USC Trojans: James Cregg

USC OL commit Austin ready to be molded 

August, 21, 2013
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CLAREMONT, Calif. -- USC commit Jordan Austin could do without the awards. Plaque for camp standout? Medal for best offensive lineman? Trophy for league most valuable player? Nope, Austin couldn't care less about the hardware.

The Claremont (Calif.) High School three-star offensive tackle has already bagged the one thing he’s been striving for the last three years, so nothing else could validate all of his hard work.

Three-star 2014 offensive lineman Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) had to hit the books Wednesday morning and had football practice later in the afternoon, so he didn’t have an opportunity to compete in USC’s Rising Stars Camp.

Still, Austin dropped by campus at the request of assistant coaches James Cregg and Mike Summers.

It’s a good thing he did.


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Notebook: Plattenburg makes noise 

May, 21, 2013
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Silence fell over the hundreds of athletes as they took a knee near the north end zone at Laney College. With the six-hour Nike Football Training Camp behind them, they nervously looked around in anticipation.

“And the defensive back MVP goes to…”

Would it be the favorite, five-star cornerback and ESPN 150 member Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)? Would it be Stanford safety commit Brandon Simmons (Arlington, Texas/Timberview)? Or would Northern California based four-star prospect Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) defend his turf?

It was neither.


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With a new position coach added to the fold, not to mention the loss of the unit’s veteran leader at center, there was an aura of change and opportunity surrounding the USC offensive line this spring that was clearly evident during the 15 practices. With that atmosphere serving as the backdrop, here are some of the biggest storylines of the offseason for a group looking to up their level of play in 2013.

New influence at the top

While the USC offensive line did allow a conference-best 17 total sacks in 2012, they also struggled against the more physical defensive fronts that they faced – most notably Stanford and Notre Dame. With that in mind, it’s obvious that in order for the Trojans to get back to their winning ways next season, they have to establish a tougher brand of play up front on offense. In an effort to do just that, Kiffin brought in highly regarded offensive line guru Mike Summers to team with James Cregg, the coach of the position group for the past three seasons. And with the unit showing flashes of improved play, with a nasty demeanor that wasn’t always there last fall, the addition of Summers – who has 32 years of experience – appears to have paid off. Still, as a whole, the Trojans offensive line isn’t where it needs to be just yet, because while they did make strides, they also had their issues on occasion when going up against the new-look USC defense. They still have much to prove, but if they’re able to take that next step under the watchful eyes of Summers and Cregg this offseason, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will be in good shape here in the fall.

Center of it all

Max Tuerk
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAfter giving him a tryout at center, Max Tuerk will likely be the left guard in 2013.
With the departure of center Khaled Holmes — a three-year starter and anchor of the offensive line – the search for his replacement became one of the major priorities of the spring. To everyone’s surprise, getting the first crack at the spot was Max Tuerk, who was coming off a stellar freshman campaign spent primarily at left tackle. And while the Santa Margarita (Calif.) graduate played solidly at the new position for the most part, there were more than a few instances of fumbled center-quarterback exchanges, causing the coaches to look elsewhere for an alternate option. Fortunately, they did find a very good one in junior Marcus Martin. A standout performer for the last two seasons as the starting left guard, he actually spent the majority of the bowl game workouts at center in December, giving him valuable experience at the position that certainly came in handy this spring. Looking comfortable and in control, he gained the confidence of everyone around him, including Kiffin. On the verge of what could be a very big season, Martin’s firm grasp of the position also allowed Tuerk to move over to left guard, the position he started at in the Sun Bowl, and where he’ll likely play in the fall. Cyrus Hobbi figures to be the primary backup to Martin.

Walker ready to make a statement at LT?

