USC Trojans: Nickell Robey

Welcome to the mailbag, which nine out of 10 dentists agree has no bearing on your oral health.

Bobby in Phoenix writes: Mark May said the following yesterday: "I heard through the grapevine, not publicly, but privately, Todd Graham was lobbying like heck to get the Texas job," May told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports now on 98.7 FM Tuesday. "Chew on that one, Arizona State Sun Devils fans." I heard it from not one, but two of our reporters at ESPN, that he was lobbying to get that job. It was another one of his 'dream jobs.' Any comments? My thought would be that if not one, but TWO ESPN reporters knew about this they would... umm.... report it? When will his Pitt bias stop seeping through everything he says and Todd Graham and ASU?

Kevin Gemmell: I didn’t hear May’s comments or the interview, so I can only go off of what you said. But there is certainly a gut reaction when the rest of the country hears the name Todd Graham, they instantly think villain.

You know what’s funny is when Brady Hoke left San Diego State after two seasons, he did the exact same thing -- he sent a text blast to the players and that was that. He got on a plane and never returned to San Diego. He was lauded as a hero and treated like Caesar returning from Germania when he got to Ann Arbor. No one cared about how he left SDSU.

But this one stuck with Graham and probably will stick with him for a long time. It’s fascinating how perception and public opinion shapes who we celebrate and who we demonize.

I got to spend a lot of time with Graham this season -- including four days behind the scenes. I was given complete access to everything -- player meetings, coaches meetings, I sat with Graham, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and the quarterbacks at the team dinner and was with the coaches for their final huddle 10 minutes before kickoff of the Wisconsin game. (I even went out the Tillman Tunnel with the team, and I can tell you that was one of the greatest moments of my career). In my time with Graham, I learned he’s the exact same guy behind closed doors as he is in front of a microphone. I really doubt he’s going to put on a four-day show -- and maintain it -- for little ole’ me. If he did, give him the Academy Award.

Is it possible he could jump ship sometime soon? Of course. The guy can coach. That’s why he keeps getting hired. And he hires great coaches to coach alongside him (Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris, Mike Norvell, etc.).

He’s always going to have the Pitt stigma that follows him. Maybe it’s deserved. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Either way, I like his style. I like his schemes. And l like his accountability. After the Holiday Bowl, he put it all on himself. That’s what a coach is supposed to do.

I’ve been lied to plenty by coaches. That comes with asking questions they don’t want to answer. But I’ve also had coaches be totally honest and stand by their word. My gut tells me Graham likes the spot he’s in and he likes the support he’s getting from the administration.


Wayne in Mesa, Ariz. writes: Why was the Pac-12 Championship Game for 2014 moved back to a Friday night? I can understand TV ratings a bit, although the 2013 game had a great Saturday evening time slot. As for attendance, the Saturday date allows for better attendance and more time for the buzz to build up -- as the incredible atmosphere in and around Sun Devil Stadium this past fall would attest!

Kevin Gemmell: Go to your living room. On your coffee table, you’ll probably see a black, rectangular object with many different buttons. Push the one that says “power” and a talking picture box will come to life, projecting real life sounds and images.

Do not be scared or attempt to interact with these moving pictures. They can’t see or hear you.

FOX has the Pac-12 championship game this year, as well as the Big Ten title game the next day. So, yes, it’s TV driven.

I think there is something to be said about being the first game of championship weekend. You get the national audience (at least those who choose to stay up) all to yourself. But from a fan perspective -- especially those attending the game -- it can be a hassle. You have to deal with work and traffic and chances are it won’t be a full stadium -- which never bodes well for the conference.


John in New York writes: USC-UCLA, Stanford-USC, Oregon-Washington, Oregon-Oregon State, Arizona-Arizona State. I'd be really interested to know how you'd rank these particular rivalries, from top to bottom?

Kevin Gemmell: Ranking rivalry games is a fairly futile exercise, because rivalries will always mean more to the folks who have a vested interest in the outcome. Try convincing an Arizona fan that the Apple Cup is more important than the Territorial Cup.

Case in point, I grew up in the Bay Area under the umbrella of the Cal-Stanford rivalry. And though I didn’t attend either school, I consider it one of the greatest rivalries there is because that’s what my personal experience is. Just as I think Will Clark is the greatest baseball player ever and it’s a shame that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.

