USC Trojans: Devian Shelton

There’s definite reason for optimism for first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading into spring ball. After all, he inherits some key pieces from a unit that finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total defense (334.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 1 in red zone defense (63 percent scoring percentage).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what kind of athlete is Heyward looking to recruit?

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

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

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

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

By the sound of it, it looks like this new Trojans new secondary coach has got everything just about “covered.”

What we learned in Week 1

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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The Trojans went on the road last week and defeated Hawaii 30-13 in a game that left almost as many questions as answers for the team moving forward. Here’s what we learned:

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

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

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

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

5. Injuries add to issues at corner: Things were tenuous enough at the corner position before the opener, but it definitely added to the concern level to see both starting corners Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown leave the game with injury. There has been no official word from the university on the status of either player, although the speculation immediately after the game was that Seymour's issue was not serious. Torin Harris and Devian Shelton saw extended time as reserves against Hawaii with mixed results, and you can be sure Washington State coach Mike Leach will be focusing a lot of attention on who will be out there for the Trojans against his wide-open offense on Saturday.
Here are some selected quotes from USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call after the Trojans’ 30-13 victory over Hawaii.

On the USC offense against Hawaii:

“I didn’t feel very good about our passing game, and there were really a couple of plays there that significantly changed the feeling about it. There were three significant drops … the fourth-down drop early by Marqise [Lee], and then the two go routes, one by Nelson [Agholor], and one by Marqise … 101 yards receiving there that I think completely changes the way that our feelings would be. …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. … Tre [Madden] took care of the ball extremely well [and] ran for over 100 yards. Justin [Davis], if he doesn’t fumble the ball and lose 15 yards because the ball goes back, is over a hundred yards too. … I thought the offensive line, pass protection was poor, but the run game was very good.”

On the USC defense:


“On defense it was a really great day for the most part. I thought our guys played with great energy … five sacks by halftime. They were really relentless up front in the front seven. The three safety guys made significant plays … Su’a [Cravens], Josh [Shaw] and Dion [Bailey] all making interceptions. I think it speaks about who Su’a is as a player that in his fourth collegiate play of his career he gets an interceptions … a lot of good stuff over there on defense.”

On whether Kiffin has picked a starter between quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for the upcoming game against Washington State:


“I do know who our starting quarterback is … and you guys will see Saturday who he is.”

On whether Kiffin is going into the game with the anticipation that he will play both quarterbacks again:


“I don’t know that. We’re going to watch the game just like we would any game.”

Kiffin’s answer to, “So, you’re not going in with the anticipation that you’re going to play both as you did in the first game?”


“Not the exact same, no.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on Kessler’s performance against Hawaii:


“I thought that Cody started well in the opening drive there … you know, he picks up the big third down, and then makes a great throw on fourth down to Marqise that he drops … and then he kind of stalls out there and doesn’t have a really good rest of the first half until towards the end. And obviously he makes a poor decision on a screen pass … but then he ends the first half well. He has a touchdown drive earlier, and then gets the three points there at the end, so some good things for him to build on.

Kiffin’s thoughts on Wittek’s outing:


“Max, I thought had some good throws there. He really suffered from two long-ball drops. If you give those two completions to him for another 80 yards there, those are going to be very different numbers. So, Max did well.”

On Silas Redd’s visit to Florida this past weekend to see orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews:


“We sent Silas there right before we left for Hawaii, and he had a procedure done down there with Dr. Andrews. He felt positive about it coming back today, and that’s really all that we have on it.”

Whether he has any idea when Redd might be on the field again for the Trojans:


“I don’t. I hope this week.”

Kiffin’s feelings about the situation at cornerback, where the Trojans lost both starters -- Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour -- with undisclosed injuries during the game:


“We hope that both of those guys that got nicked up in the game will play this week for us, and if they don’t then other guys need to play well and step up. … We’re going to have injuries and guys have to be ready to play. We saw what happened with Devian [Shelton] in that game … coming in there and not holding to the standard of play that we had for those first 74 plays. So, everybody needs to be ready on our entire team, because there are going to be some guys that started way down on the depth chart that are going to end up playing for us.”

