USC Trojans: Quinton Powell

Here’s a look at some of the major offseason storylines for a USC linebacker corps that, under the direction of a new position coach in Peter Sirmon, performed at a high level this spring as a key piece of the puzzle in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front scheme.

Pullard’s return provides boost in more ways than one

[+] EnlargeHayes Pullard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergHayes Pullard's decision to return to USC was huge for the Trojans due to both his play and his veteran leadership.
Shortly after Hayes Pullard announced that he would remain at USC for his senior season -- bucking the trend established by many of the other high-profile, draft-eligible players on the roster such as Dion Bailey and George Uko to leave early -- Wilcox referred to the veteran inside linebacker as the staff’s “biggest recruit,” and for good reason. After all, the Trojans not only regained the services of a stellar performer who has paced the defense in tackles in two of the past three seasons, they also held on to a leader who commands a level of respect from his teammates that would have been impossible to replace.

That fact was obvious during spring ball, when Pullard played an important role in making sure each member of the USC defense was on the same page as they acclimated to the new system. Pullard was a captain in 2013 who figures to hold on to that title in 2014. His return bodes well for the Trojans not only when it comes to the immediate success of the team but also in the long term as younger players like sophomore Michael Hutchings -- Pullard’s primary backup -- are afforded the opportunity to continue to benefit from the knowledge Pullard has to pass down for another season.

Can Dawson reclaim the starting spot at WILL?

One of the most tightly contested position battles leading up to the 2013 campaign was at WILL linebacker, with Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao duking it out for the right to line up alongside Pullard. Dawson ultimately came out on top, but he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee midway through the season, and it was Sarao who started the final seven games of the season.

Dawson is scheduled to be back in time for fall camp, but with Sarao performing solidly in his stint with the No. 1 unit -- both last fall and into the spring -- if Dawson wants his old job back, he’ll have to fight for it once again. Coming off a serious injury, however, it won’t be easy, particularly when you consider the fact he missed the entire spring -- a time when many of his teammates grew accustomed to the lightning-quick tempo of each practice under the new regime. And with Sarao having now proven himself to a certain extent, there’s reason to believe that Dawson, who has shined at times but underwhelmed at others, will need to come back in top form.

Competition at SAM one to watch

The competition between Dawson and Sarao at the WILL spot won’t be the only head-to-head duel to keep an eye on in fall camp. In fact, after what both Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell showed this spring, the battle at SAM linebacker has the potential to develop into one of the biggest storylines of fall camp.

Ruffin, a third-year sophomore, and Powell, a sophomore, each stood out throughout the recent March and April practice sessions, providing more than enough evidence to suggest this position should be in good hands, regardless of which player is in there at any given time. Both candidates are tremendous athletes who are strong at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage, and they possess the size and length head coach Steve Sarkisian has said he covets at the SAM position.

Powell, who plays with a ton of energy, began the spring as the starter, but by the later stages of camp it was the rangy Ruffin who was going with the No. 1 group. Still, there certainly isn’t a lot separating these two, and when the post-spring depth chart was released, both were listed on top with the trademark “OR” designation sitting between their names, meaning this competition is still very much ongoing. It figures to remain that way through fall camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of the up-and-comers play quite a bit in the fall.

Newcomers ready to join the fray

While USC possesses a solid collection of talent up and down the two-deep at linebacker, with the scholarship restrictions put in place due to NCAA sanctions the Trojans still don’t have what you’d consider ideal depth just yet. That said, a number of outside linebacker/defensive end types are set to arrive on campus this summer who will help remedy that issue, and it will be interesting to see if any are capable of jumping right into the mix.

Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne’s Uchenna Nwosu is a former safety with 6-foot-3, 210-pound size who looks tailor made for the SAM linebacker position, although he’s athletic and versatile enough that he could even conceivably play on the inside. Olajuwon Tucker, from local powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Serra, is another player who looks like a natural fit at SAM. Standing 6-3 and 220 pounds, he has the ability to cover a tremendous amount of ground in coverage, and he’s just as strong coming off the edge after the quarterback.

Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco’s Malik Dorton and Boise Timberline’s Don Hill, an early entrant who sat out spring ball with an Achilles' injury, are two more promising additions who could certainly factor in at SAM linebacker, although their larger frames suggest they might be better suited on the opposite side at rush end.

