside on the line in his USC career, but it is still a bonus for the Trojans to have a player who can move seamlessly between both spots.

DB Demetrius Wright: The Trojans came into the season with great depth at safety but it has been tested with the move of Josh Shaw to corner, the redshirt season for Gerald Bowman and various injury issues for Dion Bailey and Su’a Cravens. Wright has stepped in as an experienced reserve and provided steady play along with some big hits. Interim coach Ed Orgeron has mentioned Wright multiple times as a key contributor in recent weeks.

A back-to-back secondary challenge 

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LOS ANGELES -- With USC’s 2013 season opener at Hawaii just a handful of tropical sunsets away, all conversation regarding the inexperienced Trojans secondary seems as guarded as King Kamehameha's Palace.

There is the sense that the USC secondary has improved in fall camp from its unimpressive spring performance, but it’s sometimes difficult to measure growth when the Trojans’ defensive backfield is dissected daily by two future NFL wide receivers in Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor and two pro-bound tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

While the USC receiving unit has the ability to make most collegiate secondaries appear hopelessly inadequate, the question remains: Has the Trojans’ secondary matured enough against the passing game in fall camp to transition from a liability to a contributing asset?

Roundtable: Top USC fall camp storyline 

August, 22, 2013
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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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Wednesday night practice recap

August, 15, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- After practicing on Dedeaux Field Wednesday morning, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field Wednesday evening for a spirited session in full pads that was marked by some aggressive play according to USC head coach Lane Kiffin.

“I think the guys, for two practices today, really were extremely physical,” Kiffin said. “They had great energy, which is not that easy to do at Practice 15 at this time of training camp. So, I like where that’s at right now. I like their attitude and their approach to it. They just keep working. It’s about work and it’s about sweat, and that’s what they’re doing.”

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Jae C. HongUSC receiver Marqise Lee suited up for practice but was limited to non-contact drills.
Lee making progress
Kiffin said 23 players were unable to participate in contact drills on Wednesday due to various injuries, none more notable than the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, Marqise Lee, who went down Friday with a bone bruise in his shoulder.

But after fielding some punts and running some half-speed routes in the morning, Lee appeared to continue to make strides during the night session as he gets closer to returning. Coming out in full pads, Lee participated in full-speed individual drills and made some impressive receptions during a route-running period before heading to the sideline when the team got into the contact portion of practice.

And while Kiffin isn’t about to rush his star receiver back into action, he admitted that his presence gives the team a boost, even if it is in a limited capacity.

“I think that anytime he’s out here – not just because he’s a great player and he makes the dynamic plays – but he’s an extremely energetic practice player,” Kiffin said. “He practices like he plays, and so I think he brings the level of competition up.”

Walker battling
With Chad Wheeler continuing to impress Kiffin as the team’s starting left tackle, Aundrey Walker -- who was the team’s primary starter at the position last year as well as this past spring -- was moved to right guard earlier this week, and he appears to have made a big impression at the spot.

On Wednesday, in fact, he spent the entirety of both practices with the first unit for the first time. It was a bit of a surprise development considering that it meant that John Martinez -- a senior who has started 25 consecutive games at the position -- ran with the second team.

And while the move certainly isn’t considered permanent just yet, it’s safe to say that Martinez does have a battle on his hands.

“We’re always trying to create competition, and we’ve had a lot of that this camp in different spots -- for instance the safety spot,” Kiffin said. “And now we’ve got one at guard there, and so John and Aundrey are going to have a really good competition there right now.”

Highlights
The Trojans began with a short 11-on-11 period that had Cody Kessler running with the first-team offense from the outset, and Max Wittek lining up with the twos. Kessler started things off on the right foot, connecting with Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy for nice pick-ups, but he was also picked off when George Uko tipped one of his passes up into the air, allowing Lamar Dawson to run under it for the interception. Nelson Agholor -- who returned on Wednesday after sitting out a number of recent practices with an undisclosed injury -- made his presence felt during this session, hauling in a screen pass and picking up seven or eight yards after putting a juke move on Anthony Brown at the line.

Tre Madden -- still wearing a non-contact jersey -- stood out during a 7-on-7 red zone period, catching passes from Kessler, Wittek and Max Browne. Kessler and Wittek looked sharp during an extended 11-on-11 session a little later, with Kessler connecting on a big play to Madden to the outside, and Agholor over the middle. Wittek capped everything off with completions to Flournoy and Blackwell.

