USC Trojans: Torin Harris

2013 review: USC defense

December, 24, 2013
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Determined to find a greater level of success against those uptempo, spread offenses that have shredded USC in recent years, Clancy Pendergast was brought in this past offseason by Lane Kiffin to replace his father, Monte Kiffin, as the team’s defensive coordinator. Installing a vastly different defense, both in terms of look and philosophy, this unit showed tremendous improvement, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in passing defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

Defensive line

A fast and attacking bunch, the Trojans defensive line spearheaded a defense that compiled an impressive 91 tackles for loss, including 35 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSophomore defensive end Leonard Williams had an All-American season.
Headlining the group was defensive end Leonard Williams. A 6-foot-5 sophomore with off-the-charts physical tools, he had arguably the best season of any Trojan, ranking No. 2 on the team with 74 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss, on his way to garnering ESPN.com First Team All-American honors.

Fourth-year junior George Uko lined up opposite Williams at the other end spot, compiling 36 tackles and five sacks of his own, and Antwaun Woods did a solid job at nose tackle when the Trojans went to their 5-2 look. He also took reps at end on occasion.

The outside linebackers emerged as a key piece of the puzzle in the new defensive scheme, with SAM linebacker Devon Kennard and Predator linebacker Morgan Breslin providing steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Kennard, who has played everywhere from middle linebacker to defensive end in his career, finally found his niche standing up on the outside, pacing the Trojans with nine sacks. Breslin, who made a huge impact in 2012 as a junior college transfer, had his season cut short because of a hip injury, though he still managed to record 4.5 sacks in five games. Sliding into the lineup for Breslin midway through the season was J.R. Tavai, who had spent the entirety of his career on the interior. An exceptional athlete with unique football instincts, his standout play allowed the defense to continue on its forward path without a hitch.

Jabari Ruffin, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr and Kevin Greene were others who played at outside linebacker.

Inside linebackers

Under the direction of first-year coach Mike Ekeler, the inside linebackers set the tone as a group that played with a high level of physicality, with fourth-year junior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard serving as the leader. Racking up 14 tackles against UCLA, he finished with a team-best 94 stops.

After a spirited competition with sophomore Anthony Sarao in the spring, junior Lamar Dawson emerged as the starter at WILL linebacker, recording 35 tackles before going down with a torn ACL during an October practice. With Dawson sidelined, Sarao stepped in and looked right at home, showcasing a nonstop motor and a nose for the ball.

Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell are freshman reserves who figure to factor heavily into the equation down the line.

Secondary

It was an up-and-down season for a secondary that struggled at times in coverage, particularly at cornerback. They did end on a high note, helping to corral Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and the nation’s No. 1 passing attack in the Trojans' 45-20 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory.

[+] Enlarge Josh Shaw
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw, a natural safety, responded well at cornerback, often covering a team's top receiver.
Kevon Seymour was one of the primary starters at cornerback. An athletic-looking sophomore who arrived at USC in 2012 with plenty of hype, he was victimized at times this year by opposing offenses, but he certainly finished up strong in the bowl matchup, collecting a team-best seven tackles on his way to earning defensive outperformer of the game honors.

With Torin Harris and a hobbled Anthony Brown unable to provide stability in starting opportunities, Josh Shaw, a natural safety, found himself sitting atop the depth chart at the opposite cornerback spot for the second consecutive season. Commonly pitted against the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, he did a nice job of containing elite pass-catchers such as Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Colorado’s Paul Richardson, finishing up with four interceptions to go along with 67 stops.

Ryan Henderson, Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton also saw brief time at cornerback.

While the situation was somewhat muddled at cornerback during the early stages, it immediately became apparent that the Trojans had a wealth of talent at safety. Fourth-year junior Dion Bailey, who made the switch from linebacker to safety, more than proved himself at nickelback. Announcing Monday that he will forgo his senior season to enter this May’s NFL draft, he paced the Trojans with five interceptions.

With Shaw settling in at cornerback, senior Demetrius Wright was the primary starter at free safety. Having been buried on the depth chart for much of his career, he stepped into his new role and was solid. At strong safety, the impact of freshman Su’a Cravens was a revelation. One of those rare playmakers who only comes around so often, he played more like a seasoned veteran than a green, first-year performer, and there’s no doubt that he has a bright future.