Ten spring risers at USC

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
8:00
AM PT
With a new coaching staff in place at USC, spring practice represented a time of opportunity more than ever for lesser-known members of the team looking to make a move up the depth chart. With that said, here are 10 players who seized that chance over the course of the 15 workouts, showing that they just might be ready to make a significant impact for the Trojans in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJabari Ruffin
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJabari Ruffin (40) was a force all spring, moving ahead of Quinton Powell at SAM linebacker.
1. TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Jr.)
With Randall Telfer sidelined for this spring because of injury, Cope-Fitzpatrick got the call with the first unit and shined in Steve Sarkisian’s tight end-friendly offense. Showcasing sure hands to go along with the ideal size that you want at the position, he caught virtually everything thrown in his direction, providing more than enough evidence to suggest that he’s primed for a breakout season.

2. OLB Scott Starr (6-2, 220, RS So.)
After battling a neck injury and being buried on the depth chart during his first two years on campus, a now-healthy Starr materialized as a perfect fit at rush end in Justin Wilcox’s new 3-4 multiple front defense. With a nonstop motor and outstanding pass-rush skills, he capped his stellar spring in the Coliseum by making a game-high six stops, including three tackles for loss and one sack.

3. OL Zach Banner (6-9, 345, RS So.)
Missing the majority of the 2013 season after undergoing surgery on both hips, Banner’s emergence was one of the big surprises. Moving into the starting lineup at right tackle during the third week of workouts, Banner played the best that he has in a Trojans uniform -- a particularly impressive feat when you consider the fact he said he wasn’t even quite back to 100 percent yet. With the promise that he showed, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see him remain with the first group in the fall.

4. OLB Jabari Ruffin (6-3, 225, RS So.)
Like Starr, Ruffin benefited from the switch to the new defensive system in a big way. Rangy, fast and extremely aggressive at the point of attack, he’s tailor-made for the SAM linebacker position in Wilcox’s scheme. Beginning camp with the No. 2 unit, he eventually moved ahead of Quinton Powell -- another rising player -- and ran exclusively with the first-team defense during the last two weeks of spring drills.

5. CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Fr.)
After spending his first season at USC redshirting, a more physically developed Hawkins came into camp showcasing an improved skill set, jumping in with the No. 1 defensive group opposite Kevon Seymour. His development is crucial for a unit that struggled in coverage at times in 2013, and even with the expected return of Josh Shaw from injury in the fall, USC will need all of the capable contributors it can come up with as the unit squares off against all of those uptempo, spread-it-out Pac-12 offenses.

6. OLB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, So.)
The fact Powell was supplanted in the starting lineup during the later stages of spring ball really speaks more about the exceptional camp that Ruffin had than anything that Powell did wrong. On the contrary, the long and athletic former Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland star continued to stand out as one of the team’s most promising young talents. A force both in coverage and up at the line of scrimmage, the competition between Powell and Ruffin is sure to be one of the most entertaining position battles of fall camp.

7. DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, RS Jr.)
Forced to spend last fall on the scout team as he sat out the season after transferring from Texas Tech, where he compiled 13 starts in 2012, Simmons hit the ground running this spring from Day 1. Surprisingly mobile for a player possessing his size, expect him to make an instant impact up front for the Trojans as a member of what should be an extremely formidable defensive line group.

8. DL Claude Pelon (6-5, 285, RS Jr.)
Transferring to USC from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in January, Pelon struggled at times early in camp as he adjusted to the lightning-fast tempo of practice, but once he got into shape he really asserted himself as someone to keep an eye on. In fact, perhaps no player improved more during the 15 practices than he did. A powerfully built athlete, he amassed three tackles for loss, including two sacks, in the spring game, and he’s only going to get better.

9. OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, RS Fr.)
Taking advantage of Aundrey Walker’s absence because of injury, Rodgers stepped in at right guard with the starting unit and remained there throughout spring ball. Strong and stout with a nasty demeanor when he’s on the field, he performed well enough to show that if Walker doesn’t return to form after having been away so long, Rodgers is a steady option who can certainly get the job done.

10. OL Toa Lobendahn (6-3, 290, Fr.)
An early enrollee, Lobendahn neither looked nor played like a player just a few months removed from high school. Lining up as the No. 2 center initially, he moved over to left guard, where he ran with the No. 1 unit throughout the last four weeks of drills. A versatile lineman with strong fundamentals, what was most impressive was the way he was able to hold his own physically against the more veteran players. Things will get a whole lot more interesting in the fall when USC adds injured guards Walker and Jordan Simmons back into the equation, as well as a host of freshmen, but Lobendahn got a jump on the competition by making a big statement with his play this spring.

Jabari Ruffin makes his move

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
8:00
AM PT
Heading into the spring, USC outside linebacker Jabari Ruffin knew that he had a golden opportunity, and he was determined to seize it. A third-year sophomore with 22 tackles and one start to his credit, as he saw it, this was his time to emerge from relative obscurity into a key contributor for the Trojans.

