USC Trojans: Kenny Bigelow
• RB Ty Isaac: In his limited action so far in 2013 -- eight carries for 59 yards, a team leading 7.4 yards-per rush -- Isaac has shown that his future is bright. He has excellent size in the range of 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, plus he has a nice forward lean and pretty good speed. Silas Redd will be the only tailback to leave an already crowded rotation but Isaac should be able to quickly carve a niche as a power back with the capability of putting up good numbers.
• OL Jordan Simmons: Among the USC reserve linemen, Simmons was the one most ready to step in as a major contributor before going down with a knee injury last week that will force him out of the remainder of the year. Assuming he is able to come back healthy for the start of 2014, he could definitely be in the mix for a starting spot depending upon how the rotation shakes out.
• DL Kenny Bigelow: There were a lot of expectations on Bigelow to come in and be an immediate contributor as a freshman this season but that just didn’t pan out. Bigelow has his moments on the practice field but there are also times when you can see that it was a big leap for him to be at the USC level. The redshirt year should do wonders and chances are Bigelow will be ready to play an expanded role along the line next fall.
• OLB Jabari Ruffin: Both of the USC outside linebackers will be graduating this year so chances are good that Ruffin will be filling one of the starting spots next year. Ruffin has been backing up Devon Kennard this year and has nine tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. He has also been an active part of special teams.
• CB Chris Hawkins: The corner spot has been one of the biggest issues with the defense this year and Hawkins offers the promise of being a good addition to the group in 2014. Hawkins brings good fundamentals to the position and the redshirt year should allow him to add more bulk to his frame.
• S Leon McQuay III: There has been a lot of attention paid to fellow freshman safety Su’a Cravens -- and justifiably so -- but McQuay has been quietly improving on the practice field and even showed a glimpse of his future against Utah with three tackles and an interception in his first start. McQuay has also shown a real knack in practice for blocking field goals.
There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Ed Orgeron.
That much was evident within the first few minutes of the USC practice on Wednesday afternoon when the Trojans broke from their warm-up stretching exercises. Instead of immediately sprinting to their various drills, the players came together in the middle of the field for some “bull-in-the-ring” drills with players hopping up and down with intensity at some early practice contact.
That was but the first sign that things were going to be different with Orgeron as interim head coach. Orgeron stopped one drill when the offense wasn’t running the play to his satisfaction and he had them do a walk-through of the play again to make sure they got it right before moving on. Instead of focusing solely on his beloved defensive line, Orgeron tried to move around the field and spread his intensity to the entire team.
“I loved it,” Orgeron said with a smile. “I loved being able to get in the offensive linemen’s butts, to be able to scream at the quarterbacks. We wanted to work with enthusiasm, be physical and have some fun.”
At one point Orgeron challenged freshman defensive end Kenny Bigelow by yelling, “We’re coming after you 95.” Bigelow waved both hands in the air as if to say, “Bring it on.”
If there was anything Orgeron was looking to accomplish with the first practice of his USC head coaching tenure, it was to get a change in direction.
“We needed a new start,” Orgeron said. “We weren’t out here going through the motions, we were being physical and I liked the way we ran the ball. We were really positive and upbeat, having fun. But there’s a difference between having fun and being silly, we aren’t being silly. We’re doing little things like upgrading the desserts at training table. You give an offensive lineman a cookie, you make him happy.”
Of course, Orgeron knows that cookies alone aren’t going to make a big difference but doing things his way, and in his style, are going to give him the best chance of taking advantage of his opportunity as the interim coach.
“This is my shot,” Orgeron said. “This is our shot. I told myself after I got fired at Ole Miss that if I ever got another opportunity I would do it my way. I didn’t know if I would ever get another shot but I feel that I’m very well prepared for this. I want this team to compete like Trojans are meant to compete.”
• Orgeron gave several injury updates: Marqise Lee (knee sprain, day-to-day), Morgan Breslin (hip strain, no update on how long he will be out) and Silas Redd (knee, hoping to have ready for Arizona). Redd pronounced himself healthy and said he will definitely play against the Wildcats. Justin Davis left practice early with a left ankle injury but Orgeron had no update on the severity. Kevin Graf was held out of practice, but no specifics were given.
• Buck Allen and Ty Isaac got plenty of reps at tailback with Redd getting limited work and with Davis out. Nathan Guertler took the first-team reps at right tackle until he went out, Nico Falah took the reps after that.
