USC Trojans: John Martinez

There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona State
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Oregon State
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.

Exit interview: John Martinez

January, 31, 2014
A highly touted prospect coming out of Murray (Utah) Cottonwood, John Martinez was a member of Pete Carroll’s final signing class in 2009 and would go on to establish himself as a sturdy mainstay at right guard for a large chunk of his career, lining up as a starter for the entirety of his sophomore and junior seasons.

As was the case with the entire Trojans team this past fall, Martinez’s 2013 campaign was filled with ups and downs, as he took on more of a reserve role. Still, there were positives that he was able to take away from his fifth-year senior season as he made a valuable contribution on both the right side as well as the left side of the line while recording five starts, including in the victory over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

With his time at USC having now reached its conclusion, Martinez took time out of his schedule to talk to WeAreSC as he prepares to take part in the College All-Star Bowl (Feb. 14) as well as Pro Day (March 12).

[+] EnlargeMartinez
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIJohn Martinez took more of a secondary role as a senior, but he delivered when the Trojans needed him to.
WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the season ended?

John Martinez: After the season ended I moved out of my apartment at USC, and then just headed back home to Utah to train. I’m training at this place called John Madsen Performance. It’s right down the street from my house.

[+] EnlargeMartinez
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIJohn Martinez took more of a secondary role as a senior, but he delivered when the Trojans needed him to.
WeAreSC: Who are some of the other players that you’re working out with, and what has that experience been like?

Martinez: It’s mostly a bunch guys from the University of Utah. There’s Karl Williams -- the fullback, Vyncent Jones -- the center … a couple guys from Utah State also. We all have the same goal in mind, we’re going through the same process, and they’re a bunch of great guys too. It’s cool to hang out with them afterwards when we’re done lifting.

WeAreSC: You’ve got Pro Day at USC coming up in March, but you were also recently invited to play in the College All-Star Bowl in Greenville, S.C. How excited are you to take part in that game?

Martinez: I can’t wait to play in that bowl game because it’s been too long since I’ve put a helmet and pads on. I’m tired of lifting weights, I’m ready to hit somebody ….

WeAreSC: After starting every game during your sophomore and junior seasons, you dealt with quite a bit of adversity in your senior year, as did the entire team. What was it like dealing with that?

Martinez: As soon as Coach Kiffin left it was just chaos. It was like everything just got thrown up in the air, and hopefully everything would come back down the way we wanted it to. I feel like everybody loved Coach [Ed] Orgeron before Coach Kiffin left, so everybody was on board with what he was doing right away. And for me, not playing as much my senior year, the best thing to do when you’re not in is to be positive and just take it day-by-day, and when an opportunity arises, you just have to take it. So, that’s what I kept in my mind the whole time. I just kept my head high and just hoped for opportunities.

WeAreSC: One of those opportunities came in the Las Vegas Bowl when you got the chance to start in your last game for the Trojans, and you came up with a strong outing in a victory. How special was that individually, and in terms of the team?

Martinez: That was definitely gratifying. It was an accomplishment that a lot of us seniors were hoping for. There was a lot of hype going into it, but a lot of pressure too because we lost our last bowl game. Fresno State wasn’t a bad team either -- they were good. It almost came down to a chess match. When they made a wrong move we had to capitalize on it. When we made a bad move they tried to capitalize on it. I was just happy to experience the whole thing.

WeAreSC: You saw quite a few coaches come and go during your time at USC. Can you pick one or two of those who had an especially profound impact on you?

Martinez: I would say that [graduate assistant] Lenny Vandermade made a big impact on me because he took me under his wing, took me aside and kind of explained things in a different perspective than a coach would, because he actually played and understood just the feeling of it. I felt like that was one of the things that just helped me out so much … getting the perspective of a guy who had been there and done that, and who had played at SC. And then I’d say Coach [Mike] Summers too, because of his philosophy about playing football and being an offensive lineman. He talked about how growing up as a kid no one else wants to be an offensive lineman when they’re playing pickup games, so he made us feel like we had a special job, and that it’s something that no one else would be able to do, and that’s why we were chosen. I felt like that brought us more of a sense of wanting to play for him, and that it gave us a sense of solidarity.