Another position of interest heading into the spring was the always-crucial left tackle spot, manned by a combination of Aundrey Walker and Tuerk in 2012. But with Tuerk’s move to center, and eventually left guard, this spot was all Walker’s for the taking this spring. Walker, whose career has been marked by its ups and downs so far, certainly appeared to play at a higher level than he has before, even holding off a push by redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler, who eventually went down with a PCL injury in his knee. Still, Walker continued to have his battles with consistency and questions remain. Is Walker the answer at left tackle? Can he provide the USC offense with a sturdy presence at the position that it will desperately need? Might he better be suited to play at guard – a move that was brought up by the coaches, but never acted upon – with Tuerk lining back over at tackle? For Walker, whose raw physical skills are undeniable, it’s how he continues to develop this offseason that will play a vital part in determining those answers.

Unexpected position battle

When the post-spring depth chart was released back in April, the most surprising bit of information revealed was that Kevin Graf – a tried and tested senior with two years of starting experience – was listed as sharing the top spot at right tackle with Wheeler, with the signature “OR” designation separating their names. It was a bit of a stunner on several levels. One, Graf had appeared to assert himself over the last two years as a dependable performer with a wealth of experience. Two, Wheeler had just been moved over to left tackle before the spring to challenge Walker. Instead, now it’s Graf that Wheeler will push this offseason on the right side. Having shown tremendous potential in the limited time that he took part in spring drills, Wheeler could make things interesting, but with a veteran with 25 starts to his credit standing in front of him, he certainly has an uphill battle on his hands. In either case, it would appear that the coaching staff has sent a message to Graf, and it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Decommitment heightens OL importance 

April, 25, 2013
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If there was a positive to draw from ESPN 150 offensive tackle Casey Tucker's decommitment from USC this week, it’s that it happened in April rather than, say, nine months from now.

Offensive line recruiting is undoubtedly a major focus in the 2014 recruiting class for the Trojans and new position coach Mike Summers. And while losing the top-rated lineman on the West Coast is never a good thing, there is a silver lining here: Summers and assistant James Cregg know where they stand.

Tucker, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound lineman from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, was committed for nine months. He visited the USC campus with his father, taking in a game at the Coliseum before returning home with what he called an "even stronger" commitment. He saw the Trojans limp their way through a rough 2012 season, yet stuck with his original pledge.

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USC offers local 2015 WR 

April, 18, 2013
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USC continued its local tour on Thursday, offering a scholarship to a fast-rising receiver on the fourth day of the spring evaluation period.

Long Beach (Calif.) Poly defensive back Iman Marshall was the first Class of 2015 prospect to receive good news this month when the Trojans offered. The Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive pair of Rasheem Green and John Houston Jr. was next.

On Thursday, it was Diamond Bar (Calif.) receiver Cordell Broadus’ turn.


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Recruiting notebook: Coaches hit road 

April, 16, 2013
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USC linebackers coach Mike Ekeler returned to his old stomping grounds Monday, kicking off the spring evaluation period by visiting ESPN Watch List member Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South) and tight end Ian Bunting (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central).

Ekeler, who left Indiana in February to join the Trojans’ coaching staff, attended Garrett’s morning workout before making the 23-mile trip to Bunting’s school. Both prospects hold USC offers.


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Recruits take in USC spring game 

April, 15, 2013
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ESPN Watch List offensive tackle Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./Country Day School) committed to USC last June, long before the Trojans stumbled through a disappointing season and replaced his future position coach, James Cregg, with Mike Summers.

Several big-name schools have maintained their recruitment of the massive 6-foot-7, 330-pound prospect, but the Poland has not backed off his pledge. He attended USC’s spring game Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum and came away impressed with the line.

“Coach Summers has definitely impacted the linemen, but in a good way,” Poland said. “Their technique looks more sound than it did before. He’s been implementing a lot more drills they weren’t accustomed to, so he’s definitely making them look good.”

Though he’s still hearing from various schools and plans to take a few trips this summer, the initial returns this spring have solidified Poland’s commitment.

“When it comes down to committing, you want to be loyal to the school,” Poland said. “I’m happy with the school I’m committed to right now. Yes, a lot of schools are after me and I’m keeping my options open, but I’m happy to be a Trojan.”