• Scott Starr had a strip and caused fumble on walk-on tailback Taylor Ross.
• Devon Kennard had a sack on Cody Kessler.
• Kevon Seymour had a nice pass breakup on a deep Kessler pass to Victor Blackwell.
• Former tailback Chauncey Washington was spotted on campus after practice. He is back at school finishing up his last semester for his degree with plans to attend USC film school.
• Orgeron confirmed that Clay Helton will call offensive plays from the field, with Tee Martin in the press box.
“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.
“Marqise has a bone bruise,” Kiffin said. “He’s day-to-day and we expect him back soon. It was definitely great news to hear.”
As for the rest of the Saturday evening session, Kiffin said the Trojans were able to get in a lot of work in the first two-a-day session of fall camp, as the team had also held a Saturday morning session. There was a lot of situational work, including drills for four-minute and two-minute scenarios.
The biggest highlight play of the evening came toward the end of the day with the offense backed up deep in its own end. Buck Allen took a handoff around the left side and sprinted by the defense for a long touchdown run. This came two days after Allen was the workhorse in the Coliseum scrimmage. His solid play has been noticed by Kiffin.
“Buck has been one of the most improved players on our team through spring ball and the early part of fall camp,” Kiffin said. “We would feel very comfortable putting him out there right now in game situations.”
Left tackle Aundrey Walker also was in full pads after missing multiple practices this week. Walker took part in early noncontact drills before heading to the sidelines. Chad Wheeler took first-team reps at left tackle the rest of the day.
Right guard Jordan Simmons left practice early with an undisclosed injury issue.
Tre Madden got a lot of work at tailback, including a nice, 20-yard touchdown run. He turned the left corner with a burst to get into the end zone.
“Tre isn’t doing full contact yet but he looks real fast for a guy his size,” Kiffin said. “The only guy we’ve had similar to him would have been Allen Bradford.”
Among the other highlight plays were a sack by Kenny Bigelow, a 25-yard touchdown pass from Max Wittek to Xavier Grimble and an interception on the final play of the day by Leon McQuay, after a Wittek pass had been tipped in the air.
Kiffin also announced after practice that tight end Junior Pomee would not be returning to the team. Pomee was moved out of the program in the offseason after some legal troubles. The charges were recently dropped, and there was a question posed to Kiffin about Pomee’s potential return.
1. When will Lane Kiffin name a quarterback?
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MONTEREY PARK, Calif. -- Nothing can wipe the smile off Michael Wyche's face nowadays.
Not the fact that his mother passed away this year after a battle with cancer. Not that his father is less than halfway through a 40-year prison term. Not that he’s about 2,700 miles from his 7-month-old daughter, Sky'mariah.
No, the East Los Angeles College defensive tackle flashed his smile whenever possible during a recent practice as the sun beamed down on Weingart Stadium. The native of Chesapeake, Va. giggled when coaches jokingly questioned his punctuality, grinned at the thought of post-workout Mexican food and laughed when he was asked what he thinks of the Los Angeles area.
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Compiling 38 sacks combined this past fall, the stellar play of the defensive line was one of the highlights in an otherwise up-and-down season for the Trojans. Losing just one key contributor from that group in defensive end Wes Horton, expectations were sky high for the unit heading into spring ball, yet questions remained. After all, with the switch from the team's previous 4-3 alignment to a 5-2 look under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, many wondered if the Trojans had the personnel and talent to pull it off.
But after 15 practices in March and April, it's safe to say those questions have been erased. Playing fast, aggressive and quick to the ball, the defensive line established itself as the heart and soul of the defense and there's reason to believe they're on the verge of an even more impressive 2013 campaign.
Battle at nose
Still, the competition isn't over just yet. In fact, Woods currently shares the top spot on the post-spring depth chart with Cody Temple, who made a big statement with his play despite missing the majority of the spring to injury. Also showing promise was early entry freshman Kenny Bigelow. Possessing an imposing 6-foot-3, 295-pound build and unique physical skills, he was dominant at times but also inconsistent. A summer in the weight room and out on the field working on his conditioning could pay big dividends, and he just might factor heavily into the discussion here.
Ready to shine on the edge
Making a flawless adjustment from playing with a hand down in the old 4-3 set as defensive ends to standing up as outside linebackers in the new 5-2 look, both Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin were standouts in the spring.