On how Dion Bailey performed at safety after lining up at linebacker in 2011 and 2012:


“We stayed in Nickel for a majority of the game because of the tempo, so Josh, and Su’a and Dion were in the whole time. Dion missed a ton of time, and to come back with seven tackles, a sack, an interception -- and he almost had a second interception -- was a great start for him in our new system.”

Kiffin’s thoughts on Lee, who had two notable dropped balls against Hawaii:


“It’s going to happen to everybody … that’s [part of] sports. Nobody is perfect. Michael Jordan missed shots … the good thing that I look at is we know obviously that Marqise makes those, and he’s made them a bunch before … more than anybody in the history of the conference last year, so that’s the good thing, because you know that’s not going to keep happening.”


USC will next face a Washington State team that passed the ball 65 times this past weekend in a close 31-24 loss to Auburn. Does Kiffin have any concerns in going up against the Cougars’ offense, particularly with the Trojans lacking depth at cornerback?

“I’d have a concern about that even if we had great depth. I thought that they threw the ball awesome yesterday. I thought the quarterback was really in rhythm … the passing game was better than it was a year ago. Their protection, they only gave up two sacks … so I’ve got a lot of concerns with how well their offense did.”

Roundtable: Top USC fall camp storyline 

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

Garry Paskwietz
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.
As the Trojans enter the final week of fall camp, the team held a high-energy practice Monday with players sensing that game week is near.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee also gave his thoughts on the pending quarterback battle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key stats

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

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

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

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

68 plays; 3 penalties; 0 turnovers

Injuries piling up for Trojans

August, 14, 2013
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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.

CB Seymour seen more in USC camp

August, 4, 2013
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Saturday marked the opening of fall camp at USC, a marathon of a day for the players that started with early morning meetings and culminated in the team’s first practice.

But for sophomore cornerback Kevon Seymour, that 12-hour day still wasn’t enough. While the majority of the team was walking off Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field toward the locker room, he was working on breaking on slant routes and picking off passes that were being thrown by walk-on quarterback Chris Willson.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesSophomore cornerback Kevon Seymour is healthy after being slowed during much of spring practice with a toe injury.
“There are things that I need to work on, like catching balls and a lot of other things, so that’s what I was doing,” Seymour said. “Today I missed some assignments, or I was on my assignments but I felt like I could have done better, so I wanted to get some extra work in to see how it felt to do it right – to jump in front of a slant. I felt like I needed that, so that when I come out tomorrow, I’m on it.”

It’s that will to continually elevate the level of his game that has helped establish Seymour as one of the headliners in the competition for one of the two starting cornerback spots – a position of major concern for USC coach Lane Kiffin in the spring.

Hobbled with turf toe during the latter half of those March and April practices – and even during the early portion of the summer – Seymour eventually healed and ultimately worked himself into the best shape of his Trojans career, a fact that was noticeable on Saturday. Running primarily with the first-team defense opposite Anthony Brown, there were flashes when he showcased the quick hips and cover skills that made him such a prized recruit coming out of Pasadena (Calif.) Muir as a member of the Trojans’ 2012 recruiting class.

“I can definitely feel a difference from the spring,” said Seymour, who stands 6-foot tall and weighed in at 184 pounds. “I put in the extra work to get to 100 percent, and now I’m to that point, so I’m just making progress every day and making a point of being there for my teammates.”

For a USC team that lacked consistent production at cornerback in recent seasons, that’s welcome news. And while the group – comprised of Seymour, Brown, Torin Harris, Devian Shelton, Ryan Henderson and Chris Hawkins – has been heavily scrutinized, Seymour believes every player is more than ready to step up to the challenge this season.

“We’re all healthy, so we’re all competing and it’s making us all better,” Seymour said. “Our defense, we trust each other. We’re not worried. We’re confident in the abilities of everybody. We focus on our main goal, not just to win games, but to come together and play as a team. We feel like we have all the talent that we need.”

And with the work ethic that Seymour put on display Saturday, there’s reason to believe he just might have a point.