After all, not only did he feel that he was physically prepared to take on an increased role, but a brand new 3-4 scheme was set to be unveiled by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, and the SAM linebacker spot that he was slated to play was wide open for the taking.

All he had to do was prove himself on the field.

And through 11 practices this March and April, that’s just what he has done.

[+] EnlargeJabari Ruffin
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSophomore linebacker Jabari Ruffin believes USC's new 3-4 scheme fits him well.
Beginning spring camp running with the No. 2 defensive unit behind Quinton Powell, Ruffin began impressing USC coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. with his play on a daily basis, so much so that over the course of the last week he actually has been lining up ahead of Powell with the No. 1 group for much of the time.

“We’re seeing him really grow as the days go,” Sarkisian said. “So, as much as we’re looking at the grand scheme of things right now, there’s individuals like a Jabari who you say, ‘Man, he’s starting to get it a little bit more, and a little bit more.’”

A big, rangy athlete who, in addition to starring at linebacker on the high school level at Downey (Calif.), also excelled as a wide receiver, Ruffin believes he has found the perfect match for his unique skill-set in the SAM linebacker position in USC’s new system.

“Not only do we get to rush off the edge, get a little blitzing going -- which is what I did last year in the old system -- but I get to cover receivers and use my speed in space,” Ruffin said.

Sarkisian agrees.

“He’s really what you’re looking for at that SAM linebacker position for us,” Sarkisian said. “He’s 6-3 and change, 240 pounds. He was a high school wide receiver that is extremely athletic for a big man, but yet he’s violent at the point of attack.”

Quick to credit USC strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis for the strides he has made physically over the course of the last few months, Ruffin also says he has come a long way in terms of his mental maturity -- another factor that he believes has contributed to his emergence this spring.

“I definitely changed up my work habits,” Ruffin said. “I’m taking everything slow and paying attention to detail, whether it’s studying film, or just a simple false step. So I’m definitely taking kind of a different, mature approach this season, and I feel the effects.”

Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a player like Powell competing with him, either. The talented sophomore has played an important role in helping to raise Ruffin’s game to another level, not just because he too, has shown tremendous promise this spring, but also due to the fact he’s one of Ruffin’s closest friends.

“We definitely push each other,” Ruffin said. “We hang out off the field a lot so when I’m on the field, I see a friend as well as a competitor, so it makes us both strive even more. And we’re out there on each other because at the end of the day I want to see him succeed, and he wants to see me succeed. It’s a good relationship and it’s friendly competition.”

Immersed in that ever-constant atmosphere of competition, Ruffin certainly isn’t having any trouble maintaining focus on his ultimate goal -- making a name for himself in 2014.

“It’s safe to say that this is my big season to break out here at USC,” Ruffin said. “Every day I’m just trying to get better, and obviously looking forward to a big season once fall comes, and the start of the school year, and the start of the season with Fresno State. I’m just real excited about that, and it’s just motivating me every day to work.”
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans get back to the practice field on Tuesday afternoon after taking a week off for spring break, and the development of a talented defensive front seven will be on display.

In particular, there are several players who had previously played limited roles but could now be looking to step into bigger roles after what they’ve shown through the initial spring sessions.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsAntwaun Woods could have an expanded role in 2014.
Along the line, Antwaun Woods appears ready to solidify his status as a nose tackle capable of a full-time starting spot. Woods does have 10 career starts under his belt -- to go along with 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks -- but his contribution was limited last year because he came out of games when the Trojans used their nickel package.

Now Woods has bulked up to 315 pounds, and with his 6-foot frame, he has what USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox calls “natural leverage.”

Not only has Woods made physical progress, he is also showing a more vocal leadership style in practice. During the first day in pads, there was a team drill held late in the day and Woods was front and center in the middle of the line getting his defensive mates fired up and challenging the offense. That's a side not previously seen from Woods and a sign of his veteran status within the team, something that could help provide a solid anchor in the middle of the Trojans D-line.

On the outside -- at either the OLB spot or stand-up DE spot depending on the alignment -- is a trio of long and athletic players in Quinton Powell, Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin.

In the 4-3, Starr is the stand-up end in much the same role Clay Matthews played late in his USC career. He has very good pursuit speed when he gets into the backfield. Looking for his first start, Starr had 11 tackles in 2013 in a reserve role.

Powell and Ruffin are currently battling at the spot opposite Starr, an outside linebacker position where Sarkisian hopes to take advantage of their physical dimensions to cause problems for opposing quarterbacks in passing lanes. Ruffin has one start under his belt -- the 2013 season opener against Hawaii -- and has 22 career tackles. Powell made his share of impactful hits last season as a true freshman, primarily on special teams, and ended the season with 20 tackles.

