USC Trojans: Ryan Dillard
“Normally this really is the day that we scrimmage because it’s the first day that we’re in full pads, but we really wanted to make sure that we were still working on our basics, that we were still working on our fundamentals of tackling in our first day that we were allowed to do that,” Kiffin said. “So, it was good to have this day and to set it up this way so that we’re giving our players everything, so that we can really have a good test tomorrow when we have a full-live scrimmage.”
Predictably, the workout was marked by some physical play, with the defense getting the better of the offense in what has become a trend in the early portion of this year’s camp. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- who took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback -- struggled at times to find open receivers against tight coverage from the secondary and an effective pass rush by the defensive line.
Defensive end George Uko set the tone right off the bat in an early team period, stuffing tailback Justin Davis on a run up the gut. Linebacker Lamar Dawson picked off a Kessler pass soon after that, and then just a few plays later it was safety Leon McQuay’s turn, stepping in front of a Wittek toss over the middle. Kessler came back to connect on a deep touchdown pass over the middle to Marqise Lee, but the session ended with a pair of two-minute drills, one led by Wittek and the other by Kessler, neither resulting in a score. Kessler’s drive ended on an interception by cornerback Ryan Dillard on a ball that was initially tipped in the air by safety Dion Bailey. Kessler was picked off once more later on, this time by linebacker Hayes Pullard during a 9-on-7 period.
In the end though, the defense was the big story, with Pullard coming up with a big stop on Davis for no gain near the end of the day, and then SAM linebacker Devon Kennard capping it off by stripping the ball from Kessler, and then taking it in for six.
“Devon would be up there, if there was an MVP or something like that, on the whole team so far,” Kiffin said of Kennard. “I think that he’s playing really well at that position. We do a lot of things with him, he gives the tight ends a lot of problems and then at times he ends up on the tackles. I think that he’s really making the right steps to have a really good year.”
Kiffin also had high praise for the safeties and cornerbacks -- a question mark heading into fall camp.
“I think that kind of a storyline so far is that the secondary is playing better than they did in the spring,” Kiffin said. “They’re not giving up as many big plays, and they’re playing better on the outside -- the corners are playing better than they were in the spring.”
Wheeler still at LT
The most significant news in regard to the offensive line on Wednesday was that -- with Aundrey Walker still sidelined -- Chad Wheeler continued to line up with the first-team offense at left tackle for the second day in a row. Initially slated to compete with Kevin Graf at right tackle, he’s more than held his own on the left side despite going up against an outstanding Trojans defensive line unit.
“Chad looks really good over there,” Kiffin said. “Obviously tomorrow will be a big test. I think that any time that you get a position like we have at outside linebacker -- that’s a very good position for us -- those guys really make your offense better, and make them have to work. So he’s really getting tested out there by some really good players.”
Redd continues to come along
Limited throughout fall camp as he’s continued to ease his way back after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee in the spring, tailback Silas Redd received his heaviest workload of the fall on Wednesday. Donning a yellow jersey to prevent contact, he even took a number of reps during the team period. And while he didn’t find a lot of room to run today, he certainly appeared to be close to 100 percent. Still, Kiffin is in no hurry to rush him back.
“Yeah, we threw him out there,” Kiffin said. “We put a jersey on him because he’s really not back. I don’t think he’ll go tomorrow, but it was good. I think the thing about Silas is that he’s a leader, he’s very confident, very emotional, he gets into the game and he gets into the practice, so that’s good to have.“
Other notes: In addition to Walker, safety Su'a Cravens and wide receiver De'Von Flournoy did not participate in Wednesday’s workout. Tailbacks Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan were also limited, and defensive end Leonard Williams was also held out later in practice.
“I’m in great shape right now,” said Shaw after a recent workout on Cromwell Field. “I’ve added some muscle to my frame since spring ball, so right now I’m about 6-foot-and-a-half and a solid 205 pounds. I put on about 12 pounds since the spring, and I’m moving well with it, so I’m feeling really good out here.”
“We just talked about that this week, actually,” Kiffin said April 6 of a potential move for Shaw. “If Dion [Bailey] goes back to safety, that might be something that we do.”
