USC Trojans: Junior Pomee

With the Trojans inching closer and closer toward the start of fall camp, here’s a look at some of the top offseason storylines for a collection of offensive talent that will be hauling in passes from a new signal caller in 2013 – the USC wide receivers and tight ends.

Lee the leader

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMarqise Lee showed good chemistry with USC's new quarterbacks in spring practice.
Marqise Lee’s production on the field for the Trojans over the course of the last two years has been nothing less than spectacular. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, he set single-season Pac-12 records for both receptions (118) and receiving yardage (1,721), and he already ranks sixth on the USC career pass-catching list with 191 grabs.

But with Lee’s trusted quarterback Matt Barkley now a Philadelphia Eagle and his receiving counterpart Robert Woods a Buffalo Bill, he has a somewhat unfamiliar cast around him heading into the 2013 season. Fortunately for the Trojans, Lee clicked with the new passers right off the bat and looked better than ever this spring, even after missing several workouts with a minor knee injury. How he continues to mesh with those new faces this offseason certainly figures to play a crucial part in determining how he, and the entire offense, performs this season – particularly early on. Just as importantly, with veterans such as Barkley and Woods gone – not to mention Khaled Holmes and T.J. McDonald – Lee is now the irrefutable face of the program, and he’ll need to make his presence felt as the team’s unquestioned leader for the first time. It's a role he seemed to embrace this past March and April.

Agholor’s time to shine

The departure of Woods certainly dealt a blow to the USC offense, but it also opened the door for someone else to come in and take the No. 2 receiver job, and that’s precisely what Nelson Agholor did this spring, and in convincing fashion. Building off of a freshman campaign in which he made 19 receptions for 340 yards and two touchdowns, the Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep graduate made highlight play after highlight play on a daily basis, emerging as arguably the most consistent performer of the entire spring. A technician and big-play threat all rolled into one, with what he showed – and assuming he continues to develop through the summer and on into fall camp – there’s reason to believe that he’s on the verge of breaking out in 2013.

No. 3 WR job up for grabs

With Lee and Agholor firmly entrenched as the starters, everyone else has been left battling for the role as the team’s No. 3 receiver, and it’s still wide open at this point – particularly with George Farmer sidelined for the season with a torn ACL. It’s a fierce competition featuring a host of talented candidates ready to make a significant impact for the first time as Trojans, and it figures to heat up even more once fall camp begins in August.

Toward the end of the spring, Victor Blackwell seemed to make the biggest statement with his play. Emerging as a reliable pass-catcher with speed to boot, he caught seven passes for 155 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. When the post-spring depth chart was released, however, Blackwell found himself sitting behind promising early-entrant freshman Darreus Rogers. Extremely physical and athletic, Rogers has through-the-roof potential, and the coaches are obviously very interested to see how he comes along over the next few months. Veteran redshirt senior De’Von Flournoy was another solid, all-around option who showed well. And then there’s Steven Mitchell, an incoming freshman out of Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany. Already making a splash in the team’s offseason passing sessions, he has game-breaking ability. He could end up factoring into the discussion here more than people might have previously expected.

Low on depth, high on talent at tight end

With the loss of Christian Thomas to medical retirement on top of the uncertain status of Junior Pomee because of some off the field problems, the Trojans currently find themselves with just three tight ends on scholarship. Fortunately for Lane Kiffin and Co., all three of those players are extremely skilled. Garnering the lion’s share of the attention has been redshirt juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, and justifiably so. Two seasoned players who have split the bulk of the reps at the position for the past two years, they’re both phenomenal athletes with standout receiving skills. Throw in the emergence of sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick this spring and the USC offense now has a formidable trio of tight ends to call upon. The big question is, will it? As a group, the tight ends made just 43 receptions in 2012 – a number that seems glaringly low when you consider the talent at the position. The ball did seem to head their way with greater frequency this spring, particularly in the final scrimmage, when Cope-Fitzpatrick collected six grabs. Whether or not that trend continues into the fall remains to be seen.
LOS ANGELES -- It’s been less than three weeks since USC wrapped up spring ball, but there the Trojans were this past Monday and Wednesday, a large collection of players tossing the ball around on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field. It was the usual suspects making the majority of the big plays during the volunteer passing sessions -- guys such as Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Nelson Agholor. But there was one more slightly under-the-radar player who stood out too, just as he quietly did throughout the spring -- tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