WeAreSC: You earned an undergraduate degree in sociology at USC. If football doesn’t work out down the line, do you have an idea of what you might be interested in doing?

Martinez: If football doesn’t work out I was hoping to use my degree because I have a lot of family that is involved in foster care, and I’m adopted myself. I feel like I could be a mentor for kids who are in my shoes when I was their age. I could prove to them, ‘I was there. I’ve done what you’ve done, and if you just stay on the right path you can achieve goals like going to college and playing football.’ So, giving back to the kids who went to my high school or from my community, I feel like that would be more of a rewarding experience than doing it for money or anything else. That was my main reason for getting a degree in sociology.

WeAreSC: What will you miss most about being a student at USC?

Martinez: I’d probably say the people … just the other student athletes and everybody there. They made my experience a lot better. If I ever needed help they were always there. And if I ever had questions or anything they were always there. And plus, the professors and just everybody was so friendly. They always talk about the Trojan family, and I really experienced that sense of family while I was there.

WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?

Martinez: Just keep living the dream and Fight On.

Five things: USC at California

November, 9, 2013
Five things to watch for USC against the California Golden Bears (noon PT):

1. No let-up: The Trojans picked up an emotional victory last week on the road at Oregon State and next week will be a prime-time showdown in the Coliseum against No. 5 Stanford. Sandwiched between those two games is Cal, a team that is struggling with only a single win against FCS Portland State and seven consecutive losses. After early season issues of their own, Ed Orgeron is doing a good job of keeping the USC players focused on enjoying the day-to-day process right now, so it’s not likely they will be caught looking ahead.

2. Injuries: It’s not a USC preview piece these days unless you talk about injuries. The latest bit of bad news came this week with the announcement that Morgan Breslin will have hip surgery and is out for the remainder of the regular season. Breslin has been the best pass rusher on the team for the past two years, so he’s not a guy you want out of the lineup for the final stretch. Look for the Trojans to use J.R. Tavai and Jabari Ruffin to help fill that spot, although Tavai might need to replace Leonard Williams if the star defensive end cannot play because of a bad shoulder that held him out of two practices this week.

3. Cal passing game vs USC secondary: The Bears hang their hat on the passing game in the Bear Raid offense of Sonny Dykes. They are going with a true freshman quarterback this year in Jared Goff, who has put up some big numbers but has also made some predictable, true-freshman mistakes. Goff is No. 8 nationally in passing yards per game and has some good receivers, but the USC corner situation seems to have stabilized with the move of Josh Shaw and the healthy status of Kevon Seymour.

4. USC run game: The Trojans found a lot of success last week running the ball with both Silas Redd and Buck Allen gaining more than 133 yards behind some good blocking from the offensive line. The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 in three major categories, so it stands to reason that USC will look to get things going on the ground again this week. One area to watch on the line will be the status of right tackle Kevin Graf, who has been battling an ankle injury. Orgeron has said Graf will start if he can play. If he cannot, Max Tuerk will move to right tackle and John Martinez will start at left guard.

5. Pendergast factor: After spending the last three years as the defensive coordinator at Cal, Clancy Pendergast has a good working knowledge of many of the Bears' players. He might not know the new offense as well, but the knowledge of the players will certainly play some kind of benefit for the Trojans. Pendergast has the USC defense ranked among the national top 25 in 10 categories.

WeAreSC roundtable: Beavers then Bears

November, 7, 2013
WeAreSC staffers discuss last week's game and Saturday's matchup with Cal.

What was most impressive part of USC's victory against Oregon State?

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesInterim coach Ed Orgeron has led his Trojans to a 3-1 record since taking over.
Garry Paskwietz: I thought it was the way the Trojans physically controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I completely understand that it’s one thing to do that against Oregon State and another to do it against Stanford, but lately the Trojans hadn’t put both sides of the ball together in one game for a while, so it was encouraging to see it happen in this game. This was particularly evident in how well the Trojans ran the ball and put pressure on Sean Mannion.

