USC Trojans: D.J. Morgan

As the countdown to the college football season inches closer – with less than 100 days to go before the season opener – that means it’s time for the annual rite of passage known as the summer workouts.

These conditioning sessions and throwing drills provide a look into the future when you see the varying degrees of work ethic and commitment that each squad puts in. It’s also the first real look at the incoming freshmen, to see where they stack up against the big boys in their transition to the next level.

One group that is certainly looking forward to these sessions are the players who were forced to miss spring ball because of injury. Steve Sarkisian made it clear that he erred on the side of caution with many players to hold them out – guys such as Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw come to mind – but there were others who missed time with injuries that have slowed their development and adjustment to the uptempo style of play.

Here are five players who missed spring ball but hope to begin the comeback to playing time by taking part in summer workouts.

Roundtable: 2014 running back rotation

January, 22, 2014
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One of the primary positions to watch this spring will be tailback, as the Trojans are deep in players looking to establish their spot in the rotation. How do you see the running back rotation playing out?

Garry Paskwietz: Despite the fact that new USC coach Steve Sarkisian has been pretty consistent in utilizing one primary back during his time at Washington, I think he will use more of a rotation system during the coming season. It’s not that I don’t think he has a back worthy of being a bell cow to carry a heavy load, it’s just that there are too many backs who can produce to leave them on the bench. One of the hallmarks of this offense is the uptempo style, and it could be a benefit to the Trojans to have a steady rotation all game long of fresh legs from the likes of Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac and possibly even D.J. Morgan. While it’s always possible that Sarkisian could choose one as his primary back, the guess here is that a rotation system is used to take advantage of all that talent.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesJavorius "Buck" Allen would appear to be the front-runner to be USC's top running back in 2014, but that won't stop other talented runners from staking a claim.
Johnny Curren: Any discussion about the USC tailbacks has to start with Allen, the Trojans’ team MVP in 2013. Unlike last season, when he landed the starting role almost by default midway through the schedule, he’s an established commodity now, and it was apparent in the way that running backs coach Johnny Nansen talked about him last week that the new staff thinks extremely highly of his abilities. A determined runner with great balance and athleticism, I think that he’ll stand atop the depth chart come the conclusion of fall camp, but it won’t come without a fight. People tend to forget that Madden rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Trojans’ first five games this past season, and I’m anxious to see how he looks in the spring with a completely healthy hamstring.

The tailback that I thought showed the most promise at the beginning of 2013 was Davis. An explosive rusher with unique vision, his status is surely to be in doubt for the spring because of the broken ankle that he suffered against Notre Dame. If he’s 100 percent by the beginning of fall camp, however, he could emerge as Allen’s most formidable competitor. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Isaac gained some valuable experience this past season, and he certainly looks ready to contribute again in a reserve role. And then there’s Morgan. He’s shown glimpses of his big-play ability in the past, but he’s never had a chance to really get rolling because of injury. Even if he does come back healthy, it would appear as though he has a tough road ahead of him.

Greg Katz: The real underlying question might be just how do Sarkisian and new running backs coach Johnny Nansen see the rotation playing out? Are they going to have a one-back, two-back, or three-back rotation system, and does this new system help or hurt each back? Last season at Washington, they went exclusively with Bishop Sankey, and all he did was become an All-American and All-Pac-12 selection.

We know from last season that former Trojans running backs coach Tommie Robinson was able to expertly rotate his running backs, although it was made easier by a series of unfortunate injuries to Madden, Davis, and Morgan. All three should be ready to go at some level for spring ball.

The view from here is the favorite to start should be Allen, the 2013 team MVP. Allen has proved he can carry the load and he is a true home-run hitter. Assuming that Allen continues to get better, the real question is who or how many follow Allen? At various times, Madden and Davis looked outstanding until injuries cut their season short, and each of these two running backs also brings a different style of play.

The real dark horse in all this competition would appear to be Isaac after his late-season charge. He really showed flashes of brilliance, especially in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Why not Isaac?