Another freshman, Leon McQuay III, also earned valuable playing time. He also looks primed for a big 2014 campaign. Senior Gerald Bowman played sparingly early, but was ultimately sidelined with a shoulder injury and will be back next season after redshirting.
One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It wasn’t that fans pinned the loss on Orgeron but the general consensus was that the loss did great damage to his long-term hopes of getting the permanent job. There were some who thought the damage was too much to overcome while others thought there was still a chance Orgeron could go a run to keep the job. There is still time to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game although there is very little wiggle room left. The Trojans would simply have to go on an amazing run through the rest of the season and there couldn’t be a repeat of what was seen on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUSC interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought some positive energy to the Trojans.
That will be a daunting task for Orgeron to achieve when you consider the schedule that lies ahead for the Trojans, but he seems bound and determined to keep things positive. His postgame quotes following a crushing loss to the Irish were nothing more than gratitude for the players. And that could be the thing that matters as much as anything for Orgeron and athletic director Pat Haden during the remainder of this season.

It’s not like the Trojans got blown out or embarrassed in any way. They lost a tough game on the road where the realities of this particular team were on full display -- injuries, penalties, key mistakes, etc. at the wrong time.

One of the consistent praises you heard after the game, however, was for the effort from the team. Even in the face of one of those nights where so many bounces of the ball went against them, the Trojans fought to the end. And that’s where Orgeron wants to keep them. He wants to build upon the good energy he has brought during his tenure and not let one defeat put a halt to that momentum.

Kicking open the door of competition

Orgeron announced on Monday that he would be opening up the kicking competition this week in practice after Andre Heidari -- for the second time this year -- missed two field goals that could have provided the margin of victory in a game.

Other candidates in the competition will include Alex Wood and Craig McMahon, both of whom have seen action with extra points and kickoffs but have yet to attempt a field goal for the Trojans. The odds are that Heidari will end up keeping his job at the end of this week but it doesn’t hurt to have a little competition to get things kick-started, no pun intended.

Injury woes

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat what is going on with the Trojans and injuries right now. A look at the offensive side of the ball during the Tuesday practice showed a veritable MASH unit of sidelined players and a whole lot of walk-ons sprinkled among the active players.

At wide receiver, the Trojans ended the practice with only one scholarship receiver -- Darreus Rogers -- but that must have seemed like a bonus to the tight end spot, where no scholarship players were available. Add to that a running back position that is dealing with the news that freshman sensation Justin Davis will be out for the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury and you have the makings of a real depletion of talent at the skill positions.

Position switch

It appears as if Josh Shaw is on the move again. After beginning his USC career at safety in 2012, Shaw got moved to corner midway through last season and played well. In spring 2013, however, he moved back to safety and seemed to have found a home in a spot where he was comfortable. But injuries and inconsistent play have reversed that course and this week Shaw finds himself back at corner.

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.
Tre Madden, Jonathan McKnightKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC's offense exploded in the first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron, with Tre Madden's 63-yard touchdown reception from Cody Kessler highlighting a 546-yard night.
LOS ANGELES -- So now that we know the new, fun-loving Ed Orgeron-led USC Trojans are more relaxed and creative on offense, while still trying to patch up a secondary that seems to be growing more leaky by the minute, the next question is obvious:

Exactly how many more games can USC win this season?

The team that built up a three-touchdown lead in the cool October night and then had to hang on through a nerve-jangling fourth quarter to beat Arizona 38-31 still seems to be a work in progress.



Change is in the air at USC as Ed Orgeron wraps up its first week as the interim head coach of the Trojans.

In an effort to pump more energy into the team, Orgeron implemented a series of changes designed to shift the fortunes of a team that had been playing inconsistently through the first five games of the season. Last week, Orgeron restored desserts to the training table menu and held a “Trojan Bowl” game during the bye week which showcased younger players and walk-ons while being coached by the team veterans.

On Sunday, the quarterbacks came on the field without the yellow “no-contact” jerseys. Offensive players are wearing Cardinal this week (the colors change depending on if the next game is home or away) and Orgeron wanted to emphasize that everybody on the team will wear the same jersey.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterbacks Max Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) won't be wearing the no-contact jerseys in practice under Ed Orgeron.
“He told us that we were going to wear the same colors as the other guys,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I think it’s great.”