But I also understand, given the way the Stanford-USC rivalry has played out over the last half decade, that game certainly qualifies as a rivalry. Same for Oregon-Washington and the budding UCLA-Arizona State rivalry.

I know folks are trying to make a rivalry out of the Utah-Colorado matchup. That makes sense, considering both joined the league at the same time. But rivalries aren’t artificially created. They just happen. Colorado fans will always have a bitterness for Nebraska, just as Utah fans will always consider BYU their rival.

The only reason to rank rivalries is to stir the pot and drum up some artificial controversy to give folks a reason to troll and flame.

Which is why Arizona-Arizona State is the best rivalry of all time and always will be. Discuss.


Michigan Trojan in Ann Arbor, Mich. writes: Kevin and Ted … Though I hope they get drafted and have successful NFL careers, I am a little puzzled by the early exits of Xavier Grimble, Dion Bailey, George Uko, and especially Marcus Martin (and possibly Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw) at USC. Marqise Lee is a sure-fire 1st round pick so I cannot argue with his leaving. But the others, especially guys like Grimble and Martin, were poised to have big years, with lots of exposure that could have made them locks in the second or third round, or possibly surprise first round picks. I know some of them were redshirts, and will technically have their degree in May, but if the NFL is their first stop in terms of profession, why not maximize your potential? Most of these guys will be fourth-round picks at best, and probably have to fight to make a practice squad if they go undrafted. Do you think some of this has to do with what Sarkisian is trying to do at USC, in terms of revamping the defense, and bringing in different position coaches? I also have heard that guys were impressed by the somewhat unexpected success of early-entry guys like undrafted Nickell Robey at the next level. The exodus probably sets SC football back a few wins next year, but again, as individuals, I hope they succeed beyond expectations at the next level.

Kevin Gemmell: It’s obviously different for every guy, so there is no one magic bullet answer. Sometimes it has to do with money. Sometimes it has to do with a coaching change. And sometimes guys simply don’t want to be in school anymore.

I do think USC players are a special exception. The college experience probably hasn’t been a great one for them when you look at the ups and downs of the program the last few years. Most of these guys came in when the sanctions were announced or right in the middle of them. They had bowl bans. They had a disastrous 2012. They saw three different head coaches in 2013.

Can you really blame some of them for wanting to get out and make a little money?

Robey is a fine example of a guy who went undrafted, but had a huge year for the Bills. If I’m his friend and former teammate, that gives both hope and false hope. There’s the thought that if I don’t get drafted, I can still do what Robey did. But for every Robey, there are dozens of other guys who find themselves either on practice squads or boning up on their “ehs?” in the Canadian League. And yes, there is at least one player from a Pac-12 school on every CFL roster, except Montreal (I checked).

I do think a new coaching staff probably had something to do with it as well as the fact that Clancy Pendergast isn’t coming back. For those defensive guys, it would be their third coordinator in the last two years. That’s frustrating. So, and I’m just speculating here, in their eyes if they have to adjust to a new coaching staff, they might as well get paid in the process.


Ryan in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: More math: You wrote: "So the likelihood of the Pac-12 winning all nine games -- even though it was favored in all nine -- seemed highly unlikely. "Actually probability alone (and not underdog motivation or favorite complacency) makes your statement true. Assume for sake of argument, the Vegas line said each Pac-12 team had an 80 percent chance to win. (Of course, different lines for each team and I have no idea what line corresponds to an 80 percent win chance, but useful thought experiment). The chances of all nine teams winning still comes out to only about 13.4 percent.

Kevin Gemmell: This is why Pac-12 blog readers are the life of all social gatherings.

Adding a name to USC coaching derby

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
6:00
AM PT
They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

-- What this week’s Miami ruling proved is that the only organization in America more dysfunctional than Congress is the NCAA.

-- Losing nine scholarships compared to USC’s 30? Really? What would the penalty have been if the Hurricanes’ entire squad had admitted to accepting illegal benefits? Ten scholarships?