The team finished the day with an energetic goal line period. With the majority of the running back corps kept out of contact drills, Javorius “Buck” Allen and walk-on John Akiba shared the carries, with Allen reaching the end zone on a number of occasions, and drawing praise from Kiffin as a result.

Other notes
  • With Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple and J.R. Tavai all sitting out the practice, the Trojans had a starting defensive line group comprised of Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Delvon Simmons at defensive end, and Kenny Bigelow at nose tackle.
  • Anthony Brown spent the majority of the day as the starting cornerback opposite Kevon Seymour, but Devian Shelton and Torin Harris also saw brief time with the No. 1 group.
  • After seeing extended time with the first-team defense during the last two days due to the injury to Josh Shaw, Su’a Cravens sat out Wednesday night’s practice, allowing Gerald Bowman to start at strong safety.
  • Free safety Dion Bailey went out with an undisclosed injury late in practice.

  • Injuries piling up for Trojans

    August, 14, 2013
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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.

    Cravens ahead of curve at safety

    August, 14, 2013
    8/14/13
    6:00
    AM PT
    With redshirt junior strong safety Josh Shaw sidelined with an undisclosed injury on Day 11 of fall camp at USC, Su’a Cravens stepped in and took the vast majority of snaps with the first-team defense on Tuesday.

    It’s safe to say that the 6-foot-1, 215-pound freshman appeared more than at home, neither looking nor playing like a first-year performer.

    Su'a Cravens
    Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comSu'a Cravens was the nation's No. 1-ranked safety prospect in the Class of 2013.
    That could come as a surprise to some, but not to those within the Trojans’ program. Enrolling at USC this past January after graduating from high school a semester early, the highly touted Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta graduate made a strong initial impression during spring drills with his athleticism and playmaking skills. He’s continued to do so this August with a determined mindset.

    “I didn’t come to USC to sit on the bench. I came to compete to get on the field,” Cravens said after the two-hour workout on Dedeaux Field. “I’m just out here to work as hard as I can. And if that means I’m with the ones, then so be it. And if that means I’m with the twos, and I’m still helping the team, then I’ll do it.”

    Tuesday’s practice didn’t mark the first time that Cravens – who was out of action for a short time late last week with an undisclosed injury of his own – has lined up as a starter this fall camp. With the strong safety spot currently up for grabs in a battle between himself, Shaw and Gerald Bowman, he’s periodically been thrown in with the first group throughout camp by USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

    “With all of the different looks and different schemes that we have on defense, Coach Pendergast likes to mix the different safeties in,” Cravens said. “So, one day I’ll be running with the ones, and the next day I’ll be running with the twos. But today it did feel good to run with the ones and to get used to the speed. I had a lot of fun today.”

    And it’s precisely that element of open competition that has helped take Cravens’ game to another level in the last six months.

    “We’re all about competition,” Cravens said. “Me and Josh, we’re good friends. We always talk about what we can do better and what I’m doing wrong, and what he’s doing wrong. He’s really been coaching me. It’s all friendly competition, and at the end of the day, the best is going to play.”

    And while the veteran Shaw has lined up with the first group at strong safety on the most consistent basis this month, Cravens has certainly established himself. He primarily attributes his strong showing to his early arrival on campus.

    “It’s crazy trying to imagine coming into fall camp with no experience at all,” said Cravens, whose spring was cut short midway through after suffering a torn meniscus that required surgery. “I was struggling for the first couple weeks of the spring just getting used to the speed. I’m not even talking about the playbook – just getting used to the speed of the receivers and even our tight ends. Our slowest tight end runs about a 4.5. It’s crazy just being on the field with these guys. I feel bad for the players coming in for the first time in the fall trying to learn the playbook and trying to get used to the speed. I’m glad that I came early, and it really did get me a step ahead.”

    Using that experience as a springboard, Cravens is now turning heads on a daily basis, providing plenty of evidence to believe that come the team’s opener at Hawaii on Aug. 29, he’ll be ready to make his presence felt.

    “Right now, I’m just really excited,” Cravens said. “I just want to do the best that I can to help the team, whether that’s on special teams or defense. I’m just taking it day-by-day, and I’m excited for the season to start.”
    The Trojans held a night practice on Dedeaux Field on Monday and coach Lane Kiffin was very pleased with the results.

    “It was our best practice of fall camp,” Kiffin said. “Now we need to get the players to understand how to come out with this kind of mindset every day. It was a very competitive session, especially when you consider it was the second practice of the day.”

