USC Trojans: Ryan Henderson

There’s definite reason for optimism for first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading into spring ball. After all, he inherits some key pieces from a unit that finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total defense (334.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 1 in red zone defense (63 percent scoring percentage).

Still, for the defense to really take off under Wilcox in 2014, there’s one position group that will need to elevate its level of play -- the cornerbacks. Plagued by injuries, the USC corners struggled at times in pass coverage, particularly in games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame. As such, expect Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward to hold an open audition this spring as they look to find the most productive starting duo.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesUSC's Kevon Seymour, who was inconsistent in 2013, has challengers for his starting cornerback spot.
Of course, with potential instant-impact freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons all set to arrive this summer, the upcoming slate of spring practice sessions will almost certainly serve as just the first phase of a lengthy competition at cornerback that will extend through fall camp. Without those blue-chippers around to steal valuable reps, the March and April workouts will be crucial for the candidates currently on the roster to make a lasting impression on the new staff.

Josh Shaw, who started 11 games at cornerback in 2013, stands out as a virtual lock at one of the spots, but with an influx of talent on the way, might we see him make the move back to his more natural free safety position? With Su’a Cravens, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman -- who is coming off shoulder surgery -- serving as the only other scholarship safeties, there is certainly a lack of depth back there, so a potential switch for Shaw seems to make sense. Having proven himself as the team’s most dependable cover man last fall, however, the USC staff might not have the luxury of making that change unless other cornerbacks prove that they can be counted on.

The primary starter on the other side in 2013 was Kevon Seymour, now entering his junior season. The Pasadena (Calif.) Muir product had his ups and downs, but he did cap off his season with an outstanding performance in USC’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State. The big question now is, was that an anomaly or just the beginning of something special? The answer will likely determine whether or not he remains atop the depth chart in the long run.

Fifth-year senior Anthony Brown has flashed at times, but he has never been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. A veteran with six starts to his credit, it looked like 2013 was going to be his season to make a name for himself. But he suffered a knee injury in the team’s opener at Hawaii that would keep him on the sideline for almost the entire season. He actually returned to start against Notre Dame, but his injury hampered his outing, and he wouldn’t see the field again for the remainder of the season. Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds, he lacks the size of some of his counterparts, but he makes up for that with his speed and quickness. It hasn’t been announced whether or not he’ll be available to practice this spring, but if he is, he'll be in the mix.

Devian Shelton is another player whose status for the spring is still unknown after having foot surgery this past fall, but he too, could factor heavily into the discussion if healthy. Listed at 6-1, he gives the Trojans a taller look, but having redshirted as a freshman, and then missing almost all of 2013, he still lacks experience. Impressing at times last fall in camp with his size, he could even conceivably make the transition back to safety -- where he saw time in high school

One of the more interesting names to keep an eye on is Chris Hawkins. Could this be the time when he emerges from anonymity into a major contributor? A highly touted Class of 2013 prospect, he spent his first season on campus learning the tricks of the trade while redshirting. Although somewhat raw, he showed plenty of ability in practice, especially as the season wore on. If his development continues on its forward path, there’s reason to believe that he has the skills to push for playing time.

Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard are two more contenders who have seen limited action in the past in reserve roles. Henderson’s athleticism is undeniable -- he was the 2010 SPARQ Rating National Champion -- but so far that hasn’t translated over to the football field at USC. Dillard, meanwhile, is a walk-on who has certainly held his own, but he would still appear to be somewhat of a longshot. This spring will mark an important time for both players as they attempt to make a move up the depth chart for the first time.
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.
The Trojans held a night practice on Dedeaux Field on Monday and coach Lane Kiffin was very pleased with the results.

“It was our best practice of fall camp,” Kiffin said. “Now we need to get the players to understand how to come out with this kind of mindset every day. It was a very competitive session, especially when you consider it was the second practice of the day.”