[+] EnlargeSteve Mariucci
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesShould Steve Mariucci's name be in the mix at USC?
-- Here’s a name no one has mentioned in the USC coaching derby: Steve Mariucci. Once one of the hot, young coaches in America, he was Brett Favre’s quarterback coach with the Packers, the head coach one year at Cal, then moved on to the NFL and had some good years in San Francisco, where he beat out Pete Carroll, among others, for the head job. Currently a broadcaster for the NFL Network, he has the style and the look and was strongly considered for the Trojans’ position before Mike Garrett opted for Lane Kiffin.

-- One of the main reasons USC’s secondary is struggling is because of the early departure of Nickell Robey, the terrific cornerback whom you might have seen returning an interception for a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

-- Maybe it’s just a freshman thing now. Certainly, Florida State’s “Famous Jameis” Winston has vaulted right up near the top of the Heisman Trophy rankings with that spectacular performance against Clemson. First Johnny Manziel and now Winston? It’s possible, although Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is still No. 1 on most lists.

-- How tough is the transition from college football to the NFL? Just ask Matt Barkley. I’m sure that ugly, three interception afternoon on Sunday wasn’t the way the former USC star dreamed his debut would go.

-- For all his unquestioned athletic ability, I thought UCLA’s Brett Hundley showed for the first time against Stanford that he’d probably be wise to stick around another year before becoming a first-round draft pick. Mechanically, there are still some things he needs to refine.

-- By the way, that jaw-dropping, one-handed catch by Stanford’s Kodi Whitfield against the Bruins wasn’t just the play of the week. It was the college football play of the year.

-- OK, I agree. It is time to start taking Baylor seriously. You keep dropping 70 points on other people and you have to be pretty good.

-- For all those who admire the late Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson, it’s difficult to believe what has happened to the program at Grambling State.

-- I’m still trying to digest the fact that Washington State’s Connor Halliday put the ball in the air 89 times against Oregon. I remember when some quarterbacks barely threw the ball 89 times in a season.

-- How quickly things change in the Pac-12. A week ago, UCLA was being mentioned as a top five BCS bowl candidate and a possible national title contender. This week, the Bruins are 22-point underdogs at Oregon.

-- Talk about contrast in styles. This week’s Stanford at Oregon State matchup is a duel between the Cardinal’s old-fashioned power game and the Beavers’ Sean Mannion, throw –it-all-over-the-yard philosophy. The surprise is that Mike Riley’s pass-crazy team is the one with the undefeated conference record.

-- Wonder what the late Bo Schembechler would have thought of Michigan’s 63-47 victory over Indiana? The two teams combined for 63 first downs and 1,323 yards of offense. Come to think of it, I know what Bo would have thought and you couldn’t repeat it on a family website.

-- Back when running backs were still considered serious Heisman candidates, Wisconsin’s young bull of a tailback, Melvin Gordon, would have been right up there in the polls.

-- It is a little early to start talking Coach of the Year, but whenever the conversation begins, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn should be included.

-- Jack Nicklaus’s grandson, Nick O’Leary, is one powerful, impressive-looking tight end for Florida State. Wonder what the kid can do with a driver in his hands?

There’s a marked change in the way that USC linebacker Hayes Pullard carries himself on Cromwell Field during workouts this offseason that is hard not to notice. The redshirt junior is standing just a tad bit taller, his voice is booming a little louder, and he’s taken on more accountability in terms of coaching up the players around him.

In short, Pullard has emerged as an unquestioned leader of the defense. It’s an all too fitting responsibility for a tried and tested performer with 25 starts and 188 career tackles under his belt. And with USC head coach Lane Kiffin and Co. desperate to fill the void created by the loss of two outspoken veterans in safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey to the NFL, it couldn’t have happened at a more crucial time.

“When I first came here, I was just trying to follow in their footsteps -- learning how to run a team from what they did,” Pullard said of the duo. “When they left, I just looked to my left, and I looked to my right and it was just me -- I realized that I had to take that role right then and there, and that I had to become that vocal leader.”

[+] EnlargeHayes Pullard
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireHayes Pullard has been aggressive in taking a leadership role on USC's defense this offseason.
But the last four months haven’t come without their challenges. With USC coming off a disappointing 7-6 campaign that saw the Trojans struggle at times against the up-tempo, spread offenses, new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was brought in and immediately installed a 5-2 defensive look differing dramatically, both in regard to alignment and philosophy, from the team’s previous 4-3 set. And after some initial growing pains, the defense eventually came together to play at an extremely high level this spring, and it appears to have kept the momentum going this offseason, with Pullard looking primed for a huge season at his new MIKE linebacker position after spending his previous seasons at weakside linebacker.

