USC Trojans: Jordan Simmons

No position group at USC entered the spring surrounded by more uncertainty than the offensive line. With the key losses of Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz, a new position coach in Tim Drevno, and the offense transitioning into Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo, shotgun-based attack, no one knew quite what to expect. While there was certainly plenty of good to take away from their performance this spring, this is still a unit with more than a few question marks.

Both guard spots open

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsNo matter the position, Max Tuerk figures to have a starting job on USC's OL.
With only eight healthy scholarship players available, it was hard to ever get a real solid read on the offensive line, and as Sarkisian recently noted, this is a unit that will need to be solidified in the coming months.

That’s particularly the case at the guard positions, where, during spring drills, the Trojans featured a starting duo of early-entrant freshman Toa Lobendahn at left guard and second-year freshman Khaliel Rodgers at right guard.

And while both players – particularly Lobendahn -- showed promise, the entire competition at those spots is set to change dramatically as the Trojans gain an influx of talent from incoming freshmen as well as players returning from injury.

Of those players on the mend, senior Aundrey Walker, who is returning from a broken ankle, will be watched with particular interest. Establishing himself as a reliable starter at right guard in 2013 after an up-and-down 2012 campaign at tackle, he possesses veteran experience that could be invaluable to this unit.

Jordan Simmons, returning from a torn ACL, is a big mauler who was really starting to stand out in practice prior to his injury in the fall, and he’s another player who could make a run at a starting job on the interior.

Of course, in the case of both Walker and Simmons, it’s how their recovery goes, and what kind of shape they come back in -- particularly with the conditioning required for the new offense -- that will likely play the biggest role in determining whether or not they’re able to jump in and perform at a high level when fall camp opens up.

And then there is fifth-year senior Giovanni Di Poalo, as well as a pair of incoming freshmen guard candidates -- Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Both youngsters arrive not only with more than their fair share of accolades, but also with unique talent and tremendous size -- giving them the look of potential instant impact performers.

Center of attention

With Martin off to the NFL, one of the new staff’s biggest priorities heading into spring practice was to find a capable starter at center. Max Tuerk, a tried and tested veteran who started 13 games at left guard in 2013, and the majority of the prior season at left tackle, wound up getting the call. While he did have some occasional difficulties in the snapping department, he performed solidly for the most part.

Chris Brown
Blair Angulo/ESPNIncoming freshman Chris Brown has been taking a lot of reps at right tackle during summer workouts.
Still, while Sarkisian lauded Tuerk’s overall ability during the recent Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, he also appeared to leave the door open for competition through fall camp, so this isn’t over just yet. Both Di Poalo and Lobendahn lined up at the position in the spring, and have continued to do so this summer during the team’s volunteer workouts. Talamaivao is another key name to watch here, as he too, has been taking reps at this spot over the course of the last week. It will also be interesting to see if Mama gets a look here when he arrives on campus.

If Sarkisian and Co. did decide to go with someone other than Tuerk here, it’s a virtual certainty that the junior would still line up as a starter somewhere else. Arguably the Trojans’ sturdiest pound-for-pound offensive lineman, he could conceivably slide back over to left guard or either of the tackle spots without a hitch.

Stability at tackle

While the interior of the line still isn’t totally set, the Trojans do appear to be in better shape at both of the tackle spots -- at least when it comes to the starters.

No player drew more praise from Sarkisian following spring drills than third-year sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler. Having started every game last season, he looks primed for a fantastic 2014 campaign.

Over on the right side, the emergence of Zach Banner -- who sat out most of last season after having hip surgery -- was one of the great revelations of the spring. Performing at the highest level of his career, the 6-foot-9, 345-pounder took over with the No. 1 group in place of Nathan Guertler midway through camp and never looked back. Considering the fact that he said that he wasn’t even quite back to 100 percent during those workouts, there’s reason to believe he’s only going to get better, and it will be interesting to see just how much farther he can continue to progress this offseason.

Still, Drevno needs to find out who else he can count on to contribute at tackle, if nothing else, to provide depth. Early entrant freshman Jordan Austin and Guertler were the primary backups in the spring, and then there’s also Nico Falah -- returning from a back injury. Highly touted incoming freshman Chris Brown has also been taking reps at right tackle during summer drills.
As the countdown to the college football season inches closer – with less than 100 days to go before the season opener – that means it’s time for the annual rite of passage known as the summer workouts.