Kennard's performance, in particular, was more than welcomed for Orgeron and Co. Showing no ill effects of the torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss last season, he was a major thorn in the side of the offensive line from his SAM linebacker spot. Breslin, who amassed a team-leading 13 sacks in 2012, looked solid at Predator linebacker, most notably in the spring game, when he came up with 3.5 sacks. With the Trojans now possessing two potential threats off the edge, it should be interesting to see what kind of impact they make on the passing attacks of the opposition this fall.
A star in the making
Nobody made a more eye-popping first-year impression for the Trojans last season than Leonard Williams. Starting nine games at the three-technique defensive tackle spot, he amassed 64 tackles and eight sacks on his way to 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. The best part, however, is that Williams is still getting better -- a fact made evident this spring.
Standing 6-foot-5 with his weight up to 290 pounds, Williams was an incredibly disruptive force throughout the slate of practices, giving the defense what Kiffin has often referred to as an SEC-style lineman on the interior. Having shown so much promise already, there's certainly reason to believe he'll continue to develop this offseason, which would mean more postseason accolades in 2013.
Enough in reserve?
The performance of the Trojans' starting defensive line was one of the leading stories of the spring to be sure, but an element of uncertainty still exists when it comes to whether or not Orgeron's group has the kind of depth necessary to spearhead the defense through the 2013 season, particularly after adding just two new faces to the unit in the most recent recruiting class in Bigelow and outside linebacker Quinton Powell.
The return from injury of J.R. Tavai midway through the spring workouts, as well as the emergence of somewhat of a surprise in Charles Burks, did provide reason for optimism at end behind Williams and George Uko, however. The addition of Greg Townsend Jr. -- who missed the entire spring while recuperating from 2012 knee surgery -- also will give the team a boost here in the fall. Temple and Bigelow, too, should team up well with Woods to provide stability at the nose position.
On the outside, Jabari Ruffin asserted himself as a potential name to watch down the line, and Kevin Greene and Marquis Simmons also had their moments.
Still, there's little doubt Orgeron would prefer more bodies here, and the Trojans are sure to load up on defensive linemen in the next recruiting class. For now, though, USC will move forward with what is a somewhat thin but talent-laden group.
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.
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.
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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There was plenty of scoring in the scrimmage, including two touchdowns each from Nelson Agholor (four catches for 93 yards) and Justin Davis (11 rushes, 54 yards).
Agholor has scored at least one long touchdown in each of the three spring scrimmages so far. Today, it was a 59-yard effort on the opening series on a pretty pass from Cody Kessler down the right sideline.
It was the second eye-opening practice in a row for Davis. Not only did he get into the end zone twice but his most impressive run might have been when he bowled over Leon McQuay III on an 11-yard gain in the red zone.
Both quarterbacks did well too. In addition to the opening touchdown to Agholor, Kessler also had a scoring pass courtesy of a great effort from Victor Blackwell. With the offense at the 25-yard line Kessler lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone, where Torin Harris had solid coverage on Blackwell, only to see Blackwell simply leap up and get the ball for the score.
As a side note, Blackwell’s high school coach, Bruce Rollinson from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, was standing on the sidelines near the play and had a big smile on his face for his former star. Kessler ended the day completing five of nine passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Wittek, who also played for Rollinson at Mater Dei, hit Agholor for a 15-yard score, but his best throw of the day came when he threw down the right sideline to George Farmer for a 47-yard gain. Wittek completed three of five passes for 84 yards and one touchdown, he also had one potential touchdown pass dropped by Blackwell.
On defense, the two most active players were J.R. Tavai and Josh Shaw.
@Will_Great1 (via Twitter): Do you guys think David Sills will be the next Todd Marinovich and will the offense go into more of a spread look?
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It’s been a familiar theme of spring to see the defense playing well, and that’s a sign that the players are picking up on the schemes being installed by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
“We’ve got a long way to go but we like what we see so far,” Pendergast said. “We want athletic guys with football instincts. Guys who are smart, tough and competitive players.”
Another standout player from the day was cornerback Torin Harris, who had multiple pass breakups. Torin also had an impressive interception when Cody Kessler tried to hit George Farmer deep down the middle of the field, but Harris tipped the ball and came down with the pick. With Kevon Seymour out of action on Tuesday, Harris was one of the second-unit corners with Anthony Brown and Chris Hawkins running with the first unit.