“I definitely see this as a golden opportunity,” Seymour said. “My goal is just to get better every day. I have to get better every day. I don’t want to ever take any steps back.”
There are a lot of questions surrounding the USC football team as fall camp approaches, and we will look to answer as many of them as we can.

1. When will Lane Kiffin name a quarterback?


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Picking up where he left off after a strong performance in the spring, Josh Shaw has stood out during the team’s volunteer passing sessions this summer, both for his lights-out play as well as his bulked-up physical build.

“I’m in great shape right now,” said Shaw after a recent workout on Cromwell Field. “I’ve added some muscle to my frame since spring ball, so right now I’m about 6-foot-and-a-half and a solid 205 pounds. I put on about 12 pounds since the spring, and I’m moving well with it, so I’m feeling really good out here.”

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJosh Shaw wasn't afraid to put himself in the middle of the action for the Trojans last season.
With the added weight, combined with his aggressiveness and natural ball-hawking skills, Shaw appears to be a perfect fit at strong safety -- where he lined up in the spring -- and has continued to do so throughout the summer. That might come as a surprise to some, because it was just three months ago that, with the Trojans cornerback corps not exactly performing up to par, USC head coach Lane Kiffin brought up the possibility of bringing the redshirt junior -- who started seven games at corner in 2012 -- back to CB.

“We just talked about that this week, actually,” Kiffin said April 6 of a potential move for Shaw. “If Dion [Bailey] goes back to safety, that might be something that we do.”

Bailey has made the transition from linebacker back to the secondary, lining up at free safety this summer, but Shaw hasn’t been given any indication by Kiffin or defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast that he’s going anywhere. And while things could always change down the line, the Trojans look set to go with what they currently have at cornerback -- a group that includes Anthony Brown, Torin Harris, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton, Chris Hawkins and Ryan Dillard.

“I haven’t heard anything about it at all since this past spring,” said Shaw, who arrived at USC in 2012 as a transfer from Florida after attending Palmdale (Calif.) High. “And it was never brought up to me directly -- I just heard it from outside sources. From talking to Coach Pendergast, and having our post-spring evaluations and all of that, I’ll be playing safety. But I can definitely see why it was something that they were thinking about, because they just wanted more production from the corner spot. But I think right now during the summer, we’ve had time to gel and to just come out here and play football, and the cornerbacks have gotten a lot better.”

And that's just fine with Shaw, who feels more than at home at safety, especially with a new defensive scheme set in place that has him excited to hit the field each day.

“In this defense, I love playing at safety,” Shaw said. “It’s a lot different than last year. In this 3-4 defense you have to be a general. You’re asked to do a lot. You’re asked to know everything and you have to have a certain skill-set to be back there and play. I just love it.”

But as is the case with every position in the secondary, the strong safety spot is still completely up for grabs. And while Shaw has been arguably the most consistent performer throughout the spring and summer, he has a battle on his hands with star early-entrant freshman Su'a Cravens -- who was listed atop the post-spring depth chart along with Shaw -- as well as hard-hitting senior Gerald Bowman. For Shaw, though, the competition is something that he’s welcomed, and he believes that it’s only making everyone involved better in the long run.

“It’s open and it’s definitely bringing out the best in all of us because there’s just so much competition,” Shaw said. “You can see it, guys are getting after it out here, just trying to get better to put themselves in the position to be on the field this season.”

With what Shaw has shown, however, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to regard him as the favorite to land the starting job -- not just because of his stellar play, but also because of his emergence as a team leader. One of the more experienced members of the defensive backfield, he’s been noticeably vocal this offseason.

“I’ve definitely taken an active leadership role,” Shaw said. “I’ve truly embraced it. You know, with guys like T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Nickell Robey leaving, somebody had to step up. I talked to T.J. before he left and he told me that I was next in line, and I really learned a lot from him. Now I’m just trying to help all of these guys gel together, and this summer has been very pivotal for us. We’ve been meshing, doing things together, watching film and doing whatever we need to do to make sure that when we start up practice, we’re going to have a good group back there, and everyone will be able to count on us.”

That’s good news for Kiffin and Co., particularly with fall camp less than three weeks away. As for Shaw, who looks poised for a big season, it simply can’t come soon enough.

