USC Trojans: Marquis Simmons
“Our guys came back really rejuvenated today,” Orgeron said. “We had a good meeting on Friday … covered the film. They had Friday night off, yesterday off and had a Monday practice today. We gave them a little scouting report on Notre Dame … just breaking some stuff in. We had some corrections from the film from the game Thursday night, and we’re moving forward.”
The Trojans’ win over the Wildcats not only marked the team’s first over a Pac-12 opponent this season, but it was also their first under Orgeron, who was making his debut as interim coach.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Orgeron of the support and feedback that he’s received over the last three days. “The response has been positive. It’s all about the players. I’m just excited to see the Trojans win, and obviously there’s a lot of things that need to get better, but the style in which they played and the energy and the emotion … and again, to see that locker room, it just relieved a lot of pain.”
With that said, Orgeron and Co. have now firmly turned their focus toward a Fighting Irish squad that currently sits at 4-2.
“We realize that this is a rivalry game … USC-Notre Dame, and we have a lot of respect for our opponent,” Orgeron said. “But again, we need to take care of what we can control, and that’s us, the fundamentals and the style of play. But it’s going to be an exciting game, and we know it.”
Help on the way in the secondary?
While Thursday night’s victory was filled with positives, the one glaring negative was the performance of the secondary -- a unit that was continually victimized by Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who threw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns.
“All of the things were correctable,” Orgeron said. “We had some coverage things that we looked at, and [we] let the guys get behind us a little too much. We’ve just got to emphasize just being in the right positions … stuff like that. The coaches did a great job of illustrating what we need to get better at.”
Additionally, the Trojans defensive backfield could get a big boost in the form of Anthony Brown this week. Out of action since spraining his knee against Hawaii on Aug. 29, the fourth-year junior cornerback returned to action on Sunday and started for a majority of the practice opposite Kevon Seymour.
And while the Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser product appeared to look healthy and in command during the light workout, Orgeron said that it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll be able to go this weekend with 100 percent certainty, listing him as “probable.”
“We’ve got to see this week,” Orgeron said. “That’s a big decision on our staff. It’s hard for a guy that’s been out for as long as he’s been out to come back. We don’t know if he’s ready yet. It’s going to be very, very critical this week to find out if he’s going to be ready and if he can play.”
In addition to Brown, all eyes were on star wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has been sidelined since going down against Arizona State on Sept. 28 with a knee sprain. Wearing a brace on his left knee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner didn’t participate in drills, but he did run sprints on the sideline, and appeared to do so without a limp.
Others who sat out Sunday’s practice included Kevin Graf, Victor Blackwell (ankle heavily taped), Tre Madden, Xavier Grimble, Marquis Simmons, and Morgan Breslin.
Nathan Guertler filled in for Graf, while Darreus Rogers appeared to go full speed at wideout.
In his post-practice media scrum, Orgeron said that Brown, Graf, Rogers, Grimble, Madden and Simmons are all probable for Saturday’s game, while Lee, Blackwell and Breslin are questionable and D.J. Morgan is out.
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.
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.
The biggest bit of news to come out of the two-hour session was that star USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, while still sidelined for the vast majority of the practice, did appear to take a step -- albeit a small one -- toward a potential return sometime soon. Wearing a yellow jersey and helmet, but no shoulder pads, he stepped in at wideout briefly during a half-speed 11-on-11 period, then fielded punts during a late, no-contact special teams drill. It’s the most activity seen out of Lee since he went down with a bone bruise in his shoulder last Friday.
On defense, Su’a Cravens continued to run with the first-team defense at strong safety in place of Josh Shaw, who left Monday morning’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Morgan Breslin, Cody Temple and Torin Harris also didn’t take part, but defensive ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai both returned and each moved well throughout the workout.
On the offensive line, Aundrey Walker got the bulk of the snaps with the first-team group at right guard ahead of two-year starter John Martinez, who ran primarily with the second unit.
During an early 11-on-11 period, quarterback Max Wittek got things started off right by going deep and hitting Blackwell in stride for a 70-yard touchdown score, but then things went downhill for the offense in a hurry. Free safety Dion Bailey came up to stop Allen for no-gain on a run, a snap from Marcus Martin to Wittek was fumbled, and soon thereafter there was a fumbled exchange between Cody Kessler and John Akiba that Tavai recovered. Other defensive highlights included a Devon Kennard sack on Wittek, a Marquis Simmons tackle for loss on Madden and a sack of Kessler by Tavai.
During a period in which the first-team offense and defense went against scout units, the offensive group spent a lot of time focusing on the ground game, with Madden and Allen putting together some nice runs.
The team then got together for some final two-minute drill work that had Kessler running primarily with the first unit and Wittek with the No. 2 group.