    As usual, the day started with special teams drills. There was time spent on learning how to scatter when a punt is coming down that is not going to be caught, in order to make sure the ball doesn’t take a bad bounce off a player on the return team. Also, players worked on chasing loose balls that had been kicked after they hit the ground. There are the kinds of details that John Baxter pays attention to as a special teams coach.

    There were some individual position drills and then a lot of 11-on-11 team work in various down and distance situations.

    The running backs were once again limited to Tre Madden and Buck Allen, as the other backs are sidelined with injury. Allen had the highlight play of the day when he took a handoff to the left side and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown.

    Both players also scored multiple touchdowns in a goal-line drill that was dominated by the offense. Madden had a couple of scores to the outside, and Allen did his damage inside. Soma Vainuku also had a touchdown run in the goal-line drill while Cody Kessler hit Xavier Grimble in the end zone and he held on despite getting hit as the ball arrived by Kevon Seymour and Gerald Bowman. Kessler also connected with De'Von Flournoy for a score, while Max Wittek completed a touchdown to Victor Blackwell.

    Flournoy also had a touchdown catch from Kessler on a deep ball against Ryan Henderson in a team drill. Kiffin commented after practice that Flournoy has looked good after missing some time early in camp. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick had a pair of good catches, while Darreus Rogers caught a touchdown from Wittek. Rogers was later spotted on the sideline with his pads off and ice on his left shoulder. Henderson came back and got an interception off Kessler and then Su'a Cravens broke up a Wittek pass attempt at the goal line. Scott Starr had a solid pop on Grimble after the tight end had caught a short pass from Kessler, Grimble turned upfield and was met by a solid form tackle from Starr that stopped Xavier in his tracks and caused an uproar on the defensive sideline.

    The next practice for the Trojans is Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.
    LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans were out on Dedeaux Field on Monday morning, where they'll practice for the next three days while Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field mends from the first week of fall camp. Taking part in the first of two practices on the day, the team came out in shorts and helmets, so there wasn't any live hitting, but that didn't mean USC was able to avoid the injury bug.

    USC TrojansAlready without the services of Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac, Jordan Simmons and Leonard Williams -- who all sat out the workout -- the Trojans saw three key members of the defense head to the sideline early with undisclosed injuries. Strong safety Josh Shaw, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and defensive end J.R. Tavai joined the growing list of banged-up players.

    USC head coach Lane Kiffin did not meet with the media following the two-hour workout, so nothing further was revealed, but all three players stayed and watched the remainder of practice after going out.

    The team did get in some spirited 11-on-11 work Monday, with Gerald Bowman filling in for Shaw with the first-team defense at strong safety, Jabari Ruffin taking the place of Breslin at Predator linebacker, and Greg Townsend Jr. lining up at defensive end for Tavai, who had been plugged in for Williams yesterday.

    Chad Wheeler also continued to run with the first-team offense at left tackle throughout the practice, while Aundrey Walker saw time exclusively at right guard -- primarily with the second group.

    Cody Kessler got things started by hitting Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who made a fantastic shoestring catch for a big gain along the sideline. Javorius "Buck" Allen had a run up the middle for a nice gain before being stopped by Bowman. Devon Kennard ended the period with a sack on Kessler.

    The team then came together for another 11-on-11 session in more of a scrimmage setting, featuring the first and second units on offense and defense, with Kessler and Max Wittek taking turns with both groups. Wittek did a nice job of leading the first-team offense downfield on the first drive against the second-team defense before being picked off in the end zone by Devian Shelton. Townsend made his presence felt with a nice stop on John Akiba on a rush for no gain. A couple of series later, Kessler hit Jahleel Pinner on a beautiful wheel route as the big fullback made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone. Wittek's next series included two consecutive plays on which he was sacked by a very hyped up defense -- once by Lamar Dawson and then by Ruffin. He eventually got his revenge, though, airing out a deep 50-yard bomb into the end zone that Robby Kolanz pulled down after getting behind Kevon Seymour and Demetrius Wright.

    The Trojans capped the day with John Baxter leading the team through some extra special teams work, with an emphasis on the field goal and punt units.
    video
    It didn’t take long for the new 5-2 defense to show itself Sunday in USC fall camp as Day 2 definitely belonged to that side of the ball.

    “It was a really good day for the defense in terms of forcing turnovers,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They did it a couple series in a row, too, which was good to see. I thought their energy was really good from the start and they carried it through the end of a long practice.”

    Su’a Cravens had the first interception of the day for the defense in a throwing drill. It was an athletic, leaping play on a Cody Kessler pass intended for Marqise Lee.