So what is the order? Well, it starts Allem, then it’s anybody’s guess, depending on production and healthy bodies in the spring, which could also be affected by the state of the offensive line. The great unknown -- isn’t this what spring ball is all about?

Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
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There's a new No. 1 team in the Pac-12, according to the updated team rankings released on Wednesday.

Arizona State made the biggest jump of any team in the rankings, leaping from No. 22 to No. 17 overall, and in the process, bypassing Arizona, which moved from No. 18 to No. 19.

Six Pac-12 teams are now in the rankings, with the addition of USC at No. 39. Stanford fell back one spot to No. 26, due to Penn State's rise, while Oregon remains at No. 29, and UCLA rounds out the rankings at No. 40.

Trending up: Red and gold in the Pac-12 South.

Sure, it's not really red for either program, but whether it's the maroon of Arizona State or the cardinal of USC, those two programs shined on the recruiting trail this past week. Few teams anywhere are as hot as Arizona State, which added six commitments --including two four-stars -- in past week. The haul featured three defensive linemen, two running backs and an offensive tackle. But if any Pac-12 program can challenge the Sun Devils over that same period, it's USC, which added three four-star commitments and a three-star cornerback since last Wednesday. The Trojans are the newest Pac-12 program to appear in the updated class rankings, as USC checks in at No. 39.

Even though those two programs have been hot over the past week, it seems slightly unfair to leave this category without mentioning the fact that a case could be made for virtually every Pac-12 program. Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Washington State all received verbal commitments from important recruits over the past week, in what was an incredibly successful seven days for Pac-12 coaches on the recruiting trail and hosting official visitors.


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Injuries a concern going into rough stretch 

September, 24, 2013
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As the Trojans prepare for an important three-game stretch of games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame, it’s time to take a look at the injury status for some key positions.

The most glaring injury absence right now is tailback Silas Redd, the projected starter and leading returning rusher from last year who has yet to see action in 2013 while recuperating from a spring knee injury. Redd even underwent a procedure earlier this month in Florida with noted Dr. James Andrews in an attempt to get back on the field sooner. It hasn’t helped, although Redd did at least dress for the Utah State game.

In the four games without Redd, however, the Trojans appear to have found a lead tailback in Tre Madden, along with a promising freshman in Justin Davis. It remains to be seen where Redd would fit in the rotation if he does return soon. His hard running presence would be welcome but it’s hard to imagine him completely replacing Madden at the moment.

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While the USC passing offense sputtered throughout a good portion of the team’s 30-13 victory over Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans showcased a ground game that was effective from the get-go -- even without the services of veteran ball carriers Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan. This success was in large part due to a couple of tailbacks who were making their collegiate debuts in the backfield -- redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis.

Keying a rushing attack that generated 192 yards against the Rainbow Warriors -- over 40 yards more than USC averaged a season ago -- both players ran with confidence and physicality, reflecting the mindset that the Trojans coaching staff worked hard to instill during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Madden and Davis drew praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin on his Sunday night media call.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore Tre Madden ran for 109 yards in his first in-game running back action since high school.
“I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before,” Kiffin said.

It was Madden -- who played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his knee -- who led the way, getting the nod as the starter and rushing 18 times for a game-high 109 yards. And despite the fact that he hadn’t seen action in a live game since Nov. 26, 2011, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout quickly settled into his role.

“After the first play I was back in the swing of things,” said Madden following the Trojans’ practice on Tuesday. “The nerves were building up before the game, and it was a long day leading up to it, but once I got on the field everything felt good. I felt comfortable with the game plan, the offensive line did well and [fullback] Jahleel [Pinner] did well in front of me. It definitely felt good to get that game out of the way and under my belt. Now I can look forward and just concentrate on getting better every week.”

Davis, who enrolled at USC this past January after starring at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, had the pregame jitters as well. But like his older counterpart, they were overcome once he took his first carry late in the first quarter.

