USC Trojans: Chris Hawkins

LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took his turn on the phone on Thursday during the Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, revealing that among his biggest concerns for the Trojans heading into the fall is finding the right combination along the offensive line.

“Solidifying that front five -- who’s going to be where, that depth and all of that -- I think, is one key component for us,” Sarkisian said.

That doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, this past spring the Trojans were without a 2013 starter in senior guard Aundrey Walker (ankle), as well as promising guard/tackle Jordan Simmons (knee) and tackle Nico Falah (back), all to injuries, making the lack of depth a glaring issue.

The Trojans featured a No. 1 offensive line unit throughout the majority of the March and April workouts that was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Toa Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk played center all spring and is almost certain to start somewhere on the line this fall.
But with Walker, Simmons and Falah all expected to return in time for fall camp, on top of the fact that the unit will add a trio of highly touted freshmen to the mix in Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the starting group could potentially have a very different look when the Trojans open up against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

Sarkisian noted that Mama and Talamaivao will both begin their USC careers on the interior. He did not discuss Brown, but most consider him to have the ability to line up at guard or tackle.

How the players who are coming off injury, as well those freshman additions, adjust to the new uptempo system and how they perform in fall camp will play a major part in what kind of role they’re ultimately going to play.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sarkisian said. “So, that’s why the challenge is so big for us of how we’re handling that first week to get guys opportunities to show what they’re about, so we can start developing some cohesiveness amongst that offensive front as we move toward the season.”

Sarkisian spoke glowingly of Wheeler and also praised Tuerk, Lobendahn and Banner for their efforts this past spring. He also noted that Tuerk will continue to line up at center, where he played during the entirety of the spring, but he appeared to leave the door open for others to still compete at the position.

“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“

Response to SEC decision

One topic that was brought up throughout the call to all of the Pac-12 coaches was the Southeastern Conference’s recent decision to stick to an eight-game conference schedule.

With college football moving to a four-team playoff next season, the trend has been for conferences to adopt a nine-game conference schedule. Pac-12 and Big 12 teams already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten is scheduled to make the change in 2016.

When asked about the SEC’s decision, Sarkisian took the opportunity to praise the Pac-12 while also expressing his desire for a level playing field down the line.

“The Pac-12 has been on the forefront of the scheduling thing here for quite some time,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s encouraging to see that the majority of college football is moving their way towards nine. I think for college football to find the common ground, the more areas we can all be the same so that there’s a competitive and level playing field for everybody, I think should be the goal.”

Hawkins impresses

When asked if there were any redshirt freshmen who stood out to him this spring at USC, Sarkisian answered with cornerback Chris Hawkins.

“From all of the accounts of all of the people that were here on the previous staff, he has really matured mentally and physically,” Sarkisian said. “I thought his body has really changed. I thought he had a very good spring for us.”

Ten spring risers at USC

April, 25, 2014
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With a new coaching staff in place at USC, spring practice represented a time of opportunity more than ever for lesser-known members of the team looking to make a move up the depth chart. With that said, here are 10 players who seized that chance over the course of the 15 workouts, showing that they just might be ready to make a significant impact for the Trojans in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJabari Ruffin
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJabari Ruffin (40) was a force all spring, moving ahead of Quinton Powell at SAM linebacker.
1. TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Jr.)
With Randall Telfer sidelined for this spring because of injury, Cope-Fitzpatrick got the call with the first unit and shined in Steve Sarkisian’s tight end-friendly offense. Showcasing sure hands to go along with the ideal size that you want at the position, he caught virtually everything thrown in his direction, providing more than enough evidence to suggest that he’s primed for a breakout season.

2. OLB Scott Starr (6-2, 220, RS So.)
After battling a neck injury and being buried on the depth chart during his first two years on campus, a now-healthy Starr materialized as a perfect fit at rush end in Justin Wilcox’s new 3-4 multiple front defense. With a nonstop motor and outstanding pass-rush skills, he capped his stellar spring in the Coliseum by making a game-high six stops, including three tackles for loss and one sack.

3. OL Zach Banner (6-9, 345, RS So.)
Missing the majority of the 2013 season after undergoing surgery on both hips, Banner’s emergence was one of the big surprises. Moving into the starting lineup at right tackle during the third week of workouts, Banner played the best that he has in a Trojans uniform -- a particularly impressive feat when you consider the fact he said he wasn’t even quite back to 100 percent yet. With the promise that he showed, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see him remain with the first group in the fall.

4. OLB Jabari Ruffin (6-3, 225, RS So.)
Like Starr, Ruffin benefited from the switch to the new defensive system in a big way. Rangy, fast and extremely aggressive at the point of attack, he’s tailor-made for the SAM linebacker position in Wilcox’s scheme. Beginning camp with the No. 2 unit, he eventually moved ahead of Quinton Powell -- another rising player -- and ran exclusively with the first-team defense during the last two weeks of spring drills.

5. CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Fr.)
After spending his first season at USC redshirting, a more physically developed Hawkins came into camp showcasing an improved skill set, jumping in with the No. 1 defensive group opposite Kevon Seymour. His development is crucial for a unit that struggled in coverage at times in 2013, and even with the expected return of Josh Shaw from injury in the fall, USC will need all of the capable contributors it can come up with as the unit squares off against all of those uptempo, spread-it-out Pac-12 offenses.