    “It feels good to make plays,” Cravens said. “Especially against a Biletnikoff winner, but Marqise will probably try to head-hunt me tomorrow and go deep on me, so we’ll see what happens.”

    Chris Hawkins had an interception of Max Browne and Torin Harris came up with interception No. 3 for the defense in the final team drill of the day when he battled with Nelson Agholor and came down with a pass from Browne.

    The defense also did a good job creating pressure on the quarterback and came away with sacks by Devon Kennard, Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and Quinton Powell.

    Safety rotation

    On the first day of camp, Dion Bailey and Cravens lined up with the first unit at safety. On Sunday, it was Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright. Kiffin said there is nothing to read into who is starting now because nothing is set. This is a very good safety group that can go six deep if you include Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay. Kiffin mentioned that depth when discussing special teams; he said it will be important for the safeties and running backs to contribute there because both units have such good depth.

    Speaking of special teams

    The Trojans did live punt drills at the beginning of practice with Kris Albarado and Joey Krassenstein alternating as the punter. Albarado was getting some good air under his punts. Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor were alternating as the return men.

    Transferring in

    Incoming transfer defensive lineman Delvon Simmons practiced and was wearing No. 97. He’s got good size and looks like the kind of player who could make an immediate impact, although the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Simmons will have to sit out the 2013 season as a transfer from Texas Tech.

    Flipping sides

    USC
    Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Greene (81) lined up at tight end in Sunday's practice.
    Kevin Greene came out for practice in his familiar No. 81 jersey, but he lined up at tight end, instead of his usual outside linebacker spot. It makes sense to give this a look as the Trojans are a little thin at tight end while the outside linebacker spot is looking solid right now. Kiffin said it’s not a permanent switch yet, just something the coaches will look at to see how it goes.

    Recruits in attendance

    Offensive lineman Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

    More on-field highlights

    In a team drill, Kessler had a completion to Agholor that gained roughly 15 yards. ... Leonard Williams fought off a block attempt by John Martinez in order to corral Tre Madden. ... Lamar Dawson and Michael Hutchings plugged a hole to stop Ty Isaac. ... Madden finished off the reps for the first unit with a long run up the middle. ... Browne came in and hit Buck Allen with a swing pass along the right side for 20 yards.

    In the final team drill of the day, Demetrius Wright batted down a pass attempt for Lee, Kessler hit Agholor for a first down and Justin Davis had a pretty, weaving run along the left side for 20 yards.

    Kiffin said after looking at film from the Saturday practice he was impressed with Madden and Davis. He called them “special players with unique skill sets.”

    Quotebook

    Su’a Cravens on coming out with a strong effort on Sunday, highlighted by a leaping interception over Marqise Lee on a Cody Kessler pass:

    “Yesterday [Saturday] I had an all-right day. It was kind of slow for me, and I made a couple of mistakes. Today [Sunday] I feel like I was more on myself – I studied a lot with Chris Hawkins in my room before practice and I feel like I was on it.”

    Marqise Lee on the interception by Cravens:

    “At the end of the day, if he’s going to do it in the game, then hey, I don’t mind him doing it to me. ... But tomorrow is another day and I’m not going to let that happen.”

    Leonard Williams, on the defense’s standout performance during the team period on Sunday:

    “The offense got us [Saturday]. We came out kind of quiet, and I feel like the defense really responded [Sunday].”

    Williams, on what has been a noticeable emphasis by the defense to attempt to force turnovers so far this fall camp:

    “Day 1 of camp, the coaches just told us that the ball is the most important thing in the game, so we’ve really been emphasizing that with turnover drills with every position on the defense. We’re just really working on getting the ball. Not only are we doing it in drills, but we’re carrying it over to team when we’re going against each other. So every time that one of us is holding somebody up, another guy is coming in and going for the ball. Everyone is going for it.”

    Williams, on one of the primary factors behind the defensive unit’s energetic effort on Sunday, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard:

    “Hayes is the leader of our defense and he’s a really hyped guy, so we all feed off of him. I feel like everyone is really responding to it and feeding off of that energy.”

    Kevin Greene, on when he found out that he would be lining up at tight end on Sunday:

    “They basically told me this afternoon. Coach Kiffin said, ‘We’re going to try something different today.’ So I went out there with a smile on my face. I’m not going to come out here and pout. Whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”

    Greene, on how the first day at tight end went:

    “It was basically just about getting my feet wet. Over time I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel a lot more comfortable – once I take some more snaps and understand what I’m doing out there.”