“In the spring, at first, it was kind of like, ‘How do we do this?’” said Pullard, who currently stands 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds. “Then, we got it a little bit, and now we’re just trying to take the next step out here during 7-on-7, and we’re still getting better. There’s a lot more talking going on, and we have that sense of brotherhood back on defense where we want to fight for each other. It’s a bond that I really like.”

Playing fast to the ball and physical, it was the inside linebackers -- led by new assistant coach Mike Ekeler -- that emerged as one of the star units of the spring. A collection that also includes two talented athletes battling it out at the WILL position in Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao, in addition to highly touted freshman Michael Hutchings as a backup at MIKE, it’s a group that is sure to play a key role in Pendergast’s attacking defensive scheme.

“We’re coming along good,” Pullard said. “Coach Ekeler and Coach Pendergast, they put us in places where we’ve never been before, and that’s going to help us the more we practice and work on it. We’re going to be fast and aggressive. We’re going to be a lot better than last year.”

With only Pullard, Dawson and Sarao possessing significant game experience on the inside, it’s the development of Hutchings -- an ESPN 150 prospect out of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle -- this offseason that will be watched with particular interest. To no surprise, Pullard has already taken the eager youngster under his wings, and he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

“He’s all ears,” said Pullard, a Los Angeles Crenshaw product. “We need him right now, this season. So, I’ve been teaching him the playbook and how to run everything out here. I know that transition from high school to college is a big deal, but I’ve already seen a lot of improvement from him, and he’s going to get a lot better in the coming weeks.”

In Pullard, Hutchings has what could be considered to be the perfect mentor, but as for Pullard himself, he isn’t even close to being satisfied with where he’s at just yet.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Pullard said. “I just want to be a peak performer in every part of my game. I just want to get faster and stronger. You know, film wise, changing direction…every little thing counts. I feel like the big things are given to me by God, the little things, I have to work on.”

With his mindset focused on the task at hand, there’s no telling just how far Pullard will continue to take his game in the coming months. And now, with his defensive teammates following his lead on a daily basis, there’s certainly reason for optimism when it comes to the group’s production in 2013.
The USC Trojans had four players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, increasing their record total of drafted players to 480.

It was a mixed bag for the Trojans in this draft, as they did not have a player selected in the first round -- USC also holds the record for most first-round NFL draft choices -- and there was also the public free-fall for quarterback Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesWith the success Robert Woods had against Syracuse, it's no surprise Bills coach Doug Marrone made him the first Trojan off the board in the 2013 draft.
There had been hope that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods would go in the opening round, but the first day passed with both players undrafted.

Woods didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, though, as the all-time leading USC receptions leader was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 41 overall pick.

The Bills had selected a quarterback -- E.J. Manuel from Florida State -- in the first round, and they were also in the market for a No. 2 receiver to pair with Stevie Johnson. The fact that Woods was the next selection for the club after Manuel says a lot about how they feel about him as a potential long-term piece of the puzzle.

The new coach of the Bills, Doug Marrone, also faced Woods twice as the head coach of Syracuse and in those two games he saw Woods catch 18 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with a 76-yard run in 2012.

After Woods was picked, it was assumed by most USC fans that Barkley would be next off the board but, somewhat surprisingly, the next Trojan picked was safety T.J. McDonald, who went to the St. Louis Rams in the third round with the No. 71 selection.

There hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, a one-time All-American who saw his stock fall as a senior. You have to wonder how much two items affected that drop-off: the personal foul penalties as a junior that led to questions about his style of play and the overall defensive schemes implemented in 2012 by Monte Kiffin, which led to his resignation.

(Read full post)

Exit interview: Nickell Robey

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
8:00
AM PT
Nickell RobeyJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireNickell Robey's athleticism and competitiveness overshadowed his size and allowed the 5-foot-8 cornerback to start at USC from day one.
Nickell Robey might only stand 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but perhaps no other defensive performer played bigger over the past three seasons for the Trojans. Arriving on campus in 2010 as a phenomenal two-way talent out of Frostproof (Fla.), he would go on to make a lightning-quick impact, becoming the first USC true freshman to start a season opener at cornerback in the post-World War II era. Never relinquishing that role, Robey established himself as a lockdown corner with a nose for the ball, finishing his career with 163 tackles and seven interceptions -- three of which he returned for touchdowns, tying the program’s career record set by Charles Phillips.

