USC Trojans: Victor Blackwell

LOS ANGELES -- The football was in the air on Thursday for the USC practice as the Trojans worked a lot on getting downfield in the passing game.

As would be expected, Cody Kessler led the way for the offense and looked to be in sharp command with the season little more than a week away. There were long completions to Victor Blackwell, Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith and Bryce Dixon as Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian continues to spread the touches around to various players.

Most important player: USC

June, 20, 2014
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor figures to improve on his six TD receptions from 2013.
USC: WR Nelson Agholor

2013 production: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns. Agholor also returned 18 punts for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns (19.1 average) and 10 kickoffs for 175 yards (17.5 average).

Why Agholor is important: This was a tough one, because there are a lot of players who could be (and are) difference-makers for the Trojans, be it Agholor, the aforementioned Williams, Randall Telfer, Hayes Pullard, Buck Allen, Max Tuerk, Su'a Cravens, etc.

But like Stanford’s Most Important Player, Ty Montgomery, Agholor is the type of player who can change a game on offense and on special teams. With his sure hands and twin V-12 engines … err … feet, Agholor posted the nation’s second-best punt return average with 19.1 yards. He also tied a Pac-12 record with two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal -- including a 93-yard return, which was the second-longest in school history.

Who plays opposite Agholor might still be up for grabs, with Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer (yeah, remember him?) among others in the mix.

So is it the running game that opens up the passing game? Or is it the other way around? With a burner like Agholor racing up and down the sidelines, he’s certainly going to draw the extra attention of safeties who might otherwise be focused on the box. And most reports out of USC’s spring session (including the practices witnessed by the Pac-12 blog) saw Agholor emerge as the team’s hardest-working player and team leader. Not a bad thing to have when transitioning to a new head coach. Doesn’t hurt that he was tutored by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

You could make a case for a lot of other players. And you'd be right. But with a potential Biletnikoff winner in Agholor, you certainly can't go wrong.

Other Most Important Players:
With the Trojans in the midst of their summer training schedule, here’s a look at some of the top offseason storylines for a collection of players whom USC coach Steve Sarkisian will count on to produce at a high level this fall -- the wide receivers and tight ends.

Agholor’s turn in the spotlight

After waiting his turn behind both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, junior Nelson Agholor looks primed to follow in their footsteps as the next great Trojans wideout. First showing promise as a freshman, when he gave brief glimpses of his ability as a dynamic playmaker, he took his game to another level last year, first as the No. 2 option to Lee, and then, when the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was sidelined for a portion of the season, as the go-to receiver.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor showed in 2013 he can fill the sizable shoes of a No. 1 receiver at USC.
Finishing his sophomore campaign with 56 receptions for a team-high 918 yards and six touchdowns, he firmly established himself as one of the conference’s top pass-catchers, but what has those around USC particularly encouraged these days is the way he came out this past spring and flat-out dominated. Developing strong chemistry with quarterback Cody Kessler, he was arguably the MVP of the entire string of practices.

With the Trojans’ no-huddle attack figuring to allow the offense to potentially run more than 80 plays per game, it’s a safe bet that Agholor will receive plenty of chances to shine as the team’s primary receiving threat, and with what he has shown it’s safe to say that he’s ready to seize the increased opportunity and run with it.

Who else steps up at WR?

While the Trojans do have a budding star in Agholor to rely on, in order for the passing game to really take off, Kessler is going to need to find some solid complements at wide receiver as well. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., the team does appear to possess better depth at the position than it did last season.

Right now, sophomore Darreus Rogers looks like the frontrunner to land the role of the No. 2 receiver. A big body with sure hands, he showed well as a freshman, making 22 catches, and he continued to improve his skills in the spring. If his development keeps on its forward path through this summer, big things could be in store for him in 2014.

Fourth-year junior Victor Blackwell is a veteran who has flashed at times as well, and there’s certainly room for him to become a bigger factor in the fall.

This unit will also receive a huge boost with the return of two players who missed the entire 2013 season due to knee injuries – fourth-year junior George Farmer and second-year freshman Steven Mitchell.

Farmer, who arrived at USC as one of the most highly touted members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2011, looked sharp this past spring as he eased himself back into action, providing hope that this might be his year to emerge. Mitchell showed a ton of promise a year ago before he went down. Now back in the swing of things this summer, he has been going hard and making big plays with great frequency during volunteer workouts.