As usual, the day started with special teams drills. There was time spent on learning how to scatter when a punt is coming down that is not going to be caught, in order to make sure the ball doesn’t take a bad bounce off a player on the return team. Also, players worked on chasing loose balls that had been kicked after they hit the ground. There are the kinds of details that John Baxter pays attention to as a special teams coach.

There were some individual position drills and then a lot of 11-on-11 team work in various down and distance situations.

The running backs were once again limited to Tre Madden and Buck Allen, as the other backs are sidelined with injury. Allen had the highlight play of the day when he took a handoff to the left side and outran the defense for a 60-yard touchdown.

Both players also scored multiple touchdowns in a goal-line drill that was dominated by the offense. Madden had a couple of scores to the outside, and Allen did his damage inside. Soma Vainuku also had a touchdown run in the goal-line drill while Cody Kessler hit Xavier Grimble in the end zone and he held on despite getting hit as the ball arrived by Kevon Seymour and Gerald Bowman. Kessler also connected with De'Von Flournoy for a score, while Max Wittek completed a touchdown to Victor Blackwell.

Flournoy also had a touchdown catch from Kessler on a deep ball against Ryan Henderson in a team drill. Kiffin commented after practice that Flournoy has looked good after missing some time early in camp. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick had a pair of good catches, while Darreus Rogers caught a touchdown from Wittek. Rogers was later spotted on the sideline with his pads off and ice on his left shoulder. Henderson came back and got an interception off Kessler and then Su'a Cravens broke up a Wittek pass attempt at the goal line. Scott Starr had a solid pop on Grimble after the tight end had caught a short pass from Kessler, Grimble turned upfield and was met by a solid form tackle from Starr that stopped Xavier in his tracks and caused an uproar on the defensive sideline.

The next practice for the Trojans is Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.

QBs even after first USC scrimmage 

August, 9, 2013
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The Trojans held their first scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a lot at stake for the ongoing quarterback competition. Both quarterbacks had solid performances but nothing that is going to separate one from the other.

Cody Kessler took the majority of snaps with the first unit and started off strong by leading the first offense to a touchdown on the opening drive against the first defense. The drive featured a 30-yard completion to Nelson Agholor, which was helped by a missed tackle from Torin Harris, and some good running from Justin Davis, who eventually punched the ball into the end zone on a short run behind a block from Kevin Graf.

Max Wittek came out with the second unit and took advantage of some good runs from Buck Allen to get the ball inside the five-yard line but it was there that the defense stiffened. A trio of defenders stopped Allen on first down, then J.R. Tavai came in quickly to tackle Allen for a loss. Ryan Henderson batted away a pass in the end zone for Agholor to complete the goal-line stand.

Wittek led a touchdown drive on his next possession. Once again it was Allen providing some tough yards up the middle before Wittek hit Jahleel Pinner in the flat and the big fullback ran through a tackle attempt by Gerald Bowman to get the ball inside the five. At that point Justin Davis took a handoff but Lamar Dawson came through the line for a loss and Davis was forced to leave the scrimmage at the trainers look at his left foot/ankle. Wittek then hit Agholor for the short touchdown.

CB Seymour seen more in USC camp

August, 4, 2013
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Saturday marked the opening of fall camp at USC, a marathon of a day for the players that started with early morning meetings and culminated in the team’s first practice.

But for sophomore cornerback Kevon Seymour, that 12-hour day still wasn’t enough. While the majority of the team was walking off Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field toward the locker room, he was working on breaking on slant routes and picking off passes that were being thrown by walk-on quarterback Chris Willson.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesSophomore cornerback Kevon Seymour is healthy after being slowed during much of spring practice with a toe injury.
“There are things that I need to work on, like catching balls and a lot of other things, so that’s what I was doing,” Seymour said. “Today I missed some assignments, or I was on my assignments but I felt like I could have done better, so I wanted to get some extra work in to see how it felt to do it right – to jump in front of a slant. I felt like I needed that, so that when I come out tomorrow, I’m on it.”

It’s that will to continually elevate the level of his game that has helped establish Seymour as one of the headliners in the competition for one of the two starting cornerback spots – a position of major concern for USC coach Lane Kiffin in the spring.