“I was definitely nervous beforehand, but that’s just a normal part of the game,” Davis said. “Once you get into it and get a couple of snaps, it’s just like it is in high school.”

Amassing 74 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Davis’ rushing total would have possibly exceeded the century mark if not for a 15-yard loss that he took on a play where he recovered his own fumble. Still, as a whole, there’s more than a few positives that the young freshman can take away from his outing.

“I can definitely build off of my performance,” Davis said. “Experience is one of the best things you can have. The more experience that I get, the better I’m going to be.”

In Davis and Madden, as well as Javorius Allen -- who chipped in with 18 yards on four carries -- Kiffin and Co. found a rotation at tailback that could wind up being the ultimate formula for success ... at least as far as the USC run game is concerned.

“As a running back corps we all jelled together, and you could see that in the game,” Davis said.

Added Madden, “As a whole, I think the tailback unit did some good things. It was awesome having that three-running back rotation.”

Up next for the Trojans is a Washington State defense that, while fast and aggressive, did give up 297 yards on the ground last Saturday to Auburn.

Focused on taking the next step in their progression as a group, however, you can be certain that the USC tailbacks won’t be taking any opponent for granted.

“They fly around on defense,” said Madden on what he’s seen of the Cougars on film. “We just need to have physical practices -- like we did today -- to get ready. We need to get the game plan down and just get better every day.”
Randall TelferAP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Trojans are ready to get their season going against Hawaii on Thursday, but an injury outbreak in camp could leave them without players such as Randall Telfer.
After taking part in their final tuneup at home in preparation for their Thursday night matchup at Hawaii, the No. 24-ranked USC football team left practice on Tuesday afternoon in a notably upbeat mood.

“I think they’re looking forward to playing a game, just like everybody around the country,” Kiffin said shortly before the players boarded buses to LAX for their flight to Honolulu. “Camp gets long ... you hit the same people. They’ve been hitting each other a lot, especially with not a lot of depth there, so I think they’re just excited to play on the same side.”

Coming off a 2012 campaign that saw the Trojans stumble to a disappointing 7-6 record, Kiffin and Co. have a lot to prove this fall, and it all starts with the impending season opener. USC is heavily favored in the contest, not a surprise considering Hawaii's 3-9 record -- which included a 49-10 loss to the Trojans -- while also fielding an offense that ranked No. 118 in yards per game (297.4).

Still, it’s a new season, and Kiffin has made a concerted effort to ensure that his team doesn’t take Hawaii -- led by former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- for granted.

“I don’t know what we’re favored by, but every game is the same,” Kiffin said. “You have to come ready to play every Saturday, Thursday, Friday or whatever day it is. We’ve seen over the years on both sides that those [point spreads] don’t mean very much. You better come ready to play in college football or you’re going to lose the game.”

One Hawaii player that appears to have caught Kiffin’s attention in particular is junior quarterback Taylor Graham. An Ohio State transfer who takes over the starting job held last season by senior Sean Schroeder, he has yet to throw a pass in a live college game, but with a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame and a strong arm, he’s created a fair amount of buzz this month during workouts.

“It sounds like their quarterback has been doing a good job, and doing well in scrimmages,” Kiffin said.

Defensively, the Rainbow Warriors are coming off a season in which they allowed just 182.8 passing yards per game -- the No. 11 mark nationally. Led by a front seven featuring defensive end Tavita Woodard, tackle Siasau Matagiese and linebacker Art Laurel, Kiffin expects them to try to come after USC’s starting quarterback -- whether that’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler -- early and often.

“I’m sure that they’ll pressure us a lot with a new quarterback, a new center and a lot of new players,” Kiffin said. “I would expect them to be very aggressive.”

And while the Trojans will be playing on an island more noted for its weather and beaches than for its football, the USC coaching staff has worked hard to hammer home the idea that the team is travelling with the sole objective of coming away with a victory.