George Katrib -- who earned a spot atop the depth chart in the spring -- Robby Kolanz , Christian Tober and Aaron Minor are some walk-ons who will provide depth, and then there’s a slew of talented incoming freshmen.

Adoree' Jackson might be the most intriguing addition to watch. A phenomenal athlete who starred on both sides of the ball at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, he took reps at cornerback during the first volunteer session that he participated in this past Monday, but Sarkisian has said that he will likely get a look on offense as well in the fall. In either case, he has the look of an instant impact performer wherever he lines up.

John “JuJu” Smith, Ajene Harris and Rahshead Johnson are other new arrivals who might be able to contribute early. Smith and Harris have stood out in the early goings this summer at wideout. Johnson, meanwhile, has been spending his time at corner.

Tight ends poised to flourish

With the success that 2013 John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins enjoyed in Sarkisian’s offense at Washington, there’s certainly reason to believe that the tight ends will take on a larger role in the passing game this year at USC than they did under the previous regime. Providing evidence of that, there did seem to be more passes headed their way this past spring. Although low on numbers, it’s a group marked by talent.

Xavier Grimble opted to take his talents to the NFL early, leaving fifth-year senior Randall Telfer as the unquestioned leader of the unit. With 22 starts and 44 career catches to his credit, he’s a dependable all-around option, but he missed the entire spring due to injury, and he hasn’t been spotted taking part in the team’s volunteer workouts so far this summer, so he’ll have some catching up to do in the new system whenever he does return.

Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick already got his feet wet in the offense this past spring, making quite an impression as he took the bulk of the first-team reps. Catching virtually everything thrown in his direction, he quickly made a name for himself as a possible breakout candidate for the season ahead.

Without a ton of depth, incoming freshman Bryce Dixon should get a chance to make his mark early. Standing 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he’s an outstanding receiving threat who hauled in 63 passes during his senior year at Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure.

Walk-ons Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan, Connor Spears and Teddy Baker are others who could see time in the rotation. Willson, in particular, enjoyed a solid spring.

2013 review: USC offense 

December, 24, 2013
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With a new starting quarterback at the helm, a slew of injuries depleting an already thin depth chart and a highly publicized coaching carousel, the production of the USC offense was largely up and down in 2013 with the Trojans averaging a pedestrian 29.7 points per game, while converting just 35 percent on third-down plays.

Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.

Quarterback

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USC wide receiver De'Von Flournoy has always been there waiting for his chance. Biding his time as he sat behind the likes of Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Brandon Carswell, Brice Butler, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, he grew to learn the virtue of patience in a big way during his first four years in the Trojans program.

But now, as a fifth-year senior, Flournoy is finally getting an opportunity to see the field, and it’s safe to say that he’s making the most of it -- never more so than this past weekend.

[+] EnlargeDe'Von Flournoy
Harry How/Getty ImagesWith injuries ravaging USC's receiving corps, fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy is getting a chance to produce.
With the Trojans wracked by injuries at seemingly every position heading into their matchup with Utah, USC head coach Ed Orgeron told the team in no uncertain terms that some of the lesser-known contributors would have to step up. It’s a message that Flournoy, who is a member of a wide receiver group that was down to three scholarship players, heard loud and clear.

“He made a point that I’ll never forget,” Flournoy said. “He said, ‘When the big brother leaves, it’s time for the little brother to step into his shoes and take over the household.’ ”

Flournoy did precisely that against the Utes. With Lee, as well as Victor Blackwell, unable to suit up, he made the second start of his career and came through with two receptions for 45 yards, bringing his season total to five catches for 69 yards.

Flournoy’s second reception of the day, a quick toss from Cody Kessler that the Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham product turned into a 31-yard gain after breaking a pair of tackles, ultimately set up a field goal and was one of the highlight plays of the afternoon in a 19-3 USC victory.

“I try just to never stop my feet when I catch the ball,” said Flournoy, who missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury. “You catch the ball and you move north and south. That’s what the game is all about … getting first downs. And the line did a nice job of holding things up, Cody made a great read and delivered the rock, and I just had to go get the first down.”

For a player who entered the 2013 campaign having amassed just one reception in the previous three seasons combined, his performance against Utah marked the realization of a dream.

“Any way that you can contribute always feels good, but to contribute on the stat sheet to help get a W, it feels tremendous,” Flournoy said. “The emotion kind of took over, and my teammates told me how proud they were of me, and the coaching staff did too. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. To have your parents in the stands, and you actually get on the field to make plays for your team, it’s a great feeling.”