Hobbled with turf toe during the latter half of those March and April practices – and even during the early portion of the summer – Seymour eventually healed and ultimately worked himself into the best shape of his Trojans career, a fact that was noticeable on Saturday. Running primarily with the first-team defense opposite Anthony Brown, there were flashes when he showcased the quick hips and cover skills that made him such a prized recruit coming out of Pasadena (Calif.) Muir as a member of the Trojans’ 2012 recruiting class.

“I can definitely feel a difference from the spring,” said Seymour, who stands 6-foot tall and weighed in at 184 pounds. “I put in the extra work to get to 100 percent, and now I’m to that point, so I’m just making progress every day and making a point of being there for my teammates.”

For a USC team that lacked consistent production at cornerback in recent seasons, that’s welcome news. And while the group – comprised of Seymour, Brown, Torin Harris, Devian Shelton, Ryan Henderson and Chris Hawkins – has been heavily scrutinized, Seymour believes every player is more than ready to step up to the challenge this season.

“We’re all healthy, so we’re all competing and it’s making us all better,” Seymour said. “Our defense, we trust each other. We’re not worried. We’re confident in the abilities of everybody. We focus on our main goal, not just to win games, but to come together and play as a team. We feel like we have all the talent that we need.”

And with the work ethic that Seymour put on display Saturday, there’s reason to believe he just might have a point.

“I definitely see this as a golden opportunity,” Seymour said. “My goal is just to get better every day. I have to get better every day. I don’t want to ever take any steps back.”
There are a lot of questions surrounding the USC football team as fall camp approaches, and we will look to answer as many of them as we can.

1. When will Lane Kiffin name a quarterback?


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Picking up where he left off after a strong performance in the spring, Josh Shaw has stood out during the team’s volunteer passing sessions this summer, both for his lights-out play as well as his bulked-up physical build.

“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.”

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJosh Shaw wasn't afraid to put himself in the middle of the action for the Trojans last season.
With the added weight, combined with his aggressiveness and natural ball-hawking skills, Shaw appears to be a perfect fit at strong safety -- where he lined up in the spring -- and has continued to do so throughout the summer. That might come as a surprise to some, because it was just three months ago that, with the Trojans cornerback corps not exactly performing up to par, USC head coach Lane Kiffin brought up the possibility of bringing the redshirt junior -- who started seven games at corner in 2012 -- back to CB.

“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.”
LOS ANGELES -- With the Trojans back to the grind and hard at work at Cromwell Field, here’s a look at some of the early storylines that have taken shape during the team’s volunteer passing sessions.

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.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInjuries have given freshman Darreus Rogers a chance to make a move at WR.
The good news is that those five players have looked stellar this offseason and, barring any more injuries, USC should be fine here. In particular, 2012 Biletnifkoff Award winner Marqise Lee, and sophomore Nelson Agholor have made a routine of putting on a virtual exhibition during the 7-on-7 drills, and it’s hard to imagine a better wideout tandem in the country. Just as importantly, with the role of the team’s No. 3 receiver still up for grabs, veteran pass-catchers Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy, as well as freshman , have come out each day more focused than ever, paying off with big time results.

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.
Josh Shaw
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comWhere USC decides to play Josh Shaw could go a long way in determining the starters at cornerback and safety.
A look at nine positions marked by competition this offseason at USC.

Quarterback

Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne all had their moments this past spring, but after 15 workouts, USC head coach Lane Kiffin decided that this was a battle that simply needed more time. It was Kessler, right from the get-go, who made the biggest statement with his play, most notably in the scrimmages. Wittek suffered a MCL sprain that caused him to miss a week of workouts, but with tremendous physical skills, he showed enough when he was healthy to keep this competition too close to call. Showing flashes of the talent that made him such a prized commodity coming out of high school, Browne isn’t out if it yet, either, and there’s no telling how far he just might take his game in the coming weeks. And that goes for all three quarterbacks, because with almost three months remaining until the start of fall camp, how they develop this summer will play a key part in determining who will ultimately line up behind center in 2013.