Johnny Curren: It was a phenomenal effort by tailbacks Javorius Allen and Silas Redd, as the Trojans amassed 242 rushing yards. But it wasn’t just the ball-carriers who made an impact. In fact, the performance of the offensive line might have been what was most impressive of all. Putting together their best outing of the season, they were an incredibly aggressive and cohesive unit. The lights-out night that Aundrey Walker had, in particular, was a positive development with an eye toward the rest of the season. If the USC ground game continues to roll like it did against OSU, there’s little doubt the Trojans will be finishing the 2013 campaign very strong.

Greg Katz: The most impressive part of the Trojans' victory was the way Ed Orgeron’s team kept its poise once the Beavers tied the game at 14-14. In the past, the Men of Troy might have folded at Reser Stadium, but this group was able to rise above the crowd noise, keep its composure and come right back to win going away. It was a major maturity step and possible turning point for the 2013 Trojans.

What is the key matchup of the USC-Cal game?

Paskwietz: USC vs. themselves. Things are going in a very positive direction right now for the Trojans, and on paper it doesn’t appear Cal should present an overwhelmingly tough matchup. But, as any college football fan knows, anything can happen on any given day. Think back to last year for the Trojans at the beginning of November when they hit the road for a game they were expected to win. If they had won in Arizona, it would have set up a huge showdown the following week at the Coliseum -- a very similar scenario to this year.

Curren: With Josh Shaw moving from safety to cornerback, the USC secondary has put together two consecutive solid outings after struggling at times earlier in the season, but it faces a big test this weekend in California’s uptempo, spread offense. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff leads a Golden Bears aerial attack that generates 351.1 passing yards per game -- the No. 8 mark in the FBS -- and he has three very talented receivers at his disposal in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. With very little else clicking for Cal on either side of the ball, if the Trojans’ defensive backfield can keep those wideouts corralled while also taking advantage of a Goff mistake here or there -- which he’s been known to make on occasion -- USC should run away with the game.

Katz: The key matchup will not only will be the performance of the Trojans offensive line against the Bears defensive front, but the actual lineup of cardinal and gold players. The Trojans right side of the line actually looked pretty good against Oregon State with Max Tuerk at right tackle filling in for veteran Kevin Graf, and right guard Aundrey Walker having his best game as a Trojan. On the left side, senior John Martinez played a good game. Can this unit with or without Graf (ankle) continue to grow and open up big holes for the Trojans' obvious wealth of tailback riches?

What was the most memorable moment from USC vs. Cal in Memorial Stadium?

Paskwietz: It's the 2007 game when both teams came in ranked in the top 25. The game was played in a hard-driving rain, and the Trojans were only able to throw for 129 yards. But senior tailback Chauncey Washington had the game of his career with 29 carries for 220 yards and a touchdown to lead USC to a 24-17 victory. Washington had spent two years on academic probation and had to pay his own way at USC, so to see him rewarded for his patience with a performance like that was truly memorable.

Curren: It wasn’t a positive memory for the Trojans, but the 2003 USC-Cal matchup was as drama-filled as it gets. In a game featuring an incredible three overtimes marked by wild and unpredictable plays, including a Hershel Dennis fumble, as well as a field-goal block by Gregg Guenther, the No. 3 Trojans wound up losing 34-31. The difference was a Tyler Fredrickson field goal. In looking back, the most significant thing to come from the game was that it really marked a turning point of sorts under Pete Carroll, as the Trojans would go on to win an incredible 34 consecutive games following that defeat.

Katz: Unfortunately for Trojans fans it would be the 2003 triple-overtime loss to the Bears. The Dennis fumble and the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Frederickson in OT was at the time a killer. However, it seems that painful loss was inspirational the rest of the way, as former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll never again lost to Cal during his marvelous tenure.

Ed Orgeron conference call highlights

November, 3, 2013
Some selected quotes from USC head coach Ed Orgeron’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 31-14 victory over Oregon State.

Orgeron on the improved play of the USC secondary:

[+] Enlarge Josh Shaw
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw's play at cornerback against Oregon State drew the praise of USC interim coach Ed Orgeron.
“I think we learned a big lesson at Arizona State in giving up the deep ball, and Clancy [Pendergast] made some great adjustments in the secondary. And we went back to some fundamentals about staying in lead position, staying in the post, making them throw the ball in front of us, and I think some of those things have been very well taught. The play of Demetrius Wright at safety has been excellent. Moving Josh Shaw to corner ... as you know he’s a very, very good football player.”