The joy that Flournoy’s teammates and coaches took in his outing is well justified. As one of the Trojans’ most dedicated practice performers, he’s garnered a reputation as a leader-by-example whom the younger players gravitate towards for guidance.

“My role has always been the guy that knows all of the plays,” Flournoy said. “If you come to me with any questions, I’ll always have the answer. I’m able to be fluid in every position.”

Having now moved beyond just being a mentor, Flournoy figures to continue to get plenty of playing time this Friday when the Trojans face Oregon State, particularly with Lee’s status still up in the air. It’s another opportunity that he’s more than ready for.

“I definitely hear my number being called a lot more,” Flournoy said. “It’s just time for me to execute.”


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.”

Lane Kiffin conference call highlights

September, 16, 2013
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Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 35-7 victory over Boston College.

Opening comments:

“It was just really a great day for our players and fans after the week that they’d been through. I just really was excited for them, and I really saw a lot of emotion in the players throughout the game. … As I said after the game, I really feel like the decisions made in January -- our staff decisions, schematical decisions and practice decisions -- are paying off.”

On the performance of the USC defense:

“Our first defense, they go two weeks in a row now where they’ve only given up one field goal. You really can’t play much better than that.”

On the play of the USC running backs:

“I thought all the backs ran really well. All four backs averaged over 5 1/2 yards a carry each. Justin [Davis] had two really special runs. Unfortunately, he had another long run that was called back on a penalty. Otherwise, he’s well over 100 [yards] on the day, and over 10 yards a carry. And Tre [Madden], three games in a row over one hundred yards -- you can’t start much better than that. Unfortunately, he put the ball on the ground for the first time this year toward the end of the second quarter. Luckily we got that back and we were able to not turn the ball over the entire day.”

On the improvement of the USC offense on third downs (5-of-10 on third-down conversions) against Boston College, and the play of quarterback Cody Kessler:

“We started slow again on third downs, but really had a good second half with that, and that came from the efficiency of running the ball well and completing balls. You know, when you complete … whatever that is … almost 90 percent of your passes, that’s going to help in those situations. It’s kind of amazing that [Kessler’s] first pass was incomplete, his last was incomplete, and he completed the 15 in between. … So, really a good day by him, and then Max Wittek came in and played well.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on the performance of the offensive line:

“There is some good stuff going on up there. The left tackle (Chad Wheeler) played really well in his third college game, and he’s going to be a special player. … Max Tuerk played really well. Max and Marcus [Martin] had actually been really sick the last part of the week there, including during the game. So, they kind of sucked it up and went out there and played on a hot day, and it was good to see. And Kevin Graf played well too.”

On where the offensive line is in terms of their cohesiveness and communication-- there were two instances where Boston College defenders appeared to come in untouched due to a breakdown up front:

“Both were communication issues on the right side. We’d like to play perfect, but we didn’t.”

On the strong production of the USC ground attack so far this season, particularly with last season’s leading rusher, Silas Redd, sidelined with an injury:

“I think it’s strange … if you would have said that really the only two running backs with experience, not just [Redd] but D.J. Morgan -- neither of those guys have been available to play for us. I think it speaks to those other guys working hard, stepping up and seizing the opportunity. And hopefully Silas will play this week.”

On the status of Darreus Rogers, who appeared to be injured against Boston College:

“Darreus wasn’t able to finish the game. We hope that he plays this week for us. De’Von Flournoy stepped up and had a catch in there, Victor Blackwell played a few snaps, so that’s what we got.”

On the Trojans’ 10 penalties on Saturday:

“I thought we did a really good job for the most part of not having penalties, especially the week before. We unfortunately had some yesterday … some poor decisions. We made some poor decisions sometimes there on holding penalties and then on two roughing-the-passers. Those are big penalties … we’ve got to fix that.”

On the impact that running backs coach Tommie Robinson has had in his first season at USC:

“I think he’s done a really good job with a very inexperienced group -- the two experienced guys have been down the whole season. To get those guys ready to play as well as they’re doing, and all of those guys going over 5 yards a carry in the game … he’s done a great job with them. “

When a group is playing as well as the USC defense has been as of late, is it difficult to keep them motivated at times? And what does the coaching staff do to keep them on track?

