Buoyed by the return of several players that missed spring because of injury and the arrival of a full recruiting class, the team looked deeper and more athletic. Veterans were noticeably bigger, stronger and faster.
"Today, to me, showed an unbelievable job by our strength staff in the offseason and our players commitment to doing things right. I hope what you see, what I saw today, we look different. We look different than we did a year ago, even in the spring. We look bigger, we look faster, we look stronger. It's a great credit to (strength and conditioning coach) Aaron Ausmus and his staff and to these guys for buying into that," Kiffin said.
"I know it's day one, but I love where they are at physically and mentally."
More impressive was how USC performed so well from the start, especially after struggling to an 8-5 record last season in Kiffin's first campaign, with three disappointing last-second losses. The glaring flaws of a year ago seemed to be addressed, with the defense forcing several turnovers, including a beautifully tipped ball by middle linebacker Chris Galippo that was intercepted by Shane Horton.
The offense responded with impressive runs by Dillon Baxter and Curtis McNeal and two long passes from quarterback Matt Barkley to wide receiver DeVon Flournoy, with a perfect back shoulder throw featuring a marvelous adjustment by the sophomore.
Barkley was certainly impressed by the debut performance.
"The tempo was better than we ever had under this administration. The energy was awesome, execution I thought was great for the young guys for their first day. There's always a few bumps in the road when you start camp, but overall I thought it was the best first day we've had here," Barkley said.
Saying the Trojans were "light years ahead" of where they were in the spring, Barkley was especially intrigued by some of the incoming freshmen, notably running back Amir Carlisle and wide receiver George Farmer.
After struggling with ball security early, Carlisle bounced back with a long touchdown run, showing acceleration and elusiveness in the open field.
Farmer, the high school teammate of Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Robert Woods at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, was physically impressive. Kiffin described him as "strong, physical (and) extremely explosive."
"Physically, he looked like everything he is supposed to be," Kiffin added.
Hoping to duplicate Woods' breakout season, when he let the Trojans with 65 receptions for 792 yards, Farmer is rooming with Barkley during fall camp.
"He's like Robert. All those Serra guys are trained the same way. He is trying to soak up as much as he can, ask questions and I try to help him as much as I can," Barkley said.
"All these guys have so much potential. We're going to see it in about a week or so, who is going to separate themselves kind of like Woody did last year."
Armstead expects to be cleared shortly
Defensive tackle Armond Armstead said he should be medically cleared to fully participation before the Trojans' season opener on Sept. 3.
"If everything pans out, I should be cleared before the opener. I'm just happy to be back out here with my teammates," said Armstead, who participated in positions drills Thursday.
Armstead was held out of spring practice after being hospitalized in March with chest pains. While the cause has not been determined, both Kiffin and Armstead confirmed that the senior is not dealing with a heart condition, as had been erroneously reported.
"I always knew nothing was wrong with me. I knew I didn't have a heart condition. Doctors just confirmed that," Armstead said.
Armstead said he would be ready to participate fully once cleared, but has already slimmed down to 285 pounds since being cleared for conditioning drills this summer, the lightest he has weighed at USC.
"I feel way quicker, I feel faster," he said of his new physique.
-Incoming freshman tight end Junior Pomee and running back Javorious Allen are not on campus as they complete high school summer classes. Kiffin said Pomee could join the team as early as this weekend.
-Sophomore wide receiver Markeith Ambles did not practice, as coaches want him to focus on academics.
-Freshman center Cody Temple (back) did not practice. Defensive end Nick Perry and corner Tony Burnett were among a handful of players that dealt with cramps.
- Scott Starr, Jabari Ruffin, Jaydon Mickens and Jordan Simmons were among the recruits in attendance.