USC Trojans: Darreus Rogers

Most important player: USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agholor’s turn in the spotlight

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

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

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

Who else steps up at WR?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight ends poised to flourish

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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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.

Offseason spotlight: USC

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: WR Darreus Rogers , So., 6-2, 210

2013 summary: Rogers caught 22 passes for 257 yards last season.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsDarreus Rogers has a good chance this spring to put a stranglehold on the USC No. 2 WR spot.
The skinny: Marqise Lee is gone. So Nelson Agholor will step in as the Trojans' No. 1 receiver in 2014, a post he arguably held last season even with Lee on the team. But who will be No. 2? While many will be watching the QB competition between incumbent starter Cody Kessler and touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, USC really needs someone to decisively step into the No. 2 WR role. Rogers, the leading returning receiver after Agholor, flashed plenty of promise last season as a true freshman. He has good size, hands and play-making ability. Further, there won't be too much competition this spring, with the oft-injured George Farmer coming off a knee injury, as is Steven Mitchell. Both figure to see only limited action. Rogers' chief competition might be the Victor Blackwell, but he caught just four passes last season and has yet to show much. Further, there is pressure on Rogers to step up this spring, because a strong incoming receiver class -- Juju Smith, Rahshead Johnson and Ajene Harris -- will arrive this summer, and those guys surely are eyeballing immediate playing time.

Previous spotlights

Rogers primed for a big spring

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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USC receiver Darreus Rogers is fully aware of the opportunity that lies in front of him this spring. With the starting job opposite Nelson Agholor open for the taking following Marqise Lee's jump to the NFL, not to mention the arrival of Steve Sarkisian’s highly anticipated up-tempo offense, the rising sophomore knows that the upcoming practice sessions could be the perfect setting for his emergence from promising contributor into the latest in a long line of star wideouts at USC.

And with what he showed as a freshman last fall in a somewhat limited role, hauling in 22 passes while showcasing a unique blend of size, sure hands and playmaking ability, there’s reason to believe that the former Carson (Calif.) standout is on the cusp of doing just that.

“My mindset is to come in and step in for Marqise so the offense doesn’t miss a beat,” Rogers said. “I’m just focused on coming out and working hard each and every day.”

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsDarreus Rogers caught 22 passes as a freshman and has a chance to jump into the starting lineup as a sophomore.
And that doesn’t just mean during spring drills. Rogers has been back on the grind this entire offseason, and physically he believes that he’s far ahead of where he was just a few months ago, thanks in part to new strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis.

“He’s made a big impact on my game,” said Rogers of Lewis following a conditioning workout earlier this week. “Probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me is having a strength coach like him. My body feels different. I can see a difference in how I’m running, my flexibility, and I’m excited to see what I can do on the field.”

Part of the secret to the success of the training regimen is the frenetic speed in which Rogers and his teammates are put through their paces -- a direct byproduct of Sarkisian’s no-huddle offense. According to Rogers, that faster, quicker mode of doing things is something that the coaches have made a concerted effort to engrain in every player on the USC roster.

“When we go out there everything is rapid-fire,” said Rogers, who currently stands 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. “No walking -- get after it and get it done. Everything, and I mean everything, we do is fast. Eat fast, shower fast, wake up fast … everything around here is done quickly now. We’ve had to get used to it.”

And while Rogers and his offensive teammates won’t be able to fully immerse themselves into Sarkisian’s system -- which the new head coach has described as being essentially a fast-paced, pro-style scheme that contains some spread principles -- until they hit the field in pads this spring, he’s excited about the future based on what he’s already learned.

“I can’t wait to play in this offense,” Rogers said. “For a receiver this is the type of offense that really showcases you. It’s no-huddle, spread it out and pass, so I really feel like it’s a blessing for me.”

With the prospect of George Farmer and Steven Mitchell participating in spring ball on a full-time basis still potentially in doubt as each are coming off knee injuries, and acclaimed freshmen Juju Smith, Rahshead Johnson and Ajene Harris still a few months away from arriving on campus, Rogers will be part of a receiver corps that will possibly include just two other scholarship performers in Agholor and Victor Blackwell.

Therefore, Rogers is expected to be relied upon heavily, and the experience of working closely this offseason with Agholor, the team’s leading returning pass-catcher, has proven to be especially helpful in preparing him for the increased responsibility.

“I’ve just been staying in Nelson’s right pocket all the time,” Rogers said. “Having a receiver like him coming back for me to work with gives me a great opportunity, so I’m just taking advantage of it every day.”

After having been away from live action since late December, Rogers, as well as the other Trojans players, are now less than two weeks away from hitting the field again as a team -- this time under a new coaching. It can’t come soon enough for Rogers.