“I feel healthy right now and that’s the key,” Harris said. “You can play free when you are healthy, and I feel good. This new defensive system is perfect for me because it allows the corners to be aggressive. It’s a simple defense, so we picked it up quickly but it causes a lot of problems for an offense.”
Along the defensive line, there was a lineup at one point that featured a big interior grouping of Antwaun Woods and Cody Temple as the defensive ends and Kenny Bigelow as the nose tackle.
“We just wanted to see how they looked together to get a feel for who we have,” Pendergast said. “Those are the things you look at in spring.”
But after a one-week hiatus from action, and with just nine practice days remaining, there are still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered, not to mention a whole host of new storylines that have popped up.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five things to watch for during the remainder of the spring as USC gets set to hit the field once again on Tuesday.
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When one player is forced to sit on the sideline, it gives another player the chance for extended reps with the hope of showing the coaches he is ready for a bigger role. For the injured player, there is still plenty of time to return either in spring or in fall camp before the season begins. As quarterback Max Wittek noted after a recent knee injury, “you never want this to happen, but if it’s going to happen, better to have it happen now.”
On the same day that Wittek got hurt, Marqise Lee also went down with a “minor” knee injury and has been held out as well. There isn’t as much of an impact here as Lee certainly isn’t in any competition for his starting job. If anything, his absence gave the other receivers a chance to step up and the overall group is doing well from top to bottom. Right now, Nelson Agholor appears to be the clear leader for the starting spot opposite Lee.
A recent loss came with the news that Silas Redd would undergo surgery this week for a torn meniscus. Redd is the established senior starter at tailback, but he has only been on the USC campus for eight months, so any time spent on the field was beneficial. Instead, Redd will be out until fall camp and the Trojans are further limited at tailback with Tre Madden still not cleared for full contact due to his knee rehab. That means the remaining spring practices will be huge for guys like D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen and maybe even Justin Davis, although it remains to be seen how much a recent broken finger will hamper him.
The offensive line had been fairly healthy until the news that Chad Wheeler will miss the rest of spring with a knee injury. Wheeler had added bulk and was progressing nicely as the No. 2 left tackle.
On the defensive side of the ball, injuries are really impacting the interior depth on the line and the safety positions.
There are three linemen who have missed all of spring: J.R. Tavai, Greg Townsend and Cody Temple. All three figure to provide important depth at the three interior spots of the 5-2 defense, so it’s vital to get them back on the field. Right now, the Trojans have Kenny Bigelow as a legit reserve at nose tackle, but the other spots are being manned by players out of position such as Charles Burks. Scott Starr is also out of action until fall, and he is expected to be a key reserve behind Morgan Breslin.
At corner, the top player through the early part of spring was Kevon Seymour, but he has missed the last couple of days with an ankle injury. Devian Shelton is also out with a foot injury. That means extended reps for Torin Harris, Anthony Brown and Ryan Henderson, as well as the freshman Chris Hawkins.
USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the time off for spring break this week was coming at a good time for a team looking to get a few bodies back. The Trojans return to the practice field next Tuesday and having some of those injured players on the field will go a long way toward helping to determine starting spots.
Kiffin also acknowledged that the extra hitting in practices so far this spring -- done to achieve his goal of returning to a more physical style of play -- has played a part in having so many injuries. He said the team will continue to practice with full hitting for the rest of spring but gave no word on if there will be any changes in philosophy beyond that point.
“I really thought the front seven on the first-unit defense played well,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Hayes Pullard played great at linebacker while George Uko and Leonard Williams were dominant up front. The defense is really picking things up with the new scheme. I can’t imagine being more pleased.”
Pullard led the way for the defense with six tackles, including one for loss, while Kenny Bigelow added two sacks and Anthony Sarao had four tackles.
The offense was led by Cody Kessler, who continues to split time with Max Browne while Max Wittek is out with a knee injury. Kessler (13-19, 161 yards, one TD) provided the highlight play of the day with a 75-yard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor while Browne (6-9, 69 yards) added a big play of his own with a 52-yard completion to Darreus Rogers. Buck Allen was the top rusher on the day with 11 carries for 65 yards.
“Kessler played great today,” Kiffin said. “He just continues to make plays. I thought Buck had a good day, too. He’s had a good camp overall.”
Kiffin confirmed that the injury to Wittek – who is expected to return to the field when the team comes back from spring break on March 26 – likely means that the quarterback competition will not be settled by the end of spring.