USC Trojans: Nathan Guertler

No position group at USC entered the spring surrounded by more uncertainty than the offensive line. With the key losses of Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz, a new position coach in Tim Drevno, and the offense transitioning into Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo, shotgun-based attack, no one knew quite what to expect. While there was certainly plenty of good to take away from their performance this spring, this is still a unit with more than a few question marks.

Both guard spots open

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsNo matter the position, Max Tuerk figures to have a starting job on USC's OL.
With only eight healthy scholarship players available, it was hard to ever get a real solid read on the offensive line, and as Sarkisian recently noted, this is a unit that will need to be solidified in the coming months.

That’s particularly the case at the guard positions, where, during spring drills, the Trojans featured a starting duo of early-entrant freshman Toa Lobendahn at left guard and second-year freshman Khaliel Rodgers at right guard.

And while both players – particularly Lobendahn -- showed promise, the entire competition at those spots is set to change dramatically as the Trojans gain an influx of talent from incoming freshmen as well as players returning from injury.

Of those players on the mend, senior Aundrey Walker, who is returning from a broken ankle, will be watched with particular interest. Establishing himself as a reliable starter at right guard in 2013 after an up-and-down 2012 campaign at tackle, he possesses veteran experience that could be invaluable to this unit.

Jordan Simmons, returning from a torn ACL, is a big mauler who was really starting to stand out in practice prior to his injury in the fall, and he’s another player who could make a run at a starting job on the interior.

Of course, in the case of both Walker and Simmons, it’s how their recovery goes, and what kind of shape they come back in -- particularly with the conditioning required for the new offense -- that will likely play the biggest role in determining whether or not they’re able to jump in and perform at a high level when fall camp opens up.

And then there is fifth-year senior Giovanni Di Poalo, as well as a pair of incoming freshmen guard candidates -- Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Both youngsters arrive not only with more than their fair share of accolades, but also with unique talent and tremendous size -- giving them the look of potential instant impact performers.

Center of attention

With Martin off to the NFL, one of the new staff’s biggest priorities heading into spring practice was to find a capable starter at center. Max Tuerk, a tried and tested veteran who started 13 games at left guard in 2013, and the majority of the prior season at left tackle, wound up getting the call. While he did have some occasional difficulties in the snapping department, he performed solidly for the most part.

Chris Brown
Blair Angulo/ESPNIncoming freshman Chris Brown has been taking a lot of reps at right tackle during summer workouts.
Still, while Sarkisian lauded Tuerk’s overall ability during the recent Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, he also appeared to leave the door open for competition through fall camp, so this isn’t over just yet. Both Di Poalo and Lobendahn lined up at the position in the spring, and have continued to do so this summer during the team’s volunteer workouts. Talamaivao is another key name to watch here, as he too, has been taking reps at this spot over the course of the last week. It will also be interesting to see if Mama gets a look here when he arrives on campus.

If Sarkisian and Co. did decide to go with someone other than Tuerk here, it’s a virtual certainty that the junior would still line up as a starter somewhere else. Arguably the Trojans’ sturdiest pound-for-pound offensive lineman, he could conceivably slide back over to left guard or either of the tackle spots without a hitch.

Stability at tackle

While the interior of the line still isn’t totally set, the Trojans do appear to be in better shape at both of the tackle spots -- at least when it comes to the starters.

No player drew more praise from Sarkisian following spring drills than third-year sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler. Having started every game last season, he looks primed for a fantastic 2014 campaign.

Over on the right side, the emergence of Zach Banner -- who sat out most of last season after having hip surgery -- was one of the great revelations of the spring. Performing at the highest level of his career, the 6-foot-9, 345-pounder took over with the No. 1 group in place of Nathan Guertler midway through camp and never looked back. Considering the fact that he said that he wasn’t even quite back to 100 percent during those workouts, there’s reason to believe he’s only going to get better, and it will be interesting to see just how much farther he can continue to progress this offseason.

Still, Drevno needs to find out who else he can count on to contribute at tackle, if nothing else, to provide depth. Early entrant freshman Jordan Austin and Guertler were the primary backups in the spring, and then there’s also Nico Falah -- returning from a back injury. Highly touted incoming freshman Chris Brown has also been taking reps at right tackle during summer drills.
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

Roundtable: USC offensive line progress

March, 27, 2014
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WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the progress of the USC offensive line in spring ball.