“It just feels great to almost be back out there again,” Rogers said. “We ended last season with 10 wins, and that was good, but I feel like we could have done better. And this year we just have a chip on our shoulder -- just to try to be the best and to show our fans what we can do. I can’t wait.”

Roundtable: Biggest noise in spring?

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
6:00
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WeAreSC staffers give opinions on topics related to Trojans football:

Give your offensive and defensive "spring revelations," guys who will make the biggest noise in spring.

Garry Paskwietz: These are good times for the USC tailback spot. Buck Allen was the 2013 team MVP, and Tre Madden and Justin Davis were the darlings of the early part of the season. By the end of the year, however, you couldn’t help but notice the progress that Ty Isaac had made as well. Isaac combines a chiseled, big frame with a natural running style, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him really make a statement this spring.

My defensive revelation is more of a position group than an individual player. The need to replace George Uko along the interior of the line is critical, and the Trojans have some pretty good options. Delvon Simmons is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from Texas Tech. You can’t substitute experience, and Simmons has a year as a starter in the Big 12 under his belt. Kenny Bigelow redshirted last year and is ready to start showing why he was such a highly rated recruit coming out of high school. Claude Pelon offers another big, veteran body as a junior college transfer and then there is always the possibility of Greg Townsend, if he can stay healthy.

[+] Enlarge Delvon Simmons
John Albright/Icon SMIDelvon Simmons brings a year of experience from Texas Tech to USC.
Johnny Curren: With Marqise Lee off to the NFL, I really think that wide receiver Darreus Rogers has the potential to explode this spring. Possessing a unique combination of size, soft hands and big-play ability, he gained valuable experience in 2013 as the Trojans’ No. 3 receiver, hauling in 22 passes. I expect him to slide into the starting spot opposite Nelson Agholor and to take on a key role, particularly with USC going to more of an uptempo offense. From what he showed last season in somewhat limited action, he’s more than ready for the increase in responsibility.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Khaliel Rodgers potentially make a splash at center. I was extremely impressed with what I saw from him in practice last season, as well as in high school, and I think, given the opportunity this spring, he’ll succeed.

On the other side of the ball, I think Simmons is the big name to watch. At a hulking 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, he’s another performer who impressed out on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on a daily basis last fall. With the added benefit of having started 13 games as a sophomore in 2012 at Texas Tech, he has the ability to step in right away and contribute with no adjustment period. He’ll challenge for the starting defensive end spot opposite Leonard Williams, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he lines up there when the Trojans open up the 2014 season. Linebackers Quinton Powell and Scott Starr are two more outstanding athletes who could make some noise this spring.

Greg Katz: Given that it’s a position of not only great need but of great interest, a spring revelation from this prospective will be redshirt freshman Rodgers, who has the size (6-3, 310) to be a dominant center. Playing in postseason all-star game competition coming out of high school, Rodgers really established himself as a prospect. Extremely physical and nasty at the point of attack, Rodgers can play two positions: center and guard. Because of the need at center, Rodgers will get every opportunity to show his stuff there, and it will be a revelation just how much potential this kid has to be outstanding. That said, there is still the leadership role of center and that will be one factor to monitor in his bid to be the starter.

The early loss of Uko leaves a real void and opportunity for somebody to step in and take that defensive tackle spot. There are enough candidates, but the one that will be a revelation will be Simmons, the former U.S. Army All-American. That "6-6, 300" is not some number put into a media guide. He has the necessary game experience and also had quality results playing as a true freshman with the Red Raiders. Keep an eye on this up-and-comer.

The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.

Roundtable: Trojans opting for NFL draft 

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
3:47
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The Trojans have lost five underclass players to the NFL draft this year with more announcements coming. The WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following topics:

1. Does Hayes Pullard stay or go?

[+] EnlargeUSC defense
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsHayes Pullard has yet to announce if he'll enter the NFL draft, but our expects think he'll end up leaving USC for the NFL.
Garry Paskwietz: I’ve gone back and forth on this one but right now it sure seems as if there is a good chance he will leave. I can list a lot of reasons for him to stay -- to be a four-year starter, a two-time team captain and one of the most respected leaders to get the Trojans through the sanctions, which is a pretty special role. But Pullard has also accomplished a lot already and perhaps he thinks it is time to leave. We shall see.

WeAreSC roundtable: Postseason honors

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
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The USC football team banquet will be held this week with the annual team awards handed out. The WeAreSC staffers give their picks on some of the top performers of the season.