Cornerback

With Nickell Robey declaring early for the NFL draft and Josh Shaw making the move back to safety, the Trojans entered spring ball needing to find two new starting cornerbacks. On the post-spring depth chart, Anthony Brown was listed first on one side, with Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour sharing the other. But with Kiffin openly expressing his disappointment with the performance of this unit, it’s safe to say that both starting jobs remain open for the taking, with Chris Hawkins, Devian Shelton and Ryan Henderson also factoring into the conversation. Additionally, there’s a very real possibility that Shaw will switch back over to cornerback, where he started seven games in 2012. He’s still been lining up at safety during the offseason throwing sessions, though. Kiffin has also opened up the possibility of using star receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor here.

Safety

Taking the place of three-year starters T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling -- now in the NFL -- for the majority of the spring was Shaw at strong safety and Demetrius Wright at free safety. Two impressive veteran athletes, both ultimately wound up sharing the top spot at their respective positions on the post-spring depth chart with a couple of early entrant freshmen who made a lightning-quick transition to the college game in strong safety Su'a Cravens and free safety Leon McQuay III. Complicating matters further, Dion Bailey and Gerald Bowman are set to return later this summer from injury, and both figure to challenge for a starting role -- particularly Bailey, who will make the transition from linebacker to strong safety. With so much talent, the potential move of Shaw back over to cornerback certainly makes sense on a number of levels.

(Read full post)

Checking up on the USC DBs 

May, 1, 2013
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With just about four months to go until USC opens the 2013 season, the Trojans are currently sitting smack-dab in the offseason doldrums. And while it’s a relatively quiet stretch of the year, it’s vital in terms of player development. And for the USC defensive back corps, the coming months figure to be even more important than usual. After all, the unit had a ton of question marks heading into the spring, and even after 15 practices, not all of them were answered. With that in mind, here are some of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason for USC's secondary.

The search continues at CB


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As the Trojans begin the final week of practices prior to the spring game it was shoulder pads and shorts practice on Tuesday. The team has been hit with injuries during the physical spring and, even though the load was lightened a little, USC coach Lane Kiffin was happy with the intensity.

“We really wanted to focus on keeping guys staying up today and that usually happens when we don’t go full pads,” Kiffin said. “I thought we were still able to have a physical practice.”

Highlight plays
  • From deep in his own end, Cody Kessler stood in the pocket against strong pressure and fired late to Nelson Agholor for 12 yards and a first down.
  • Max Wittek had his chance with the ball near his goal line and he found Victor Blackwell with a quick strike, and Blackwell put on the jets to race for a long touchdown despite valiant pursuit from Leon McQuay III.
  • Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick made a nice catch of a low-thrown ball across the middle from Wittek.
  • McQuay popped the ball loose from Cope-Fitzpatrick after a short catch.
Goal-line intensity

One of the most fiery drills of any practice is when the ball is placed inside the 5-yard line and the offense takes its shots at the end zone.

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LOS ANGELES -- It was a day for the offense on Saturday at the Coliseum, as the Trojans put together one of their most impressive offensive displays of the spring.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Harry How/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee made up for lost time this spring, showing his dominating Biletnikoff Award-winning skill set Saturday.
There were multiple contributors during the scrimmage, including Max Wittek and Marqise Lee, who seemed to be making up for lost time after each sat out earlier portions of spring with knee injuries.

"The story of the day was the passing game and the offense in general,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “All three quarterbacks played great and it was obviously great to have Marqise back.”

Wittek got the start with the first unit and quickly hit De'Von Flournoy with a nice touch pass over Anthony Brown for 25 yards. On another drive he completed a 40-yard pass to Lee and then closed out the drive with a 20-yard scoring pass to Nelson Agholor. Wittek also had a 4-yard touchdown to Lee with a back shoulder throw against coverage from Brown. Wittek ended the day completing 14 of 17 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

Lee wasted no time in showing everybody that he is officially back. In the early part of the scrimmage he caught a 60-yard touchdown on a go route from Cody Kessler. Later in the day he caught a bubble pass and put a juke move on Chris Hawkins to set up a 20-yard gain. Simply put, Lee looked every bit the reigning Biletnikoff winner with 10 catches for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Those weren’t the only standouts for the offense, though.