“We stay really hard on them. There is stuff to improve on. They’re going to have a cut-up film ready for them at 6:30 in the morning when they come in here to talk to them about. … We haven’t really been challenged yet that much comparable to what’s coming. Coming down the road there’s some high-octane offenses coming in, and it starts this Saturday. This is a huge test. This is a really, really good football team coming in here, and a great dynamic quarterback.”

On what Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton brings to the table:

“He does everything. I think he’s like the guy up in Seattle. You can’t tackle him, he runs around, makes every throw, doesn’t seem to get rattled, plays great in big games … he’s just a real special player.”
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 -- Picking up right where they left off after a stellar performance in USC’s scrimmage on Friday, the Trojans’ defense shined, once again, in the team’s shorts-and-shoulder-pads practice on Saturday, with the play of the defensive line, in particular, catching the eye of USC head coach Lane Kiffin.

USC Trojans“I saw some good stuff in practice today, and I thought the D-line played really well, kind of the same characters as usual,” Kiffin said. “Going back to the film yesterday, I thought the storyline was the first-team defense -- five three-and-outs. If the game would have been over at halftime, the first team defense would have given up minus-2 yards at that point. It was a really good showing by the front seven on defense, especially. Those guys showed up and made plays. George [Uko] made a bunch of plays, Hayes [Pullard] showed up, Su'a Cravens probably made more plays than anybody, and he only played 28 snaps.”

Upon further review: Quarterbacks
After going through the film from Friday’s scrimmage, Kiffin revealed that while the numbers put up by Cody Kessler (20 of 28, 231 yards, 3 TDs) were on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to those of Max Wittek (2 of 7, 15 yards), not all is necessarily as it seems.

“Yesterday’s numbers got screwed up just by the way the series went,” Kiffin said. “Obviously Cody got more chances because of the pass attempts, and he played really well in there. And then Max was going against, for the most part, the No. 1 defense, which was having a really good day versus the No. 1 offense -- which also had a number of special players out.”

As such, Kiffin still doesn't appear to be close to naming a starter between Kessler and Wittek.

“It’s the same thing I’ve said all along,” Kiffin said. “Ideally we would have liked to have had it done by now. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. Ideally we would not like to have two quarterbacks on opening day, but you never say never.”

Injury report: Tailbacks getting healthy
Kiffin said after practice that 17 players are still being held out of contact, with the most recent addition being wide receiver Victor Blackwell, who watched from the sideline on crutches Saturday with a brace on his knee.

One position group that appears to be getting healthier, however, is the Trojans' tailback corps. With Buck Allen carrying the bulk of the load of late, the group has been bolstered by the recent return of Ty Isaac, and on Saturday both Silas Redd and Justin Davis were back, as well, taking part in the workout in a limited capacity.

“Today we got Justin back for the beginning of practice, and Silas ... that’s the first time in a while that they’ve done individual,” Kiffin said. “Justin did team and looked really good, so I think we’re headed in the right direction. We could be back here very soon with everybody outside of D.J. [Morgan] back in full participation.”

Other notables who sat out the practice included Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, Torin Harris and Tre Madden. Late in the day, tight end Xavier Grimble and nose tackle Antwaun Woods also could be seen in the trainers' tent with apparent injuries, and Pullard was also in and out of the lineup, wearing a yellow jersey later in the day.

Saturday highlights
The team’s 11-on-11 period started with a big hit by Cravens on Isaac, holding the run attempt for no-gain. Davis, donning a yellow jersey, took a handoff for a gain of 6 or 7 yards, and that was immediately followed by an impressive run by Allen in which he bounced outside to pick up 20 yards. Kessler would get Marqise Lee -- also in a yellow jersey -- involved soon thereafter, completing a 9-yard pass on the outside to the star wideout. Leonard Williams came in for a sack on Kessler. During a brief two-minute drill, Wittek completed passes to Darreus Rogers, Grimble and Nelson Agholor, but the drive ultimately stalled.

During 7-on-7s, Wittek completed a deep strike over the middle to Agholor, and in the final 11-on-11 period, Agholor caught a number of passes from both quarterbacks, and it’s safe to say that he’s really starting to resemble the standout performer everyone saw this past spring. Freshman WILL linebacker Quinton Powell -- who spent much of the day running with the first-team defense alongside Lamar Dawson -- had a nice pass break-up in coverage on a toss over the middle to Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, and Williams recorded another sack.