6. OLB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, So.)
The fact Powell was supplanted in the starting lineup during the later stages of spring ball really speaks more about the exceptional camp that Ruffin had than anything that Powell did wrong. On the contrary, the long and athletic former Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland star continued to stand out as one of the team’s most promising young talents. A force both in coverage and up at the line of scrimmage, the competition between Powell and Ruffin is sure to be one of the most entertaining position battles of fall camp.

7. DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, RS Jr.)
Forced to spend last fall on the scout team as he sat out the season after transferring from Texas Tech, where he compiled 13 starts in 2012, Simmons hit the ground running this spring from Day 1. Surprisingly mobile for a player possessing his size, expect him to make an instant impact up front for the Trojans as a member of what should be an extremely formidable defensive line group.

8. DL Claude Pelon (6-5, 285, RS Jr.)
Transferring to USC from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in January, Pelon struggled at times early in camp as he adjusted to the lightning-fast tempo of practice, but once he got into shape he really asserted himself as someone to keep an eye on. In fact, perhaps no player improved more during the 15 practices than he did. A powerfully built athlete, he amassed three tackles for loss, including two sacks, in the spring game, and he’s only going to get better.

9. OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, RS Fr.)
Taking advantage of Aundrey Walker’s absence because of injury, Rodgers stepped in at right guard with the starting unit and remained there throughout spring ball. Strong and stout with a nasty demeanor when he’s on the field, he performed well enough to show that if Walker doesn’t return to form after having been away so long, Rodgers is a steady option who can certainly get the job done.

10. OL Toa Lobendahn (6-3, 290, Fr.)
An early enrollee, Lobendahn neither looked nor played like a player just a few months removed from high school. Lining up as the No. 2 center initially, he moved over to left guard, where he ran with the No. 1 unit throughout the last four weeks of drills. A versatile lineman with strong fundamentals, what was most impressive was the way he was able to hold his own physically against the more veteran players. Things will get a whole lot more interesting in the fall when USC adds injured guards Walker and Jordan Simmons back into the equation, as well as a host of freshmen, but Lobendahn got a jump on the competition by making a big statement with his play this spring.

Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

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USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring ball. There were other position battles that took place on the field this spring, as well, and the WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following competitions and who they would name as the starter.

WR opposite Nelson Agholor

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with Darreus Rogers right now, but I’m not going to rule out George Farmer being the starter by the season opener. Rogers has all the tools and flashes them often, but the one thing Sarkisian has noted is his inconsistency. Farmer, on the other hand, has been steadily consistent as he continues to come back from a knee injury. He is looking strong and mature right now and if his health holds up, he could make a push for the spot.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCould former five-star prospect George Farmer be in play as a starting wide receiver?
Johnny Curren: While the performance of Farmer as of late makes this decision more difficult than anticipated, I would still give the nod to Rogers. With his combination of size, athleticism and sure hands, he really adds a unique dimension to the offense. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone -- something he showed last Thursday when he hauled in three touchdowns with the offense in close.

Greg Katz: Although Farmer and Victor Blackwell have made strides, the vote here goes to Rogers, who has made some standout plays and continues to improve on his consistency and concentration.

DE opposite Leonard Williams

GP: The Trojans have a pair of veteran options to replace George Uko in Delvon Simmons and Claudeson Pelon. Both are big, strong bodies in the middle who will contribute this year, but if I have to name a starter I will choose Pelon. He got praise from Sarkisian this week for the way his conditioning seems to be paying off, and looks to be an impressive run stuffer.

JC: Simmons is the choice here. Not only does he possess 6-foot-6, 300-pound size, but what has impressed me most this spring is his quickness, and perhaps most of all, his stamina -- something Pelon and Kenny Bigelow appeared to struggle with at times. When you throw Simmons into a lineup that will also include Williams and an improved Antwaun Woods, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will have one of the nation’s most formidable starting defensive line units in 2014.

GK: Simmons is the choice, having shown his experience of having already played for two seasons at Texas Tech. Simmons, while still striving for consistency on a play-by-play basis, is big and talented and has shown the most progress, which hasn’t been entirely unexpected.

SAM linebacker

GP: There are two really good options with a lot of upside in Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. I would have said Powell at the start of spring, and while he didn’t do anything to lose the spot in my mind, Ruffin has showed me a little more. Any way you look at it, the Trojans are fine here.

JC: This is the toughest one to choose because Powell and Ruffin have each been stellar this spring. Still, if I have to pick one, it’s Powell. An explosive athlete with strong football instincts and the length that the USC coaches look for at SAM linebacker, Powell is really the total package. I think he has the potential to develop into a difference-maker down the line, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.

GK: With Scott Starr having been moved to rush end, it’s a battle between Powell and Ruffin. Powell has the quickness and the attitude, but as Sarkisian recently pointed out, Ruffin is one heck of an athletic who really brings a physical game. I’ll go with Powell for the moment, but the way Ruffin is improving, Powell better do the same if he wants to hold on to the position.

CB opposite Josh Shaw

GP: Kevon Seymour is the choice, and he should be, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of Adoree' Jackson making a run in the fall. Chris Hawkins has stepped up his game to the point where he is in the mix too.

JC: A more refined and physically mature Hawkins certainly proved himself to a certain extent this spring, but I’d still give the edge to Seymour here. Not only has he had a solid spring, but with 11 starts under his belt, he has the undeniable edge in experience. I’d need to see more of Hawkins in fall camp before I’d be comfortable putting him ahead of Seymour, who is coming off the best performance of his career in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

GK: There is no reason not to start Seymour, who had an outstanding performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, like Ruffin and Powell, the competition gap is closing, and look for Hawkins to continue his quest to unseat Seymour.
After a break in action, USC returns to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday to pick up where it left off after a promising first week of spring drills under Steve Sarkisian.