Justin Davis continues to impress, as he had 17 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown. Davis showed some power on a short run, overpowering Lamar Dawson. He also read a good block from Kevin Graf to get a first down on a 3rd-and-short. His prettiest run came near the end of the scrimmagewith the ball at the 30. Davis broke up the middle and was headed for the end zone before Josh Shaw tracked him down at the 3-yard line. Davis punched it in from there two plays later.

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Week three: Spring depth chart 

April, 5, 2013
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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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As the USC Trojans begin their fourth week of spring ball, it has become apparent that injuries are taking a toll, as 19 players sat out on Tuesday and two more left practice due to injury.

[+] EnlargeUSC's George Farmer made little impact during his freshman season.
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comGeorge Farmer is waiting for an MRI after being carted off the field on Tuesday with an apparent left leg injury.
Both wide receiver George Farmer and defensive back Demetrius Wright were forced to depart the Tuesday practice early due to injuries and there was no word on their status at the end of the day. Wright was walking and appeared to be fine, but there was concern about Farmer, who had to be carted off the field after suffering an apparent left leg/knee injury during a non-contact drill. Results of an MRI for Farmer are expected on Wednesday.

“It was a very physical practice,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I liked the defensive mentality at the end in the goal-line drill. It’s been a very competitive spring. It reminds me of the spring when we first got here. We need that to establish a competitive mindset.”

As Kiffin mentioned, the Trojans ended practice with a goal-line drill that got started with Hayes Pullard stuffing a run up the middle by Buck Allen. Justin Davis tried to slash into the end zone, but J.R. Tavai came across the line and knocked the ball out as he was bringing Davis to the ground, although Randall Telfer recovered for the offense. Davis did punch in a score at the end for the offense. There was also a little skirmish between a few offensive and defensive players after one play.

“It’s always a tough line between physical play and getting penalties with the goal-line drill,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin speaks with Enfield
Kiffin said he talked with new USC basketball coach Andy Enfield on Sunday night, prior to the announcement that Enfield had taken the job.

“I talked to him about the program and about working with Pat (Haden) and Max (Nikias),” Kiffin said. “I think it’s a great hire. He brings an exciting style of play and kids will want to play in that style. He’s also a guy who understands the academic side of being at a private school.”

Brady on campus
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady worked out on the USC campus Tuesday, throwing passes to his new receiver, Danny Amendola. Kiffin said it is common for NFL quarterbacks to use the USC facilities in the offseason, mentioning Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Matt Cassel as players who had thrown recently on the USC field.

Highlight plays
* Anthony Brown knocked away a pass at the sideline intended for Nelson Agholor. Brown has put together a very solid spring while consistently in the lineup as one of the starting corners.

* A few plays later, however, Brown went for a pick on a rope thrown over the middle by Max Wittek and missed, allowing De’Von Flournoy to go for a long gain. Flournoy also had a touchdown later in the drill when he caught a pass from Max Browne and split the safeties with his speed.

* Victor Blackwell caught a short pass and got loose from Torin Harris with a nice shake move.

* Kevin Greene had a sack on Cody Kessler.

* Ryan Henderson had a pick off Kessler, who was trying to get the ball to Blackwell.

* George Uko had a nice play to move along the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Davis and hold him to no gain.

* Davis provided yet another dazzling touchdown run, this one a 45-yarder behind a block from Kevin Graf.

* Allen had a 20-yard gain down the left sideline thanks to Jahleel Pinner, who got one block at the line and then hustled down field to get another block.

* Browne hooked up on a 25-yard pass to walk-on Robby Kolanz on the right sideline.

Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Steven Mitchell, Adoree’ Jackson, Dwight Williams, Chase Blakley

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