On the strong performance of the USC offensive line against Oregon State:

“I just think that we went back to the fundamentals. When we went and played against Notre Dame, I think playing on the road ... the crowd had an effect on us, on the silent count [and] we made some mistakes. We piped in the noise. ... I think it’s the second week in a row in which they’ve played together with Max [Tuerk] at right tackle. Talking to the offense, they felt that the communication with Max and Aundrey [Walker] was where it needed to be. I thought that John [Martinez] had one of his better games. And so, I just thought that the cohesiveness of the unit for the second week in a row helped, the communication helped, we simplified the game plan, the protection was all built on us being able to not get beat one on one, and I thought Clay [Helton] did a great job with his protections.”

On USC’s nine penalties for 68 yards:

“Obviously, some of the penalties are inexcusable ... some of them we really just have to fix. Some of them are right on the cusp where our guys are playing hard, and that’s going to happen. Penalties are going to happen ... they’re not excusable, but we’re not going to take the aggressiveness away from our players. We’re going to teach them the right technique, and do the best we can with it.”

On the development of Cody Kessler since Orgeron took over as interim coach:

“Just the style in which he plays, his tenacity, his moxie, his leadership. ... He’s got some stuff to him that I really like in a quarterback -- all the intangibles. I think he was 17-of-21 with the interception that was not a good decision. But the way he runs the offense, the way he wants to win ... he’s very competitive. Our guys believe in him.”

On the Trojans’ 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive after Oregon State’s game-tying pick-six in the second quarter:

“We talked at the beginning of the week, we said, ‘Listen, they’re a good football team. They’re going to make plays. At one point in the game we’re going to face adversity. It’s going to be OK. We’ll just stick together. No matter what happens, we stick together. Know that you’re going to be prepared well, you’re going to be ready, and we can overcome any obstacle they throw at us.’ And our guys did. When Cody came to the sideline, the defense was telling them, ‘Hey, it’s OK.’ And then they responded with that 10-play drive. I think that was a turning point in our new five-game season so far.”

On the 1-2 punch that developed in the rotation at tailback with Silas Redd and Javorius Allen:

“Give the credit to Tommie Robinson. I let the guys handle their rotations ... and Tommie does a great job. Tommie is one of the best running back coaches I’ve been around. What a tremendous job he’s done.”

On what impressed Orgeron about Allen’s performance:

“The way he’s running, and slashing, and leaning, and breaking tackles, and staying upright and moving forward. ... I think he’s gaining confidence every time he touches the ball. We’re seeing things that we haven’t seen from him, really. We’ve seen some things from him in practice that we really like. As you know, Buck [Allen] was on the scout team with me for two years, so I knew [him] probably the best on the staff. But when we had a change of coaches at that running back position, Tommie came in and kept saying, ‘Hey, I really like Buck Allen.’ And you know, when a coach likes you, and a coach wants you to play, wants to give you a chance, it means a lot to a young man. Buck has a heart of gold, and he’s like a lot of players on our team, he’s a great team guy, and I’m just happy to see him have success.”

On the confidence level of the team:

“I’ll say this, I know the confidence level on the football team and the coaching staff after the game was very high ... that we could go there and beat Oregon State in a hostile environment. Now the key is for us to still take it one game at a time and make improvement. One of the best things with Coach [Pete] Carroll’s teams was they got better in the month of November, and that’s my goal with the football team, is this week for us to take the next step and get better.”

On where Orgeron’s passion for USC comes from:

“I came here in 1998. I wanted to coach here since I was 6 years old, and the opportunity to come here and coach here has been everything I ever imagined and more. I’ve been to a lot of universities and a lot of great places, and I feel that it’s the best place in the world of coaching.”
As the offensive line goes, so go the 2013 USC Trojans.

That was the feeling of many coming into the season as USC coach Lane Kiffin talked about a renewed sense of wanting to control the line of scrimmage. The fact that the Trojans had five experienced starters returning, along with a deep group of running backs, fostered a feeling of optimism for success if the line could come together.