The early returns from the opening week of spring indicate that the Trojans front seven could be one of the best in the conference, and it looks like these players will have a much bigger role in the coming year.
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.

Roundtable: Biggest noise in spring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The early loss of Uko leaves a real void and opportunity for somebody to step in and take that defensive tackle spot. There are enough candidates, but the one that will be a revelation will be Simmons, the former U.S. Army All-American. That "6-6, 300" is not some number put into a media guide. He has the necessary game experience and also had quality results playing as a true freshman with the Red Raiders. Keep an eye on this up-and-comer.
With the 2013 season in the books, here’s a look at 10 USC players who have flown under the radar, but who, either through strong performances in their limited opportunities during games, or in practice, have shown that they just might be ready to take on a larger role in 2014.

LB Quinton Powell (6-foot-2, 220 pounds, So.)

An aggressive and heady football player, Powell began turning heads after making the transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in fall camp. Compiling 20 tackles in his freshman season, he showed glimpses of his unique abilities in games as a reserve and on special teams. Still, he was caught in a logjam at weakside linebacker, so he remained hidden to an extent. With potential changes coming in regard to the scheme and philosophy of the defense, however, the timing could be right for him to burst onto the scene this spring.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek, Max Browne
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportMax Browne (No. 4) could be the Trojans' starting quarterback in 2014.
OLB/DE Scott Starr (6-2, 220, RS So.)

The departure of Devon Kennard -- USC’s leader in sacks (9) in 2013 -- creates a void for the Trojans on defense, so there’s little doubt that new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. will be holding an open audition to find a capable replacement. It’s a competition that Starr could win. His career has been stymied by injuries so far, but he made a huge impression late in the season during practice as a fast and physical performer who always seemed to be around the ball. As long as he stays healthy, this could be his chance to make a move up the depth chart.

OLB/DE Jabari Ruffin (6-3, 225, RS So.)

Like Starr, Ruffin will be one of the primary players to watch in the battle for Kennard’s old spot. A terrific athlete who actually started against Hawaii in Game 1 of 2013 but whose playing time ultimately tapered off as the campaign wore on, his ability to add some needed weight and strength this offseason will likely play a role in what kind of spring he has.

LB Michael Hutchings (6-2, 215, So.)

An intelligent football player who helped lead powerhouse Concord (Calif.) De La Salle to three consecutive state titles, Hutchings has developed steadily at USC while learning the tricks of the trade from starting middle linebacker Hayes Pullard. More than that, Hutchings has also transformed himself physically over the course of the last six months.

CB Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Fr.)

With the Trojans plagued by inconsistent play at cornerback for much of 2013, Hawkins will undoubtedly get a long look at the position, particularly if Josh Shaw either declares for the NFL draft or makes a move back to his more natural safety spot. Having redshirted this past season, Hawkins went up against the likes of Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor on a daily basis, and although raw, his athleticism and playmaking ability was apparent.

OL Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, RS Fr.)

Capable of playing guard or center, Rodgers is a relentless blocker with a nasty demeanor on the field who gained notice for his play against the Trojans’ vaunted defensive front in practice. And with the departure of starting center Marcus Martin, there’s little doubt that USC needs help on the interior on offense.

QB Max Browne (6-5, 215, RS Fr.)

With Sarkisian declaring the starting quarterback job up for grabs shortly after his hiring, Browne has a lot to play for this spring. And while Cody Kessler’s solid season -- not to mention a fantastic Las Vegas Bowl outing -- certainly gives him the undisputed inside track, it will be interesting to see what Browne can do now that he has been on campus for almost a year. After all, he wasn’t the 2012 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year for nothing.

DL Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, RS Jr.)

Simmons, who transferred to USC from Texas Tech last offseason, stood out at times during practice not just because of his size, but also because of his play. Already possessing a wealth of experience after starting 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012, he competed extremely well against the Trojans’ starting offensive line group, and he could emerge as a factor in the defensive line rotation in 2014.

DL Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, RS Fr.)

A hulking defensive lineman who arrived at USC last winter with sky-high expectations surrounding him, Bigelow wound up having a more difficult time adjusting to the college game than most anticipated. Having worked hard to improve where he is in terms of his physical shape, however, there’s reason to believe that he just might now have the stamina to match his skills.

OL Nico Falah (6-6, 285, RS Fr.)

Falah is a technician with a tireless work ethic, but like many freshmen offensive linemen, he simply isn’t quite where he needs to be when it comes to his size and strength. Possessing all of the other necessary intangibles to succeed, if he adds that necessary bulk to his frame in the coming months, he could push for time.

