As summer winds down, USC gears up

Newcomers like running back Amir Carlisle benefitting from improved structure to summer workouts.

Looking for a possible explanation for USC's 2010 struggles? Go back to last summer and the player-organized workouts held then.

They were, in retrospect, a mess. They had to be.

The Trojans were dealing with a new coaching staff, new plays, new terminology. Everything was new, as was the challenge of dealing with the devastating NCAA sanctions handed down.

In those circumstances, it is no surprise players tasked with directing and executing the throwing sessions, film study and other exercises would struggle to get everything needed out of them.

This time around the workouts are much better attended, much more productive, much better led. Senior tackle Christian Tupou puts the defensive line through their paces, snapping the ball, then testing their change of direction. Newly minted center Khaled Holmes makes sure the offensive line room is open so everyone can review tape.

None of that is a coincidence says safety T.J. McDonald.

"The way that we work, it can't be a fad," he said. "It can't be something that lasts for a few weeks. It's something that we've been stressing, the coaches have been stressing, to finish what we start and that's what we've been doing."

A year-round mentality, McDonald added, needs to carry over to fall camp in August and the season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3 in the Coliseum.

It helps that players know they are getting more out of these sessions, which consist of a mix of position work for linemen, 7-on-7 passing for everyone else and some full team drills.

"It's so much more fun out here. I can't even tell you how much closer this team is," McDonald said. "I know you guys can see how much more fun we're having, but we're also getting a lot done too and learning a lot. All the younger guys are coming along."

That includes incoming freshmen getting their first taste of college football.

While many have been able to participate, two stood out to McDonald.

"On defense, (corner) Ryan Henderson. As far as this stuff goes, working out, he's probably the most explosive out here He's got a crazy vertical, broad jump, 40, all that stuff. He's definitely got the physical talents," McDonald said.

"I know on offense (running back) Amir Carlisle has come in here and I've only heard him say maybe five words. He's been shaking his head yes and he is willing to learn from all the offensive guys. He has come in here with the attitude like I want to play and you have to respect guys that come in here like that."

Eagerly absorbing the instructions D.J. Morgan and Dillon Baxter offer, Carlisle's hunger is reflective of a new attitude pervasive across the team after back-to-back eight win regular seasons.

"Guys are humbling down, nobody is coming in with big heads," McDonald said. "Guys are willing to learn. It's just been a cause for a better season and that's all that we're hoping for."

Not that it is all business all the time. On Friday morning, Baxter and corner Nickell Robey began an impromptu game of "can you top this?" They traded cartwheels and standing backfilps. McDonald even got in the mix.

With one week to go followed by a week off before the start of fall camp, McDonald and the Trojans appear to have good reason to be jumping for joy this time around.


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