Kiffin showed how important the line was when he brought in veteran offensive line coach Mike Summers and paired him with existing position coach James Cregg to double up the duties up front. There was also some shuffling in the starting lineup during fall camp with Chad Wheeler moving into the left tackle spot and Aundrey Walker transitioning to right guard to share time with John Martinez.

Through the first three games of the season, the results have shown good progress, particularly in the run game. The Trojans have averaged 43 rushing attempts per game and are just short of 200-yards per game on the ground.

“There is some good stuff going on up there with the offensive line,” Kiffin said. “I really feel like the decisions made in January -- our staff decisions, scheme decisions and practice decisions to be more physical -- are paying off.”

While the run game has been consistently good, there is still room for improvement with pass protection and penalties but those areas would expect to be addressed in the coming weeks as the line continues to gel with the new lineup.

“Run blocking is going really well,” USC right tackle Kevin Graf said. “Pass blocking, we really haven’t gotten to do that much, it’s weird. We keep on doing so well with the run that we rarely pass it. We’ve been practicing like this since spring ball. We really put an emphasis on running the ball and it makes us look a little more nasty.”

Of course, any offensive lineman will tell you they love run blocking, especially those linemen who have been around the USC program in recent years when the ground game often took a back seat to the aerial circus of the Matt Barkley era.

“You gotta like it a lot,” Graf said. “When you run the ball as much as we have, it’s a lot of fun, especially for the O-line. We love getting off the line and we love hitting people, that’s what we like to do. We just have to keep on doing it. You can’t do it one game and then the next game not be able to do it. We just need to be consistent and make sure we’re doing it every game.”

As consistently good as the run game has been, the pass blocking has been inconsistent and there have been issues with drive-stopping penalties as well. These issues often involve breakdowns in communication, something that usually takes time to develop for a line that only came together midway through fall camp.

“Our ability to communicate is very important,” Graf said. “If you don’t have that communication, the offensive line doesn’t work. It’s the only position where you have to have five guys doing the right thing at the right time so to be able to communicate is something you need. If you mess that up, you’ll see it. You’ll see mistakes and you’ll see bad games out of us.”

So far the line has made good progress through three games and they will look to keep that up against the next opponent, Utah State, which offers a strong challenge for a Trojans team looking to end a stretch of three home games on a high note. The Aggies -- who won 11 games last season -- are known for their dynamic quarterback Chuckie Keeton and are ranked No. 13 in the nation in total defense (286-yards per game).

“They’re a good team, a really good team,” Graf said. “Their front seven is really strong, powerful guys. They are a very impressive defense, it’s not just their offense. It’s gonna be a great test for us.”

Five things to watch: USC at Hawaii 

August, 29, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- As the USC Trojans kick off their 125th season of college football Thursday night at Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium, everybody wants to know if this is the beginning of the end for head coach Lane Kiffin’s or the end of the beginning. While that evaluation will be a season-long drama, the island opener provides some intrigue and scrutiny.

Here are five areas to watch as the game unfolds, which may be a foreshadowing of things to come:

1. The quarterbacks: That’s right, not since the 1995 Brad Otton/Kyle Wachholtz Trojans, a team that eventually defeated Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl, have the cardinal and gold opened with such an ongoing quarterback dilemma. The real pregame excitement is who will take the first snap in Hawaii, and how will Kiffin divide up the playing time?

Roundtable: Top USC fall camp storyline 

August, 22, 2013
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.

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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday at the Coliseum and if you were waiting on a resolution to the quarterback battle, be prepared to wait a little longer.

Both quarterbacks had their opportunities in the scrimmage, which was a different format than normal. Instead of having one quarterback with the first unit and the other with the second, the quarterbacks alternated series with the first unit while going against the service team defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe last scrimmage didn't give any indicator on which QB, Max Wittek (left) or Cody Kessler (right), will start in the season opener.
In the first half, the service team defense held its own by limiting the offense to three field goals, intercepting Cody Kessler twice. Those were the first two interceptions Kessler had thrown in the Coliseum this year between spring ball and fall camp but, to be fair, both balls were tipped high in the air before landing in a defender's hands.