These conditioning sessions and throwing drills provide a look into the future when you see the varying degrees of work ethic and commitment that each squad puts in. It’s also the first real look at the incoming freshmen, to see where they stack up against the big boys in their transition to the next level.

One group that is certainly looking forward to these sessions are the players who were forced to miss spring ball because of injury. Steve Sarkisian made it clear that he erred on the side of caution with many players to hold them out – guys such as Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw come to mind – but there were others who missed time with injuries that have slowed their development and adjustment to the uptempo style of play.

Here are five players who missed spring ball but hope to begin the comeback to playing time by taking part in summer workouts.

LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took his turn on the phone on Thursday during the Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, revealing that among his biggest concerns for the Trojans heading into the fall is finding the right combination along the offensive line.

“Solidifying that front five -- who’s going to be where, that depth and all of that -- I think, is one key component for us,” Sarkisian said.

That doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, this past spring the Trojans were without a 2013 starter in senior guard Aundrey Walker (ankle), as well as promising guard/tackle Jordan Simmons (knee) and tackle Nico Falah (back), all to injuries, making the lack of depth a glaring issue.

The Trojans featured a No. 1 offensive line unit throughout the majority of the March and April workouts that was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Toa Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk played center all spring and is almost certain to start somewhere on the line this fall.
But with Walker, Simmons and Falah all expected to return in time for fall camp, on top of the fact that the unit will add a trio of highly touted freshmen to the mix in Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the starting group could potentially have a very different look when the Trojans open up against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

Sarkisian noted that Mama and Talamaivao will both begin their USC careers on the interior. He did not discuss Brown, but most consider him to have the ability to line up at guard or tackle.

How the players who are coming off injury, as well those freshman additions, adjust to the new uptempo system and how they perform in fall camp will play a major part in what kind of role they’re ultimately going to play.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sarkisian said. “So, that’s why the challenge is so big for us of how we’re handling that first week to get guys opportunities to show what they’re about, so we can start developing some cohesiveness amongst that offensive front as we move toward the season.”

Sarkisian spoke glowingly of Wheeler and also praised Tuerk, Lobendahn and Banner for their efforts this past spring. He also noted that Tuerk will continue to line up at center, where he played during the entirety of the spring, but he appeared to leave the door open for others to still compete at the position.

“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“

Response to SEC decision

One topic that was brought up throughout the call to all of the Pac-12 coaches was the Southeastern Conference’s recent decision to stick to an eight-game conference schedule.

With college football moving to a four-team playoff next season, the trend has been for conferences to adopt a nine-game conference schedule. Pac-12 and Big 12 teams already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten is scheduled to make the change in 2016.

When asked about the SEC’s decision, Sarkisian took the opportunity to praise the Pac-12 while also expressing his desire for a level playing field down the line.

“The Pac-12 has been on the forefront of the scheduling thing here for quite some time,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s encouraging to see that the majority of college football is moving their way towards nine. I think for college football to find the common ground, the more areas we can all be the same so that there’s a competitive and level playing field for everybody, I think should be the goal.”

Hawkins impresses

When asked if there were any redshirt freshmen who stood out to him this spring at USC, Sarkisian answered with cornerback Chris Hawkins.

“From all of the accounts of all of the people that were here on the previous staff, he has really matured mentally and physically,” Sarkisian said. “I thought his body has really changed. I thought he had a very good spring for us.”

Simmons an X-factor on USC O-line 

April, 17, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans fans will be flocking to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday for not only a controlled spring game, but a first-hand look at head coach Steve Sarkisian’s breathless no-huddle offense and new multiple-scheme defense.

In addition, attendees will also have an opportunity to scrutinize the individual progress of the returning quarterbacks, the promised power-running attack, the monster-sized defensive line, and the general intrigue of a new program.

What fans of the Men of Troy won’t be seeing is a finished offensive line product due to a couple “X-factors.” One of those X-factors is returning senior starter Aundrey Walker, who is still recovering from a broken ankle and won’t play on Saturday.

However, there is a perhaps a more captivating X-factor, a young player who could have a major impact in both the offensive line’s immediate future and down the road.


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A look at USC's rehabbing players

April, 10, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- They observe in jerseys, and for those who can, they participate in controlled spring conditioning drills, walk-throughs, and mental preparation. Some even walk the steep steps of the Coliseum from bottom to top and back down again.