A first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2011 and a second-team selection last season, Robey forgoed his final season of eligibility at USC to make himself available for the NFL draft -- set to start Thursday. Having now concluded a very hectic workout and testing schedule that included a standout Pro Day outing, Robey took time out to talk to WeAreSC.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the end of the season in terms of preparing for the NFL draft?

Robey: The process has been really good for the most part. I was training over in Houston, Texas, and then I came back to Florida with my personal trainer before Pro Day. I’ve been really busy since the season ended, but I’ve just been trying to have fun with it. I’m pretty content with where I’m at right now. I’m really excited. I just can’t wait to hear my name called and to go into my profession.

WeAreSC: Your mother passed away shortly after you signed with USC coming out of high school, but I know that you’ve remained especially close to your younger sister, Maranda, who moved in with your aunt. How is she doing these days, and what kind of role did your desire to take care of her play in your decision to leave for the NFL after your junior campaign?

Robey: My sister is doing good. When my mom passed, she had a tough road. She had to step up and lead on her own. She’s been doing a good job as far as dealing with the death. She’s getting ready for college -- she has another year of high school. And in regard to my role as a big brother, I turned into more of a father. I had to make sure that she had everything that she needed. I needed to make sure that she had a smile on her face. That played a heavy role in me deciding to leave early. I feel like things happen for a reason, and SC was a great time -- I competed and I played all three years. I had a lot of fun and I wouldn’t take any of my actions or decisions back.

(Read full post)

Robert Woods, Matt Barkley AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRobert Woods and Matt Barkley put their best foot forward in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams during USC's pro day Wednesday.
The Trojans held their annual NFL Pro Day on Wednesday with plenty of buzz surrounding the workout of quarterback Matt Barkley.

Not only is Barkley a high-profile prospect at the most high-profile position, but pro day marked the first time Barkley had an opportunity to throw for scouts since injuring his shoulder in late November. Since the end of the season Barkley has been spending his time in the South getting treatment on the shoulder and working with former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Before he could get to his throwing work, Barkley ran the 40-yard dash (a hand-timed mark of 4.87) and the shuttle drill, although he slipped in one shuttle rep and came up flexing his right hand. By the time his throwing session started, the hand was fine and all eyes were focused on him.

Barkley threw to a group of five primary players; wide receivers Robert Woods, Brandon Carswell and Travon Patterson, tight end Dominique Byrd and running back Curtis McNeal. It took about three or four throws to realize the shoulder strength was not an issue. There was zip on his passes and he was moving well on a variety of throws. There will always be nitpicking as part of the scouting process for little things that might not have gone as well, but for the most part it was a successful session, with Barkley hitting on 46 of 50 throws.

“It was a great day just to come out and throw the ball around,” Barkley said. “It’s good to be back on SC’s campus for something like this. The shoulder felt fine. The ball slipped on a couple but no worries about that. I’m not worried about anything.”

(Read full post)

The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

After not being able to take part in the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine due to an injured shoulder, this will be the opportunity for Barkley to prove to coaches and scouts that he is healthy and deserving of a first-round selection.

Because Barkley hasn't thrown since getting injured against UCLA, there are many questions about his draft status. Will he be a first-day pick or will he fall into the second round? So much will depend upon the health of the shoulder and how he performs in the roughly 60 throws he will make to Robert Woods. There are no questions about his leadership and character but, in the end, an NFL quarterback needs to be able to make the throws, and that is what Barkley will need to show.

Woods will be looking to prove something himself, as well. This is a deep receiver draft and most mock drafts have him going in the second round, but a recent mock draft from Charley Casserly at NFL.com had Woods as a first-round pick. The main goal for Woods in this workout is to get a 40 time below 4.5. He ran 4.51 at the combine and getting into the 4.4 range would mean a lot in the constant jockeying for draft position.

This will also be the first opportunity to conduct a workout for center Khaled Holmes, who withdrew from the Senior Bowl and then got hurt during the weightlifting portion of the combine.