MVP

Garry Paskwietz: Leonard Williams
Johnny Curren: Leonard Williams
Greg Katz: Leonard Williams

Top offensive player

GP: Javorius "Buck" Allen
JC: Marcus Martin
GK: Cody Kessler

Top defensive player

GP: Devon Kennard
JC: Devon Kennard
GK: Devon Kennard

Most impactful freshman

GP: Su'a Cravens
JC: Su’a Cravens
GK: Su’a Cravens

Surprise performer

GP: Buck Allen
JC: Buck Allen
GK: J.R. Tavai

Tough guy of the year

GP: Dion Bailey
JC: Soma Vainuku
GK: Hayes Pullard

Biggest one-game performance

GP: Hayes Pullard vs Stanford
JC: Soma Vainuku vs Colorado
GK: Buck Allen vs Cal

Future star

GP: Justin Davis
JC: Justin Davis
GK: Darreus Rogers

Planning for success: USC

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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A look across the board at the defensive statistics for the California Golden Bears shows that it could be a good day for the Trojans offense on Saturday in Berkeley.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterback Cody Kessler could have a big day against Cal's porous pass defense.
The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 Conference in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense and rank No. 11 in rush defense. Those rankings aren’t exactly a recipe for success against a USC offense that is coming off a balanced and effective performance against Oregon State, one that saw the Trojans gain 242 yards on the ground and 247 through the air.

In fact, it might have been the most complete offensive game of the year for the Trojans, which means the biggest key for the upcoming game is to keep on doing what they are doing.

Cody Kessler is showing steady progress at the quarterback spot. He threw one interception that was returned for a touchdown against the Beavers but outside of that throw he hit of 17 of his other 20 passes, including a 71-yard touchdown toss to Marqise Lee on the first play from scrimmage.

Kessler could have the added benefit of a full complement of receivers. The WR group for the Trojans has been hit hard by injuries lately but all five scholarship receivers practiced this week, which has been a rare sight. The presence of Lee against Oregon State provided a huge spark, even if he didn’t do a whole lot beyond that opening play. Nelson Agholor has shown he can be depended upon for a larger role and true freshman Darreus Rogers is proving to be a weapon as well.

The USC passing game will be going up against a Bears pass defense that ranks dead last in the nation by giving up 340 passing yards per game. Cal only has 15 sacks on the year so Kessler should also have time to throw the ball behind a USC offensive line that is coming off one of its better outings.

If the Trojans should choose to run the ball there is a lot of confidence in that area too. USC is coming off a game when it had a pair of tailbacks gain over 133 yards -- Silas Redd and Buck Allen -- and they did it in impressive style. Don’t be surprised if the Bears see a steady diet of the USC tailback duo early and often in this one.

Coaches often preach that a game isn’t about the opponent as much as it is about themselves and this is truly one of those games for the Trojans. Cal is trying to find their way under a new coach while the Trojans are slowly showing signs that they may have found their way under a coach with an interim tag. USC just needs to focus offensively on doing what they do well and, barring any unforeseen issues, that should be enough to bring home the victory.

Five Trojans who have stepped up

November, 5, 2013
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As the Trojans continue to battle injuries while they prepare for the final stretch of the 2013 season, here are 5 players who have stepped up when called upon due to injuries to other players at their position.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsAfter missing a few games with injury, USC wideout Darreus Rogers has caught 12 passes in his last three games.
RB Buck Allen: There is no bigger example of a player rising up and playing a key role than what Allen did last week in the win over Oregon State. There were flashes from Allen earlier in the season -- as well as his solid performance in fall camp -- but it was still a pleasant surprise for USC fans to see him get 16 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns in such a critical game. With Justin Davis out for the season with ankle surgery and Tre Madden battling hamstring issues, the Trojans might be relying on a whole lot more from Buck in the coming weeks.

WR Darreus Rogers: The freshman wide receiver had injury issues of his own early in the season but got healthy just as Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor both were hurting as well. In a two-game stretch against Notre Dame and Utah, Rogers had 11 catches for 122 yards and was a reliable mid-range target.

TE’s Nathan Guertler: Through the first three years of his career, Guertler was a little-used walk-on offensive lineman who was known for his rugged style of play. In recent weeks, however, the Trojans have found themselves with serious depth issues at tight end so Guertler has thrown on a new jersey with a tight end number and played well against Oregon State as an extra blocker.

OLB J.R. Tavai: After beginning this season as a backup to Leonard Williams at defensive end, Tavai was moved to outside linebacker when Morgan Breslin went down with a hip injury. Tavai responded with a pair of double-digit tackle games with his usual relentless motor and strength. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Tavai have such success considering he has played both inside and outside on the line in his USC career, but it is still a bonus for the Trojans to have a player who can move seamlessly between both spots.