But no matter what they do, USC's walking wounded aren’t remotely in the same condition as their healthy brethren, who are fit enough to stretch the limits of their physical being in Steve Sarkisian’s nonstop practice pace.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJustin Davis isn't a factor this spring, but his work ethic and motor will help him be ready for fall camp.
Sarkisian, USC's first-year head coach, is a great believer in muscle memory, which basically means one learns from doing rather than watching. In his incredibly fast paced, no-huddle offense and rotating defense, muscle memory must also go hand-in-hand with muscle conditioning.

Despite watching their teammates practice and condition at a pace not seen on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields, there is an uneasiness that come regular season camp, in the heat of summer, the currently rehabilitating players could be in for a major conditioning shock.

Sarkisian feels that his available players in spring ball are now rounding into the type of shape needed for the regular season, and spring ball has been a catalyst to being in the type of condition needed for fall competition.

“That’s why we practice the way that we do,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why we make it as hard we can throughout practice. This prepares our guys for a game-like atmosphere.”

Come practice in August, Sarkisian expects his healthy players to return ready to go from a conditioning standpoint, and he also knows the conditioning challenge is even more pronounced for those rehabbing.

“The guys [who] are injured have their work cut out for them when they get back,” Sarkisian said.

Here are six rehabilitating players being held out of spring ball (for the most part) who are expected to be key contributors in 2014. They all will be faced with the challenge of getting into “Sarkisian shape” by early August:

• RB Justin Davis: Given the sophomore’s early track record of success on and off the field, Davis -- who suffered a season-ending broken ankle in 2013 -- figures to be ready with an indisputable work ethic and relentless motor. Expect him to enter fall camp in top condition.

• LB Lamar Dawson: Recovering from a left knee injury, this senior will not only battle junior Anthony Sarao for his starting inside linebacker position, but he will have to be in the type of shape that Sarao knows all too well. Sarao has really come on and plays with a high motor and intelligence, so Dawson has his work cut out for him in more ways than one.

• WR Steven Mitchell: The redshirt freshman is an electrifying player when healthy. Recovering from tearing ligaments in his right knee during the summer of 2013, Mitchell says he is still on the mend but expects to be in ready to go in August. A hard worker, the former Bishop Alemany star’s return would be a major addition for the currently ultra-thin receiving corps.

• OG Jordan Simmons: With his size (6-foot-4, 335) and the pace of the offense, will the sophomore be able to come into camp in the type of shape needed for the no-huddle offense? Simmons, recovering from knee surgery, could very well be a key and the final piece of the offensive line. So far Simmons is still potential and an unproven talent.

• TE Randall Telfer: With Xavier Grimble leaving early for the NFL draft, it appeared that Telfer would step right in. The senior might still do so, but he has been held out of spring ball with a knee issue, and his absence has opened the way for an impressive March and April by junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. It would behoove Telfer to be in the best condition of his Trojans career to hold off Cope-Fitzpatrick and the incoming presence of true freshman talent Bryce Dixon.

• OG Aundrey Walker: There are those both within the team and onlookers who say that Walker, now a senior, has the talent. But does he have the motivation? The Ohio native has spent spring practice observing and going through “soft” drills, but one wonders how the 6-foot-6, 300-pound guard will cope with the physical and mental conditioning demands to play in Sarkisian’s never-take-a-breath offense.
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LOS ANGELES -- Through a crush of digital cameras and recorders, new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was given the requisite initial questions following his first official practice as USC’s head coach.

“What’s it like being back?”

“How was the walk onto the practice field?”

“What’s it like coaching some of the guys you recruited at Washington?”

Yada, yada, yada.

It didn’t take long, however, for the queries to turn to the quarterbacks. Much like last season, anytime USC has a quarterback competition it’s going to be in the national spotlight. For now, save the cards -- score, report or otherwise -- because to speculate on the quarterbacks after one practice barely scratches the surface of superficial. Particularly since, as Sarkisian noted, “we were practicing in our underwear.”

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler led USC to 10 wins last season, but his status as starting quarterback is not guaranteed.
To be clear, the Trojans wore shorts and helmets. But the lingering question throughout spring and into the fall will be whether Cody Kessler will retain his starting job, or give way to Max Browne.

Neither quarterback seemed particularly thrilled to be talking about a competition on Day 1.