On one of the wildest plays of fall camp, outside linebacker Charles Burks picked off a Wittek pass over the middle, only to fumble it. The defense wound up recovering the ball, but all 22 players on the field still had to run a lap after the play. Kessler came in and hit Isaac with a pass in stride for a pickup of more than 30 yards, and Dawson and Shaw combined for a sack on the last highlight play of the day.

Notables in attendance: Former USC head coach John Robinson and ESPN 300 Class of 2014 tight end Bryce Dixon (Saint Bonaventure/Ventura, Calif.).
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.

Injuries piling up for Trojans

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
7:00
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The Trojans are at the midway point of fall camp and, with the injuries mounting, USC coach Lane Kiffin said the impact is being felt on the field.

“We’re starting to lose guys and it’s affecting our ability to rotate guys as much as we want,” Kiffin said.

There were no new injuries to report on Tuesday but among the players sidelined with previous issues were Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers, Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac, Jordan Simmons, Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai and Josh Shaw.

Tre Madden
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comTre Madden is running with more burst, a bright spot for a Trojans team that's dealing with bumps and bruises.
From what has been reported, it doesn’t appear as if any of the injuries will put the players in jeopardy of missing the season opener, but they are still missing valuable practice reps.

“There are a lot of skill guys who aren’t available and that has hurt us in terms of developing an identity for the offense,” Kiffin said.

One position that has been relatively healthy is quarterback, as the battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek continues. Kiffin pointed out that both quarterbacks have done a good job of taking care of the football against a defense that does a lot of attacking from multiple spots.

“The number one theme for this team this year is about taking care of the football,” Kiffin said.

Wittek had an opportunity for a big play early today when he hit De'Von Flournoy in stride with a deep pass, but the ball was dropped. Wittek later hit Victor Blackwell with a pass over the middle that went right through Ryan Henderson’s hands.

He ended practice with a pair of completions to walk-on Robby Kolanz -- the first was a throw across the middle in traffic and the second came in the left corner of the end zone where Kolanz was able to fight off coverage from Chris Hawkins to make the play. The offensive players came over to celebrate with Kolanz, ending the practice session on a good note.

Kessler had an impressive touchdown thanks to some good running by Tre Madden, who caught a pass in the flat and outran Devian Shelton and Gerald Bowman to the end zone. Madden continues to look better and better with more work. He is still wearing a yellow jersey to indicate no contact, but it’s pretty obvious that he is getting close to full playing speed.

Kessler also showed his agility when he rolled left and hit Xavier Grimble with a first-down pass.

Hayes Pullard and Xavier Grimble were late to practice due to a class and, in Pullard’s absence, both Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao were on the field at the same time at the two inside linebacker spots. With Breslin out at OLB, Marquis Simmons and Jabari Ruffin have been alternating reps.

Anthony Brown had a nice pass breakup at the goal line of a Kessler pass attempt for Blackwell.

There was work on kickoff coverage drills at the start of the day, with John Baxter timing the coverage team getting downfield. The coverage unit which started the drill featured Andre Heidari, Dion Bailey, Quinton Powell, Shelton, Kevon Seymour, Su'a Cravens, Leon McQuay III, Henderson, Ruffin, Simmons and Soma Vainuku.

Quotebook:

“The left side of the offensive line is playing well together. I’m really excited about how they look and the fact that these are two young guys who could grow together. It will be really good to see how they play when you line up a couple veteran tight ends next to them with Grimble and Telfer.” -- Kiffin talking about left tackle Chad Wheeler and left guard Max Tuerk.
The Trojans held a night practice on Dedeaux Field on Monday and coach Lane Kiffin was very pleased with the results.

“It was our best practice of fall camp,” Kiffin said. “Now we need to get the players to understand how to come out with this kind of mindset every day. It was a very competitive session, especially when you consider it was the second practice of the day.”

As usual, the day started with special teams drills. There was time spent on learning how to scatter when a punt is coming down that is not going to be caught, in order to make sure the ball doesn’t take a bad bounce off a player on the return team. Also, players worked on chasing loose balls that had been kicked after they hit the ground. There are the kinds of details that John Baxter pays attention to as a special teams coach.

There were some individual position drills and then a lot of 11-on-11 team work in various down and distance situations.

The running backs were once again limited to Tre Madden and Buck Allen, as the other backs are sidelined with injury. Allen had the highlight play of the day when he took a handoff to the left side and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown.