Alabama, Michigan and Oregon are the three schools in heavy pursuit, Poland said. He intends to visit those schools sometime this summer.

“If I had to choose any other schools,” he said, “those would definitely be the ones I’d pick.”

Country Day School is an academically rigorous institution, so Poland hasn’t had much free time since the football season ended. He has used up all of his high school eligibility after transferring from Arizona, but is heading into his senior year academically.

“I’m looking to maybe play in a travel basketball team, but I’m not sure,” Poland said. “I might just stick to my football training. Everything is still in order for me to enroll early if things keep going well the way they have been.”

Poland became the first member of the 2014 recruiting class when he committed to USC on June 9. Back then, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, and limited scholarships were up for grabs.

“You’d expect more from one of the powerhouse football schools but, at the same time, I still like what the school can do when you step off the field,” Poland said. “It doesn’t affect my decision of going there at all, really. I know what the coaches can teach me ... Coach Cregg is a good dude and a good coach. He’s definitely a good piece of the team and he helps in a lot of positive ways. I keep in contact with him the most.”.”


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Spring preview: USC offense 

March, 4, 2013
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With the start of spring practice set for Tuesday, here’s a position-by-position look at who you can expect to see lining up for the Trojans on offense.

Quarterback

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Roundtable: How will new staff work out? 

February, 28, 2013
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Now that the coaching staff is set, give your thoughts on the coaching moves and how you think the new staff will shake out.

Garry Paskwietz
I like the vast majority of the changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. There had to be a change at the top, and the move from Monte Kiffin to Clancy Pendergast should be a good one.


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Q&A: Four-star OL Khaliel Rodgers 

January, 8, 2013
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Four-star offensive line commit Khaliel Rodgers (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) had a stellar showing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl week in San Antonio, Texas, proving himself against some of the best competition in the country. He spoke to WeAreSC about the experience:

[+] EnlargeKhaliel Rodgers
Courtesy Maggie ThomasFour-star OL and USC commit Khaliel Rodgers (55) recaps his experience at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
WeAreSC: There’s been a lot of talk about your showing in Texas. How would you assess your performance?
Rodgers: Every critic and every person that looked at me and evaluated me thought I did excellent. I think I did well. I think I really established myself as the top guard in the nation. I did well against everybody that was there.

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Will it be Walker or Tuerk?

September, 19, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin didn't really hide his displeasure with left tackle Aundrey Walker after the Stanford game, saying Sunday he was going to give freshman Max Tuerk repetitions at the starting left tackle spot this week to open up the competition there.

Tuesday, Kiffin opened up about why Walker was being challenged for his starting job but expressed confidence he would retain it.

"We won't tolerate (a) lack of great effort," Kiffin said. "Not when you put on these jerseys that all these great players have worn before.

"I think Aundrey's going to respond well to this."

Walker's effort in the fourth quarter against the Cardinal was clearly subpar. He can be seen on tape standing as a defender passes him by multiple times, and that clearly didn't go over well with Kiffin or offensive line coach James Cregg.

Kiffin said Walker was doing alright earlier in the game, before Stanford took the lead and he began to tire.

"He actually had a pretty good first half," Kiffin said. "And then the second half didn't play as well as we'd like, performance-wise and effort-wise."

Asked Tuesday if he felt he gave a good effort in the second half of Saturday's game, Walker smiled.

"I'm going to leave that behind me," he said. "That game is in the past. I'm just looking forward to this week."

Tuerk took over at left tackle in fall camp when Walker was out because of an injury and seemed to improve daily. But, at 6 feet 6, 275 pounds, he's considered small and inexperienced for the college level.

He has been noted to give great effort, though.

Kiffin said Tuesday it was "too hard to make a judgment without going back through the film" of the competition between Walker and Tuerk.