Garry Paskwietz: I think there are several observations that can be made about the line right now. First off, the coaches seem to be pleased with the move of Max Tuerk to center. There were fumbling issues last season when Tuerk had an audition at center, but those were usually with the quarterback under center. There have not been any issues this spring with the quarterback in the shotgun in new coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense. This is no small item with the importance of the center position on the line and Tuerk offers a chance to put arguably your best lineman in that spot.

Toa Lobendahn
Blair Angulo/ESPNEarly enrollee Toa Lobendahn, who was ranked No. 116 in the 2014 ESPN 300, could see immediate playing time for the Trojans.
It’s also clear that Toa Lobendahn has made an early impression as Sarkisian has praised his preparation and maturity. Lobendahn was the backup to Tuerk at center originally but he has seen time at left guard in recent days and could get a longer look there as spring goes along. Chad Wheeler seems set at left tackle, which is no surprise, and guys such as Zach Banner, Khaliel Rodgers, Giovanni Di Poalo and Nathan Guertler have all shown pretty well so far. Banner is raving about his increased flexibility after surgery on both hips last year.

Johnny Curren: While the lack of depth is a concern, overall the offensive line has exceeded my expectations this spring. Tim Drevno has his unit playing physically and as a cohesive unit.

Although it came as a bit of a surprise, the move of Tuerk to center appears to have stabilized the unit. The most experienced, and arguably most talented returner, he’s established himself as the anchor of the group.

Wheeler has been steady at left tackle, and Rodgers has really asserted himself as a legitimate candidate to assume a starting role at right guard. Nathan Guertler has had a productive spring as well as the primary starter at right tackle. Overlooked heading into the March and April workouts, I think he has really made a statement with his play that he can be a factor in the competition for the No. 1 job there. Speaking of which, Banner ran with the second unit behind Guertler on Tuesday, and as he gets more and more reps after missing the majority of last season, I think he’s going to make this a heated position battle to keep your eye on.

I really liked the move of Lobendahn into the starting lineup at left guard on Tuesday. He’s a unique talent at guard and center, and if his performance and growth this spring is any sign of things to come, he has a very bright future. It’s nice to see his primary competition at guard, Di Paolo, having arguably the best spring of his career.

With all that said, with what this group has shown so far this spring with less-than-ideal numbers, I think that this unit has the potential to develop into something very special down the line when injured contributors such as Jordan Simmons, Nico Falah and Aundrey Walker return, as well as when talented incoming freshmen Viane Talamaivao, Damien Mama and Chris Brown jump into the mix.

Greg Katz: Until the return of Walker and Simmons and the eventual summer arrival of those heralded incoming freshmen, we really won’t know how the offensive line will eventually line up against Fresno State in the season opener.

However, at this point in the spring, it appears that Tuerk will be the starter at center, and he has been endorsed by none other than his roommate and incumbent quarterback Cody Kessler. The key right now is finding the right backup for Tuerk.

Keep an eye on all-purpose senior Di Poalo, who is being given a final opportunity to show he can be in the rotation as a center or guard, if called upon. This could be a real heartwarming senior story if it works out for him.

Next are the two guard positions. Given the lack of current depth, it is no surprise that Rodgers has been given the first shot, and it appears that the Delaware native hasn’t disappointed in his nasty style of play. Obviously all eyes are on Lobendahn, who has been singled out by Sarkisian.

Finally, there are the tackle positions, two big keys and question marks. Neither current starters Wheeler nor Guertler have yet been identified as all-star candidates. Their desire and will, however, are there, but can they dominate, as has come to be expected from USC offensive tackles? They both appear to be finesse tackles, but perhaps the bigger question is who steps up to back up either one? The most intriguing spring offensive story might be sophomore tackle Banner, who is showing renewed promise after having hip surgery to improve his agility.
It was on a Monday in late January when USC's Nathan Guertler –- who has had a big spring filling the role as the Trojans’ starting right tackle -- finally received the news that he’d been waiting to hear about.

Pulled aside by Steve Sarkisian during an early morning weightlifting session, Guertler was instructed to stop by the new USC coach’s office later that day. A rising fifth-year senior walk-on, Guertler did as asked without a clue as to what awaited him, and that’s when it happened.