One non-quarterback who was back on the field on Sunday was tailback Silas Redd, who has gone through very limited action this fall as he continued to rehabilitate his injured knee. Redd got a lot of reps in the Sunday session and looked strong, especially when you consider how long it had been since he had that much work.

“We got Silas a little taste today,” Orgeron said. “We will see how he goes through the week in terms of how much we can use him. He runs the ball the way we expect a back to run.”

Justin Davis was limited in action at tailback with his injured ankle – Orgeron called him probable for the game – and that meant additional work for guys like Ty Isaac and Buck Allen as well. It will be interesting to see how Orgeron chooses to work the tailback rotation in games because while the Trojans certainly have option, the run game has been one of the few consistent areas on the team, with Tre Madden and Davis leading the way.

Also missing from the Sunday session were wide receivers Marqise Lee (knee) and Darreus Rogers (ankle), along with outside linebacker Morgan Breslin (hip) and cornerback Anthony Brown (knee). Orgeron didn’t have any firm information about their availability for the game Thursday against Arizona.

To add to the receiver depth issues, Victor Blackwell left the Sunday practice early because of illness but it isn’t expected to impact his participation in the game. Nelson Agholor had a nice day with several deep catches.

There was a lot of work in this practice with the tight ends, particularly Xavier Grimble. This has been an area of frustration for many USC fans so far this season, with the lack of production by the tight ends, and it could be one of the changes that are seen in the offense moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, Josh Shaw got reps at safety – his original position this season – with Kevon Seymour and Torin Harris getting the first unit reps at corner. Quinton Powell was back as a reserve inside linebacker after missing some time recently. Devon Kennard and Scott Starr both had sacks and Lamar Dawson had a nice tackle for loss on Allen.

“The key for us on defense this week is to tackle,” Orgeron said. “We were back on our heels a lot against ASU and I want to see us be more aggressive.”

Orgeron acknowledged that the good feelings that have been present over the past week with the coaching transition is nice – he and his staff were out recruiting over the weekend and he said the reaction was “great” – but he also knows that it doesn’t mean much because it’s not a game. He and his team will ultimately be judged by how they perform in games and that first test comes on Thursday the Coliseum.

“We want our players to feel comfortable and to play good football,” Orgeron said. “I think we’re all going to be excited about our first game together but we need to be careful about overemphasizing emotion. We need to make sure we play with poise.”

Planning for success: USC Trojans

September, 19, 2013
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The USC defense is off to a strong start in 2013, but its biggest test of the young season awaits on Saturday in the form of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a talented junior who has put up huge numbers in the Aggies spread offense. Keeton is completing 78 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns to only one interception, and he is also the team's leading rusher.

That kind of dual-threat ability makes Keeton a tough target and one that will receive the full attention of the Trojans defense. So far this year the Trojans have done a good job of playing assignment defense in a scheme that requires attacking from different angles on most every play. That will need to continue on Saturday to prevent Keeton from breaking a big play.

Look for the Trojans to try to get in the backfield quickly in an effort to prevent Keeton from having a chance to make an option decision. This will be especially important for front-line defenders such as Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard.

It will be interesting to see how the Trojans choose to use their personnel groups in the secondary, since they likely will be in a nickel package most of the game. In the first two games against spread teams, the Trojans played a lot of nickel with Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens at the safety spots and Dion Bailey playing in the slot. Against Boston College and its traditional pro-style scheme, Shaw was at corner with Bailey and Cravens at safety, plus Antwaun Woods was at nose tackle on the line. Assuming the Trojans are primarily in nickel against the Aggies, do they keep Shaw at corner? Does Bailey stay at safety or go to the slot? Could Demetrius Wright be an option at safety?

Injuries at corner could be a factor in that decision. Kevon Seymour was limited in action against Boston College, and USC coach Lane Kiffin said Seymour is continuing to recover from a recent injury. Anthony Brown left the Hawaii game with an apparent ankle injury and has not been seen on the field since. The Trojans are fortunate that experienced senior Torin Harris -- who has seen his share of injuries in his USC career -- is healthy enough these days to line up as the corner opposite Shaw.