2013 review: USC defense

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
6:00
AM PT
Determined to find a greater level of success against those uptempo, spread offenses that have shredded USC in recent years, Clancy Pendergast was brought in this past offseason by Lane Kiffin to replace his father, Monte Kiffin, as the team’s defensive coordinator. Installing a vastly different defense, both in terms of look and philosophy, this unit showed tremendous improvement, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in passing defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

Defensive line

A fast and attacking bunch, the Trojans defensive line spearheaded a defense that compiled an impressive 91 tackles for loss, including 35 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSophomore defensive end Leonard Williams had an All-American season.
Headlining the group was defensive end Leonard Williams. A 6-foot-5 sophomore with off-the-charts physical tools, he had arguably the best season of any Trojan, ranking No. 2 on the team with 74 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss, on his way to garnering ESPN.com First Team All-American honors.

Fourth-year junior George Uko lined up opposite Williams at the other end spot, compiling 36 tackles and five sacks of his own, and Antwaun Woods did a solid job at nose tackle when the Trojans went to their 5-2 look. He also took reps at end on occasion.

The outside linebackers emerged as a key piece of the puzzle in the new defensive scheme, with SAM linebacker Devon Kennard and Predator linebacker Morgan Breslin providing steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Kennard, who has played everywhere from middle linebacker to defensive end in his career, finally found his niche standing up on the outside, pacing the Trojans with nine sacks. Breslin, who made a huge impact in 2012 as a junior college transfer, had his season cut short because of a hip injury, though he still managed to record 4.5 sacks in five games. Sliding into the lineup for Breslin midway through the season was J.R. Tavai, who had spent the entirety of his career on the interior. An exceptional athlete with unique football instincts, his standout play allowed the defense to continue on its forward path without a hitch.

Jabari Ruffin, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr and Kevin Greene were others who played at outside linebacker.

Inside linebackers

Under the direction of first-year coach Mike Ekeler, the inside linebackers set the tone as a group that played with a high level of physicality, with fourth-year junior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard serving as the leader. Racking up 14 tackles against UCLA, he finished with a team-best 94 stops.

After a spirited competition with sophomore Anthony Sarao in the spring, junior Lamar Dawson emerged as the starter at WILL linebacker, recording 35 tackles before going down with a torn ACL during an October practice. With Dawson sidelined, Sarao stepped in and looked right at home, showcasing a nonstop motor and a nose for the ball.

Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell are freshman reserves who figure to factor heavily into the equation down the line.

Secondary

It was an up-and-down season for a secondary that struggled at times in coverage, particularly at cornerback. They did end on a high note, helping to corral Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and the nation’s No. 1 passing attack in the Trojans' 45-20 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory.

[+] Enlarge Josh Shaw
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw, a natural safety, responded well at cornerback, often covering a team's top receiver.
Kevon Seymour was one of the primary starters at cornerback. An athletic-looking sophomore who arrived at USC in 2012 with plenty of hype, he was victimized at times this year by opposing offenses, but he certainly finished up strong in the bowl matchup, collecting a team-best seven tackles on his way to earning defensive outperformer of the game honors.

With Torin Harris and a hobbled Anthony Brown unable to provide stability in starting opportunities, Josh Shaw, a natural safety, found himself sitting atop the depth chart at the opposite cornerback spot for the second consecutive season. Commonly pitted against the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, he did a nice job of containing elite pass-catchers such as Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and Colorado’s Paul Richardson, finishing up with four interceptions to go along with 67 stops.

Ryan Henderson, Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton also saw brief time at cornerback.

While the situation was somewhat muddled at cornerback during the early stages, it immediately became apparent that the Trojans had a wealth of talent at safety. Fourth-year junior Dion Bailey, who made the switch from linebacker to safety, more than proved himself at nickelback. Announcing Monday that he will forgo his senior season to enter this May’s NFL draft, he paced the Trojans with five interceptions.

With Shaw settling in at cornerback, senior Demetrius Wright was the primary starter at free safety. Having been buried on the depth chart for much of his career, he stepped into his new role and was solid. At strong safety, the impact of freshman Su’a Cravens was a revelation. One of those rare playmakers who only comes around so often, he played more like a seasoned veteran than a green, first-year performer, and there’s no doubt that he has a bright future.

Another freshman, Leon McQuay III, also earned valuable playing time. He also looks primed for a big 2014 campaign. Senior Gerald Bowman played sparingly early, but was ultimately sidelined with a shoulder injury and will be back next season after redshirting.

Five things: USC at Colorado

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
7:00
AM PT
Five things to watch as No. 23 USC (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) travels to Colorado (4-6, 1-6) on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. PT kickoff:

1. “Get through it” game: There are the usual questions this week about the possibility of this game being a letdown for the Trojans. The team is coming off an emotional victory over Stanford and there is the looming prospect next week of a matchup with crosstown rival UCLA that could have some very high stakes. Sandwiched between those two games is Colorado, an opponent with a single conference win this season, in a cold, nighttime environment in front of what is expected to be a sparse crowd. Ed Orgeron says his players will not let down because they trust the process of preparing for the game and they know what is still possible for this season.