“I’m just trying to get better every practice,” Kessler said. “I’m going to keep working. I’ve been competing my whole life. And even if (there wasn’t a competition) I’d keep competing. It is what it is and I’m just going to keep trying to get better.”

At first glance, the assumption is that Kessler has the inside edge given his experience. Last season he completed 236 of 361 passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He posted a raw QBR of 59.7 with an adjusted QBR of 66.7 in guiding the Trojans to a 10-4 record and a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, where he was named the game’s MVP.

“I thought they both did some good stuff,” Sarkisian said. “They both had some moments they’d love to have back. We have to look at the film. We’re moving at a pretty fast clip out there, and you’re trying to assess everything at once, and it’s hard to do that. There’s plenty of stuff for both of them to learn from.”

Then again, Max Wittek had more experience than Kessler heading into spring last season. So as far as Browne is concerned, it’s wide open.

“Since the day I got here we’ve all competed each and every day,” said Browne, who redshirted last season. “My mindset hasn’t changed. Even last year when it was a Week 7 game and I knew I was redshirting, I was still competing ... It’s no secret he led us to 10 wins last year. We had a lot of success. But we’re both going to come out and compete each and every day and see where the chips fall.”

Max in the middle

Those in attendance for the open practice might have noticed big No. 75 playing center. You might recall that Max Tuerk spent about a week at center last spring but couldn’t quite get the quarterback-center exchange figured out -- mostly because Tuerk’s arms are so long.

But with Marcus Martin departing -- and the new scheme being installed by Sarkisian working almost exclusively out of the shotgun -- the versatile Tuerk could be the primary guy in the middle.

“We didn’t snap any over the quarterback’s head,” Sarkisian said. “So knock on wood. And there were no grounders. That was the first thing I was concerned about coming out today.”

Tuerk is obviously a fan of the shotgun. As a consummate team player, he’s happy going wherever the team needs him, as he started 13 games at left guard and one game at right tackle last season. In his freshman season he started five at left tackle.

“He could probably play three different positions,” Sarkisian said. “We have to see how we evolve. At some point we’ll get Aundrey Walker back and Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons. We have some versatility on this front. But it is comforting to know you have an experienced player at center when you are operating at this pace.”

Speaking of pace

The hot buzz word at practice was “tempo” because of the fast-paced offense that Sarkisian is installing. The Trojans ran approximately 120 offensive plays with little time to rest in between.

The upside is that the pace boosts conditioning and gets the Trojans more prepared for a game situation. The downside is it doesn’t allow for much in-practice instruction.

“If you make a mistake, you’re glad you’re going right back,” Browne said. “If you throw a touchdown, like I did today to George Katrib, you don’t get to time to celebrate either. It works both ways. But it allows you to get into a rhythm. You can dink-and-dunk your way down the field and never really get time to breathe.”

Roundtable: USC spring storylines

February, 19, 2014
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WeAreSC staffers give opinions on topics related to Trojans football:

What storyline will you be most interested to follow in spring ball?

[+] EnlargeWashington's Justin Wilcox
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonIt should be interesting to see how the USC defense evolves this spring with Justin Wilcox calling the shots.
Garry Paskwietz: I’ll be watching to see how the defense begins to take shape under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. One of the things that worked so well for the Trojans last season was the way the USC defensive personnel fit so smoothly within the 5-2 scheme utilized by former coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Wilcox says he wants to get a look at the USC players on the field to see how their skills fit before he commits to a particular scheme, so it could be a very fluid situation in spring. How does the rotation look along the line, especially with the need to replace George Uko? Who steps up to fill the edge-rush spots at outside linebacker? Will Su’a Cravens be used in much the same way Shaq Thompson was at Washington? These and many other questions will begin to get answered when the Trojans hit the field next month.

Johnny Curren: I’m most interested to see how the new up-tempo offense that USC coach Steve Sarkisian plans to install comes along, and how the current Trojans players adapt to playing in it. Sarkisian has stated before that although fast-paced, it will still essentially be a pro-style, run-first offense, but there are still bound to be several significant differences from USC offenses of the past, and there are plenty of questions heading into the spring that won’t begin to be answered until the team hits the practice field. Will one of the quarterbacks -- Cody Kessler, Max Browne or Jalen Greene -- prove to be particularly adept at directing the new attack? Will the quarterbacks be asked to run more? Will more of an emphasis be placed on throwing to the tight end, as Sarkisian did at Washington, and will Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick thrive in the potentially expanded role? Will we see more wideouts involved? Will the fullback really be utilized? Most importantly, though, will it all result in an offense that is more explosive, and in the end, more productive? In less than a month we’ll start to find out.