The first interception came on the opening drive. Kessler had driven the offense into the red zone -- helped by a nice Tre Madden toss sweep behind blocking from Chad Wheeler and Jahleel Pinner -- but was intercepted by walk-on Nick Schlossberg on a slant pass attempt to Marqise Lee.

Max Wittek came in and was promptly sacked by Delvon Simmons. Wittek had a long completion to Xavier Grimble on a real strong throw. Justin Davis got the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled and the offense settled for a 21-yard Andre Heidari field goal.

It was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, but Torin Harris must not have got that memo because he laid a pretty good lick on walk-on receiver Christian Guzman. George Uko added a sack.

Kessler was picked on the next series by walk-on John Auran.

Wittek hit Agholor deep on the first play of the next drive. Schlossberg came on a blitz on the next play and was met by a terrific block from Javorius Allen. Kevin Greene had a sack on third down to force a 42-yard field goal by Heidari.

Marcus Martin started at center but he went out as a precaution. Max Tuerk was moved to center with Nathan Guertler stepping in at left guard.

Chris Hawkins had a nice pass break-up of a Kessler attempt to Lee, resulting in another Heidari field goal.

Lee went out later in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his shoulder on the bench. By the end of the scrimmage the ice was off, and both Lee and Kiffin said things were “fine”.

The rest of the scrimmage basically belonged to Nelson Agholor. He caught two touchdowns from Kessler and one from Wittek to end the day with nine catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Lee had eight grabs for 107 yards.

There were plenty of players who sat out the scrimmage due to various injuries. Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Ryan Henderson, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr, Cyrus Hobbi, Cody Temple, Silas Redd, Jordan Simmons, Victor Blackwell, D.J. Morgan, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour and Randall Telfer were all sidelinded.

The starting lineups were as follows:

Offense: Kessler, Madden, Pinner, Lee, Agholor, Grimble, Wheeler, Tuerk, Martin, John Martinez, Kevin Graf.

Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.
While USC coach Lane Kiffin did praise the way that the defense performed on a hot, balmy Tuesday, the topic of injuries quickly turned into the dominant theme of the post-practice media scrum. Kiffin called the current situation “very concerning,” particularly with the team’s season opener just a little over a week away.

“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”

Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.

“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”

Marcus Martin
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergUSC center Marcus Martin returned to practice Tuesday.
On the positive side, center Marcus Martin returned Tuesday after getting nicked up during the team’s scrimmage on Sunday night, so the offensive line featured a starting lineup that was comprised throughout practice of Kevin Graf at right tackle, John Martinez at right guard, Martin at center, Max Tuerk at left guard and Chad Wheeler at left tackle.

With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.

“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”

Highlights from practice:
  • The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
  • Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
  • Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
  • A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
  • The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.

Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.

“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”
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.


“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.
LOS ANGELES -- Taking part in the first of two practices scheduled for the day, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Sunday morning for an upbeat practice in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets.

There was an emphasis on the ground game Sunday, and Buck Allen, Justin Davis and Ty Isaac all looked sharp, with Davis receiving his biggest workload since going out with an injury early in fall camp.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFreshman running back Justin Davis received extensive work Sunday morning after returning from injury.
Sunday also marked the return of John Martinez to the first-team offense at right guard after running with the second group for the past few days behind Aundrey Walker.

Among those not participating was a group that included Victor Blackwell, Xavier Grimble, Silas Redd, Tre Madden, D.J. Morgan, Cyrus Hobbi, Dion Bailey, Torin Harris, Morgan Breslin, Antwaun Woods and Cody Temple. Hayes Pullard was dressed with a yellow jersey on, but he didn’t take part in any team drills. Su'a Cravens began the day on the field, but was quickly seen on the sideline with ice on his right knee.

With Pullard out, Lamar Dawson ran with the first group at MIKE linebacker, with freshman Quinton Powell -- whom USC head coach Lane Kiffin praised following Saturday’s practice -- lining up at the WILL spot. Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright started at the two safety positions, and in an interesting move, George Uko slid over from defensive end to nose tackle to take the place of Woods, with Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai lining up at end.