2. Attack mode: The Buffs are ranked last or next-to-last in the conference in all four major defensive categories (scoring, pass, rush, total). They have the fewest sacks and are giving up the most yards per rush. That means Cody Kessler should have time to run the offense and the Trojans should be able to run when they need to. Kessler has been efficient lately and is putting up good numbers, but with these weather conditions, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clay Helton pay special attention to the run game. Regardless, the Trojans will look to score early and often to take control of the game quickly and get the starters to the sidelines.

3. Don’t let Rich get richer: Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson is a legitimate big-play guy, a player who is very familiar to members of the USC program. He played Pop Warner football with Dion Bailey, was a high school teammate of Marqise Lee and trained in the offseason with Josh Shaw. It will be Shaw who is charged with the assignment of making sure that Richardson – who ranks No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards per game - doesn’t have the kind of night that would allow Colorado to stay in the game.

4. Say hello to reserves: If the Trojans can get a comfortable lead, look for Orgeron to make sure the reserves get plenty of playing time. It could be another opportunity for Max Wittek to show off his arm, for De’Von Flournoy to get a few catches as his career winds down or for Abe Markowitz to get some well-deserved reps at center. On defense, look for players such as Jabari Ruffin, Scott Starr, Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings to show what is waiting for them as the future of the USC linebacker group.

5. Keep the Orgeron train moving: There is a lot of momentum for the Trojans right now under Orgeron and USC fans aren’t looking for that to end in Boulder. In fact, they are looking for the train to pick up speed on the way to the showdown next weekend in the Coliseum. The Trojans have shown steady improvement each week under Orgeron to the point that they are playing their best football of the year at the right time. And, as has been thoroughly discussed in the national media this week, Orgeron has put himself squarely in the mix as a candidate for the full-time job.


Change is in the air at USC as Ed Orgeron wraps up its first week as the interim head coach of the Trojans.

In an effort to pump more energy into the team, Orgeron implemented a series of changes designed to shift the fortunes of a team that had been playing inconsistently through the first five games of the season. Last week, Orgeron restored desserts to the training table menu and held a “Trojan Bowl” game during the bye week which showcased younger players and walk-ons while being coached by the team veterans.

On Sunday, the quarterbacks came on the field without the yellow “no-contact” jerseys. Offensive players are wearing Cardinal this week (the colors change depending on if the next game is home or away) and Orgeron wanted to emphasize that everybody on the team will wear the same jersey.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterbacks Max Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) won't be wearing the no-contact jerseys in practice under Ed Orgeron.
“He told us that we were going to wear the same colors as the other guys,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I think it’s great.”

One non-quarterback who was back on the field on Sunday was tailback Silas Redd, who has gone through very limited action this fall as he continued to rehabilitate his injured knee. Redd got a lot of reps in the Sunday session and looked strong, especially when you consider how long it had been since he had that much work.

“We got Silas a little taste today,” Orgeron said. “We will see how he goes through the week in terms of how much we can use him. He runs the ball the way we expect a back to run.”

Justin Davis was limited in action at tailback with his injured ankle – Orgeron called him probable for the game – and that meant additional work for guys like Ty Isaac and Buck Allen as well. It will be interesting to see how Orgeron chooses to work the tailback rotation in games because while the Trojans certainly have option, the run game has been one of the few consistent areas on the team, with Tre Madden and Davis leading the way.

Also missing from the Sunday session were wide receivers Marqise Lee (knee) and Darreus Rogers (ankle), along with outside linebacker Morgan Breslin (hip) and cornerback Anthony Brown (knee). Orgeron didn’t have any firm information about their availability for the game Thursday against Arizona.

To add to the receiver depth issues, Victor Blackwell left the Sunday practice early because of illness but it isn’t expected to impact his participation in the game. Nelson Agholor had a nice day with several deep catches.

There was a lot of work in this practice with the tight ends, particularly Xavier Grimble. This has been an area of frustration for many USC fans so far this season, with the lack of production by the tight ends, and it could be one of the changes that are seen in the offense moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, Josh Shaw got reps at safety – his original position this season – with Kevon Seymour and Torin Harris getting the first unit reps at corner. Quinton Powell was back as a reserve inside linebacker after missing some time recently. Devon Kennard and Scott Starr both had sacks and Lamar Dawson had a nice tackle for loss on Allen.

“The key for us on defense this week is to tackle,” Orgeron said. “We were back on our heels a lot against ASU and I want to see us be more aggressive.”