“Marqise [Lee] and I were just working out on Sunday and we were talking about it -- I just can’t wait to get the pads on. It seems like it’s been so long ... less than a month away now. I just can’t wait.”
LOS ANGELES -- With the Trojans back to the grind and hard at work at Cromwell Field, here’s a look at some of the early storylines that have taken shape during the team’s volunteer passing sessions.

Tons of talent at WR, not a lot of depth

The USC receiver corps was dealt a significant blow in the second throwing session of the summer when promising freshman Steven Mitchell went down with a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the entire 2013 season. Already without the services of George Farmer -- who suffered the same injury this spring -- the Trojans now have just five active scholarship wide receivers on the current roster.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInjuries have given freshman Darreus Rogers a chance to make a move at WR.
The good news is that those five players have looked stellar this offseason and, barring any more injuries, USC should be fine here. In particular, 2012 Biletnifkoff Award winner Marqise Lee, and sophomore Nelson Agholor have made a routine of putting on a virtual exhibition during the 7-on-7 drills, and it’s hard to imagine a better wideout tandem in the country. Just as importantly, with the role of the team’s No. 3 receiver still up for grabs, veteran pass-catchers Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy, as well as freshman , have come out each day more focused than ever, paying off with big time results.

Wittek returns to action, QB competition back on in full effect

The most notable player missing from the Trojans' early passing sessions was quarterback Max Wittek, who battled an apparent case of mononucleosis. The only member of the quarterback competition with starting experience returned to action this past Friday and looked sharp after shaking off some early rust.

The other two members of the quarterback competition -- fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler and early entrant freshman Max Browne -- have performed solidly this offseason. Kessler, in particular, has picked up right where he left off in the spring, looking poised and in command while also throwing with fantastic accuracy. Meanwhile, Browne has continued to make tremendous strides, neither looking nor playing like a green first-year youngster.

With Wittek having returned to compete alongside Kessler and Browne, the race for the role of USC's starting quarterback is underway once again. And with all three players back out there pushing each other, there’s reason for optimism, regardless of who the eventual starter is.

Key contributors back from injury

While the loss of Mitchell marked the obvious low point of the workouts so far, the return of a number of players who missed all, or a portion, of the spring due to injury has been one of the great positives. Fullback Soma Vainuku, offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr., cornerbacks Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour, as well as safeties Dion Bailey, Gerald Bowman and Su'a Cravens are just some of the players who have been spotted back in action. It’s provided a big shot in the arm for a team somewhat short in terms of numbers.

The most talked about return has been that of Bailey, who was out for the entire spring due to postseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Moving over to free safety after spending the last two seasons as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, he’s looked comfortable, and the competition between he, Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job is sure to be one of most closely watched position battles of the summer and fall.

Shaw still at safety

With Lane Kiffin underwhelmed by the production of the cornerback unit this past spring, the Trojans head coach noted on more than one occasion that the coaching staff was considering moving redshirt junior Josh Shaw back over from his strong safety spot to corner -- not a huge surprise considering he made seven starts at the position in 2012.

So far, however, there’s been no sign of the former Palmdale (Calif.) standout making that change. Lining up at strong safety during every passing session, he’s currently locked in a position battle with Cravens and Bowman. And while things could always change later in the summer or even during fall camp, it looks as if Shaw has settled in at safety at this time and that Kiffin will ride with what he currently has at cornerback -- collection that includes Anthony Brown, Ryan Dillard, Harris, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson, Seymour and Devian Shelton.

Sightings of the newest freshmen

All six of the Trojans newest freshmen additions are now on campus, and they’ve slowly begun to make their presence felt in the workouts. It was Mitchell who made the biggest impact early on with his unique playmaking skills, giving an all-too-brief glimpse of the kind of talent that the USC offense will have at its disposal down the line. Inside linebacker Michael Hutchings has impressed as well. Figuring to play a key role as the potential backup at the MIKE linebacker spot to Hayes Pullard, he certainly looks the part of an imposing run-stopper with a nice combination of athleticism and instincts to boot. Outside linebacker Quinton Powell has already shown off some nice pass-rush skills during the 11-on-11 periods. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, running back Ty Isaac is as big as advertised while also showcasing a surprising burst for a player his size. Rounding out the group, offensive tackle Nico Falah and guard Khaliel Rodgers have also been quick to jump into the action, gaining valuable tutelage from veterans such as Kevin Graf and John Martinez.
Josh Shaw
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comWhere USC decides to play Josh Shaw could go a long way in determining the starters at cornerback and safety.
A look at nine positions marked by competition this offseason at USC.