Others working out will include a trio of defensive backs in T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling along with defensive end Wes Horton and running back Curtis McNeal.

The USC Pro Day will be shown live on ESPN3 at 11:15 a.m. PT.
Cody Kessler, Max WittekCal Sport Media/AP ImagesCody Kessler (6) is looking to leap past Max Wittek (13) and become USC's starting quarterback.

Through the first two weeks of spring practice, here are five things we've learned about the USC football team:

1. Cody Kessler is playing like a man looking for a starting spot: It was only a few short months ago, as the Trojans prepared for the Sun Bowl, that Max Wittek was the odds-on choice to replace Matt Barkley as the USC quarterback. Kessler responded to that talk by coming out strong in spring and taking advantage of a minor knee injury to Wittek by performing well with the extended reps. In the two spring scrimmages, Kessler is a combined 25 of 34 for 353 yards and one touchdown.
As the Trojans begin the second week of spring ball sessions, they held a full pads practice on Tuesday without quarterback Max Wittek and wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Both players suffered knee injuries last Saturday prior to the Coliseum scrimmage that USC coach Lane Kiffin described as “not serious.”

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comTrue freshman Su'a Cravens is already impressing during spring practice.
“It wasn’t one of our better practices,” Kiffin said. “This can happen in the second week, everyone is fired up to get going so they start well the first week but they came out today in full pads and it was hot so they need to learn to get through that. It had nothing to do with Wittek and Lee not being out there.”

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.

(Read full post)

Cornerback battle taking shape

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
7:24
AM PT
Entering spring practice, there wasn’t a bigger question mark in the USC defense than at the cornerback spot, where the Trojans lost both of their primary starters from the 2012 season -– Nickell Robey to the NFL, and Josh Shaw to strong safety.

But with two workouts now under their belts playing under new USC defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Clancy Pendergast, the open battle for the two starting positions has led to a spirited atmosphere marked by more-than-solid play at times, particularly from Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown – who found themselves running with the first-team defense on both Tuesday and Thursday.

“We’re all competing out here,” Seymour said. “We’re all great athletes and we can all play. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re gaining confidence.”

It’s Seymour, in fact, who put in arguably the two top back-to-back performances of the week, highlighted by a couple of impressive pass deflections during the 7-on-7 and team session on day one.

Nothing is set in stone, however, as there are plenty of other players still in the mix. On the left side behind Seymour, it’s been early-entrant freshmen Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III who have received the most reps with the second unit. Two players whose arrival on campus was heavily anticipated, Hawkins, in particular, has shown flashes of standout play, while McQuay certainly has the raw talent, but is still adjusting to a new position after coming in as a safety.

(Read full post)

Once lauded as the preseason No. 1 with the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback, the USC football program sank to historic depths in 2012. What's the state of the program and is the sky falling on USC? Your bloggers debate:

Ted Miller: Is the sky falling for USC? Maybe just a little, at least if you believe in momentum.

In August, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. They were rolling with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Quarterback Matt Barkley was the golden boy of the preseason, the top Heisman candidate, lauded for his unselfish decision to return for his senior season. And coach Lane Kiffin, after leading the Trojans to a 10-2 finish in 2011, seemed to be well on his way to proving his skeptics wrong and rewriting the story of his coaching career.

Now, in February, USC is coming off a 7-6 season, the first time a preseason No. 1 team lost six games. It lost five of its final six games, including an execrable performance against middling Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. After the game, there was a locker-room altercation that involved some players bad-mouthing Barkley. Further, Kiffin has been -- fairly -- blamed for the collapse, and many of his actions during the season served to reinforce his image as a guy obsessed with working the angles instead of focusing on the details. All this serves to put Kiffin on perhaps the hottest seat in the nation heading into 2013.

Further, the recruiting class, the one constant during the surprising losing, ended up ranked 14th in the nation after several players decommitted. A handful of those decommitted players added salt to the Trojans' wounds by signing with rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

Why did they decommit? The reasons are likely to be specific to the individual athlete, but it's fair to say that the program's fall from grace and Kiffin's uncertain status played a role.