[+] EnlargeNathan Guertler
Ric Tapia/Icon SMINathan Guertler, who was awarded a scholarship earlier this year, is practicing as the starting right tackle for the Trojans.
“I figured that he just wanted to talk to me, you know, just trying to get to know the guys on the team,” said Guertler, who spent a portion of last season at tight end because of a lack of healthy bodies at the position, even recording the lone start of his USC career at the spot against Utah. “I go up to his office, and he says, 'I’m putting you on scholarship.' I was speechless, and he said, 'How are you feeling?' I really didn’t know what to say except, 'Thank you.'"

The fact that Guertler was overwhelmed to the point of being at a loss for words is understandable. A Norco, Calif., native, he fulfilled a lifelong dream when he enrolled at USC in the fall of 2010 and walked on to the football team. Quickly making a name for himself as a tireless worker who more than held his own battling in the trenches during practice, he figured that his ultimate goal -- a scholarship -- was always within reach.

Still, year after year went by, and a scholarship never came his way. His frustration finally reached a precipice a couple years ago, and he contemplated throwing in the towel.

“There was a year after fall camp, when scholarships are normally given out, and I was crushed,” Guertler said. “I think it was my second or third year here. They were awarding scholarships to some guys, and I was waiting to hear my name, and it was never called. I called my dad and I was like, ‘Dad, I don’t know if I want to play anymore.’ And he said, 'No, you’ve got to keep going. Just keep going.' After that, I decided to just keep pushing and to keep striving. And now I have one.”

Having sacrificed so much time and energy during his four years on the team, Guertler is grateful to now be allowed to fully take advantage of the benefits that the majority of his teammates have had all along, including some perks that might seem fairly minor to some, such as the free food provided for all scholarship players in the athletic dining hall.

“I grab meals every day now,” said the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Guertler. “I take such advantage of it.”

Most of all, however, Guertler is thankful for the financial load that he has been able to lift for his family.

“It was most rewarding for me knowing that my family wouldn’t have to pay for this next year of school,” said Guertler, who will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with plans to attend graduate school at USC in the fall. “That was the biggest relief on my part.”

With his worries off the field eased, Guertler is now making a major statement on the field at right tackle.

With Max Tuerk lining up at center, potential contenders Jordan Simmons and Nico Falah sidelined because of injury up to this point this spring, and another contender in freshman Chris Brown not due to arrive on campus until this summer, Sarkisian and offensive line coach Tim Drevno have afforded Guertler the chance to run almost exclusively with the first-team offense so far in the Trojans’ new uptempo offense -- ahead of Zach Banner and early-entrant freshman Jordan Austin.

With an eye toward his final season in a USC uniform, Guertler is fully aware of the importance of what he views as a golden opportunity to earn a starting job for the first time.

“This is the most significant time in my career here,” he said.

And while the battle for that starting role figures to keep heating up as the spring progresses, and then again during fall camp, having already seen first-hand what he’s capable of accomplishing through fierce determination and hard work, it’s safe to say that Guertler isn’t about to let up now.

“I’m so blessed ... so thankful,” Guertler said. “I can’t just let this opportunity slide by.”
After a break in action, USC returns to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday to pick up where it left off after a promising first week of spring drills under Steve Sarkisian.

Much was revealed during those initial three workouts, and here are three key things to keep an eye on as the Trojans go through the remaining practice schedule in March and April.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler has adjusted well to USC's uptempo offense this spring.
The continued development of the players in the new systems

Week 1 was all about an uptempo pace as the players got their feet wet in new offensive and defensive schemes at a frenetic pace. To their credit, they appeared to adapt to it all in lightning-quick fashion.

And so, the big question now is just how much further can they come over the course of the next four weeks?

On offense, the progression of the passing game should be particularly interesting to watch. Both Cody Kessler and Max Browne performed solidly in Sarkisian’s hurry-up, shotgun-based offense. As they continue to grow at ease in the new system and develop more chemistry with their receivers, there’s reason to believe the aerial attack has the potential to really take off.

On the other side of the ball, Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense has been a hit so far, due in large part to some outstanding play in the trenches. The front seven shined throughout the first week, even with Leonard Williams standing on the sideline due to injury. With unique size on the interior and hulking contributors like Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow and Claude Pelon combined with exciting athletes on the outside, this unit should get better and better this spring.