DB Demetrius Wright: The Trojans came into the season with great depth at safety but it has been tested with the move of Josh Shaw to corner, the redshirt season for Gerald Bowman and various injury issues for Dion Bailey and Su’a Cravens. Wright has stepped in as an experienced reserve and provided steady play along with some big hits. Interim coach Ed Orgeron has mentioned Wright multiple times as a key contributor in recent weeks.

Five things: USC-Oregon State 

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
9:00
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Five things to watch for the USC Trojans against Oregon State:

1. Figuring out Reser: The reason there is so much being made about the recent USC struggles in Corvallis is because the Trojans have struggled a lot in Corvallis. The Beavers have beaten the Trojans in the last three meetings at Reser Stadium, including some dramatic upset victories over highly ranked USC teams. The Trojans come in as the underdog in this matchup as they try to reverse recent history in a hostile environment.

2. Slow down Mannion: OSU quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation’s top-ranked passing attack and he is going to be throwing the ball a lot. Mannion averages nearly 50 pass attempts a game and many of them go to Brandin Cooks, the nation’s leading receiver. The Trojans will need to get pressure up front, something the Stanford Cardinal did in their victory over the Beavers last week. USC will be without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin but look for Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and J.R. Tavai to pick up the slack.

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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.
One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

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

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

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

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

Kicking open the door of competition

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

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

Injury woes

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

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

Position switch

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

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.
With a mass of players standing on the sideline in shorts and t-shirts during Tuesday’s practice, there is absolutely no denying that USC has been rocked by the injury bug as of late. And on this day, with the Trojans preparing to take on Utah this Saturday in the Coliseum, perhaps no group appeared to be feeling the pinch more than Tee Martin’s wide receiver corps.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWith injury issues at wide receiver, USC will need Darreus Rogers in a big way this weekend.
With Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and De’Von Flournoy all sidelined due to injuries, and George Farmer and Steven Mitchell both declared out for the year long ago, offensive coordinator Clay Helton had just two scholarship wide outs at his disposal. But when Victor Blackwell hobbled off midway through the two-hour session, that number turned into one -- Darreus Rogers.

A 6-foot-2 and 210-pound freshman who arrived at USC last spring, he’s now in position to potentially play a huge role in this weekend’s game as the most healthy and capable pass-catcher available. And coming off a breakout six-catch, 60-yard outing in the team’s 14-10 loss to Notre Dame, it’s a task he appears to be up for.

“He played really, really well,” said Ed Orgeron of Rogers. “We’re so proud of that young man. Tee was really impressed with his performance.”

What made Rogers’ showing particularly remarkable was the fact that it was his first game back in action in over a month. He went down with a high-ankle sprain back on Sept. 14 in the Trojans’ victory over Boston College and returned to practice full-time just last week.

But you wouldn’t have known it by the way he played.
“It was very hard,” Rogers said of his time away. “I just kept mentally focused and ready in the training room so I could get back out here as soon as possible. I came back earlier than I expected, and I think that was because I worked hard and did all of the extras in the training room, iced my ankle each and every day, and when I came back out here and ran on it, it felt good.”

Rogers’ hard work obviously paid off, but it’s not as if his performance against the Fighting Irish came out of nowhere. A prolific game-breaker on the high school level at Carson (Calif.) who caught 64 passes for 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season in 2011, he made a big impression at USC this past August, winning a highly-publicized position battle to emerge as the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Lee and Agholor.

“I knew it was something that I could do,” Rogers said of the numbers he put up against Notre Dame. “It was just about me getting the opportunity, and I got it. That’s what all of the coaches always say, ‘when the opportunity comes, take it.’ I always keep that in mind, so every time the ball comes my way, I’m trying to catch it and show what I can do.”

Now feeling “back to 100 percent,” Rogers’ determined mindset was apparent on Tuesday when, showing a level of maturity beyond his years, he looked more like a veteran than a first-year performer, as he led a wide receiver group filled with walk-ons like Robby Kolanz, Christian Tober and George Katrib through their paces.

“I’m focused on just coming in and stepping up, and I’m pushing the other guys,” Rogers said. “They’re working hard as if they had a scholarship too, so I’m just coming in here and being a leader early.”

And Rogers’ growth is good news for a USC offense that may, or may not, have options like Lee and Agholor available this Saturday. And whether he’s ultimately asked to be the go-to receiver against the Utes, or to play a supporting role, he’s prepared to take the next step in his development.

“I’m ready for whatever opportunity comes my way,” Rogers said. “Whether it’s a big role or small role, I’m going to take advantage of it. I can’t wait to get out there.”

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