    Greene on the last time that he played on the offensive side of the ball:

    “Senior year of high school – when I first started. It’s been a while. I started off playing wide receiver. I did that for about a game or two, then I went strictly to defense from there. So, just playing about four or five years of straight defense, and then switching the mindset like that in one day, it could be tough, but at the same time I’m definitely willing to learn.”

    The USC Trojans took the field Saturday for the opening day of fall camp practices.

    “It was nice to get out here and have organized practices,” said quarterback Cody Kessler. “The summer workouts are great and all, but it’s good to finally be able to be out here with the whole team and the coaches. I thought we had a really good focus today, which was good to see.”

    It was a no-pads practice for the Trojans, who will not put on full pads until practice No. 6, which will take place Thursday in a scrimmage in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

    “It will be a very physical camp once pads get put on,” said coach Lane Kiffin.

    There will be a lot of attention paid to the quarterbacks, and Kiffin praised both Kessler and Max Wittek for their work Saturday. Kiffin said there is a long way to go before a starter is named.

    Among the primary things Kiffin will be looking for is to see who manages the game better and who takes care of the football. For what it’s worth, Kessler took the first-team reps in the final team drill of the day.

    Wittek made an early completion deep to Victor Blackwell, and Kessler hit Nelson Agholor over the middle on a deep ball and then later hooked up with Marqise Lee on a nice reception. Another receiver who had a good first day was freshman Darreus Rogers, who caught almost everything thrown his way.

    On the defensive side of the ball, safety Gerald Bowman stood out as a playmaker as he had a one-handed interception and broke up a pass.

    Running back rotation

    USC running back Tre Madden
    Courtesy of Joe AndrasTre Madden "looked great" in the first practice, said USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
    All the tailbacks were in action, which was important since several are coming back from injuries. Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan were limited, but the other four all stood out in some way.

    Tre [Madden] looked great and he got a lot of work,” Kiffin said. “Justin [Davis] looked better than he did at the end of last spring. Ty [Isaac] had one fumble, but other than that he looked good. There’s a lot of talent in that group.”

    Buck Allen ran well in a team drill and looked sharp.

    Markowitz update

    Abe Markowitz was on the field taking reps as a reserve center. Kiffin confirmed that Markowitz has received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and has returned to the team as a walk-on. Markowitz gives the Trojans an additional versatile player on the line, as he can also play either guard spot.

    Special teams in action

    There was a lot of special teams work early in the practice with Andre Heidari attempting several field goals. There were also kickoff return and punt return drills, with the return men alternating among a group of Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, D.J. Morgan, Victor Blackwell and Anthony Brown.

    More highlight plays

    Jabari Ruffin came on a pass rush and leaped high in the air to knock down a Max Browne pass attempt. ... J.R. Tavai was on a blitz and absolutely bowled over Justin Davis trying to make a block in the backfield. ... There were a couple nice plays by walk-ons: Tailback Taylor Ross had a long run and wide receiver Robby Kolanz leaped between two defenders to make a nice grab.

    Recruits in attendance

    DL Michael Wyche (Monterey Park, Calif./East Los Angeles College), LB D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito), OL Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and class of 2016 WR Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra).

    Quotebook

    “I’m at 198 pounds right now; I was at 208 last year. It’s easier to move around at this weight, but I was cramping up a little today because I haven’t bent this much in a long time. I like that this defensive scheme holds the secondary accountable because everybody in the back end is in man-to-man coverage. In high school, when I played free safety I was just roaming around, relying on my talent. Now I understand how to read offenses, I know my keys and how to read the quarterback.” – safety Dion Bailey

    “I worked on my decision-making the most in the offseason. Making the right decision is what will win games. The Sun Bowl game gives me the drive to show something different; I’m very much looking forward to that. As far as the quarterback competition, we all know the reality of the situation. Someone will be named the starter and we all know that. We all spend so much time together and we’re friends, but we don’t talk about who will win the job. (Wittek was asked if he would consider transferring if he didn’t win the job) I will cross that bridge if it comes to that.” – quarterback Max Wittek

    “I worked a lot this offseason on making sure I give my receivers a chance to make plays, to not overthrow them. We’ve got the kind of receivers that, if you give them a chance, they will do a lot of good things. It comes down to trust as a quarterback, trust in your guys to go get the ball. I also worked on being a field general, being a leader. It’s things like being the first guy in the meeting room, being there in the mornings when guys want to throw, just doing the right thing by example.” – quarterback Cody Kessler

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