“This is a business trip,” Kiffin said. “I think our players understand that this really isn’t a vacation.”

Kiffin knows who will start at QB

Kiffin has stated on more than one occasion that he anticipates playing both Wittek and Kessler at quarterback in the Trojans’ opener, and on Tuesday he revealed that he has now picked a starter, but he wouldn’t go so far as to name him.

“I’m not going to tell you the end of the movie before you go into the movie, right? -- You’re going to have to watch,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin also hasn’t explained how he might substitute or rotate the two quarterbacks in during the course of the game, but regardless of who is in at any point in time, he’s confident that he can go with the same gameplan.

“We’re at the point now where we feel great about both quarterbacks, that we would not have to call different plays or have a different play-chart for both guys,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to call it the same regardless of which guy is in there.”

Injuries could have impact

The topic of injuries has been a constant throughout August at USC, with over 20 players sitting out a number of recent practices, and there is a large collection whose status still appears to be questionable going into Hawaii.

“Well, I feel confident in the guys that are going to play, but at the same time it is unusual to be shuffling around so much this last week,” Kiffin said. “I feel more like we’re in week 9 or week 10 where you’ve really got to kind of figure things out because of injuries. It is what it is. I’m sure other people have problems too. All of these injuries have given other people opportunities to step up.”

Tight end Randall Telfer, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and safety Dion Bailey are three key players who have missed extensive time this month. When asked on Tuesday if the three would be travelling with the team to Hawaii, Kiffin gave the same answer in each instance -- “I hope so” -- before adding “We’ll be in a lot of trouble if we don’t have those three guys.”

Additional Notes

• Kiffin said that Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens will start at the two safety spots.

• Kiffin confirmed that tailbacks Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan would not travel due to injury.
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.

Injuries piling up for Trojans

August, 14, 2013
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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.
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans were out on Dedeaux Field on Monday morning, where they'll practice for the next three days while Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field mends from the first week of fall camp. Taking part in the first of two practices on the day, the team came out in shorts and helmets, so there wasn't any live hitting, but that didn't mean USC was able to avoid the injury bug.

USC TrojansAlready without the services of Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac, Jordan Simmons and Leonard Williams -- who all sat out the workout -- the Trojans saw three key members of the defense head to the sideline early with undisclosed injuries. Strong safety Josh Shaw, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and defensive end J.R. Tavai joined the growing list of banged-up players.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin did not meet with the media following the two-hour workout, so nothing further was revealed, but all three players stayed and watched the remainder of practice after going out.

The team did get in some spirited 11-on-11 work Monday, with Gerald Bowman filling in for Shaw with the first-team defense at strong safety, Jabari Ruffin taking the place of Breslin at Predator linebacker, and Greg Townsend Jr. lining up at defensive end for Tavai, who had been plugged in for Williams yesterday.

Chad Wheeler also continued to run with the first-team offense at left tackle throughout the practice, while Aundrey Walker saw time exclusively at right guard -- primarily with the second group.

Cody Kessler got things started by hitting Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who made a fantastic shoestring catch for a big gain along the sideline. Javorius "Buck" Allen had a run up the middle for a nice gain before being stopped by Bowman. Devon Kennard ended the period with a sack on Kessler.

The team then came together for another 11-on-11 session in more of a scrimmage setting, featuring the first and second units on offense and defense, with Kessler and Max Wittek taking turns with both groups. Wittek did a nice job of leading the first-team offense downfield on the first drive against the second-team defense before being picked off in the end zone by Devian Shelton. Townsend made his presence felt with a nice stop on John Akiba on a rush for no gain. A couple of series later, Kessler hit Jahleel Pinner on a beautiful wheel route as the big fullback made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone. Wittek's next series included two consecutive plays on which he was sacked by a very hyped up defense -- once by Lamar Dawson and then by Ruffin. He eventually got his revenge, though, airing out a deep 50-yard bomb into the end zone that Robby Kolanz pulled down after getting behind Kevon Seymour and Demetrius Wright.