[+] EnlargeJalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJalen Cope-Fitzpatrick broke out in the spring game, hauling in six passes.
“It’s great to get back to work,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “Any time you get to play football, it’s always a blessing, especially with the weather that we’ve been having. We’re just having fun putting in work as a team.”

Showcasing soft hands and looking quick and fluid in running his routes, the 6-foot-5 sophomore with two career catches under his belt has taken his game to another level over the course of the last two months, emerging as a more-than-capable option at a position that certainly could use his services this fall. After all, while Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer make up what is arguably one of the top tight end duos in all of college football -- the Trojans currently only three scholarship players at the position with Junior Pomee's status unclear. In terms of depth, that’s a dangerously low number, as USC head coach Lane Kiffin found out the hard way this past spring.

Grimble first went down with a chest fracture midway through the spring. Then in the final week of workouts, Telfer was forced to the sideline with a torn meniscus in his knee. Fortunately for Kiffin and Co., Cope-Fitzpatrick was waiting in the wings and ready for a chance to make a statement. And that’s precisely what the Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney product did, particularly in the spring game when, as the only true tight end available, he came through with a big six-catch performance.

And while that outing undoubtedly served as a major confidence booster for Cope-Fitzpatrick, it’s the increased workload that he shouldered throughout the March and April practices that has proven to be even more valuable.

“The game is starting to slow down, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident in my game,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “Instead of pressing like I might have before, I’m starting to use my natural abilities. It was just about getting reps in -- and not even so much the physical reps, but it was more about the mental reps. I spent a lot of time in the classroom really breaking down what I needed to work on.”

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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans opened up the 2013 spring ball practice session with a spirited workout, which is typical for the first day of spring.

“I thought things looked good today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “That is usually the case in spring, guys are fired up to get out here and start going to work. I also liked what I saw from our coaches, especially since some of them have only been with us for a short time. They were really ready to go.”

One of the new items to watch for the Trojans this spring is the 5-2 defense which is run by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Kiffin said that getting the new defense set is the top priority of spring and the highlight play of the day was an example of how the defense can shine. Jabari Ruffin -- who was lined up at defensive end -- had an interception of a Cody Kessler pass after dropping back into coverage and leaping in the air to make the play.

Kessler is part of what is expected to be an intense quarterback competition along with Max Wittek and Max Browne. Kiffin said Kessler was on schedule to be named MVP of the day until the interception and he also liked what he saw from his true freshman.

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Spring preview: USC 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

WeAreSC Roundtable 

February, 21, 2013
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Adoree JacksonBlair Angulo/WeAreSC.comGardena (Calif.) Serra Watch List cornerback Adoree' Jackson is a must-get for the Trojans as far as the WeAreSC Roundtable is concerned.
What positions does USC need to focus on in recruiting the 2014 class?


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Early look: 2013 offensive depth chart 

February, 8, 2013
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Max WittekCal Sport Media/AP ImagesMax Wittek should enter spring ball as the No. 1 QB, but there will be serious competition.

With signing day now in the books, here’s a look at where the current USC depth chart might stand on the offensive side of the ball with the new additions factored in.

Quarterback
Max Wittek (6-4, 235, RS So.) OR
Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.) OR
Max Browne (6-5, 215, Fr.).


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2014 ATH Vincent Jackson weighs options 

November, 13, 2012
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When recruits gathered to form a huddle around USC tight ends coach Justin Mesa following a drill at the Rising Stars Camp this past summer, the message was not necessarily an uplifting one for some optimistic Class of 2013 prospects.

