Marqise Lee is putting on a clinic at Howard Jones Field.
Better than last year's version? Uh huh.
"He could be the best one to ever play here if he keeps working hard," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said after last Tuesday's practice. "There's not a play he doesn't make."
"He's a real unique individual," he continued. "There [are] two of them kind of like that—Lee and Nickell [Robey]—they just go forever. They're just special like that."
Actually, the whole team is special.
The offense was clicking like it was in mid-November form which is a rarity in the spring—the offensive unit is usually last to completely jell. There are some kinks to be worked out such as who is the back-up quarterback behind Matt Barkley, which tailbacks go where on the depth chart and who is the No. 3 receiver, but overall, the offense looks like, well…a potentially prolific and well-oiled scoring machine.
Robert Woods is on pace to break both the school's career pass reception and kickoff return yardage records—he finished 2011 as an All-American and Biletnikoff finalist. He's also recovering from an ankle injury.
"Day by day, week by week," is how new wide receivers coach Tee Martin described Woods' status. "It's one of those deals you don't want to rush. We don't want to rush him back in the spring and then lose him later on in his rehab."
Martin—the former quarterback for the 1998 national champion Tennessee Volunteers—came to USC via the University of Kentucky where for the past two years he has coached receivers. The transition from Kentucky to California has been kind to Martin, a lot kinder than Kiffin's transition from Tennessee to California was. While Martin didn't coach at Tennessee, he is still a Vol—a Vol now working under Lane Kiffin, the former-Vol head coach who many SEC fans consider a traitor.
"There was some back lash, I think, from fans that are still emotional about Coach Kiffin leaving," Martin explains.
"I understand that. I was one of those people who was emotional when he left—that's where I went to school. Tennessee is a destination job."
Martin says that "great coaching careers" were made in Knoxville and he understands the mindset of Tennessee fans and the source of their anger. They can't fathom a coach voluntarily leaving Knoxville, much less for USC.
"But USC is also a destination job," he continues.
"I was emotional and had my things to say. But when [the job offer came], I had to think about my life, my career as a coach, and Coach Kiffin as a coach and as a person." Martin did some research on people who knew Kiffin and he didn't hear any negatives.
"I felt comfortable enough about him to move my family out here to California and be a part of this USC family," he says. "I had the backlash, we dealt with it," he says.
"They moved on and I lost about 1,500 followers on twitter," he laughs. Martin then sweeps his hand at the surrounding campus while grinning widely on a beautiful, sunny day.
"I can't tell you how happy I am being out here. This has been awesome. Trojan fans have been great."
Martin landed one of the more enviable assistant coaching jobs in the country with impeccable timing—the Trojans' receiver position, like the cornerback position, is ridiculously deep and talented.
With Woods and George Farmer hurt and tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer hurt as well, Martin would be forgiven if he was a bit cautious with his remaining healthy players. Instead, it's pedal to the metal. The hits are hard. The intensity is unnerving. And despite having one of his top two receivers (Woods) out, Martin is just fine with Lee playing a second sport.
"We respect that because he's doing a good job… he actually won a track meet," Martin says.
Is he Olympic-bound?
"I don’t know, I'm not sure, but he's doing a good job," Martin says admirably. For what it's worth, Lee won the long jump competition at the Trojan Invitational on March 24.
With so much talent in the unit, Martin's biggest goal is to keep them competitive.
"We just continue to focus on being the best technician that we can be at our position," he explains.
"Every day you can find something in your game to get better at. Out here on the field, we try to find something every day that we can compete in and get better at. Whether it's in the blocking game, running game, running our routes, catching the ball, making plays, helping out the team, whatever it is, we're trying to find ways to get better every day. I continue to be on those guys."
Martin is also changing Woods' absence from a negative impact to a positive one.
"With Robert being out, it's allowed Marqise to play some other positions as well," Martin explains.
"Last year, as a true freshman, he pretty much played one position. This spring, he's playing all three positions…it's been good for him to get around, and spread around and play some different positions."
Martin says the third spot on the depth chart is still undecided.
"De' Von [Flournoy] has been looking good, Victor Blackwell's looking good," Martin starts ticking off.
"With George [Farmer] we know he's there, we know he can play, we know he has the ability, but he has to come out and compete for the job."
USC's offense should be one of—if not thee—best in the country and it'll be interesting to see if or when Kiffin throws some "fun" into the game plan. When all of the horses come back healthy, will we see something new?
"We saw some wrinkles that we like," Martin admits. "I can't say exactly what it is," he says while laughing.
"We haven't had the whole stable out here to see it."
Prepare for the Trojan horse.