Kessler completed a pass over the middle to Blackwell, who was then leveled by Hayes Pullard. A little later on, Kessler threw a pass to the outside, but Anthony Brown stepped in front of it and returned it for a touchdown. Williams also made his presence felt in this session, rushing in and batting down a Kessler pass. Wittek ended the day with a nice drive, completing passes to Aaron Minor, Shane Sullivan and Christian Guzman and capping it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Flournoy.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Compiling 38 sacks combined this past fall, the stellar play of the defensive line was one of the highlights in an otherwise up-and-down season for the Trojans. Losing just one key contributor from that group in defensive end Wes Horton, expectations were sky high for the unit heading into spring ball, yet questions remained. After all, with the switch from the team's previous 4-3 alignment to a 5-2 look under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, many wondered if the Trojans had the personnel and talent to pull it off.
But after 15 practices in March and April, it's safe to say those questions have been erased. Playing fast, aggressive and quick to the ball, the defensive line established itself as the heart and soul of the defense and there's reason to believe they're on the verge of an even more impressive 2013 campaign.
Battle at nose
Still, the competition isn't over just yet. In fact, Woods currently shares the top spot on the post-spring depth chart with Cody Temple, who made a big statement with his play despite missing the majority of the spring to injury. Also showing promise was early entry freshman Kenny Bigelow. Possessing an imposing 6-foot-3, 295-pound build and unique physical skills, he was dominant at times but also inconsistent. A summer in the weight room and out on the field working on his conditioning could pay big dividends, and he just might factor heavily into the discussion here.
Ready to shine on the edge
Making a flawless adjustment from playing with a hand down in the old 4-3 set as defensive ends to standing up as outside linebackers in the new 5-2 look, both Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin were standouts in the spring.
Kennard's performance, in particular, was more than welcomed for Orgeron and Co. Showing no ill effects of the torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss last season, he was a major thorn in the side of the offensive line from his SAM linebacker spot. Breslin, who amassed a team-leading 13 sacks in 2012, looked solid at Predator linebacker, most notably in the spring game, when he came up with 3.5 sacks. With the Trojans now possessing two potential threats off the edge, it should be interesting to see what kind of impact they make on the passing attacks of the opposition this fall.
A star in the making
Nobody made a more eye-popping first-year impression for the Trojans last season than Leonard Williams. Starting nine games at the three-technique defensive tackle spot, he amassed 64 tackles and eight sacks on his way to 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. The best part, however, is that Williams is still getting better -- a fact made evident this spring.
Standing 6-foot-5 with his weight up to 290 pounds, Williams was an incredibly disruptive force throughout the slate of practices, giving the defense what Kiffin has often referred to as an SEC-style lineman on the interior. Having shown so much promise already, there's certainly reason to believe he'll continue to develop this offseason, which would mean more postseason accolades in 2013.
Enough in reserve?
The performance of the Trojans' starting defensive line was one of the leading stories of the spring to be sure, but an element of uncertainty still exists when it comes to whether or not Orgeron's group has the kind of depth necessary to spearhead the defense through the 2013 season, particularly after adding just two new faces to the unit in the most recent recruiting class in Bigelow and outside linebacker Quinton Powell.
The return from injury of J.R. Tavai midway through the spring workouts, as well as the emergence of somewhat of a surprise in Charles Burks, did provide reason for optimism at end behind Williams and George Uko, however. The addition of Greg Townsend Jr. -- who missed the entire spring while recuperating from 2012 knee surgery -- also will give the team a boost here in the fall. Temple and Bigelow, too, should team up well with Woods to provide stability at the nose position.
On the outside, Jabari Ruffin asserted himself as a potential name to watch down the line, and Kevin Greene and Marquis Simmons also had their moments.
Still, there's little doubt Orgeron would prefer more bodies here, and the Trojans are sure to load up on defensive linemen in the next recruiting class. For now, though, USC will move forward with what is a somewhat thin but talent-laden group.
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Both players suffered knee injuries last Saturday prior to the Coliseum scrimmage that USC coach Lane Kiffin described as “not serious.”
Lee was fully dressed but did not participate in drills while Wittek was not in pads and he wore a sleeve brace around his right knee.
“I’ve got a sprained MCL,” Wittek said. “Nothing is torn, so that’s a positive, and it can’t get any worse so it’s just a matter of pain tolerance to when I can return. I’m rehabbing 2-3 times a day and if I can’t get back by the end of the week, I should be fine to go when we get back from spring break. You never want an injury but if it’s going to happen it’s good to happen now.
“The injury happened while I was holding for a placekick, kind of a silly way to happen. If there’s a bad snap again on a kick, if it’s not in a game I will probably get out of the way next time. But if the team needs me to be there, I’ll be there.”