The Trojans capped the day with John Baxter leading the team through some extra special teams work, with an emphasis on the field goal and punt units.
The Trojans came out in full pads for the first time during fall camp on Wednesday, with USC head coach Lane Kiffin using the practice as a tuneup of sorts for the team’s initial scrimmage, coming up on Thursday in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“Normally this really is the day that we scrimmage because it’s the first day that we’re in full pads, but we really wanted to make sure that we were still working on our basics, that we were still working on our fundamentals of tackling in our first day that we were allowed to do that,” Kiffin said. “So, it was good to have this day and to set it up this way so that we’re giving our players everything, so that we can really have a good test tomorrow when we have a full-live scrimmage.”

Predictably, the workout was marked by some physical play, with the defense getting the better of the offense in what has become a trend in the early portion of this year’s camp. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- who took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback -- struggled at times to find open receivers against tight coverage from the secondary and an effective pass rush by the defensive line.

Defensive end George Uko set the tone right off the bat in an early team period, stuffing tailback Justin Davis on a run up the gut. Linebacker Lamar Dawson picked off a Kessler pass soon after that, and then just a few plays later it was safety Leon McQuay’s turn, stepping in front of a Wittek toss over the middle. Kessler came back to connect on a deep touchdown pass over the middle to Marqise Lee, but the session ended with a pair of two-minute drills, one led by Wittek and the other by Kessler, neither resulting in a score. Kessler’s drive ended on an interception by cornerback Ryan Dillard on a ball that was initially tipped in the air by safety Dion Bailey. Kessler was picked off once more later on, this time by linebacker Hayes Pullard during a 9-on-7 period.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Devon Kennard was the standout of Wednesday's practice.
During the final team session of the day, Wittek connected on a couple of deep passes to Victor Blackwell and Lee, while Kessler found Blackwell on a nice toss over the middle.

In the end though, the defense was the big story, with Pullard coming up with a big stop on Davis for no gain near the end of the day, and then SAM linebacker Devon Kennard capping it off by stripping the ball from Kessler, and then taking it in for six.

“Devon would be up there, if there was an MVP or something like that, on the whole team so far,” Kiffin said of Kennard. “I think that he’s playing really well at that position. We do a lot of things with him, he gives the tight ends a lot of problems and then at times he ends up on the tackles. I think that he’s really making the right steps to have a really good year.”

Kiffin also had high praise for the safeties and cornerbacks -- a question mark heading into fall camp.

“I think that kind of a storyline so far is that the secondary is playing better than they did in the spring,” Kiffin said. “They’re not giving up as many big plays, and they’re playing better on the outside -- the corners are playing better than they were in the spring.”

Wheeler still at LT

The most significant news in regard to the offensive line on Wednesday was that -- with Aundrey Walker still sidelined -- Chad Wheeler continued to line up with the first-team offense at left tackle for the second day in a row. Initially slated to compete with Kevin Graf at right tackle, he’s more than held his own on the left side despite going up against an outstanding Trojans defensive line unit.

“Chad looks really good over there,” Kiffin said. “Obviously tomorrow will be a big test. I think that any time that you get a position like we have at outside linebacker -- that’s a very good position for us -- those guys really make your offense better, and make them have to work. So he’s really getting tested out there by some really good players.”

Redd continues to come along

Limited throughout fall camp as he’s continued to ease his way back after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee in the spring, tailback Silas Redd received his heaviest workload of the fall on Wednesday. Donning a yellow jersey to prevent contact, he even took a number of reps during the team period. And while he didn’t find a lot of room to run today, he certainly appeared to be close to 100 percent. Still, Kiffin is in no hurry to rush him back.

“Yeah, we threw him out there,” Kiffin said. “We put a jersey on him because he’s really not back. I don’t think he’ll go tomorrow, but it was good. I think the thing about Silas is that he’s a leader, he’s very confident, very emotional, he gets into the game and he gets into the practice, so that’s good to have.“

Other notes: In addition to Walker, safety Su'a Cravens and wide receiver De'Von Flournoy did not participate in Wednesday’s workout. Tailbacks Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan were also limited, and defensive end Leonard Williams was also held out later in practice.