In the secondary, even with Josh Shaw out of action, Keith Heyward’s group has been making some impressive plays in coverage -- something they struggled to do under the prior regime. Will that trend continue? We’ll soon find out.

Competition, competition, competition

When Sarkisian took the reins in early December, one thing he stressed was that virtually every position would be up for grabs. He wanted to create an atmosphere of competition. And with one week of practice in the books, it’s safe to say that is precisely what's happened.

A number of tightly contested position battles have taken shape, none garnering more attention than the one at quarterback between Browne, Kessler and early-entrant freshman Jalen Greene. With some added bulk to his frame and an increased level of confidence, Browne really opened eyes with his play in Week 1, but that doesn’t mean Kessler backed down an inch. A vocal leader of the team, Kessler did a great job of directing the offense down the field with frequent success. He had the poise and command you’d expect from a veteran with 14 starts under his belt. Greene has displayed flashes at times, although he’s taken noticeably fewer snaps than his counterparts, both of whom appear to have a sizeable lead on him in this race.

On defense, the competitions for the two spots on the edge of the line have been the highlight so far. Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin are duking it out at SAM linebacker, with Scott Starr and J.R. Tavai battling at rush end. In Week 1, it was Powell and Starr running exclusively with the No. 1 unit, but, really, all four contenders have stood out at times.

Some previously hidden players have also begun to emerge as they’ve received somewhat of a golden opportunity to show what they can do in the new schemes. Powell and Starr are two such examples, as are tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, guard Khaliel Rodgers, tackle Nathan Guertler, cornerback Chris Hawkins and defensive end Simmons.

How physical will Sarkisian allow it to get?

With a new staff in place and a depleted roster (NCAA sanctions) made even more so because of a number of injuries, Sarkisian indicated when he took over at USC that he might not push the envelope too much when it came to live hitting this spring. That was certainly the case in the first week. But as the team progresses through the schedule this month and next, will we see the pads popping with greater frequency at any point?

There are certainly some added benefits that could come with more physical workouts, but there are drawbacks as well. Finding the perfect combination isn’t as easy as it might sound. Just ask Lane Kiffin.

Stay away from full-contact drills completely and you risk fielding a defense that could get pushed around and has tackling issues. That was the case in 2012.

But USC still lacks depth, and if you allow more hitting, you also run the risk of more players getting injured. That happened in 2013.

It’s a decision that could ultimately play a major role in shaping the identity of the team down the line, so it will be interesting to see which way Sarkisian goes here.
With spring practice set to start back up again for USC next week, here’s a look at 10 players who entered the March and April workouts as somewhat hidden commodities but who showed in the first week of spring practice that they just might have the potential to take on a larger role for the Trojans in 2014.

TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-foot-4, 255 pounds, junior): With Xavier Grimble off to the NFL draft and Randall Telfer currently sidelined by injury, Cope-Fitzpatrick is the lone active scholarship tight end available for the Trojans this spring, and he’s made the most of what has been a golden opportunity to demonstrate what he’s capable of doing in USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo, tight end-friendly offense. Cope-Fitzpatrick displayed sure hands and a high level of athleticism in the first week, catching virtually everything thrown in his direction.

OLB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, sophomore): Powell was one of the more exciting practice players to watch last fall as a reserve Will linebacker, and now that he’s made the move back outside -- where he played in high school -- to Sam linebacker, he looks to have found the perfect spot to showcase his talents. Long, athletic and extremely active, he was equally as strong coming off the edge as he was in pass coverage while running with the No. 1 defensive group.

[+] EnlargeNathan Guertler
AP Photo / Chris BernacchiFormer walk-on Nathan Guertler earned a scholarship and is in the mix on the offensive line.
Rush end/OLB Scott Starr (6-2, 220, redshirt sophomore): Hampered by injuries early in his career, Starr is now healthy and it’s made a world of difference. Lining up with the starting group at rush end in Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front defense, he’s obviously already gained a level of confidence from the new coaching staff with his ability as a pass rusher and as a disruptive force, in general, near the line of scrimmage.

CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, redshirt freshman): There’s little denial the Trojans need to shore up the cornerback spots heading into the 2014 season, and with Josh Shaw sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot, Hawkins got plenty of work during the first three workouts of spring. He was solid, for the most part. After redshirting as a freshman last fall, he looks to be playing with a greater level of confidence than he did just a few months ago. His interception of a Cody Kessler pass on the first day of practice was one of the highlights of the week.

DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, redshirt junior): Forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring to USC from Texas Tech, Simmons has stepped into the starting lineup this spring at defensive end and looks primed to make an instant impact as part of what should be an outstanding defensive line. Possessing a huge frame to go along with a strong motor, he already has the veteran experience that comes with having started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012.

OL Nathan Guertler (6-5, 280, redshirt senior): Originally arriving at USC as a walk-on in 2010, Guertler was recently awarded a scholarship by the new coaching staff, and it’s safe to say it’s an honor he more than deserves. A tireless worker who made the switch to tight end last season when the team had low numbers at the position, he’s now getting an extensive look with the first team at right tackle. And while it certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion that he’ll remain there in the fall, he’s shown enough to ensure that he’s worthy of being in the discussion.

OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, redshirt freshman): Figured by many to be a prime contender for the open center spot going into the spring, Rodgers instead ran with the 1s at right guard and looked to be at home. As an aggressive blocker who possesses a mean streak on the field, he would appear to be a perfect fit as part of an offensive line unit that, under Tim Drevno, has placed an emphasis on being physical. Figuring to face plenty of additional competition in the fall in the form of freshmen Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the experience Rodgers is gaining now could give him a leg up heading into fall camp.

DL Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, redshirt freshman): Fairly raw when he first arrived on campus a little more than a year ago, Bigelow looks to have made strides in terms of where he is physically, as well as mentally, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him factor heavily into the defensive line rotation in 2014. With players such as Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend Jr. sidelined, Bigelow worked with the first team at one of the interior defensive end spots for a majority of the first week of practice.

S Gerald Bowman (5-11, 195, redshirt senior): Back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the 2013 season, Bowman has re-emerged this spring as one of only three available scholarship safeties. With the ability to play both safety spots, he served an important role throughout the first three practices as a backup and a key contributor in nickel situations.

OL Giovanni Di Poalo (6-4, 275, redshirt senior): For Di Poalo, 2014 marks his last shot to make a real impact for the Trojans, and to his credit it looks like he’s doing everything he can to try to make that happen. Taking advantage of the fresh start he’s gained with a new staff in place, in addition to the fact that USC simply doesn’t have a lot of healthy bodies ready to go along the offensive line right now, he took reps exclusively with the No. 1 unit at left guard last week. Things will get a whole lot more interesting in fall camp when those highly touted freshmen arrive, but Di Poalo appears to be making a statement that he won’t back down easily.

USC spring battle spotlight: Right tackle 

February, 18, 2014
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When USC opens spring practice on March 11, new offensive line coach Tim Drevno will begin the process of finding the most productive combination of players to fill out the starting unit. A collection of veterans, unproven underclassmen and two early entry freshmen make up a talented-but-thin group which will immediately be thrown into an atmosphere marked by heightened competition.

Guertler helping USC out at tight end 

November, 7, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- With the USC Trojans’ sudden dearth of tight ends due to injuries suffered in the Notre Dame game, it was out of desperation that junior walk-on offensive tackle Nathan Guertler was converted to tight end, and the results couldn’t be more satisfying.


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Five Trojans who have stepped up

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the most complete game that USC has played in years. The defense did a great job against the top statistical passing game in the nation, including three interceptions, which was the total that Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion had coming into the game. The offense had tremendous balance with 242 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was the best play calling yet from Clay Helton.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIThe USC defense made things difficult for Sean Mannion and the high-scoring Oregon State offense.

As important as anything, however, was the way in which the Trojans physically dominated on both sides of the ball. For a team that has struggled with injuries and has thrilled in recent weeks to take any win no matter how it happened, this game was one to enjoy for its physical beauty.

It was somewhat unexpected too.

The Trojans defensive front had been solid coming into the game but they were without leading sack-man Morgan Breslin and Mannion had proven to be tough to rattle. Not only did the Trojans get two sacks but they added nine pressures in addition to the critical interceptions -- two of them at or near the end zone -- and they also held Mannion and leading receiver Brandin Cooks well below their nation-leading averages.