Bailey has made the transition from linebacker back to the secondary, lining up at free safety this summer, but Shaw hasn’t been given any indication by Kiffin or defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast that he’s going anywhere. And while things could always change down the line, the Trojans look set to go with what they currently have at cornerback -- a group that includes Anthony Brown, Torin Harris, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton, Chris Hawkins and Ryan Dillard.
“I haven’t heard anything about it at all since this past spring,” said Shaw, who arrived at USC in 2012 as a transfer from Florida after attending Palmdale (Calif.) High. “And it was never brought up to me directly -- I just heard it from outside sources. From talking to Coach Pendergast, and having our post-spring evaluations and all of that, I’ll be playing safety. But I can definitely see why it was something that they were thinking about, because they just wanted more production from the corner spot. But I think right now during the summer, we’ve had time to gel and to just come out here and play football, and the cornerbacks have gotten a lot better.”
And that's just fine with Shaw, who feels more than at home at safety, especially with a new defensive scheme set in place that has him excited to hit the field each day.
“In this defense, I love playing at safety,” Shaw said. “It’s a lot different than last year. In this 3-4 defense you have to be a general. You’re asked to do a lot. You’re asked to know everything and you have to have a certain skill-set to be back there and play. I just love it.”
But as is the case with every position in the secondary, the strong safety spot is still completely up for grabs. And while Shaw has been arguably the most consistent performer throughout the spring and summer, he has a battle on his hands with star early-entrant freshman Su'a Cravens -- who was listed atop the post-spring depth chart along with Shaw -- as well as hard-hitting senior Gerald Bowman. For Shaw, though, the competition is something that he’s welcomed, and he believes that it’s only making everyone involved better in the long run.
“It’s open and it’s definitely bringing out the best in all of us because there’s just so much competition,” Shaw said. “You can see it, guys are getting after it out here, just trying to get better to put themselves in the position to be on the field this season.”
With what Shaw has shown, however, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to regard him as the favorite to land the starting job -- not just because of his stellar play, but also because of his emergence as a team leader. One of the more experienced members of the defensive backfield, he’s been noticeably vocal this offseason.
“I’ve definitely taken an active leadership role,” Shaw said. “I’ve truly embraced it. You know, with guys like T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Nickell Robey leaving, somebody had to step up. I talked to T.J. before he left and he told me that I was next in line, and I really learned a lot from him. Now I’m just trying to help all of these guys gel together, and this summer has been very pivotal for us. We’ve been meshing, doing things together, watching film and doing whatever we need to do to make sure that when we start up practice, we’re going to have a good group back there, and everyone will be able to count on us.”
That’s good news for Kiffin and Co., particularly with fall camp less than three weeks away. As for Shaw, who looks poised for a big season, it simply can’t come soon enough.
“Marqise [Lee] and I were just working out on Sunday and we were talking about it -- I just can’t wait to get the pads on. It seems like it’s been so long ... less than a month away now. I just can’t wait.”
Tons of talent at WR, not a lot of depth
The USC receiver corps was dealt a significant blow in the second throwing session of the summer when promising freshman Steven Mitchell went down with a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the entire 2013 season. Already without the services of George Farmer -- who suffered the same injury this spring -- the Trojans now have just five active scholarship wide receivers on the current roster.
Wittek returns to action, QB competition back on in full effect
The most notable player missing from the Trojans' early passing sessions was quarterback Max Wittek, who battled an apparent case of mononucleosis. The only member of the quarterback competition with starting experience returned to action this past Friday and looked sharp after shaking off some early rust.
The other two members of the quarterback competition -- fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler and early entrant freshman Max Browne -- have performed solidly this offseason. Kessler, in particular, has picked up right where he left off in the spring, looking poised and in command while also throwing with fantastic accuracy. Meanwhile, Browne has continued to make tremendous strides, neither looking nor playing like a green first-year youngster.
With Wittek having returned to compete alongside Kessler and Browne, the race for the role of USC's starting quarterback is underway once again. And with all three players back out there pushing each other, there’s reason for optimism, regardless of who the eventual starter is.
Key contributors back from injury
While the loss of Mitchell marked the obvious low point of the workouts so far, the return of a number of players who missed all, or a portion, of the spring due to injury has been one of the great positives. Fullback Soma Vainuku, offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr., cornerbacks Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour, as well as safeties Dion Bailey, Gerald Bowman and Su'a Cravens are just some of the players who have been spotted back in action. It’s provided a big shot in the arm for a team somewhat short in terms of numbers.