[+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.com2014 ATH Vincent Jackson has dozens of offers, including one from USC.
With redshirt sophomores Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble and freshmen Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Junior Pomee on the Trojans’ depth chart, there wouldn’t be a pressing need for a tight end in the current class, recruits were told. The news was hardly surprising, but it caught the attention of Class of 2014 athlete Vincent Jackson (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit).

“They got us in a group and basically told us they were sorry, but they weren’t really looking for a tight end this year,” Jackson recalled. “I’m not really sure how that affects my year, though.”

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WeAreSC Roundtable 

October, 11, 2012
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With the talk earlier this week of Marqise Lee possibly seeing double-duty at corner, WeAreSC staffers list five current and past players who could have succeeded in two-way action.

Garry Paskwietz

Current:

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Postgame notes: USC beats Cal

September, 22, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- No. 13 USC Trojans beat California Golden Bears for the ninth straight season on Saturday at the Coliseum, 27-9. Here are news, notes and quotes from the game that won't make it into our other coverage from the day:

Seven sacks

Coach Lane Kiffin likes to begin his postgame news conferences after USC wins by telling reporters what the "story of the day" was.

Sometimes, he's right on target; sometimes he's not. He was exactly right with his opening comments this time.

"I think that the game was won at the line of scrimmage," Kiffin said, pointing out that his Trojans had seven sacks to Cal's zero.

That really was the single biggest reason USC beat Cal on Saturday, the single biggest reason the Trojans were able to put last week's upset loss at Stanford behind them despite a decidedly less-than-perfect performance on offense and in the secondary.

"They came around today," defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said of his unit.

USC's linebackers have been the defense's strength over the last season-plus, and it's not necessarily any different now, but the Trojans' linemen really made the three 'backers look good Saturday.

"It's great when the linemen are rotating, staying fresh and keeping their linemen off us linebackers," said middle linebacker Lamar Dawson. "Then we can make plays."

Weakside linebacker Hayes Pullard said the linemen forced Cal quarterback Zach Maynard into some unusual mistakes.

Defensive end Wes Horton, who played at full strength for the first time this season, said the Trojans noticed in meetings this week that Cal's offensive linemen wouldn't be difficult to beat if schemed correctly.

"They were OK," Horton said. "It was a matter of creating the right moves to beat them."

Horton and fellow end Morgan Breslin certainly found them -- Breslin was credited with three sacks, the most by a USC defender since Rey Maualuga's 2008 Rose Bowl performance against Illinois.

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Kiffin names Wittek No. 2 QB

August, 28, 2012
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LOS ANGELES – There certainly was a different feel on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field on Tuesday as the Trojans set their game plan in motion for Saturday’s game with the Hawaii Warriors. The team was in full gear today and it was a more spirited practice than has been seen in quite a while, with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron’s booming voice reverberating throughout the field right from the get-go.

The biggest news of the day came following practice when Lane Kiffin named Max Wittek as the back-up quarterback ahead of Cody Kessler. It was a close battle, but the Trojans head coach felt a decision had to be made -- at least for now.

“Somebody has to be No. 2, and Max is No. 2,” Kiffin said. “It has nothing to do with who will be the starter next season. Both have commanded the offense well, they both made a bunch of plays and had good numbers throughout the fall.”

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USC head coach Lane Kiffin announced after practice that linebacker Marquis Simmons and cornerback Brian Baucham were ruled academically eligible for the 2012 season, but cornerback Isiah Wiley did not qualify.

Kiffin said Wiley, a junior college transfer who started the last six games of the 2011 season, will look to play this year and USC will help him do that, which likely means he will transfer.

[+] EnlargeIsiah Wiley
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIIsiah Wiley was ruled academically ineligible and is likely to transfer.
"It's good to get Simmons and Baucham back, those are two veteran guys at positions of need. They can also help with special teams," Kiffin said. "Wiley is a loss but we move forward. We worked all spring without him and his loss will be felt less because we did things that way. Outside of that one guy, we did well academically."