Much was revealed during those initial three workouts, and here are three key things to keep an eye on as the Trojans go through the remaining practice schedule in March and April.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler has adjusted well to USC's uptempo offense this spring.
The continued development of the players in the new systems

Week 1 was all about an uptempo pace as the players got their feet wet in new offensive and defensive schemes at a frenetic pace. To their credit, they appeared to adapt to it all in lightning-quick fashion.

And so, the big question now is just how much further can they come over the course of the next four weeks?

On offense, the progression of the passing game should be particularly interesting to watch. Both Cody Kessler and Max Browne performed solidly in Sarkisian’s hurry-up, shotgun-based offense. As they continue to grow at ease in the new system and develop more chemistry with their receivers, there’s reason to believe the aerial attack has the potential to really take off.

On the other side of the ball, Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense has been a hit so far, due in large part to some outstanding play in the trenches. The front seven shined throughout the first week, even with Leonard Williams standing on the sideline due to injury. With unique size on the interior and hulking contributors like Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow and Claude Pelon combined with exciting athletes on the outside, this unit should get better and better this spring.

In the secondary, even with Josh Shaw out of action, Keith Heyward’s group has been making some impressive plays in coverage -- something they struggled to do under the prior regime. Will that trend continue? We’ll soon find out.

Competition, competition, competition

When Sarkisian took the reins in early December, one thing he stressed was that virtually every position would be up for grabs. He wanted to create an atmosphere of competition. And with one week of practice in the books, it’s safe to say that is precisely what's happened.

A number of tightly contested position battles have taken shape, none garnering more attention than the one at quarterback between Browne, Kessler and early-entrant freshman Jalen Greene. With some added bulk to his frame and an increased level of confidence, Browne really opened eyes with his play in Week 1, but that doesn’t mean Kessler backed down an inch. A vocal leader of the team, Kessler did a great job of directing the offense down the field with frequent success. He had the poise and command you’d expect from a veteran with 14 starts under his belt. Greene has displayed flashes at times, although he’s taken noticeably fewer snaps than his counterparts, both of whom appear to have a sizeable lead on him in this race.

On defense, the competitions for the two spots on the edge of the line have been the highlight so far. Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin are duking it out at SAM linebacker, with Scott Starr and J.R. Tavai battling at rush end. In Week 1, it was Powell and Starr running exclusively with the No. 1 unit, but, really, all four contenders have stood out at times.

Some previously hidden players have also begun to emerge as they’ve received somewhat of a golden opportunity to show what they can do in the new schemes. Powell and Starr are two such examples, as are tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, guard Khaliel Rodgers, tackle Nathan Guertler, cornerback Chris Hawkins and defensive end Simmons.

How physical will Sarkisian allow it to get?

With a new staff in place and a depleted roster (NCAA sanctions) made even more so because of a number of injuries, Sarkisian indicated when he took over at USC that he might not push the envelope too much when it came to live hitting this spring. That was certainly the case in the first week. But as the team progresses through the schedule this month and next, will we see the pads popping with greater frequency at any point?

There are certainly some added benefits that could come with more physical workouts, but there are drawbacks as well. Finding the perfect combination isn’t as easy as it might sound. Just ask Lane Kiffin.

Stay away from full-contact drills completely and you risk fielding a defense that could get pushed around and has tackling issues. That was the case in 2012.

But USC still lacks depth, and if you allow more hitting, you also run the risk of more players getting injured. That happened in 2013.

It’s a decision that could ultimately play a major role in shaping the identity of the team down the line, so it will be interesting to see which way Sarkisian goes here.
With spring practice set to start back up again for USC next week, here’s a look at 10 players who entered the March and April workouts as somewhat hidden commodities but who showed in the first week of spring practice that they just might have the potential to take on a larger role for the Trojans in 2014.

TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-foot-4, 255 pounds, junior): With Xavier Grimble off to the NFL draft and Randall Telfer currently sidelined by injury, Cope-Fitzpatrick is the lone active scholarship tight end available for the Trojans this spring, and he’s made the most of what has been a golden opportunity to demonstrate what he’s capable of doing in USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo, tight end-friendly offense. Cope-Fitzpatrick displayed sure hands and a high level of athleticism in the first week, catching virtually everything thrown in his direction.

OLB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, sophomore): Powell was one of the more exciting practice players to watch last fall as a reserve Will linebacker, and now that he’s made the move back outside -- where he played in high school -- to Sam linebacker, he looks to have found the perfect spot to showcase his talents. Long, athletic and extremely active, he was equally as strong coming off the edge as he was in pass coverage while running with the No. 1 defensive group.

[+] EnlargeNathan Guertler
AP Photo / Chris BernacchiFormer walk-on Nathan Guertler earned a scholarship and is in the mix on the offensive line.
Rush end/OLB Scott Starr (6-2, 220, redshirt sophomore): Hampered by injuries early in his career, Starr is now healthy and it’s made a world of difference. Lining up with the starting group at rush end in Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense, he’s obviously already gained a level of confidence from the new coaching staff with his ability as a pass rusher and as a disruptive force, in general, near the line of scrimmage.

CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, redshirt freshman): There’s little denial the Trojans need to shore up the cornerback spots heading into the 2014 season, and with Josh Shaw sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot, Hawkins got plenty of work during the first three workouts of spring. He was solid, for the most part. After redshirting as a freshman last fall, he looks to be playing with a greater level of confidence than he did just a few months ago. His interception of a Cody Kessler pass on the first day of practice was one of the highlights of the week.

DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, redshirt junior): Forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring to USC from Texas Tech, Simmons has stepped into the starting lineup this spring at defensive end and looks primed to make an instant impact as part of what should be an outstanding defensive line. Possessing a huge frame to go along with a strong motor, he already has the veteran experience that comes with having started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012.

OL Nathan Guertler (6-5, 280, redshirt senior): Originally arriving at USC as a walk-on in 2010, Guertler was recently awarded a scholarship by the new coaching staff, and it’s safe to say it’s an honor he more than deserves. A tireless worker who made the switch to tight end last season when the team had low numbers at the position, he’s now getting an extensive look with the first team at right tackle. And while it certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion that he’ll remain there in the fall, he’s shown enough to ensure that he’s worthy of being in the discussion.

OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, redshirt freshman): Figured by many to be a prime contender for the open center spot going into the spring, Rodgers instead ran with the 1s at right guard and looked to be at home. As an aggressive blocker who possesses a mean streak on the field, he would appear to be a perfect fit as part of an offensive line unit that, under Tim Drevno, has placed an emphasis on being physical. Figuring to face plenty of additional competition in the fall in the form of freshmen Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the experience Rodgers is gaining now could give him a leg up heading into fall camp.

DL Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, redshirt freshman): Fairly raw when he first arrived on campus a little more than a year ago, Bigelow looks to have made strides in terms of where he is physically, as well as mentally, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him factor heavily into the defensive line rotation in 2014. With players such as Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend Jr. sidelined, Bigelow worked with the first team at one of the interior defensive end spots for a majority of the first week of practice.

S Gerald Bowman (5-11, 195, redshirt senior): Back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the 2013 season, Bowman has re-emerged this spring as one of only three available scholarship safeties. With the ability to play both safety spots, he served an important role throughout the first three practices as a backup and a key contributor in nickel situations.

OL Giovanni Di Poalo (6-4, 275, redshirt senior): For Di Poalo, 2014 marks his last shot to make a real impact for the Trojans, and to his credit it looks like he’s doing everything he can to try to make that happen. Taking advantage of the fresh start he’s gained with a new staff in place, in addition to the fact that USC simply doesn’t have a lot of healthy bodies ready to go along the offensive line right now, he took reps exclusively with the No. 1 unit at left guard last week. Things will get a whole lot more interesting in fall camp when those highly touted freshmen arrive, but Di Poalo appears to be making a statement that he won’t back down easily.
There’s definite reason for optimism for first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading into spring ball. After all, he inherits some key pieces from a unit that finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total defense (334.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 1 in red zone defense (63 percent scoring percentage).

Still, for the defense to really take off under Wilcox in 2014, there’s one position group that will need to elevate its level of play -- the cornerbacks. Plagued by injuries, the USC corners struggled at times in pass coverage, particularly in games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame. As such, expect Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward to hold an open audition this spring as they look to find the most productive starting duo.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesUSC's Kevon Seymour, who was inconsistent in 2013, has challengers for his starting cornerback spot.
Of course, with potential instant-impact freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons all set to arrive this summer, the upcoming slate of spring practice sessions will almost certainly serve as just the first phase of a lengthy competition at cornerback that will extend through fall camp. Without those blue-chippers around to steal valuable reps, the March and April workouts will be crucial for the candidates currently on the roster to make a lasting impression on the new staff.

Josh Shaw, who started 11 games at cornerback in 2013, stands out as a virtual lock at one of the spots, but with an influx of talent on the way, might we see him make the move back to his more natural free safety position? With Su’a Cravens, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman -- who is coming off shoulder surgery -- serving as the only other scholarship safeties, there is certainly a lack of depth back there, so a potential switch for Shaw seems to make sense. Having proven himself as the team’s most dependable cover man last fall, however, the USC staff might not have the luxury of making that change unless other cornerbacks prove that they can be counted on.

The primary starter on the other side in 2013 was Kevon Seymour, now entering his junior season. The Pasadena (Calif.) Muir product had his ups and downs, but he did cap off his season with an outstanding performance in USC’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State. The big question now is, was that an anomaly or just the beginning of something special? The answer will likely determine whether or not he remains atop the depth chart in the long run.

Fifth-year senior Anthony Brown has flashed at times, but he has never been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. A veteran with six starts to his credit, it looked like 2013 was going to be his season to make a name for himself. But he suffered a knee injury in the team’s opener at Hawaii that would keep him on the sideline for almost the entire season. He actually returned to start against Notre Dame, but his injury hampered his outing, and he wouldn’t see the field again for the remainder of the season. Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds, he lacks the size of some of his counterparts, but he makes up for that with his speed and quickness. It hasn’t been announced whether or not he’ll be available to practice this spring, but if he is, he'll be in the mix.

Devian Shelton is another player whose status for the spring is still unknown after having foot surgery this past fall, but he too, could factor heavily into the discussion if healthy. Listed at 6-1, he gives the Trojans a taller look, but having redshirted as a freshman, and then missing almost all of 2013, he still lacks experience. Impressing at times last fall in camp with his size, he could even conceivably make the transition back to safety -- where he saw time in high school

One of the more interesting names to keep an eye on is Chris Hawkins. Could this be the time when he emerges from anonymity into a major contributor? A highly touted Class of 2013 prospect, he spent his first season on campus learning the tricks of the trade while redshirting. Although somewhat raw, he showed plenty of ability in practice, especially as the season wore on. If his development continues on its forward path, there’s reason to believe that he has the skills to push for playing time.

Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard are two more contenders who have seen limited action in the past in reserve roles. Henderson’s athleticism is undeniable -- he was the 2010 SPARQ Rating National Champion -- but so far that hasn’t translated over to the football field at USC. Dillard, meanwhile, is a walk-on who has certainly held his own, but he would still appear to be somewhat of a longshot. This spring will mark an important time for both players as they attempt to make a move up the depth chart for the first time.
When the 2013 season opened last August, there was a tremendous amount of angst that the USC secondary would have so many holes, it would resemble Swiss cheese. However, the Cardinal and Gold secondary surprised many by finishing second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.

While much of the credit for the secondary’s success goes to a superior front seven and the defensive schemes of former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who also doubled as secondary coach, the fact remains that the secondary showed marked improvement through the course of the season.

Since his arrival, first-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has mostly revamped the staff, which also meant bringing aboard former University of Washington assistant Keith Heyward, who will be Sark’s secondary coach.

The hiring of Heyward appears to be a twofer – not only a widely respected secondary coach, but also a native Southern Californian whose knowledge of the region won’t slow down the recruiting process.

“Technically, this is home for me,” Heyward said with a smile. “I went to Taft High School in Woodland Hills and was coached by Troy Starr. This is awesome to be back down in Southern California and USC. It’s an awesome place, and we all know about the tradition. I am excited to be back and get it rolling.”

[+] EnlargeKeith Heyward
Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMIKeith Heyward says the Trojans secondary is talented but lacking in depth.
Part of the transition for Heyward was getting to know his returning secondary personnel and finding out what makes these guys tick. Call it a bonding session and a chance to just chill.

“I know most of all the guys,” said Heyward, who was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a senior corner at Oregon State in 2000. “Josh [Shaw] is a kid I tried to recruit out of Palmdale. I tried to recruit Chris Hawkins, Anthony Brown from the Inland Empire, Devian Shelton from Inglewood. I recruited Su’a Cravens down in Vista Murrieta.

“I recruited all these guys. I tried to recruit them whether I was at Oregon State or Washington, and this is a great group of guys. This is a great foundation for what we want to do. I don’t feel I have to go out there and rebuild this secondary. I think their pass defense was ranked near the top in the conference last year, so I am going to have fun.”

Spring ball will arrive in early March, and Heyward has a preliminary plan to promote himself to his new secondary, but believes it works both ways.

“Basically, you open up to the kids and let them know who you are,” Heyward said. “It’s a two-way street. They have to earn my trust and I have to earn their trust. From there, it’s about what you do.

“They have to know I am putting them in the right situations, and they have to know I care about them and not just wins. I want them to understand I do care about what they’re doing off the field and staying out of trouble socially and in the classroom. When it’s time to talk about football, we’ll talk about football. It’s a trust thing. You can’t just come in here and give a speech. They’ll read right through you.”

As mentioned, the Trojans had great success in the secondary under Pendergast, but with a new system comes new concepts and strategies. Heyward believes the new Trojans defense can be very effective, and he brings a multiple set of secondary schemes.

“We have to be multiple,” Heyward said. “We’re going to press. We’ll play some man and play some zone. It’s going to be a lot of different things we do. I told them they’ll need a DB tool belt.

“You can’t just do one thing. If we only do one thing in this conference, the offensive coordinators will eat you alive. The players will learn a lot of new concepts in blitzing, pressing, man-zone and all that stuff. Our tackling has to be great and we need to be multiple.”

Heyward knows the expectations at USC, and he also has an idea of what he is getting into, especially on the defensive side. Coaching at a powerhouse school such as USC brings high expectations, the highest in the Pac-12.

So, how much does this 34-year-old coach know about the Trojans overall on returning defense?

“I have watched some games and know they have a very good group up front and linebackers,” Heyward said. “The secondary is good, too, but there is a lack of depth.”

As part of his responsibilities, Heyward will be in charge of recruiting not only in Southern California but also covering the Oakland, Stockton, and Sacramento areas of California. This means not only players for his secondary, but for the team in general.

And what kind of athlete is Heyward looking to recruit?

“I think we have to bring a high level of character with players who will compete and win and win a national championship and uphold the academic standards,” said Heyward, whose wife, Cameo, is a former University of Oregon track athlete.

There's no question that Heyward, who played cornerback professionally for the BC Lions in the CFL, the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe and the L.A. Avengers in the Arena League, has his sights set on a specific type of secondary recruit.

“First, I would say guys that can cover and have ball skills,” Heyward said. “He has to be able to disrupt receivers and tackle well. I have to have smart guys.

“Even though you’re a great athlete, you have to know how to play smart and know what’s going on with other offenses and what they’re trying to do to you. You have to know their formations and certain plays. You have to have FBI: football intellect.”

By the sound of it, it looks like this new Trojans new secondary coach has got everything just about “covered.”
With the 2013 season in the books, here’s a look at 10 USC players who have flown under the radar, but who, either through strong performances in their limited opportunities during games, or in practice, have shown that they just might be ready to take on a larger role in 2014.

LB Quinton Powell (6-foot-2, 220 pounds, So.)