Orgeron acknowledged that the good feelings that have been present over the past week with the coaching transition is nice – he and his staff were out recruiting over the weekend and he said the reaction was “great” – but he also knows that it doesn’t mean much because it’s not a game. He and his team will ultimately be judged by how they perform in games and that first test comes on Thursday the Coliseum.

“We want our players to feel comfortable and to play good football,” Orgeron said. “I think we’re all going to be excited about our first game together but we need to be careful about overemphasizing emotion. We need to make sure we play with poise.”

Dawson eager for his new beginning

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
9:15
AM PT
Lamar DawsonCal Sport Media via AP ImagesLamar Dawson has had his moments in two years at USC, but he's eager for a breakout season.

With fall camp now in the books, and the Trojans set to open the 2013 season at Hawaii this Thursday, there's a heightened sense of excitement running through the team. It was evident in the demeanor of the players leaving Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on late Sunday afternoon following practice.

"It feels good," said junior inside linebacker Lamar Dawson. "I'm just ready to play. We're finally out of camp, and I'm excited to hit someone in a different colored jersey."

And it's Dawson, more than anyone, whose eagerness to hit the field is at what might be an all-time high -- and for good reason.

A prized prospect out of high school in the Class of 2011, Dawson was awarded the famed No. 55 jersey -- once worn by Trojans linebacker greats Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Chris Claiborne and Keith Rivers -- upon his arrival at USC. He has had his bright moments to be sure, starting 13 games and collecting 102 tackles in his career, but he also has had his struggles, appearing to completely disappear from action at times.

Lamar Dawson
Johnny Curren/ESPNJunior LB Lamar Dawson understands the pressure of wearing No. 55 for the Trojans.
But after a stellar fall camp that came on the heels of an eye-opening spring, Dawson appears poised to break out with his best season yet in a Trojans uniform, and for him, the team's Aug. 29 opener just can't come soon enough.

"I'm ready to get back on the field and show how much I've improved from last year ... to just show my technique and put it all on film," said Dawson, who prepped at Danville (Ky.) Boyle County. "I feel like I've improved in a lot of different ways -- in getting off of blocks, in blitzing, man-coverage, and especially in just knowing the defense."

The first signs of improvement were apparent back in March. Part of an ultra-competitive position battle with Anthony Sarao at WILL linebacker, Dawson immediately took to the Trojans' new 5-2 defensive scheme, installed by Clancy Pendergast. He made plays all over the field, and on a much more consistent basis than he ever did at middle linebacker in the team's previous 4-3 set.

"I really just bought into Coach Pendergast's defense, and I really just took it day-by-day, and I just worked as hard as I could," said Dawson, who stands 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. "We play with five defensive linemen -- they cover up the linebackers, and we're free to run from sideline to sideline. It really allows myself and the other linebackers to get to the football and to make more plays."

His high level of play extending into fall camp, Dawson has been hard not to notice this month. Taking the vast majority of the snaps with the first-team defense over the course of the last two weeks, his transformation from an unsure athlete with potential into a veteran performer ready to shine appears nearly complete.

Not surprisingly, when the team's season-opening depth chart was released this past Saturday, Dawson found his name sitting atop the list at WILL linebacker all by itself -- a significant feat considering Sarao, as well as promising freshman Quinton Powell, each had a strong month of August as well at the position.

But as the current bearer of one of the program's most revered numbers, Dawson knows that he has much more to prove on the actual field of play -- starting later this week in Honolulu. For the first time, however, it's a challenge he appears ready to take on.

"There's a great deal of pressure that comes with wearing No. 55, and I'm just going to try to take it day-by-day, week-by-week and just do my best to live up to it," Dawson said. "This is a big season for me."
USC head coach Lane Kiffin released a depth chart for the season-opening game against Hawaii with a few notable position items:

USC Trojans• There was no starting quarterback named. It is listed as Max Wittek or Cody Kessler.
Chad Wheeler has been named the starting left tackle. That’s a big move for a redshirt freshman who has shown a lot of promise.
Lamar Dawson won the competition at Will linebacker in a battle against Anthony Sarao and Quinton Powell.
Josh Shaw began the fall at strong safety but the good play of Su'a Cravens helped allow Shaw to move to free safety.