Greg Katz: The O-line gets top billing here, especially the center position, which is key with the early departure of All-Pac-12 center Marcus Martin to the NFL draft. The candidates or position changes as it pertains to center could be fascinating because it could lead to a domino effect. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers, who should be a prime candidate for either center or guard. Another sidebar to the offensive line, of course, is the arrival of new coach Tim Drevno from the San Francisco 49ers. Watching his readjustment to college players and what’s available to him should be worth watching at spring practice.

As for an overall view, with a new system and terminology, the logical advantage for returners such as left tackle Chad Wheeler and right tackle Max Tuerk is starting experience. Tuerk, however, is one to keep an eye on to see if he stays at right tackle and is not moved to center. Rehabilitation for guards Jordan Simmons and Aundrey Walker make spring progress tough, but it should make for interesting competition to see how the available bodies fit into Sark’s “puzzle pieces.” What you see in the spring might not be the offensive line you see in the first game against Fresno State.
When USC opens spring practice on March 11, new offensive line coach Tim Drevno will begin the process of finding the most productive combination of players to fill out the starting unit. A collection of veterans, unproven underclassmen and two early entry freshmen make up a talented-but-thin group which will immediately be thrown into an atmosphere marked by heightened competition.


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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.
Here are 7 freshmen who could play much bigger roles for the Trojans in 2014:

• RB Ty Isaac: In his limited action so far in 2013 -- eight carries for 59 yards, a team leading 7.4 yards-per rush -- Isaac has shown that his future is bright. He has excellent size in the range of 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, plus he has a nice forward lean and pretty good speed. Silas Redd will be the only tailback to leave an already crowded rotation but Isaac should be able to quickly carve a niche as a power back with the capability of putting up good numbers.

[+] EnlargeLeon McQuay III
AP Photo/Gus RuelasFreshman safety Leon McQuay III had his first career interception in the Trojans' win over Utah.
• WR Darreus Rogers: It’s no surprise that Rogers is on this list, considering how injuries have been the only thing to slow him in his brief USC career. He had one catch in the first three games, did not play the next three, and then had 11 catches for 122 yards in the last two games combined when finally healthy. Rogers is a physically strong receiver who will find a lot of success with intermediate routes. If Marqise Lee leaves early for the draft, as is widely suspected, look for Rogers to move into the starting role alongside Nelson Agholor.

• OL Jordan Simmons: Among the USC reserve linemen, Simmons was the one most ready to step in as a major contributor before going down with a knee injury last week that will force him out of the remainder of the year. Assuming he is able to come back healthy for the start of 2014, he could definitely be in the mix for a starting spot depending upon how the rotation shakes out.

• DL Kenny Bigelow: There were a lot of expectations on Bigelow to come in and be an immediate contributor as a freshman this season but that just didn’t pan out. Bigelow has his moments on the practice field but there are also times when you can see that it was a big leap for him to be at the USC level. The redshirt year should do wonders and chances are Bigelow will be ready to play an expanded role along the line next fall.

• OLB Jabari Ruffin: Both of the USC outside linebackers will be graduating this year so chances are good that Ruffin will be filling one of the starting spots next year. Ruffin has been backing up Devon Kennard this year and has nine tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. He has also been an active part of special teams.

• CB Chris Hawkins: The corner spot has been one of the biggest issues with the defense this year and Hawkins offers the promise of being a good addition to the group in 2014. Hawkins brings good fundamentals to the position and the redshirt year should allow him to add more bulk to his frame.

• S Leon McQuay III: There has been a lot of attention paid to fellow freshman safety Su’a Cravens -- and justifiably so -- but McQuay has been quietly improving on the practice field and even showed a glimpse of his future against Utah with three tackles and an interception in his first start. McQuay has also shown a real knack in practice for blocking field goals.