Quarterback

Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne all had their moments this past spring, but after 15 workouts, USC head coach Lane Kiffin decided that this was a battle that simply needed more time. It was Kessler, right from the get-go, who made the biggest statement with his play, most notably in the scrimmages. Wittek suffered a MCL sprain that caused him to miss a week of workouts, but with tremendous physical skills, he showed enough when he was healthy to keep this competition too close to call. Showing flashes of the talent that made him such a prized commodity coming out of high school, Browne isn’t out if it yet, either, and there’s no telling how far he just might take his game in the coming weeks. And that goes for all three quarterbacks, because with almost three months remaining until the start of fall camp, how they develop this summer will play a key part in determining who will ultimately line up behind center in 2013.

Cornerback

With Nickell Robey declaring early for the NFL draft and Josh Shaw making the move back to safety, the Trojans entered spring ball needing to find two new starting cornerbacks. On the post-spring depth chart, Anthony Brown was listed first on one side, with Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour sharing the other. But with Kiffin openly expressing his disappointment with the performance of this unit, it’s safe to say that both starting jobs remain open for the taking, with Chris Hawkins, Devian Shelton and Ryan Henderson also factoring into the conversation. Additionally, there’s a very real possibility that Shaw will switch back over to cornerback, where he started seven games in 2012. He’s still been lining up at safety during the offseason throwing sessions, though. Kiffin has also opened up the possibility of using star receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor here.

Safety

Taking the place of three-year starters T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling -- now in the NFL -- for the majority of the spring was Shaw at strong safety and Demetrius Wright at free safety. Two impressive veteran athletes, both ultimately wound up sharing the top spot at their respective positions on the post-spring depth chart with a couple of early entrant freshmen who made a lightning-quick transition to the college game in strong safety Su'a Cravens and free safety Leon McQuay III. Complicating matters further, Dion Bailey and Gerald Bowman are set to return later this summer from injury, and both figure to challenge for a starting role -- particularly Bailey, who will make the transition from linebacker to strong safety. With so much talent, the potential move of Shaw back over to cornerback certainly makes sense on a number of levels.

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Checking up on the USC DBs 

May, 1, 2013
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With just about four months to go until USC opens the 2013 season, the Trojans are currently sitting smack-dab in the offseason doldrums. And while it’s a relatively quiet stretch of the year, it’s vital in terms of player development. And for the USC defensive back corps, the coming months figure to be even more important than usual. After all, the unit had a ton of question marks heading into the spring, and even after 15 practices, not all of them were answered. With that in mind, here are some of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason for USC's secondary.

The search continues at CB


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As the Trojans begin the final week of practices prior to the spring game it was shoulder pads and shorts practice on Tuesday. The team has been hit with injuries during the physical spring and, even though the load was lightened a little, USC coach Lane Kiffin was happy with the intensity.

“We really wanted to focus on keeping guys staying up today and that usually happens when we don’t go full pads,” Kiffin said. “I thought we were still able to have a physical practice.”

Highlight plays
  • From deep in his own end, Cody Kessler stood in the pocket against strong pressure and fired late to Nelson Agholor for 12 yards and a first down.
  • Max Wittek had his chance with the ball near his goal line and he found Victor Blackwell with a quick strike, and Blackwell put on the jets to race for a long touchdown despite valiant pursuit from Leon McQuay III.
  • Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick made a nice catch of a low-thrown ball across the middle from Wittek.
  • McQuay popped the ball loose from Cope-Fitzpatrick after a short catch.
Goal-line intensity

One of the most fiery drills of any practice is when the ball is placed inside the 5-yard line and the offense takes its shots at the end zone.

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