USC depth chart vs. Hawaii

QB: Max Wittek or Cody Kessler
TB: Tre Madden or Silas Redd or Justin Davis
FB: Jahleel Pinner or Soma Vainuku
WR: Marqise Lee; Darreus Rogers or Victor Blackwell
WR: Nelson Agholor; De'Von Flournoy
TE: Xavier Grimble or Randall Telfer
LT: Chad Wheeler; Nathan Guertler
LG: Max Tuerk; Giovanni Di Poalo or Jordan Simmons
C: Marcus Martin; Abe Markowitz or Cyrus Hobbi
RG: John Martinez or Aundrey Walker
RT: Kevin Graf; Zach Banner

OLB: Devon Kennard; Marquis Simmons or Scott Starr
DE: Leonard Williams; J.R. Tavai
NT: Antwaun Woods; Cody Temple or Kenny Bigelow
DE: George Uko; Greg Townsend Jr.
OLB: Morgan Breslin; Jabari Ruffin
ILB: Hayes Pullard; Michael Hutchings
ILB: Lamar Dawson; Quinton Powell or Anthony Sarao
CB: Kevon Seymour or Devian Shelton
CB: Anthony Brown or Torin Harris
FS: Josh Shaw or Dion Bailey or Demetrius Wright
SS: Su'a Cravens or Gerald Bowman or Leon McQuay III

PK: Andre Heidari
P: Kris Albarado
LS: Peter McBride (punts), Zach Smith (PAT, FG)
KR: Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor
PR: Marqise Lee or Nelson Agholor or Darreus Rogers or Su'a Cravens

Five who emerged from USC fall camp

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
10:00
AM PT
It has been an eventful month for a number of Trojans who shined during fall camp, particularly for those lesser-known and younger members of the team who took the opportunity to make a major statement with their play.

With that in mind, here are five players who made a big impression over the course of the last three weeks, providing evidence that they’re ready to make an impact on the field for USC this fall.

OL Chad Wheeler (6-foot-7, 290 pounds, RS Fr.)
Originally lining up at left tackle in the spring before going down with a knee injury, Wheeler came into fall camp in fantastic shape, with a bulked-up, 290-pound frame. Moved to right tackle to compete with veteran Kevin Graf, he switched back to the left side to run with the first-team offense early in August when Aundrey Walker went down with an injury, and he remained there throughout camp -- prompting Walker to move to guard. Drawing praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin, Wheeler provided stability at a position that struggled in that regard in 2012. A unique talent who plays with a nasty demeanor on the field, he appears to have won the starting job. It will be interesting to watch his development this season.

WR Darreus Rogers (6-2, 210, Fr.)
[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAfter enrolling last spring, Darreus Rogers appears to have nailed down the No. 3 receiver job.
A Class of 2012 recruit who didn't enroll until last January, Rogers flashed at times in spring ball, but it’s safe to say that Rogers took his game to a whole new level this month.

Possessing a skill-set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC star receiver Mike Williams brought to the table, the Carson (Calif.) product showcases a perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and sure hands. Making strides throughout camp, he utilized some strong scrimmage performances -- including a 10-catch, 106-yard and 2-touchdown outing on Aug. 16 -- to nail down the role of No. 3 wide out.

With the Trojans paper-thin at receiver, he should get plenty of chances to produce this season as a complement to Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, and from what he’s shown, he’s ready to do just that.

S Su'a Cravens (6-1, 215, Fr.)
Arguably the most highly touted prospect in the Trojans’ recruiting class of 2013, Cravens was another mid-year enrollee who has more than lived up to expectations. One of those rare playmakers on the defensive side of the ball who always seems to be in the thick of the action, he looks and plays more like a seasoned veteran than a green freshman. His fall camp highlighted by an outstanding performance in the team’s second scrimmage -- one in which he compiled five tackles with two sacks -- he has been part of a highly competitive battle at strong safety. For the last week or so of fall camp, however, he was taking the majority of the reps with the first-team defense, and he figures to see the field early and often, whether he starts or not.

FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Declared by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member in his group during the spring, Pinner continued his progression throughout the summer, allowing him to hit the ground running in fall camp. With Soma Vainuku sidelined for most of the workouts with an injury, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout carried the bulk of the workload at fullback and excelled in the expanded role.

Always known as a tough-as-nails lead blocker, what was most impressive was the receiving skills he put on display -- something lacking from the position in 2012. Hauling in a number of passes in the team’s most recent scrimmage, there’s hope that he can bring a Stanley Havili-like presence back to the Trojans’ offense.

LB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Starting out at outside linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 defensive alignment, Powell made the switch inside to WILL linebacker midway through camp, and the energetic freshman began turning heads right from his first day there -- despite the fact he never lined up at the position in high school. An emotionally charged athlete who plays with aggression and a nonstop motor, Powell really came on over the last two weeks, collecting five tackles in the team’s Aug. 16 scrimmage. Receiving more and more snaps with the second unit as of late, and even with the first group when Hayes Pullard was limited recently, he obviously is someone who has caught the eye of the coaches.
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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Friday, 9/5
Saturday, 9/6