Five things: USC-Utah

October, 25, 2013
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Five things to watch for USC in the upcoming game against Utah:


Injuries: The long list of injuries for the Trojans is mind-numbing these days and three more players were lost for the season this week; linebacker Lamar Dawson (knee), tailback Justin Davis (ankle) and offensive guard Jordan Simmons (knee). These are not inconsequential losses as Dawson was fourth on the team in tackles and Davis was second on the team in rushing. At the end of Tuesday’s practice, only one scholarship receiver was available -- Darreus Rogers -- and there were no scholarship tight ends. How the USC injury list stands on Saturday may be as important to the outcome of the game as anything.

USC O-line vs Utah D-line: It was a rough night for the Trojans O-line against the Irish and it doesn’t figure to get a whole lot easier this week against a defensive line that paves the way for the conference lead in sacks. The Utes have 22 sacks on the year and 16 come from the line. They are a strong and aggressive group, led by a pair of outside pass rushers in Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard. Under normal circumstances the Trojans would use the tight ends to help with blocking assignments so this is yet another area where injuries could come into play.

USC corners vs. Utah pass game: The Trojans pass defense has been a struggle for the past three games and interim coach Ed Orgeron has decided to address things with a position change. Josh Shaw will move from safety to corner, the position he played earlier in the season. Orgeron is confident that the presence of Shaw will help to correct things, noting that the problems were not there earlier when Shaw was at corner. The ability of Utah to attack USC is the passing game will depend largely on the health of Utes quarterback Travis Wilson, who suffered a hand injury last week against Arizona but is expected to play on Saturday.

Kicking competition: After Andre Heidari missed two of three field goals against Notre Dame, Orgeron announced that the place-kicker job would be open for competition this week. Heidari, who has been the starter since his freshman year, admitted after Wednesday’s practice that he is in “a funk” with his kicking but he is confident he can work out of it. Alex Wood and Craig McMahon are being given longer looks in practice with a decision expected Friday after Orgeron meets with special teams coach John Baxter.

How do Trojans respond: It was an emotional scene in the USC locker room after the game in South Bend and it was obvious that was a game the players really wanted. They had fought hard but just weren’t able to pull it out. What made it even more interesting is how many players talked about how they wanted to win it for Orgeron. The interim coach has put a much-needed focus on the players, on keeping their spirits up, and that energy will need to continue because there is no time for a letup against Utah. Don’t forget that the Utes are the one team this year that has defeated Stanford.

Planning for success: USC

October, 24, 2013
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Some of the most glaring issues for the Trojans last week in the loss to Notre Dame were the troubles along the offensive line with penalties, miscommunication and signs of physical dominance from the Irish defensive line.

Well, it’s time to get back to work on the practice field for the USC O-line because another tough test will be coming to town on Saturday in the form of the Utah Utes. While Utah may not present as much of a challenge as the Notre Dame line, it isn’t far behind.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Martin
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsTrojans center Marcus Martin (66) hopes the offensive line can cut down on penalties.
The Utes lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 22, and 16 of those come from the D-line. It’s an aggressive group that stood toe-to-toe with Stanford two weeks ago and came away with the most shocking upset of the year in the conference. The Cardinal have built their recent reputation on power football, but the Utes were able to hold them 50 yards below their normal rushing output.

For the Trojans, the theme of the practice week is accountability, following a game in which too many of the penalties came at critical times to halt USC momentum.

“As an offensive line, we are here to take responsibility and improve,” USC center Marcus Martin said. “It’s upsetting because penalties that take away explosive plays really hurt your offense. That’s our offensive line and we take full responsibility.”

One thing the USC O-line hasn’t had to deal with as much is injuries. While the rest of the Trojans offense seems to be an exercise in patchwork substitutions these days due to injuries, the offensive line has remained fairly intact. There was an unfortunate knee injury early in the week to reserve guard Jordan Simmons, which will keep him out for the remainder of the season but other than that the lineup for has been fairly consistent and should pay dividends at some point.

Even with the benefit of putting the same lineup on the field this week, the offensive line has struggled in protecting USC quarterback Cody Kessler, and that will be a key element to watch against Utah. The Trojans have given up 15 sacks on the season, a number that could definitely grow on Saturday. The Utes have a pair of 300-pound tackles in the middle of the defensive line, but most of the production comes from defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard, who will look to use their speed to cause havoc in the Trojans' backfield.

For the Trojans to come away with a win against Utah, the offensive line will need to show a one-week improvement.
LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday at the Coliseum and if you were waiting on a resolution to the quarterback battle, be prepared to wait a little longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The starting lineups were as follows:

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

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

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.
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.

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