Friday was a light practice, helmets and no pads, as the Trojans begin the process of winding down fall camp. The team will simulate a home-game atmosphere by staying in the team hotel Friday night, holding a situational scrimmage Saturday morning and then attending the annual Salute to Troy event Saturday afternoon.

The scrimmage will not be a physical one, Kiffin said. It primarily will involve substitutions, communication between coaches and players, timing of getting in and out of the huddle, etc. Kiffin said the scrimmage will have no bearing on position battles such as the backup quarterback spot.

Junior Pomee was out there today working with the tight end group and he looked good in pass patterns. Christian Thomas did not have a helmet on but he was out there for early agility drills and even shadowed the other players for a few reps. That was as much as we've seen from Thomas in a while, so that could be an encouraging sign that he's getting closer to a return to the field. Randall Telfer did not take part in practice.

Wes Horton and Lamar Dawson also were held out.

When the team got together for 11-on-11 work today, here were the starting lineups:

Offense: Barkley, McNeal, Vainuku, Woods, Lee, Grimble, Walker, Martin, Holmes, Martinez, Graf

Defense: Breslin, Uko, Woods, Greene, Sarao, Pullard, Bailey, Robey, Brown, McDonald, Starling

Barkley led the first unit on a touchdown drive at the end of practice. Kiffin put 1:31 on the clock with the offense on their own 20-yard line. The offense got a couple first downs before facing a third down at their own 45, kicker Andre Heidari yelled from the sideline: "I'm in range if you need me, Kiff." Barkley then hit Marqise Lee for a first down, then another pass for 22 yards to Lee, and eventually a Barkley sneak for the score.

Robert Woods had a terrific play earlier in the practice when he took a short bubble screen from Barkley, made Brown miss, and then turned on the speed down the sideline. Kiffin commented after practice that Woods "is in very good shape."

Silas Redd had a 25-yard run off the left side behind a block from Marcus Martin. Morgan Breslin made a good play to get in the backfield quickly and hold D.J. Morgan to no gain. De'Von Flournoy had a nice fingertip catch of a ball across the middle from Max Wittek and he outran Anthony Brown after the catch for a touchdown.

The team worked on full punt and kickoff return drills. There was also some scout-team work to prepare for Hawaii.

Flournoy continues to shine

August, 14, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans practiced on Dedeaux Field today, primarily on the outfield grass, as Lane Kiffin said the team had torn up the grass on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field so far in camp.

Kiffin said two things really jumped out at him today; the number of explosive plays given up by the defense over the top and the number of fumbles from the offense.

“We had really been doing well in terms of not giving up big plays,” Kiffin said. “It was really the best we had been looking in that area since we got here but today the offense did a good job in that area. On the other side, we had been protecting the ball fairly well but the defense was able to get three fumbles today -- they did a good job of stripping the ball.”

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Notes from USC's first scrimmage 

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday practice report 

April, 12, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans finished last season ranked No. 102 in the nation in pass defense. At the conclusion of the 2010 season, they sat at No. 109. Safe to say, it has been a few years since anybody has thrown the term “great” around when discussing the USC secondary. But that didn’t stop senior safety T.J. McDonald from hinting at the possibility as the Trojans prepare for Saturday’s spring game.

“Defensively, we’re playing fast,” McDonald said. “Coaches can throw adjustments at us and we can pick it up and play it right away. That’s something that all great defenses can do and I think we’re taking a step in that direction. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

The defense has benefitted from not having to go against wide receiver Robert Woods at all this spring. Wide receiver George Farmer has been limited by a hamstring injury, and outside of the first week, the Trojans have been working with one or less tight ends. But the experience in the secondary, led by three-year starters in McDonald, safety Jawanza Starling and cornerback Nickell Robey, makes this group formidable, and head coach Lane Kiffin has taken notice.

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