An aggressive and heady football player, Powell began turning heads after making the transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in fall camp. Compiling 20 tackles in his freshman season, he showed glimpses of his unique abilities in games as a reserve and on special teams. Still, he was caught in a logjam at weakside linebacker, so he remained hidden to an extent. With potential changes coming in regard to the scheme and philosophy of the defense, however, the timing could be right for him to burst onto the scene this spring.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek, Max Browne
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportMax Browne (No. 4) could be the Trojans' starting quarterback in 2014.
OLB/DE Scott Starr (6-2, 220, RS So.)

The departure of Devon Kennard -- USC’s leader in sacks (9) in 2013 -- creates a void for the Trojans on defense, so there’s little doubt that new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. will be holding an open audition to find a capable replacement. It’s a competition that Starr could win. His career has been stymied by injuries so far, but he made a huge impression late in the season during practice as a fast and physical performer who always seemed to be around the ball. As long as he stays healthy, this could be his chance to make a move up the depth chart.

OLB/DE Jabari Ruffin (6-3, 225, RS So.)

Like Starr, Ruffin will be one of the primary players to watch in the battle for Kennard’s old spot. A terrific athlete who actually started against Hawaii in Game 1 of 2013 but whose playing time ultimately tapered off as the campaign wore on, his ability to add some needed weight and strength this offseason will likely play a role in what kind of spring he has.

LB Michael Hutchings (6-2, 215, So.)

An intelligent football player who helped lead powerhouse Concord (Calif.) De La Salle to three consecutive state titles, Hutchings has developed steadily at USC while learning the tricks of the trade from starting middle linebacker Hayes Pullard. More than that, Hutchings has also transformed himself physically over the course of the last six months.

CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Fr.)

With the Trojans plagued by inconsistent play at cornerback for much of 2013, Hawkins will undoubtedly get a long look at the position, particularly if Josh Shaw either declares for the NFL draft or makes a move back to his more natural safety spot. Having redshirted this past season, Hawkins went up against the likes of Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor on a daily basis, and although raw, his athleticism and playmaking ability was apparent.

OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, RS Fr.)

Capable of playing guard or center, Rodgers is a relentless blocker with a nasty demeanor on the field who gained notice for his play against the Trojans’ vaunted defensive front in practice. And with the departure of starting center Marcus Martin, there’s little doubt that USC needs help on the interior on offense.

QB Max Browne (6-5, 215, RS Fr.)

With Sarkisian declaring the starting quarterback job up for grabs shortly after his hiring, Browne has a lot to play for this spring. And while Cody Kessler’s solid season -- not to mention a fantastic Las Vegas Bowl outing -- certainly gives him the undisputed inside track, it will be interesting to see what Browne can do now that he has been on campus for almost a year. After all, he wasn’t the 2012 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year for nothing.

DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, RS Jr.)

Simmons, who transferred to USC from Texas Tech last offseason, stood out at times during practice not just because of his size, but also because of his play. Already possessing a wealth of experience after starting 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012, he competed extremely well against the Trojans’ starting offensive line group, and he could emerge as a factor in the defensive line rotation in 2014.

DL Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, RS Fr.)

A hulking defensive lineman who arrived at USC last winter with sky-high expectations surrounding him, Bigelow wound up having a more difficult time adjusting to the college game than most anticipated. Having worked hard to improve where he is in terms of his physical shape, however, there’s reason to believe that he just might now have the stamina to match his skills.

OL Nico Falah (6-6, 285, RS Fr.)

Falah is a technician with a tireless work ethic, but like many freshmen offensive linemen, he simply isn’t quite where he needs to be when it comes to his size and strength. Possessing all of the other necessary intangibles to succeed, if he adds that necessary bulk to his frame in the coming months, he could push for time.
Here are 7 freshmen who could play much bigger roles for the Trojans in 2014:

• RB Ty Isaac: In his limited action so far in 2013 -- eight carries for 59 yards, a team leading 7.4 yards-per rush -- Isaac has shown that his future is bright. He has excellent size in the range of 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, plus he has a nice forward lean and pretty good speed. Silas Redd will be the only tailback to leave an already crowded rotation but Isaac should be able to quickly carve a niche as a power back with the capability of putting up good numbers.

[+] EnlargeLeon McQuay III
AP Photo/Gus RuelasFreshman safety Leon McQuay III had his first career interception in the Trojans' win over Utah.
• WR Darreus Rogers: It’s no surprise that Rogers is on this list, considering how injuries have been the only thing to slow him in his brief USC career. He had one catch in the first three games, did not play the next three, and then had 11 catches for 122 yards in the last two games combined when finally healthy. Rogers is a physically strong receiver who will find a lot of success with intermediate routes. If Marqise Lee leaves early for the draft, as is widely suspected, look for Rogers to move into the starting role alongside Nelson Agholor.

• OL Jordan Simmons: Among the USC reserve linemen, Simmons was the one most ready to step in as a major contributor before going down with a knee injury last week that will force him out of the remainder of the year. Assuming he is able to come back healthy for the start of 2014, he could definitely be in the mix for a starting spot depending upon how the rotation shakes out.

• DL Kenny Bigelow: There were a lot of expectations on Bigelow to come in and be an immediate contributor as a freshman this season but that just didn’t pan out. Bigelow has his moments on the practice field but there are also times when you can see that it was a big leap for him to be at the USC level. The redshirt year should do wonders and chances are Bigelow will be ready to play an expanded role along the line next fall.

• OLB Jabari Ruffin: Both of the USC outside linebackers will be graduating this year so chances are good that Ruffin will be filling one of the starting spots next year. Ruffin has been backing up Devon Kennard this year and has nine tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. He has also been an active part of special teams.