The most talked about return has been that of Bailey, who was out for the entire spring due to postseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Moving over to free safety after spending the last two seasons as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, he’s looked comfortable, and the competition between he, Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job is sure to be one of most closely watched position battles of the summer and fall.
Shaw still at safety
With Lane Kiffin underwhelmed by the production of the cornerback unit this past spring, the Trojans head coach noted on more than one occasion that the coaching staff was considering moving redshirt junior Josh Shaw back over from his strong safety spot to corner -- not a huge surprise considering he made seven starts at the position in 2012.
So far, however, there’s been no sign of the former Palmdale (Calif.) standout making that change. Lining up at strong safety during every passing session, he’s currently locked in a position battle with Cravens and Bowman. And while things could always change later in the summer or even during fall camp, it looks as if Shaw has settled in at safety at this time and that Kiffin will ride with what he currently has at cornerback -- collection that includes Anthony Brown, Ryan Dillard, Harris, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson, Seymour and Devian Shelton.
Sightings of the newest freshmen
All six of the Trojans newest freshmen additions are now on campus, and they’ve slowly begun to make their presence felt in the workouts. It was Mitchell who made the biggest impact early on with his unique playmaking skills, giving an all-too-brief glimpse of the kind of talent that the USC offense will have at its disposal down the line. Inside linebacker Michael Hutchings has impressed as well. Figuring to play a key role as the potential backup at the MIKE linebacker spot to Hayes Pullard, he certainly looks the part of an imposing run-stopper with a nice combination of athleticism and instincts to boot. Outside linebacker Quinton Powell has already shown off some nice pass-rush skills during the 11-on-11 periods. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, running back Ty Isaac is as big as advertised while also showcasing a surprising burst for a player his size. Rounding out the group, offensive tackle Nico Falah and guard Khaliel Rodgers have also been quick to jump into the action, gaining valuable tutelage from veterans such as Kevin Graf and John Martinez.
But after a one-week hiatus from action, and with just nine practice days remaining, there are still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered, not to mention a whole host of new storylines that have popped up.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five things to watch for during the remainder of the spring as USC gets set to hit the field once again on Tuesday.
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“I thought the offensive line responded well today,” Kiffin said. “We had some issues on Tuesday with fumbled snaps and false starts, but the players came out today with good energy along the line of scrimmage.”
Kiffin also noted the continued strong play of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne, who have been forced to take extra snaps this week as the only two available players at the position.
Kessler hit Nelson Agholor against coverage from Morgan Breslin and the play went for a long gain. Browne had his best practice of spring and it included a pair of touchdown passes to Darreus Rogers. There was also a nice sequence for Browne where he had a pass attempt broken up by Leon McQuay III but he came right back on the next play for a nice completion to Buck Allen.
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
It was a breakout day for Rogers. The first touchdown from Browne came on a short throw that he caught and put a spin move to get away from Ryan Dillard for a 20-yard score. The second touchdown was the highlight play of the day on a 40-yard pass reception at the goal line. He also had an impressive play with a sideline catch where it took multiple defenders to bring him down.
“Darreus Rogers had an unbelievable day,” said Kiffin.
Bucking the trend
Buck Allen hasn’t made a ton of noise during his USC career so far, but he’s quietly put together a pair of strong practices in a row. Allen finished the practice off right, first with a 4-yard TD run and then with a 20-yard touchdown dash off the left side on the final play of the day.
Marqise Lee and Max Wittek continued to sit out practice with the knee injuries they suffered last weekend, and Kiffin said both will wait until the first Tuesday practice after spring break (March 27) to get back on the field. Silas Redd and Chad Wheeler both left the Thursday practice with knee injuries, while George Farmer had a shoulder injury. There was no word on the status of those three. Kevon Seymour sat out with an ankle injury and is day to day.
Xavier Grimble was named the MVP of the day with Rogers a close second. Kiffin gave a lot of praise to Grimble as a guy who is on his way to becoming a potentially great player. Grimble wasn’t even supposed to practice due to a rib injury but he went out and performed well, most notably in a blocking drill against the safeties.
Other highlight plays
Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson both had pass deflections. Dawson also added a big hit on Justin Davis. Kiffin said Dawson has put together five great practices in a row after changing his body in the off-season.