Notebook: Run sets up pass for Trojans

September, 17, 2013
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One of the most compelling stats from the Boston College game for the USC offense is the fact that the Trojans were able to achieve such good balance on a day when they put up over 500 yards of total offense.

USC ended the day with 521 yards of offense -- 257 on the ground and 264 through the air. But what makes it even more interesting is the fact that those 264 passing yards came on only 19 attempts. The Trojans don’t need to throw the ball 40 times a game to put up big numbers; the stats will come if the run game is setting the tone and if they are spreading the ball around with the right play calls.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Chris Williams/Icon SMIUSC's Justin Davis ran for 96 yards and a touchdown vs. Boston College.
USC coach Lane Kiffin has done a commendable job so far this year of sticking with the commitment to the run as the Trojans have averaged more than 43 rushing attempts per game. It helps when the attempts are producing good yardage and that has been the case with the Trojans averaging 4.5 yards per rush, a number that figures to grow as the backs get more experience and the offensive line continues to gel. Think about it: the Trojans are running the ball well with two backs who had never carried the ball in a college game prior to this season.

On Saturday, the Trojans also came out and did a good job of spreading the ball around. The first six passes that Cody Kessler completed went to six different receivers. By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Trojans had shown the run and the ability to use other players so the Eagles decided to use single coverage on Marqise Lee. That was just a simple Kessler toss to the flat, Lee made one guy miss and that was all she wrote for an 80-yard touchdown.

What’s ironic is that while Lee might be the most explosive player in college football, the Trojans are actually very effective when his catches are limited. USC is 5-0 in games when Lee has two catches and 14-9 in all other Lee games. I doubt Kiffin is going to use that stat as an excuse to start reducing Lee’s touches but it shows how successful the team can be when Lee isn’t forced to carry too much of the load.

Dynamic duo: The Trojans couldn’t have asked for a much better start from the tailback duo of Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Both players have been impressive in, as mentioned above, their first college action at tailback. Madden has been the lead performer with his powerful yet smooth style that has allowed him to go for over 100 yards in each of the first three games to open the season. The last USC tailback to do that was Marcus Allen in his 1981 Heisman-winning season. The true freshman Davis is averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry with 172 yards on 26 carries. It will be interesting to see what will happen when projected starter Silas Redd returns from injury. The latest depth chart released on Sunday night for the Trojans shows Madden as the starter with no “or” designation next to his name, a clear sign that Kiffin is content with what he’s seen so far.

(Read full post)

Pathetic. After the performance Saturday night, I can't think of any other word with which to open this column.

Washington State is/was the weakest Pac-12 team, even if they are a bit improved under Mike Leach. And yet USC – at least on offense – played and/or coached as if it was scared to take the field. It was possible that the Trojans could lose to the Cougars coming into the game. But not like this.

Lane Kiffin
AP Photo/Jae C. HongIt's up to USC's players to try to ignore the outside pressures on Lane Kiffin and the program's future.
And while the papers, columns, websites and sports radio will be alive with commentary about whether Lane Kiffin should stay or go, my thoughts are with the players. What is their mindset? Can they put this behind them and prepare for the next week, and the week after that? And on and on for 11 more? Does the weight that their coach undoubtedly feels show itself to this team? Are they still with him?

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What we learned in Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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The Trojans went on the road last week and defeated Hawaii 30-13 in a game that left almost as many questions as answers for the team moving forward. Here’s what we learned:

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler started the opener at Hawaii, but it's not clear if he will get the nod vs. Washington State.
1. QB battle does not look settled: Lane Kiffin went into the Hawaii game with questions about his starter, and fans took sides with their preferences in heated debates. After the first game, Kiffin now says he knows who his starter will be for the Washington State game, but fans are just as confused as ever, because neither player seemed to have separated from the other in the opener. Both quarterbacks -- Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- had nice moments, both had not-so-nice moments and both had drops from normally sure-handed receivers that could have added nicely to their stats. Regardless, the uncertainty about a long-term starter will continue for another week until we see how things play out against the Cougars.

2. Even without Redd, Trojans have some backs: Projected starting running back Silas Redd didn’t even make the trip to Hawaii, but that didn’t stop the Trojans from seeing some good production from the backs who were there. Tre Madden got the start, and while many of his runs were tough yards after getting hit early, he also showcased a couple long runs, including a nifty 34-yarder. Justin Davis got most of his work in the second half, and he showed a lot of promise with his energetic running style. Buck Allen even made a case for more playing time when he ran over a Hawaii defender near the goal line. Pay attention to the number of rushes in the game -- 45. That’s a good number for a USC offense that wants to run the ball more in 2013.