Both players also scored multiple touchdowns in a goal-line drill that was dominated by the offense. Madden had a couple of scores to the outside, and Allen did his damage inside. Soma Vainuku also had a touchdown run in the goal-line drill while Cody Kessler hit Xavier Grimble in the end zone and he held on despite getting hit as the ball arrived by Kevon Seymour and Gerald Bowman. Kessler also connected with De'Von Flournoy for a score, while Max Wittek completed a touchdown to Victor Blackwell.

Flournoy also had a touchdown catch from Kessler on a deep ball against Ryan Henderson in a team drill. Kiffin commented after practice that Flournoy has looked good after missing some time early in camp. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick had a pair of good catches, while Darreus Rogers caught a touchdown from Wittek. Rogers was later spotted on the sideline with his pads off and ice on his left shoulder. Henderson came back and got an interception off Kessler and then Su'a Cravens broke up a Wittek pass attempt at the goal line. Scott Starr had a solid pop on Grimble after the tight end had caught a short pass from Kessler, Grimble turned upfield and was met by a solid form tackle from Starr that stopped Xavier in his tracks and caused an uproar on the defensive sideline.

The next practice for the Trojans is Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.


LOS ANGELES -- Coach Lane Kiffin put the USC Trojans through several situational drills Sunday to help prepare for game action.

“It was a real good day today,” Kiffin said. “Maybe not our best day in terms of performance, but we had some good situational work and we can learn a lot from that.

“We did red-zone stuff, some two-minute and four-minute drills, just to let our guys have an understanding of those points. We want them to pay attention to things like down and distance. We had one instance today with a third-and-long; we need to know to not give up a big play there. We can go watch the film and show them specific examples.”

There was also a bit of an announcement on the quarterback front, although it had little to do with naming a starter. Kiffin confirmed that it is officially a two-quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek as Kiffin told freshman Max Browne after the Saturday practice that he was out of the competition.

“Max took it like a professional,” Kiffin said. “He’s a competitor, though, and this doesn’t mean he is out of it as far as the whole season is concerned. It just means he’s out of it right now. Max is as advanced as any young quarterback. I wasn’t here when Matthew (Barkley) came in, but Browne has picked things up quickly. But now it’s a two-guy race.”

Sunday was a perfect example of why this is such a close competition. Both Kessler and Wittek made several big plays that showcased their abilities.

The first big play for Wittek was on a deep-in pattern to Darreus Rogers. A few plays later, Wittek stood tall in the pocket with a lot of pressure and he hit Rogers deep. The defensive backs collided and Rogers went for an 80-yard score. Later in the day in a red-zone drill, he hit Rogers with a fade pass for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeAundrey Walker
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAundrey Walker got some work in at right guard on Sunday.
Kessler got his day started with a scramble left and a shovel pass to a running back for a first down. It was an example of Kessler the improviser, something he does well. He later scrambled right and threw a strike on the run to Victor Blackwell for 20 yards. Kessler’s best throw came with the ball at his own 1-yard line. He dropped back into the end zone and threw a strike into the hands of Xavier Grimble, who had a step on Hayes Pullard. Once Grimble caught the ball, he outran Hayes for the score. Cody also hit Jahleel Pinner for a 20-yard touchdown in a red-zone drill.

There was a position switch of note, although Kiffin was clear to say it was not permanent at this point. Aundrey Walker has been out of action for the past several days, so Chad Wheeler has been taking reps with the first unit at left tackle. At the Saturday practice, reserve right guard Jordan Simmons left early and did not practice on Sunday. The coaches put Walker as the No. 2 right guard upon his return on Sunday, a position he played as a freshman. Walker said he made one mistake of crossing up the signals, but he also showed his impressive strength on one play when he shoved big Delvon Simmons out of the play.

“This is the time of year to look at switches like this,” Kiffin said. “It also speaks a little to the play of Chad Wheeler that we are even looking at this. If he wasn’t playing well, we wouldn’t do it.”

Marqise Lee spent a second day on the sidelines in uniform but no pads after suffering a bone bruise on Friday. Kiffin said they hope to get Lee out on the field soon, but he didn’t specific a time frame. Kiffin also talked about how important this time period is for Lee -- even though he is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things he can work on. Specifically, he mentioned the fact that Lee had four fumbles last year and they can work with him to focus on areas such as ball security.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFreshman receiver Darreus Rogers is having a great camp, playing with confidence.
Nelson Agholor was also limited in action but, as noted above in the quarterback highlight plays, it was another terrific outing for Rogers. The freshman is big and strong and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Pinner is another young guy who is making an impression. The sophomore fullback has been getting a lot of reps in Soma Vainuku’s absence. (Vainuku returned to practice Sunday.) The wheel route from Kessler to Pinner was pretty as Pinner caught the ball in stride. That is going to be an effective weapon if he can contribute plays such as that in the passing game.