During a short 11-on-11 period early on that featured Cody Kessler running with the No. 1 unit to open things up, Uko tracked down Allen at the line to hold the run for no gain. Davis, who might have had his best day since going out early this month, ran right on the next play, showing a nice burst and cutting up field for a gain of around 8 yards. Isaac followed that with a very physical run off guard for 10 yards before Devian Shelton and Co. stopped him. Max Wittek hit Nelson Agholor with a quick pass to the outside for a first-down pickup before he received a solid pop from Leon McQuay III. Dawson came in to tackle Davis for a loss. Allen took a handoff inside before bouncing it out for a gain of 7 or 8 yards. Isaac rushed right soon thereafter, but Leonard Williams came up and laid a solid hit on the big freshman to send him flying out of bounds after a short gain.

The team then got together for some work against the scout teams, with the offensive period highlighted by some nice carries by Davis, as well as deep Wittek tosses over the middle to Agholor and De'Von Flournoy, and completions from Kessler to Isaac and Marqise Lee. This session also featured some interesting moves along the offensive line for a short spell, with Martinez seeing some time at left guard, Chad Wheeler at right tackle and Walker at left guard.

There was also a late 11-on-11 situational drill that had Kessler leading the first-team offense against the first-team defense in some last-minute scenarios. Kessler hit Darreus Rogers over the middle on one play for a gain of 15, then found Lee in the corner of the end zone on a 40-yard heave.

USC finished the day with some extensive special teams work, with the kickoff return and field goal blocking groups receiving the most work.

Wednesday night practice recap

August, 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- After practicing on Dedeaux Field Wednesday morning, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field Wednesday evening for a spirited session in full pads that was marked by some aggressive play according to USC head coach Lane Kiffin.

“I think the guys, for two practices today, really were extremely physical,” Kiffin said. “They had great energy, which is not that easy to do at Practice 15 at this time of training camp. So, I like where that’s at right now. I like their attitude and their approach to it. They just keep working. It’s about work and it’s about sweat, and that’s what they’re doing.”

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Jae C. HongUSC receiver Marqise Lee suited up for practice but was limited to non-contact drills.
Lee making progress
Kiffin said 23 players were unable to participate in contact drills on Wednesday due to various injuries, none more notable than the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, Marqise Lee, who went down Friday with a bone bruise in his shoulder.

But after fielding some punts and running some half-speed routes in the morning, Lee appeared to continue to make strides during the night session as he gets closer to returning. Coming out in full pads, Lee participated in full-speed individual drills and made some impressive receptions during a route-running period before heading to the sideline when the team got into the contact portion of practice.

And while Kiffin isn’t about to rush his star receiver back into action, he admitted that his presence gives the team a boost, even if it is in a limited capacity.

“I think that anytime he’s out here – not just because he’s a great player and he makes the dynamic plays – but he’s an extremely energetic practice player,” Kiffin said. “He practices like he plays, and so I think he brings the level of competition up.”

Walker battling
With Chad Wheeler continuing to impress Kiffin as the team’s starting left tackle, Aundrey Walker -- who was the team’s primary starter at the position last year as well as this past spring -- was moved to right guard earlier this week, and he appears to have made a big impression at the spot.

On Wednesday, in fact, he spent the entirety of both practices with the first unit for the first time. It was a bit of a surprise development considering that it meant that John Martinez -- a senior who has started 25 consecutive games at the position -- ran with the second team.

And while the move certainly isn’t considered permanent just yet, it’s safe to say that Martinez does have a battle on his hands.

“We’re always trying to create competition, and we’ve had a lot of that this camp in different spots -- for instance the safety spot,” Kiffin said. “And now we’ve got one at guard there, and so John and Aundrey are going to have a really good competition there right now.”

The Trojans began with a short 11-on-11 period that had Cody Kessler running with the first-team offense from the outset, and Max Wittek lining up with the twos. Kessler started things off on the right foot, connecting with Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy for nice pick-ups, but he was also picked off when George Uko tipped one of his passes up into the air, allowing Lamar Dawson to run under it for the interception. Nelson Agholor -- who returned on Wednesday after sitting out a number of recent practices with an undisclosed injury -- made his presence felt during this session, hauling in a screen pass and picking up seven or eight yards after putting a juke move on Anthony Brown at the line.