Tre Madden re-emerges at RB

August, 6, 2013
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It’s been a long road, but if the last three days of fall camp are any indication, redshirt sophomore Tre Madden is officially back, and poised to make a major contribution at tailback for USC this fall.

A converted linebacker who emerged as a star of the spring in 2012 before going down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, he would eventually return to action with the team this past March, but was ultimately kept out of contact drills during spring ball.

Now fully cleared for action, he’s been thrown right into the fire this August, and the good news is that he’s more than risen to the challenge.

With Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan still limited as they continue to ease their way back from injuries, Madden -- along with freshman Justin Davis -- has appeared to carry the bulk of the load with the first-team offense so far, making a big impression with his play, even though it’s a new beginning of sorts for the Mission Viejo (Calif.) product.

Tre Madden
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comTre Madden is running with a greater level of confidence than he did this past spring.
“It feels great,” Madden said Monday. “It’s my first official fall camp as a running back, so I’m really just trying to get all of the plays down, to avoid making any mental errors out here, and just going full speed and trying to make the team better. I’m just taking it play by play and trying to get better each and every day. It feels good just to be on the field with the family -- my teammates and the coaches -- and it’s a good feeling just being able to contribute out here.”

And with USC head coach Lane Kiffin appearing to have placed a greater emphasis on establishing a successful, grind-it-out run game this fall, Madden’s re-emergence is happening at just the right time. Possessing a rushing style marked by toughness that looks to mesh nicely with the new philosophy taking shape, he was particularly effective on Monday, the first day that the Trojans donned shoulder pads.

“Having pads on today was good … getting physical and having that contact,” said Madden, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 225 pounds. “I’m really just emphasizing playing physical on every single play. If it’s protection for a pass, I’m going to go all out to try to protect the quarterback. I’m really focused on being physical in everything I do out here.”

But it’s not just Madden’s aggressive style of play that has drawn notice. Running with a greater level of confidence than he did this past spring, he’s also appeared more fluid in his movement, and his stamina looks to have increased -- something he attributes to his June and July workout regimen on campus.

“I was definitely trying to get in shape this summer,” Madden said. “Back in the spring, I was just coming off my injury so I was a little winded during the practices. So, this summer I was really focused on that. Me and Jahleel [Pinner], we worked out during the week -- running and conditioning. I’m feeling a lot better now.”

It’s a good thing too, because Madden is currently entrenched in a position battle with not only Davis, Redd and Morgan, but also with Javorius Allen and Ty Isaac -- who shined on Monday. And while the competition is at the forefront for everyone involved, Madden is determined to avoid getting too wrapped up in it, choosing instead to focus on the big picture.

“Coming away with the No. 1 job is the goal that we all have -- that’s why we came here,” Madden said. “But I’m not really focused on the competition so much as just getting better every day.”

The USC Trojans took the field Saturday for the opening day of fall camp practices.

“It was nice to get out here and have organized practices,” said quarterback Cody Kessler. “The summer workouts are great and all, but it’s good to finally be able to be out here with the whole team and the coaches. I thought we had a really good focus today, which was good to see.”

It was a no-pads practice for the Trojans, who will not put on full pads until practice No. 6, which will take place Thursday in a scrimmage in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“It will be a very physical camp once pads get put on,” said coach Lane Kiffin.

There will be a lot of attention paid to the quarterbacks, and Kiffin praised both Kessler and Max Wittek for their work Saturday. Kiffin said there is a long way to go before a starter is named.

Among the primary things Kiffin will be looking for is to see who manages the game better and who takes care of the football. For what it’s worth, Kessler took the first-team reps in the final team drill of the day.