The program was perceived in a much different way in August than it is today. The considerable momentum of the preseason has reversed. Considerably.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP PhotoLane Kiffin might be on the hot seat in 2013, but perhaps a dimmer spotlight will help his Trojans.
Of course, USC still signed an outstanding recruiting class, with 12 of the 13 members earning four stars and nine ranking among the nation's top 150 players. The present negative momentum can be quickly reversed with a fast start to the season. If Kiffin wins nine or 10 games, he'll probably be back in 2014, especially if he can beat UCLA and Notre Dame in the process -- and the Bruins in particular.

So, really, the sky is not falling over Heritage Hall.

But it is definitely blocked by dark, threatening clouds no USC fan likes to see.

Kevin Gemmell: No, the sky is not falling on USC. And I'll tell you why. There aren't many schools in the country that finish 7-6 and can bring in a recruiting haul -- considered by some to actually be a disappointment -- like the Trojans did earlier this week. There aren't a lot of schools that can look as bad as the Trojans did in 2012 and still ink six players rated in the top six for their positions nationally -- including the Nos. 1 and 3 safeties, the No. 2 pocket passer and the No. 3 defensive tackle. USC is a brand name and is always going to attract elite recruits. Even in the worst of times. And it can't get much worse than it did last season.

I've been very critical of the 2012 edition of USC football. In a word, it stunk. It was like watching a train wreck crash into a train wreck that crashed into a manure pile. For whatever reason, despite an abundance of talent, the chemistry proved toxic. Kiffin has, rightfully so, shouldered the lion's share of the blame.

All that said, with the talent USC has on its roster as of today, the Trojans can win at least nine games in 2013 (pause for laughter). I say again, the Trojans can win more games in 2013 than the team with Barkley, Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald.

Bad years -- for whatever reason -- happen. But folks weren't screaming to fire Kiffin when he took over a program on probation and went 18-7 in his first two seasons -- including the aforementioned 10-win campaign in 2011. People weren't calling for his head when the Trojans won at Autzen Stadium in 2011 -- something only one other Pac-12 team has been able to do since 2008.

What made 2012 so much worse than it should have been were the off-field issues that came across as bush league. Those are easily corrected. You know how? Stop doing stupid things off the field! That should do the trick. And while we're at it, stupid things on the field don't work that well either. Free tip.

The spotlight won't be nearly as bright in 2013 as it was in 2012. The Trojans will probably start off in the preseason top 25. Maybe they even sneak into the top 20. That's a lot more psychologically manageable than No. 1. The schedule sets up nicely with four very winnable games before the Trojans travel to Arizona State at the end of September for their first Pac-12 South showdown. Then they get a week and a half to prep for Arizona and an extra two days to prep for Notre Dame. More importantly, it gets a lot of young players time to get acclimated. There is also a lot of returning talent that saw a great deal of playing time in 2012 -- for better or worse.

As of Feb. 8, 2013, I'm not sure who is going to win the Pac-12 South. I might give a slight edge to either Arizona State or UCLA. But discounting the Trojans is just foolishness. No, USC fans, the sky is not falling. Sometimes you just have to put the past behind you and -- as you folks say -- fight on.

Signing day primer: USC 

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
7:00
AM PT
Team needs: With all-conference cornerback Nickell Robey declaring for the NFL draft and the graduation of safeties T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Drew McAllister, adding depth in the secondary is a pressing need for the Trojans. Given Matt Barkley’s departure, it was imperative that USC sign another quarterback to pair with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

USC junior cornerback Nickell Robey has confirmed that he will leave school early in order to enter the 2013 NFL draft, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Nickell Robey
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAfter three seasons of dynamic performance at USC, Nickell Robey has reportedly decided to turn pro.
“It’s a business decision, like any other important decision I’ve made my whole life,” Robey told the Times. “It’s the best thing for my family and for me.”

Robey was a three-year starter for the Trojans with his best season coming in 2011, when he had 63 tackles, nine pass deflections and two interceptions. One of those interceptions was a memorable return for a touchdown late in the game against Stanford which put USC ahead at the time. Robey was named first-team All Pac-12 that season.

Robey came to USC after originally getting to know Lane and Monte Kiffin during a camp at the University of Tennessee. Robey, a Frostproof, Fla., native, developed a instant rapport with the elder Kiffin, who the Robey family knew of from his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The original plan was for Robey to join the Kiffins at Tennessee, but when they made the switch to USC, so did Robey. Unfortunately, Robey’s mother passed away shortly after national signing day in 2010, and his father had sporadic contact with the family after that.