Sarao, Devon Kennard and Charles Burks each had a sack.
Leonard Williams had a pass deflection.
Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Damien Mama, Rey Maualuga and several players from Upland HS including safety Jeff Farrar, QB Tyler Hilinski and incoming ninth-grade receiver Nathan Telfer (no relation to TE Randall).
“The competition between Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer is good, no issues between the two of them. It’s kind of like how it was with Robert (Woods) and Marqise. They are really close, and they just push each other. They are almost exactly the same size, Randall is five pounds heavier and tests better.” -- Lane Kiffin
“This has probably been my best day here, but obviously still making a few mental errors. We slowed it down today and didn't install that much, so I was able to go out there and play. I felt like today I was the most comfortable and I think it showed in our offense as a whole." -- Max Browne
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DE: Leonard Williams (6-foot-5, 270 pounds, So.); Greg Townsend Jr. (6-3, 260, RS So.) OR Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, Fr.)
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Most Valuable Player: wide receiver Marqise Lee
Most Inspirational Player: safety T.J. McDonald
Leadership Award: center Khaled Holmes
Linemen of the Year: center Khaled Holmes (offense), defensive end Morgan Breslin (defense)
Perimeter Players of the Year: wide receiver Marqise Lee (offense), safety T.J. McDonald (defense)
Special Teams Player of the Year: linebacker Tony Burnett
Service Team Players of the Year: offensive tackle-guard Jordan Simmons (offense), defensive end Jabari Ruffin (defense)
Jack Oakie “Rise and Shine” Award (year’s longest run): wide receiver Robert Woods (76 yards vs. Syracuse)
Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award (overall academic achievement): center Khaled Holmes
Bob Chandler Award (underclassman with outstanding athletic ability, academic achievement and character): tight end Randall Telfer
John McKay Award (underclassman with the most competitive spirit): wide receiver Marqise Lee
Joe Collins Walk-on Award: offensive tackle-guard Nathan Guertler, cornerback Ryan Dillard
Courage Award: wide receiver Robert Woods
Co-Lifters Award: offensive tackle Kevin Graf, cornerback Nickell Robey
Team Captains: quarterback Matt Barkley, safety T.J. McDonald, center Khaled Holmes, cornerback Nickell Robey
“It was a really good practice today,” Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. “I thought the offense came out and was really crisp in both the running game and the passing game, and it was good to see. It’s obviously going to be needed to get back on track, and we fully expect that to happen on Saturday.”
That offensive crispness was immediately evident early on when the quarterbacks were working with the tight ends and wide outs. USC quarterback Matt Barkley was in-synch with his receiving options all day, and it wasn’t just the usual Marqise Lee and Robert Woods show either -- tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer made their share of receptions too.
“We’re just approaching every game the same,” Barkley said. “It’s the next game, it’s week three, we’re going up north -- an away game -- there’s nothing special about it.”
Trojans running back Curtis McNeal -- who turned the ball over with a fumble on USC’s final possession against Stanford last season -- echoed those sentiments.
“We wanted to make sure that our guys understand that we’re going to play a really good team,” Kiffin said. “We purposely made sure that we attacked them in the passing game. I totally believe that this is a big-time test. I don’t care who you play or where it’s at -- everybody played a football game on Saturday and nobody threw for more yards than they did. This is a really good quarterback and he started really well last year versus us.”
(Erik is on vacation this week so Garry Paskwietz will answer in his place)
Shaun Macc (Windsor, Ont.): In film I've watched of Justin Davis, he looks like a very complete back. Of course I recognize his highlight film is solely the biggest plays he has on camera, but it really looks like he has a good blend of speed, size, vision and cutback ability. Does his No. 24 overall ranking of running backs speak to the depth/talent in the running back position this year? Is he poised for a senior year that could see his stock rise? How is the talent in the league he plays in at Lincoln?
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The thought was that with 75 scholarship players rather than 85, the Trojans would need to find several walk-ons capable of providing either game minutes or quality practice reps to fill in for the empty scholarships. Thus far, the plan has gone smoothly.
This fall, USC will add at least three preferred walk-ons in athlete Christian Tober (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente), safety Elijah Steen (Irvine, Calif./Beckman) and cornerback Ryan Dillard (Buford, Ga./Buford), all of whom turned down scholarship offers from other programs to enroll at USC.
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11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State