Wittek made an early completion deep to Victor Blackwell, and Kessler hit Nelson Agholor over the middle on a deep ball and then later hooked up with Marqise Lee on a nice reception. Another receiver who had a good first day was freshman Darreus Rogers, who caught almost everything thrown his way.

On the defensive side of the ball, safety Gerald Bowman stood out as a playmaker as he had a one-handed interception and broke up a pass.

Running back rotation

USC running back Tre Madden
Courtesy of Joe AndrasTre Madden "looked great" in the first practice, said USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
All the tailbacks were in action, which was important since several are coming back from injuries. Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan were limited, but the other four all stood out in some way.

Tre [Madden] looked great and he got a lot of work,” Kiffin said. “Justin [Davis] looked better than he did at the end of last spring. Ty [Isaac] had one fumble, but other than that he looked good. There’s a lot of talent in that group.”

Buck Allen ran well in a team drill and looked sharp.

Markowitz update

Abe Markowitz was on the field taking reps as a reserve center. Kiffin confirmed that Markowitz has received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and has returned to the team as a walk-on. Markowitz gives the Trojans an additional versatile player on the line, as he can also play either guard spot.

Special teams in action

There was a lot of special teams work early in the practice with Andre Heidari attempting several field goals. There were also kickoff return and punt return drills, with the return men alternating among a group of Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, D.J. Morgan, Victor Blackwell and Anthony Brown.

More highlight plays

Jabari Ruffin came on a pass rush and leaped high in the air to knock down a Max Browne pass attempt. ... J.R. Tavai was on a blitz and absolutely bowled over Justin Davis trying to make a block in the backfield. ... There were a couple nice plays by walk-ons: Tailback Taylor Ross had a long run and wide receiver Robby Kolanz leaped between two defenders to make a nice grab.

Recruits in attendance

DL Michael Wyche (Monterey Park, Calif./East Los Angeles College), LB D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito), OL Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and class of 2016 WR Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra).

Quotebook

“I’m at 198 pounds right now; I was at 208 last year. It’s easier to move around at this weight, but I was cramping up a little today because I haven’t bent this much in a long time. I like that this defensive scheme holds the secondary accountable because everybody in the back end is in man-to-man coverage. In high school, when I played free safety I was just roaming around, relying on my talent. Now I understand how to read offenses, I know my keys and how to read the quarterback.” – safety Dion Bailey

“I worked on my decision-making the most in the offseason. Making the right decision is what will win games. The Sun Bowl game gives me the drive to show something different; I’m very much looking forward to that. As far as the quarterback competition, we all know the reality of the situation. Someone will be named the starter and we all know that. We all spend so much time together and we’re friends, but we don’t talk about who will win the job. (Wittek was asked if he would consider transferring if he didn’t win the job) I will cross that bridge if it comes to that.” – quarterback Max Wittek

“I worked a lot this offseason on making sure I give my receivers a chance to make plays, to not overthrow them. We’ve got the kind of receivers that, if you give them a chance, they will do a lot of good things. It comes down to trust as a quarterback, trust in your guys to go get the ball. I also worked on being a field general, being a leader. It’s things like being the first guy in the meeting room, being there in the mornings when guys want to throw, just doing the right thing by example.” – quarterback Cody Kessler

WeAreSC roundtable: Trojans storylines 

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
7:00
AM PT
Name three story lines you will be paying attention to when USC fall camp opens this weekend.

Garry Paskwietz

Running back rotation: With six tailbacks in the mix it will be interesting to see how the reps are divided in the early days of camp. In most circumstances you wouldn’t need to see the veterans as much in the opening days so it would be a good opportunity to get some work for the younger guys to see where they are, but these aren’t normal times for the Trojans. Three veteran backs are coming off injuries -- Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan and Tre Madden -- so the coaches will likely want to ease them back into action as soon as possible. Then there is sophomore Buck Allen along with freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Lane Kiffin has stated he wants to develop the running game more this season, so how the reps are split in camp will be a good indication of who will be carrying the load for the Trojans this year.