3. OL needs time to develop as a group: There is going to be a lot of attention paid to the progress of the O-line this year, a process that is made tougher by the insertion of a redshirt freshman at the key left tackle spot midway through camp. The line had a better day run blocking than pass blocking against Hawaii, as evidenced by three sacks and nine tackles for loss. One of those sacks resulted in a safety. It will be interesting to see how the line continues to jell in the coming weeks, especially if there is a continued commitment to running the football.

4. Devon Kennard is back and in the right position: It was considered a big loss last year when Kennard was out with a pec injury, but who could have known how perfectly he would fit into the new defensive scheme in 2013? For a guy who spent the early part of his USC career clearly out of position at defensive end, Kennard finally has found a spot for his talents as an outside linebacker in the 5-2. His stat line (three tackles, two for loss, 1 sack, two pass break-ups) earned him the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week award and, more importantly, the Trojans might have found an impact player for their defense.

5. Injuries add to issues at corner: Things were tenuous enough at the corner position before the opener, but it definitely added to the concern level to see both starting corners Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown leave the game with injury. There has been no official word from the university on the status of either player, although the speculation immediately after the game was that Seymour's issue was not serious. Torin Harris and Devian Shelton saw extended time as reserves against Hawaii with mixed results, and you can be sure Washington State coach Mike Leach will be focusing a lot of attention on who will be out there for the Trojans against his wide-open offense on Saturday.

Roundtable: Top USC fall camp storyline 

August, 22, 2013
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Roundtable with WeAreSC staffers: What was the most notable storyline of fall camp?

Garry Paskwietz
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.

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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday at the Coliseum and if you were waiting on a resolution to the quarterback battle, be prepared to wait a little longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The starting lineups were as follows:

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

Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.
While USC coach Lane Kiffin did praise the way that the defense performed on a hot, balmy Tuesday, the topic of injuries quickly turned into the dominant theme of the post-practice media scrum. Kiffin called the current situation “very concerning,” particularly with the team’s season opener just a little over a week away.

“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”

Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.

“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”

Marcus Martin
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergUSC center Marcus Martin returned to practice Tuesday.
On the positive side, center Marcus Martin returned Tuesday after getting nicked up during the team’s scrimmage on Sunday night, so the offensive line featured a starting lineup that was comprised throughout practice of Kevin Graf at right tackle, John Martinez at right guard, Martin at center, Max Tuerk at left guard and Chad Wheeler at left tackle.

With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.

“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”

Highlights from practice:

  • The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
  • Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
  • Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
  • A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
  • The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.

Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.

“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”
LOS ANGELES -- Taking part in the first of two practices on the day, the Trojans were back out on Dedeaux Field on Wednesday morning for a low-key workout in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets.

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.

Max Wittek
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek and the USC offense worked with a short roster at receiver and running back in the Wednesday morning session.
Still, without Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers on the field, however, the USC offense still had just two scholarship receivers at its disposal for the remainder of the day: De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. Javorius Allen and Tre Madden – wearing a yellow jersey – were the only two available tailbacks during the team period, and the tight end unit was still without Randall Telfer.

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.
The Trojans held their first scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a lot at stake for the ongoing quarterback competition. Both quarterbacks had solid performances but nothing that is going to separate one from the other.

Cody Kessler took the majority of snaps with the first unit and started off strong by leading the first offense to a touchdown on the opening drive against the first defense. The drive featured a 30-yard completion to Nelson Agholor, which was helped by a missed tackle from Torin Harris, and some good running from Justin Davis, who eventually punched the ball into the end zone on a short run behind a block from Kevin Graf.

Max Wittek came out with the second unit and took advantage of some good runs from Buck Allen to get the ball inside the five-yard line but it was there that the defense stiffened. A trio of defenders stopped Allen on first down, then J.R. Tavai came in quickly to tackle Allen for a loss. Ryan Henderson batted away a pass in the end zone for Agholor to complete the goal-line stand.