• CB Chris Hawkins: The corner spot has been one of the biggest issues with the defense this year and Hawkins offers the promise of being a good addition to the group in 2014. Hawkins brings good fundamentals to the position and the redshirt year should allow him to add more bulk to his frame.

• S Leon McQuay III: There has been a lot of attention paid to fellow freshman safety Su’a Cravens -- and justifiably so -- but McQuay has been quietly improving on the practice field and even showed a glimpse of his future against Utah with three tackles and an interception in his first start. McQuay has also shown a real knack in practice for blocking field goals.
LOS ANGELES -- One day after bringing the enthusiasm and energy back to the practice field at USC, interim coach Ed Orgeron was back at it on Thursday, making the Trojans' hour-long session all about one thing that has become somewhat of a reoccurring theme this week -- fun.

"It's the Trojan Bowl, baby," Orgeron bellowed out during warm-ups.

With the majority of the two-deep performers getting the day off to serve as coaches in shorts and t-shirts, a collection of players comprised primarily of redshirt candidates and walk-ons took part in a contact scrimmage in pads, and it's safe to say the period was a hit with everyone involved. Ultimately finishing in an 18-18 stalemate between the offense and the defense, it was a lively affair marked by a constant flow of hooting and hollering from the sidelines.

"It was something that we did at the University of Miami, and I thought it was excellent," said Orgeron, who served as an assistant with the Hurricanes from 1988 to 1992. "Guys got fired up for it, just like today. It was a little break, but it was football, and we got the younger guys to play in a game-like situation, got the older guys to coach, [and] got everybody involved. I thought it worked out pretty good. I think they loved it."

With the Trojans coming off a whirlwind weekend in which the team dropped to 3-2 and experienced a sudden change in leadership at the top, Orgeron has made a point of keeping everything within the program up-beat during the team's current bye-week.

"We wanted this week to just regroup as a team," Orgeron said, "to get some stuff done, to get close together and circle the wagons, have a little fun, [and] have some energy."

One other goal for Orgeron and Co. was to give the team's primary contributors a chance to get their legs back before they get back to the grind in preparation for the team's Oct. 10 clash with Arizona.

"The starters actually got 18 reps this week of full-speed work," Orgeron said. "But I'll tell you what, they were very physical. They accomplished exactly what we wanted them to. I want them to be fresh. We're not going to practice them very hard tomorrow, and then they have the day off Saturday. Sunday we're coming back in full pads, and we're going to have an excellent game-week."

Trojan Bowl highlights

Max Browne got things started by throwing deep to Christian Tober, but Chris Hawkins was there to break up the pass. Hawkins also made an impressive play on a pass outside from Conner Sullivan to Chris Willson a little later, batting the ball away.

• Defensive lineman Delvon Simmons had the play of the day when he broke through the line and blew up John Akiba for no gain, causing the defensive starters to storm the field.

• Outside linebackers Scott Starr and Charles Burks each contributed with big hits of their own, both dropping running backs for a loss.

• Browne hit Willson with a touchdown strike from around 20 yards out.

Anthony Neyer scrambled to evade two pass-rushers and found Christian Guzman, who bounced off a tackle and ran in for a touchdown.

Orgeron called Tedford

Orgeron revealed that with an open coaching position now available, he has thought about adding another member to the USC staff, and he contacted former California head coach Jeff Tedford to gauge his interest.

"Obviously, at this time of year there aren't a lot of guys out there, but there was some discussion about bringing on another offensive coach [or] another defensive coach," Orgeron said. "The thing came out about Tedford today, and I did call him to see if he was interested in some capacity. And obviously he was very complimentary of USC, very supportive of what we wanted to do, but he just had other things that he had in mind."

Orgeron also said he has not reached out to any other candidates at this time, but it is still a possibility.

"I won't say it's closed," Orgeron said. "I like the guys who we have. We're going to see how it works this week. If another name pops up that we think can help us win, we will definitely entertain the thought."

More treats

Orgeron brought back desserts to the Trojans' training table on Wednesday, and on Thursday the team was treated to a meal from Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles.
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.
As the Trojans enter the final week of fall camp, the team held a high-energy practice Monday with players sensing that game week is near.

“I feel like we have things going in the right direction,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s easy to have good energy when you’re in a night practice at the Coliseum but it’s another to come out today in the heat and respond the way they did. I thought that was a very good test for our team.”

The Trojans moved out of their camp dorms Sunday and into their fall housing. They will get a day off on Thursday and then begin game week practices on Friday in preparation for the matchup with Hawaii next week.

“Yeah, we’re getting a little antsy,” USC quarterback Max Wittek said. “It’s human nature at some point to want to play somebody with a different color jersey.”

Injuries continue to be an issue as Aundrey Walker and Demetrius Wright left practice today, but the good news was that Silas Redd got the most action he’s had all camp and Marqise Lee was basically back to normal with a full day of work.

“Hopefully we can get mostly healthy in the next few days,” Kiffin said.

For Lee, the yellow jersey was still on but the competition mode was in full effect and he made several plays. He beat Chris Hawkins on a pass down the sideline, caught a nice over the shoulder ball from Wittek and had a short touchdown at the end of the day when he caught a screen pass from Cody Kessler and got a good block from Nathan Guertler on Hawkins to scoot untouched into the end zone.

“I feel great,” Lee said. “I was just going out there and catching the ball. I’m ready to play a game, everybody is ready to play a game. I know the defense is ready.”

Lee gave a lot of praise to the unit he faces every day in practice and says he has paired with his roommate to try and fire up his teammates.