"But we're looking for finish, great effort," he said. "Guys are going to get beat. Guys are going to drop balls, just like we told our team Sunday: You're going to make mistakes."

How much was Holmes missed?

September, 18, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC receiver Robert Woods was asked after the Trojans practiced Tuesday if he was surprised they scored only 14 points in their Saturday loss to the Stanford Cardinal.

His answer was simple, direct and telling.

"We missed Khaled Holmes, the leader of our front," Woods said. "But we still have guys who can fill in, and we just gotta do better and play Trojan football."

Excusing the cliché in the final phrase of his comment, Woods' words have plenty of validity. Holmes' absence played in a role in USC's loss, but was it an even bigger role than initially realized? Would the outcome have been different if Holmes had started the game? It's impossible to know.

Coach Lane Kiffin has said this week Holmes will start against Cal on Saturday if he's healthy. Second in line would be senior Abe Markowitz, followed by freshman Cyrus Hobbi, who started against Stanford.

Kiffin said again Tuesday that Hobbi was put in an almost impossible situation against the Cardinal.

"Like I said right after the game, I don't care who it is, that's a hard job," Kiffin said. "Your first time really playing college football, you've got to go on the road against those guys -- we're not running the ball, so we're having to throw the ball a lot -- they did a really good job no matter who it was. In that game, people would argue that (the center was) the most important person you could miss in that game."

Offensive line coach James Cregg said he thought Hobbi did a great job considering the circumstances.

"I give him a lot of credit for playing his butt off," Cregg said. "It's the heat of the moment, and it's hard to practice that."

Markowitz said Tuesday he's healthy this week and will be ready to go against Cal if called upon -- not that he wasn't ready to go last week, when he almost was put in the game despite an injury suffered the previous week against Syracuse.

"I've been here just as long as Khaled and been in every meeting with him," Markowitz said. "I'm prepared. I'm ready to take snaps at guard or center."
BELLFLOWER, Calif. -- Four-star offensive tackle Nico Falah pulled out a USC hat, put it on and showed off his patented smile Wednesday night, committing to the Trojans over the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins during a ceremony at St. John Bosco High School.

"I knew about a month ago," Falah said. "I felt good there, felt comfortable. The legacy at left tackle at USC is big. I want to be there."

It capped a successful day for Trojans offensive line coach James Cregg, who landed Falah and four-star guard Khaliel Rodgers (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) in a matter of hours. Rodgers and Falah became the 12th and 13th members, and only offensive linemen, in USC's stacked 2013 class.

The commitment from Southern California's top-rated lineman continued USC's dominant stretch in recruiting, which clearly hasn't been hindered by the NCAA mandated scholarship limitations. Falah, the state's only offensive lineman with an offer from USC, initially hoped to announce his decision on signing day, but that became unrealistic when he realized he wanted to stay close to home. His decision became easier once the Trojans offered him a scholarship and the 6-foot-4, 267-pound athlete narrowed down his choice to the locals, trimming a long list of offers that included the likes Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Last year Falah spearheaded a St. John Bosco offensive line that helped the team to an average of over 400 yards of offense per game.

Here is a portion of the scouting reporting from Falah's ESPN evaluation:

“This is a very effective downfield blocker with the physical tools and athletic ability to make all the run blocks at the next level. His long arms and nimble feet should be assets in pass protection; can set quickly with good bend; has the ability to slide and play flat footed while demonstrating the athleticism needed to handle movement and get out of trouble. We see the need to polish all areas of hand use. This guy is a tough customer who flashes a mean streak when finishing blocks.”

Four-star Falah set to announce 

July, 10, 2012
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The football room at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif. figures to draw quite the crowd Wednesday evening for four-star offensive tackle Nico Falah's highly anticipated college announcement.

After Bosco's four-hour summer practice, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman will clean up, make his way to the ceremony and officially commit. He'll utter either three letters or four -- USC or UCLA.

"I'm staying close to home. That's the only hint," Falah said.

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