The big hit of the day came courtesy of Demetrius Wright. Wittek threw a pass from his end zone to walk-on wide receiver Robby Kolanz at the 18-yard line. Wright hit him hard right as the ball arrived, but Kolanz hung on for the catch.

Quinton Powell, who was recently moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, spent the day with the second unit behind Pullard. Michael Hutchings had been in that No. 2 spot to this point in camp.

One of the special-teams drills today was focusing on blocking field goals. Anthony Brown, Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay each had blocks.

Jahlani Tavai (Manhattan Beach, Calif./Mira Costa) was in attendance Sunday. He’s a class of 2014 DE/OLB prospect and the brother of current USC defensive end J.R. Tavai.

Quotebook:

“I’m trying to provide depth to the line. I’m 100 percent ready to work after having a mild concussion last week. I’m willing to do anything I can to help and I trust coach Summers to put me in the right position. I was pretty comfortable today at right guard. I would actually feel comfortable at any spot really, well, maybe center wouldn’t work. I still feel left tackle is my position but I’m not surprised they wanted to take a look at this with Jordan [Simmons] being down.” – Aundrey Walker
Geared up in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field early Saturday morning for the first of two practices on the day.

After suffering an undisclosed injury on Friday, all eyes were watching for star wide out Marqise Lee, but the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was not in attendance, and with USC head coach Lane Kiffin and the rest of the team taking a break from media interviews following the two-hour workout, no update will come in regard to Lee’s status until after tonight’s practice.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesSophomore Kevon Seymour was among the defensive standouts in Saturday's early practice.
Also sitting out were Justin Davis, Ty Isaac and De'Von Flournoy, with Leonard Williams, Cody Temple, Devian Shelton and D.J. Morgan all held out from portions of the workout.

With no Lee or Flournoy, it was a thin wide receiver unit today, with Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and Darreus Rogers serving as the only available scholarship players in the group.

Left tackle Aundrey Walker and right tackle Kevin Graf were both in action today, and each took extended reps with the first unit, although Chad Wheeler still appeared to get the majority of the snaps on the left side, and Zach Banner saw time with the first group on the right side, as well. Su'a Cravens also returned today, looking good with the second unit at strong safety.

There was a short one-on-one red zone period early, with the wide receiver-cornerback match-ups drawing the most interest, and it's safe to say the defense got the better of the offense in this one. Marked by some inspired play, the session was highlighted by a Kevon Seymour pass-breakup on a Max Wittek toss intended for Agholor, as well as a fantastic athletic play by Chris Hawkins in which he tipped a ball into the air that was intended for Agholor near the sideline, then collected himself in time to pick the ball off.

During the 11-on-11 period, the defense continued to dominate from the get-go, forcing some big turnovers that had the entire group jumping and hollering. On the second play of the session, Wittek hit Agholor for a quick strike, but Seymour came up immediately and stripped the ball, with a collection of defenders jumping on it. Cody Kessler tried to hit Soma Vainuku on the very next play, but the ball was deflected, and freshman inside linebacker Quinton Powell was there to corral it. Demetrius Wright came up to lay a nice hit on Darreus Rogers over the middle that jarred the ball loose for an incompletion.

There was also some stellar play by the defensive line. J.R. Tavai -- who ran with the first unit at defensive end in place of Williams -- broke through to tackle Javorius Allen for a loss. George Uko and Morgan Breslin combined for a sack on Wittek. Antwaun Woods followed that up by meeting Silas Redd -- who ran without a yellow jersey today -- at the line to stop the run for no gain.

The offense eventually came around though, with Wittek hitting Xavier Grimble deep downfield, and Tre Madden -- who continued to wear a yellow jersey -- coming up with a nice run around the right side. Against the scout team later on, both Madden and Allen looked sharp and had some impressive runs for big gains. Kessler, meanwhile, finished his day strong in the same period, connecting on at least five consecutive completions at one point -- to Rogers, Agholor, Robby Kolanz, and two to Victor Blackwell.

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