The Trojans offensive line had been in a state of flux after an injury to Kevin Graf resulted in three players seeing time at new positions. USC was also limited at tight end. Regular starter Xavier Grimble tried to go but for most of the game it ended up being walk-in tackle Nathan Guertler filling in and doing a very commendable job in the blocking department.

The USC running game was coming off a net 30-yard performance the week before against Utah and it was clear early on against the Beavers that leading rusher Tre Madden was not going to be available due to injury. Not a problem for Silas Redd and Buck Allen.

Redd set the tone with his physical runs gaining big chunks of yardage. Then Allen would spring in and use his combination of speed and slashing ability to keep things going.

There was no better example of what kind of day this was going to be for the Trojans on the ground than early in the second quarter after Oregon State had pulled to a 14-14 tie. It was the kind of moment when you need to rely on the run game to settle things down. The Trojans went on a 10-play drive -- eight of them on the ground -- to score what would prove to be the game-winning points.

More importantly, it was the kind of drive where the Trojans realized they could impose their will. Momentum had been completely on the side of the Beavers at the start of the drive but the Trojans stole it right back with a physical ball-control drive.

For the second time this season, the Trojans also saw the emergence of a two-headed weapon at tailback. Early in the year it was Madden and true freshman Justin Davis but now, thanks to injuries to both, the opportunity has been presented to Redd and Allen and both took advantage on Friday night.

As the Trojans continue to ride this wave of emotion under interim coach Ed Orgeron, this latest physical performance can only offer encouragement for what is possible in the coming weeks. The next game offers an opponent that is struggling and an opportunity for USC to get back more bodies from the injured list. If the Trojans can build upon what took place in Corvallis, you never know what might be in store for this team in the final stretch of the season
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.
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.

Week three: Spring depth chart 

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
8:05
AM PT
The Trojans are now in the final stretch of spring ball with just over a week of practice remaining on the schedule. As injuries continue to mount and position battles rage on, here’s how a potential depth chart just might look if one were released today.

Quarterback

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LOS ANGELES -- Injuries continue to be one of the big stories for the Trojans this spring as it was confirmed after practice that both George Farmer and Su’a Cravens will undergo knee surgeries.

The news was more dire for Farmer after Kiffin confirmed the earlier media reports of a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, which will force him to miss the 2013 season. For Cravens, he has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery Friday. The injury is the same as the one suffered by Silas Redd. Cravens is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and will be back in plenty of time for fall camp.

Su'a Cravens
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comSu'a Cravens is the latest USC player to get dinged in spring practice.
“Whenever there is an injury you hope, like Su’a, that’s it’s not going to be a long setback,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “With guys like George, those are the ones you feel really bad for. A guy who battles back and was playing well and then to have this setback.”

The Trojans entered the Thursday practice session with 20 players out of action because of injury and two more left practice – Torin Harris and Cyrus Hobbi.

“I don’t see any way we could practice like this in the fall. We wouldn’t be able to play a game,” Kiffin said. “Of the 22 guys who ended up being out today, 18 of them are scholarship players. With the roster reductions we already have we would not be able to give up that many players. We will start fall camp practicing this way, but I don’t think we will end fall camp this way.”

There was some good news on the injury front as Marqise Lee returned, albeit in a limited role, after missing two-and-a-half weeks with a knee injury. Lee seemed to be running fine with no major issues but he was held out of contact team drills. Kevon Seymour and Jordan Simmons also returned to action.

“Marqise was back, which was obviously good to see,” Kiffin said. “He basically took part in the first hour of practice and we’ll add to him as we go.”

George Uko was out today and J.R. Tavai took his spot with the first unit at defensive end. During the final team drill, Aundrey Walker was out and Max Tuerk had moved to center with Hobbi out, so the first unit left side of the line was walk-on Nathan Guertler at tackle and Giovanni Di Poalo at guard.

Receiver shuffle

With Farmer out, that means opportunities for players such as Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy along with first-year players Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell. Kiffin also made sure to note the high level of play from Nelson Agholor this spring when discussing the receiver group.

(Read full post)

One of the primary areas of emphasis for the USC Trojans over the remaining three weeks of spring ball will be solidifying the rotation along the offensive line.


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