Wittek led a touchdown drive on his next possession. Once again it was Allen providing some tough yards up the middle before Wittek hit Jahleel Pinner in the flat and the big fullback ran through a tackle attempt by Gerald Bowman to get the ball inside the five. At that point Justin Davis took a handoff but Lamar Dawson came through the line for a loss and Davis was forced to leave the scrimmage at the trainers look at his left foot/ankle. Wittek then hit Agholor for the short touchdown.

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The Trojans got in a long day of work on Tuesday as they get closer to the first scrimmage of fall camp, which will be held on Thursday at the Coliseum.

USC coach Lane Kiffin described it as a “back and forth” day with good plays being made at times on both sides of the ball. Kiffin continues to say that there is no movement on the quarterback front as the competition continues among Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne.

In today’s session, Kessler hit several passes to the tight ends, including Randall Telfer, who was back in action after missing recent practice sessions. One of Kessler’s completions was to Xavier Grimble, who made a pretty one-handed grab. Wittek connected with Darreus Rogers on a 20-yard crossing route and also had a nice deep completion to Nelson Agholor against coverage from Kevon Seymour. Wittek was also intercepted twice, once each by Lamar Dawson and Devon Kennard.

[+] EnlargeLamar Dawson
Chris Williams/Icon SMILamar Dawson had several big plays, including an interception, during Tuesday's practice.
Ty Isaac had multiple nice runs as he continues to impress in his first week of action.

On the defensive side of the ball, Dawson also had a nice play when he tracked down Tre Madden in the backfield for a tackle for loss. Scott Starr and Morgan Breslin each had sacks while Leonard Williams had a pass batted down at the line. Devian Shelton had a pass break-up against Agholor on a throw from Wittek. After the practice, Kiffin singled out Shelton as an “under the radar” guy who has flashed his playmaking skills.

Left tackle Aundrey Walker did not practice and Kiffin called him a “day-to-day” situation. In his absence, Chad Wheeler took the majority of reps with the first team at left tackle and Max Tuerk, who has been starting at left guard, also spent time at tackle. Right guard John Martinez and linebacker Hayes Pullard were both back in action after missing recent time.

Quotebook:

Cody Kessler on the USC defensive line:
“Our D-line is awesome. Leonard [Williams], when you look at him, he’s so big and physically gifted, and so is Devon [Kennard], and George Uko and Morgan. All four of them, when they’re in they’re just amazing. And then you throw Antwaun Woods in there, and all of these other guys that have come in – our d-line is very strong…and it only improves us. When you have that time-clock in your head and you know that your d-line is going to be on you if you don’t five-step and pitch the ball out. If you take time there’s going to be a sack.”

USC WR coach Tee Martin on Darreus Rogers:
“He showed the signs in the spring, and now he’s carried over from a good summer of learning. He retained a lot from spring ball, and I can see the improvement that he’s made from the spring. I give him credit for the hard work that he’s put in. It’s showing. He’s getting lined up, he’s knowing what to do, he’s playing with confidence, and I just look forward to him completing training camp to see just how good he can get before the first game.”

Torin Harris on the primary reason for his improved play:
“I’ve been injured, I’ve had some setbacks, and now I’m healthy, so it’s time to show up. I’ve just got to maintain, I’ve got to keep making progress and keep going for it. I know what the coaches want now, so I just have to keep improving and to show them what I can do every day.”
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It didn’t take long for the new 5-2 defense to show itself Sunday in USC fall camp as Day 2 definitely belonged to that side of the ball.

“It was a really good day for the defense in terms of forcing turnovers,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They did it a couple series in a row, too, which was good to see. I thought their energy was really good from the start and they carried it through the end of a long practice.”

Su’a Cravens had the first interception of the day for the defense in a throwing drill. It was an athletic, leaping play on a Cody Kessler pass intended for Marqise Lee.

“It feels good to make plays,” Cravens said. “Especially against a Biletnikoff winner, but Marqise will probably try to head-hunt me tomorrow and go deep on me, so we’ll see what happens.”

Chris Hawkins had an interception of Max Browne and Torin Harris came up with interception No. 3 for the defense in the final team drill of the day when he battled with Nelson Agholor and came down with a pass from Browne.

The defense also did a good job creating pressure on the quarterback and came away with sacks by Devon Kennard, Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and Quinton Powell.