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With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information
LOS ANGELES -- Justin Davis certainly didn’t bother wasting any time this past spring. Arriving at USC in January as one of seven early enrolling freshmen for the Trojans, the highly touted tailback out of Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln arguably was the revelation of spring practice.

With veteran ballcarriers Silas Redd, Tre Madden and D.J. Morgan all limited at times, Davis took full advantage of the extended opportunity to put his talents on display, showcasing a no-nonsense rushing style marked by a perfect blend of power and speed that quickly had USC coach Lane Kiffin singing his praises.

Still, even Davis was a bit taken aback when he found himself sitting atop the post-spring depth chart along with Redd -- the team’s leading rusher in 2012 -- and Madden. But rather than letting the boost in confidence get to his head, Davis instead used it as a source of motivation this summer.

Justin Davis
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comJustin Davis' surge this spring put him atop the depth chart at running back along with Silas Redd and Tre Madden.
“I was surprised when the depth chart came out, and in the end, it’s really made me work just that much harder this summer, because I’m right there,” Davis said after a recent workout on campus. “It’s pushed me that much harder, and it makes me want to work really hard this coming fall camp with the idea of staying right there and hopefully getting the No. 1 spot.”

And with that starting tailback job up for grabs, the focus with which Davis has attacked his training regimen has only intensified as the summer has progressed, a fact made clear during the Trojans’ recent volunteer passing sessions on Cromwell Field. Increasing his workload dramatically during the team’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills over the course of the last three weeks, he’s worked hard to get himself into the best shape possible for the start of fall camp, set to begin this Saturday.

“I really used the summer, because this is a time to get a couple of things down and to clear my mind before we get back to it,” said Davis, who currently stands 6-foot-1 while weighing in at just under 200 pounds. “I’m working on the little things, especially the things that I struggled with in camp, like just knowing all of my pass protections. I really got into the playbook, and I worked on my footwork ... just little things that have helped me to refine my game. I’ve been trying to get into that game mode, getting used to getting carries in the backfield again so I’m prepared for camp.”

It’s a good thing too, because Davis has a tall task ahead of him. Part of a highly talented tailback unit that includes not only Redd, Madden and Morgan, but also Javorius Allen -- a star of the spring -- and incoming freshman standout Ty Isaac, he’s set to take part in what figures to be one of the fiercest position battles at USC. Rather than feeling any element of pressure, however, he’s looking forward to a competition that he believes will only elevate his game in the long run.

“We’ve got Tre, we’ve got Silas, we’ve got really great backs up and down the group, and they’re just going to push me that much harder, and it’s going to be a really intense competition,” Davis said. “I’m definitely going in with a mindset to come in there, work, and do some big things.”

Of course, Davis readily admits that he wouldn’t be in the position that he currently is without having received a little help along the way, particularly from USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson, as well as veteran players such as Redd. But it was the experience of participating in spring ball after graduating from high school a semester early that has had perhaps the greatest impact on his development.

“That was really big,” Davis said. “I was a little skeptical at first, but it has just been a tremendous help for me. I didn’t get all of the plays down until the last week of spring, and I can’t imagine coming in now and not knowing what I know. This is when the real battles start, during fall camp. I would be lost. Now I actually know what I’m going into. I’m definitely coming into camp with confidence, because I actually know where I have to be and I know what I’m doing. I can play that much faster because I know what I’m supposed to do on the field.”

After a summer of tireless work that came directly on the heels of an eye-opening spring, Davis is in the perfect position to make an immediate impact for the Trojans in 2013. And while he still has a whole lot more to prove in his first go at fall camp, he appears to be more than up to the challenge.

“They say that the spring is just a little preview, but fall camp is the real deal because we’re getting ready to play the real games,” Davis said. “It’s exciting because you can focus on just football, because there’s no school. We can dedicate those three weeks before Hawaii entirely to football. I’ve been jacked this whoIe summer and I just can’t wait.”

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