MVP of the day: True freshman Su’a Cravens put together his best practice of spring with two interceptions and a key pass break-up, all against Max Browne. The first interception was an overthrown attempt by Browne to hit Xavier Grimble and Cravens simply played center field to get the pick. The second pick was an aggressive break on the ball by Cravens while the pass break-up came over the middle on a pass attempt for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.
“Su’a is a very special player,” Kiffin said. “He prepares so well, always soaking things up, watching film. He’s similar to Robert Woods and Nickell Robey in that way and both of those guys started from day one.”
Kiffin said Cravens is already at 220 pounds.
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DE: Leonard Williams (6-foot-5, 270 pounds, So.); Greg Townsend Jr. (6-3, 260, RS So.) OR Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, Fr.)
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Stat of the Game: Six touchdown passes for Matt Barkley. It wasn’t the most explosive night for Barkley -- he only passed for 187 yards -- but he made the most of those completions by tying his own USC record for most touchdown passes in a game.
It was over when: The Syracuse onside kick failed in the fourth quarter. The Orange had just scored a touchdown to pull within 35-22 and there was plenty of time left for a potential comeback. Ryan Nassib was in rhythm, so if Syracuse had recovered things could have gotten interesting, but Marquis Simmons made the play for the Trojans.
What we learned about USC: The Trojans are 2-0. Lane Kiffin said his goal for the week was to win the game and get on a plane back home. Mission accomplished. The Trojans suffered through penalties in the first half which prevented any kind of offensive flow, but eventually the big-play abilities of Woods helped get things going and helped lead the 42-point effort.
What we learned about Syracuse: The Orange are as good as any 0-2 team in college football. They started slow but stayed in the game early and played physical football with the Trojans in the first half. Syracuse was able to get the passing game going more in the second half and they eventually outgained the Trojans in overall yardage -- 455 to 445.
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.
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.
"It was very similar to yesterday," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "We were good in all three phases, but especially on offense. The dynamic skill guys showed up again and, as you can see, the timing between [Matt] Barkley and [Robert] Woods is on its way back. Robert looks fast, the best he's been in a while."
Barkley had a touchdown to Woods in a 7-on-7 drill and the two completed a lot of passes in team situation drills. Barkley also had touchdowns to Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, as well as a nice completion over the middle to Marqise Lee. Nickell Robey had an early interception off Barkley when the ball was thrown into double coverage.
The highlight pass of the day came on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Max Wittek to Lee, who also caught a touchdown from Cody Kessler in 7-on-7.
Silas Redd had an impressive run when he showed patience to wait for his blocker Cyrus Hobbi and he ended up with a 20-yard gain.
Kevin Graf and D.J. Morgan both returned to action today.
"Xavier Grimble has had two days in a row with some dropped balls. It happens, it's like a basketball shooter who eventually shoots his way out of it. It's surprising with X because he's such a natural pass-catcher."
"No final answer right now on academic issues for Isiah Wiley or Marquis Simmons. We also haven't heard anything yet today on Darreus Rogers."
"We would like to name a No. 2 QB by the start of the season but we're not in season yet. It's not the end of the world if we don't name one, we could use either guy for different situations."
"We've already seen an impact from the McKay Center on recruiting. For the past six months there have been current recruits who have walked through the building. The players love the players lounge, it gives them a place to hang out if they have an hour between classes. Before they would be sprawled out on the floor in the lobby of Heritage Hall. The building is just a huge advantage -- we used to be behind in facilities but now we've caught up and passed everybody."
"Buck Allen has come a long way, he's still very young football-wise because he missed time in his senior year with an injury."
"There will be walk-ons who give up their scholarships but we're not giving those names now, they could come back later. We will be under the 75-roster limit with the roster we turn in before the start of the season."
"The McKay Center dedication will take place Tuesday night on campus."
• The Trojans worked out in helmets, pads, and black shorts.
• Preferred walk-on Nathan Guertler continued to start at right tackle for Kevin Graf, who was suited up but did not participate due to an undisclosed injury.
“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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After arriving partway through fall camp last year, Allen served on the scout team throughout the season. This spring, the depleted tailback numbers were going to give Allen an opportunity to prove that he belonged in the rotation. But a hamstring injury early on forced him to the sideline, and Saturday became the first time Allen saw the field for any significant length of time. And while his first opportunity resulted in a muffed handoff, he bounced back with a 12-yard carry on his first successful attempt, and authored several impressive runs throughout the day.
“It felt good,” Allen said of his first extended work this spring. “I tried to go hard and give it my all, do what coach asked me to do…Today gave me confidence. Now I can go look at myself on film and work off of that.”
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