Safety rotation

On the first day of camp, Dion Bailey and Cravens lined up with the first unit at safety. On Sunday, it was Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright. Kiffin said there is nothing to read into who is starting now because nothing is set. This is a very good safety group that can go six deep if you include Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay. Kiffin mentioned that depth when discussing special teams; he said it will be important for the safeties and running backs to contribute there because both units have such good depth.

Speaking of special teams

The Trojans did live punt drills at the beginning of practice with Kris Albarado and Joey Krassenstein alternating as the punter. Albarado was getting some good air under his punts. Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor were alternating as the return men.

Transferring in

Incoming transfer defensive lineman Delvon Simmons practiced and was wearing No. 97. He’s got good size and looks like the kind of player who could make an immediate impact, although the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Simmons will have to sit out the 2013 season as a transfer from Texas Tech.

Flipping sides

USC
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Greene (81) lined up at tight end in Sunday's practice.
Kevin Greene came out for practice in his familiar No. 81 jersey, but he lined up at tight end, instead of his usual outside linebacker spot. It makes sense to give this a look as the Trojans are a little thin at tight end while the outside linebacker spot is looking solid right now. Kiffin said it’s not a permanent switch yet, just something the coaches will look at to see how it goes.

Recruits in attendance

Offensive lineman Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

More on-field highlights

In a team drill, Kessler had a completion to Agholor that gained roughly 15 yards. ... Leonard Williams fought off a block attempt by John Martinez in order to corral Tre Madden. ... Lamar Dawson and Michael Hutchings plugged a hole to stop Ty Isaac. ... Madden finished off the reps for the first unit with a long run up the middle. ... Browne came in and hit Buck Allen with a swing pass along the right side for 20 yards.

In the final team drill of the day, Demetrius Wright batted down a pass attempt for Lee, Kessler hit Agholor for a first down and Justin Davis had a pretty, weaving run along the left side for 20 yards.

Kiffin said after looking at film from the Saturday practice he was impressed with Madden and Davis. He called them “special players with unique skill sets.”

Quotebook

Su’a Cravens on coming out with a strong effort on Sunday, highlighted by a leaping interception over Marqise Lee on a Cody Kessler pass:

“Yesterday [Saturday] I had an all-right day. It was kind of slow for me, and I made a couple of mistakes. Today [Sunday] I feel like I was more on myself – I studied a lot with Chris Hawkins in my room before practice and I feel like I was on it.”

Marqise Lee on the interception by Cravens:

“At the end of the day, if he’s going to do it in the game, then hey, I don’t mind him doing it to me. ... But tomorrow is another day and I’m not going to let that happen.”

Leonard Williams, on the defense’s standout performance during the team period on Sunday:

“The offense got us [Saturday]. We came out kind of quiet, and I feel like the defense really responded [Sunday].”

Williams, on what has been a noticeable emphasis by the defense to attempt to force turnovers so far this fall camp:

“Day 1 of camp, the coaches just told us that the ball is the most important thing in the game, so we’ve really been emphasizing that with turnover drills with every position on the defense. We’re just really working on getting the ball. Not only are we doing it in drills, but we’re carrying it over to team when we’re going against each other. So every time that one of us is holding somebody up, another guy is coming in and going for the ball. Everyone is going for it.”

Williams, on one of the primary factors behind the defensive unit’s energetic effort on Sunday, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard:

“Hayes is the leader of our defense and he’s a really hyped guy, so we all feed off of him. I feel like everyone is really responding to it and feeding off of that energy.”

Kevin Greene, on when he found out that he would be lining up at tight end on Sunday:

“They basically told me this afternoon. Coach Kiffin said, ‘We’re going to try something different today.’ So I went out there with a smile on my face. I’m not going to come out here and pout. Whatever the coaches want me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Greene, on how the first day at tight end went:

“It was basically just about getting my feet wet. Over time I’m pretty sure that I’ll feel a lot more comfortable – once I take some more snaps and understand what I’m doing out there.”

Greene on the last time that he played on the offensive side of the ball:

“Senior year of high school – when I first started. It’s been a while. I started off playing wide receiver. I did that for about a game or two, then I went strictly to defense from there. So, just playing about four or five years of straight defense, and then switching the mindset like that in one day, it could be tough, but at the same time I’m definitely willing to learn.”

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