“The secondary is amazing right now,” Lee said. “They are going a great job, starting with AB (Anthony Brown). He uses the sideline really well to push you over there. Me and Josh Shaw are roommates so we started jawing out here to get guys going. Once we started, he went to George Uko and got him going, so I went to Marcus Martin on our line. It was on after that.”

Lee also gave his thoughts on the pending quarterback battle.

“I’m glad I’m not the coach in this case with the quarterbacks. This one is on Kiff’s back,” Lee said while smiling.

Kiffin had no announcement on a starting quarterback and gave no indication of when an answer is coming.

As for other news on the injury front, Kevon Seymour was back Monday in limited action after leaving the practice on Sunday night. Scott Starr, Morgan Breslin, Dion Bailey, Torin Harris and Ryan Henderson did not practice.

Marcus Martin sat out after leaving practice on Sunday so Max Tuerk took the majority of first unit snaps at center with Aundrey Walker at left guard and John Martinez at right guard. Abe Markowitz also took some reps with the first unit at center while Giovanni Di Poalo was with the 1’s at left guard after Walker went out.

Redd looked solid in his extended reps and he wore a yellow jersey along with fellow tailbacks Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Ty Isaac and Buck Allen were also available so it was a good day for depth at the spot.

The most productive player was Quinton Powell, who continues to make his presence felt from the inside linebacker position. Powell started the day with a sack on Kessler, stripped Ty Isaac of the ball after a long run and added a late interception of a ball that had been tipped in the air.

Other highlight plays included nice catches from reserve tight ends Kevin Greene and Chris Willson. The Willson grab in particular was a pretty one-handed effort. Wittek hit Jahleel Pinner with a 20-yard pass down the middle but Leon McQuay was right there and would have smacked him in a game setting. McQuay also had a blocked kick in a field goal drill, something he has done a few times this camp. Kenny Bigelow, Anthony Sarao and Devian Shelton all had sacks. Shelton also got bulldozed by Tre Madden in the flat and Madden went for about ten extra yards.

Quotebook

“I was scared for a moment. I took my time getting up because they didn’t know what was wrong but as soon as I got a chance to get up and move around I was fine. I kept telling coach Kiffin I was ready to go back in. I’m solid now, I’m ready to go.” -- Marqise Lee, talking about his bone bruise injury suffered on Aug. 9.

The Trojans held the second scrimmage of fall camp Friday with a lot of attention being paid to the quarterback competition.

Max Wittek got the start with the first unit today after Cody Kessler had started in the first scrimmage. Unfortunately for Max, he was going up against a fired up first unit defense today and he was never able to get things going as evidenced by the fact that the first four series for Wittek and the first unit were all three plays and out.

Among the highlight plays for the defense in those early series was a sack by Leonard Williams and a tackle for loss by Su’a Cravens who did a good job tracking down Buck Allen from the back side.

Meanwhile, Kessler led the second unit to a touchdown on his opening drive. Things got started with a first-down pass to Darreus Rogers and then a powerful run for another first down by Buck Allen, who ran over Devian Shelton. Quinton Powell slowed the momentum of the offense for a moment by getting into the backfield for a five-yard tackle for loss on Allen. The ball was eventually moved to the seven-yard line where Kessler hit Rogers for a touchdown.

“That first long drive gave us a sense of confidence,” Kessler said. “You get in a rhythm right away and start making plays so it feels good.”

On the next drive for Kessler, the most notable play was a screen attempt to the right side that was read by Chris Hawkins, who got a great jump and had two hands on the ball with nothing but green grass between him and the end zone but the ball was dropped.

Kris Albarado came on to do some punt drills. He kicked one that Nelson Agholor took deep in his end and returned for a long touchdown against a defense that was not in full tackle mode.

Devon Kennard had a pass break-up on an attempt from Wittek to De’Von Flournoy.

Kessler hit Buck Allen on the run with a pretty pass for a first down and then hit Rogers with another first down pass. Allen then caught a screen pass and weaved nicely through the defense for a 32-yard score.

The quarterbacks then switched with Kessler going with the 1’s and Wittek with the 2’s. Both went three and out on the first series, George Uko had a nice pursuit on Buck Allen to force a loss.

On the following possession for Kessler we saw just how impressive Rogers can look. Kessler launched a pass 50 yards in the air down the right sideline and Rogers was able to come down with the ball over good coverage from Kevon Seymour. Kessler then hit Agholor with a bubble screen, he shook Seymour and was able to gain additional yardage. With the ball on the three-yard line, Kessler rolled right and lofted a jump ball to Rogers against Seymour for the score.

“I just put it up there and Darreus came down with it,” Kessler said. “It’s a trust thing, I trust that he’s going to make the play if I give him a chance.”

Max Browne came on with the third unit offense that featured a lot of running from Ty Isaac. Browne ended a nice drive by hitting walk-on Aaron Minor, who made a great catch for the 29-yard score.

On the final drive of the day, Cravens had a sack on Wittek and Pullard had a big hit on Isaac.

Key stats

Kessler 19-28, 231 yards, 3 TDs; Wittek: 2-7, 15 yards; Browne: 2-2, 42 yards, 1 TD

Allen: 11 carries, 22 yards, 3 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD; Isaac: 12 carries, 38 yards

Rogers: 8 catches, 99 yards, 2 TDs; Flournoy: 6 catches, 49 yards

Bowman: 6 tackles, 1 sack; Powell: 5 tackles, 1 TFL; Cravens: 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL

68 plays; 3 penalties; 0 turnovers

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.
video
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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