Tre Madden -- still wearing a non-contact jersey -- stood out during a 7-on-7 red zone period, catching passes from Kessler, Wittek and Max Browne. Kessler and Wittek looked sharp during an extended 11-on-11 session a little later, with Kessler connecting on a big play to Madden to the outside, and Agholor over the middle. Wittek capped everything off with completions to Flournoy and Blackwell.

The team finished the day with an energetic goal line period. With the majority of the running back corps kept out of contact drills, Javorius “Buck” Allen and walk-on John Akiba shared the carries, with Allen reaching the end zone on a number of occasions, and drawing praise from Kiffin as a result.

Other notes
  • With Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple and J.R. Tavai all sitting out the practice, the Trojans had a starting defensive line group comprised of Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Delvon Simmons at defensive end, and Kenny Bigelow at nose tackle.
  • Anthony Brown spent the majority of the day as the starting cornerback opposite Kevon Seymour, but Devian Shelton and Torin Harris also saw brief time with the No. 1 group.
  • After seeing extended time with the first-team defense during the last two days due to the injury to Josh Shaw, Su’a Cravens sat out Wednesday night’s practice, allowing Gerald Bowman to start at strong safety.
  • Free safety Dion Bailey went out with an undisclosed injury late in practice.

  • LOS ANGELES -- Taking part in the first of two practices on the day, the Trojans were back out on Dedeaux Field on Wednesday morning for a low-key workout in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets.

    The biggest bit of news to come out of the two-hour session was that star USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, while still sidelined for the vast majority of the practice, did appear to take a step -- albeit a small one -- toward a potential return sometime soon. Wearing a yellow jersey and helmet, but no shoulder pads, he stepped in at wideout briefly during a half-speed 11-on-11 period, then fielded punts during a late, no-contact special teams drill. It’s the most activity seen out of Lee since he went down with a bone bruise in his shoulder last Friday.

    Max Wittek
    Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek and the USC offense worked with a short roster at receiver and running back in the Wednesday morning session.
    Still, without Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers on the field, however, the USC offense still had just two scholarship receivers at its disposal for the remainder of the day: De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. Javorius Allen and Tre Madden – wearing a yellow jersey – were the only two available tailbacks during the team period, and the tight end unit was still without Randall Telfer.

    On defense, Su’a Cravens continued to run with the first-team defense at strong safety in place of Josh Shaw, who left Monday morning’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Morgan Breslin, Cody Temple and Torin Harris also didn’t take part, but defensive ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai both returned and each moved well throughout the workout.

    On the offensive line, Aundrey Walker got the bulk of the snaps with the first-team group at right guard ahead of two-year starter John Martinez, who ran primarily with the second unit.

    During an early 11-on-11 period, quarterback Max Wittek got things started off right by going deep and hitting Blackwell in stride for a 70-yard touchdown score, but then things went downhill for the offense in a hurry. Free safety Dion Bailey came up to stop Allen for no-gain on a run, a snap from Marcus Martin to Wittek was fumbled, and soon thereafter there was a fumbled exchange between Cody Kessler and John Akiba that Tavai recovered. Other defensive highlights included a Devon Kennard sack on Wittek, a Marquis Simmons tackle for loss on Madden and a sack of Kessler by Tavai.

    During a period in which the first-team offense and defense went against scout units, the offensive group spent a lot of time focusing on the ground game, with Madden and Allen putting together some nice runs.

    The team then got together for some final two-minute drill work that had Kessler running primarily with the first unit and Wittek with the No. 2 group.

    Kessler completed a pass over the middle to Blackwell, who was then leveled by Hayes Pullard. A little later on, Kessler threw a pass to the outside, but Anthony Brown stepped in front of it and returned it for a touchdown. Williams also made his presence felt in this session, rushing in and batting down a Kessler pass. Wittek ended the day with a nice drive, completing passes to Aaron Minor, Shane Sullivan and Christian Guzman and capping it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Flournoy.
    With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

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


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

    Running back

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tight end

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

    Offensive line

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

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

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

    -- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information