Robey made the decision to stick with his college choice and left behind a younger sister to be cared for by other family members. When he arrived on campus he immediately declared to teammates and coaches that he wanted to be a model of doing things the Trojan Way. He won everyone over with an engaging personality, a strong work ethic and surprising athleticism and made the starting lineup by the season opener against Hawaii. It was the first time a true freshman had started a season opener at corner for USC in the modern era.

Things didn’t go well for Robey in that opening game and there were a lot of questions from USC fans about the new 5-foot-8, 165-pound corner. However, his play steadily improved as the season went along and he ended the season with 48 tackles and a team-high four interceptions while being named All-Pac-10 honorable mention.

By the time his junior season rolled around, Robey was established as a leader of the team and was named a captain for a 2012 USC team that entered the season with high expectations. Robey finished the season with 52 tackles and one interception while being named All-Pac-12 second team.

Robey had always been pretty clear that he would consider leaving school early in large part to care for his sister, but when his pre-draft evaluation came back stating that he was not expected to be selected in the first three rounds there was a thought that he could end up returning for his final season.

“They can make a lot of predictions but nothing is guaranteed,” Robey told the Times. “This is an opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed to anybody.”

Roundtable: Picking 2013 captains 

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
7:00
AM PT
Leadership will be important for the 2013 Trojans. Give your prediction on who the four team captains will be next fall.

Garry Paskwietz
1. WR Marqise Lee: A leader of this team based on the sheer force of his talent, Lee will be more than ready to accept that responsibility. One thing to watch is how he handles it. Lee is an emotional player, and he’s always be surrounded by steady veterans such as Robert Woods and Matt Barkley. In 2013, Lee will be the one setting the tone, and it will be the first time he’s been placed in such a high-profile leadership role.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

EL PASO, Texas -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Hyundai Sun Bowl after the Trojans' (7-6) 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech (7-7).

USC coach Lane Kiffin comments:

On the Game:

Turnovers and efficiency: “Obviously very disappointing day, coming down to turning the ball over and third-down efficiency really nullifying anything on offense. I thought our defense did a good job today. I thought they played very hard, obviously wore down a bit there late, but that’s to be expected when we turn the ball over that many times.”

Taking responsibility: How much is Kiffin taking the blame for the Trojans season? The coach said, "All of it, we can’t be 7-6 -- not at SC -- and that’s not our expectations and not why we came here and obviously we have some work to do to get that fixed. We are a young team, we started one senior on offense today, so we got to continue to recruit, continue to get better and obviously coach better.”

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson comments:

The defensive key: “Well, I think we stayed away from giving up the big play and we did well on third down. We created some turnovers and it was just one of those things where we were able to make some big plays. We played pretty consistently. It became a field position game.”

More notes and anecdotes

[+] EnlargeJamal Golden
AP Photo/Tim WarnerJamal Golden's punt return to USC's 1-yard line early in the third quarter helped put Georgia Tech up for good.
Key to victory: A 56-yard punt return by Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden early in the third quarter set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington to help put Tech up 14-7.

The puzzle: Commenting on why the Trojans had such good bowl practices but came out flat, junior offensive tackle Kevin Graf said, “I don’t know why we played this way. We had a great week of practice. We’re a lot better team. I promise you this team will work hard to get back to where we belong.”

The offensive scoring average: The Trojans scored seven points against Georgia Tech. Prior to the game with the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans were averaging 34.2 points per game.

Out of the Woods: Junior wide receiver Robert Woods (33 yards on three catches) announced he was declaring for the 2013 NFL draft. Woods said, “Today is a sad day. I had my mind set that I was leaving, so I came into today’s game on a good note. The wind had an impact. Balls were sailing and curving. I was not frustrated with Max [Wittek]. It was the wind. I knew he could get the ball out there.”

Rush to defend: Prior to the Georgia Tech game, the Trojans defense was allowing a net total of 156.4 yards rushing per game. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans allowed 294 rushing yards.

It’s offensive: Prior to the Georgia Tech game, the Trojans were averaging 451.9 yards per game in total offense. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans had 205 total yards.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12