Fall camp got underway at USC under the lights on Monday, August 6th. A week later, here's what we know.
Prep Not Hype
What are those infamous games where everyone takes a sip of a beverage every time someone utters the catch phrase? You know exactly what I'm talking about. Insert game here.
All games and jokes aside, this motto is as real as the paint used to write it on Howard Jones Field. It's also been a part of nearly every player interview the first week of camp.
Add "Unfinished Business" to this game, also.
Your USC game days just became exponentially more fun. You're welcome.
Obviously it's Matt Barkley's show. On day one of camp he forced a few throws, but as USC head coach Lane Kiffin said, it was probably due to excitement more than anything.
The question here is when it's either time for Barkley to sit down at the end of games or if the unimaginable happens and he has to come out of the game, who will be the backup?
Both redshirt freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are more than capable. After a week of practice, it seems as though Kessler is getting more reps than Wittek, but Kiffin continues to insist that reps will be even by the end of the week and the two are neck and neck.
At some point Kiffin will have to make a choice. Reps are limited in season for any backup and there's just not enough to go around to have two. It's too close to call right now who the lucky rep-winner will be.
Is he or isn't he? That's been the question since before camp opened regarding All-American receiver Robert Woods.
The answer? He is not 100%, but he is ready to go.
Each day of camp Woods has gradually increased his participation. He was held back during the scrimmage and he is being held to one practice a day, but he's looking close to being back to his old self, whether that's 100% or not.
Barkley and Woods did have a few connection problems during Friday's scrimmage, but in due time that should sort itself out.
Remember when Kiffin said Lee was the Trojans best receiver? So does Woods.
"It's a challenge," Woods said. "I mean, it's not like a competition, but he strives to be the best, I strive to be the best, so saying that is just like motivation. [Kiffin] knows that motivates me and just keeps me going."
Now, on the other end of the injury spectrum, sophomore receiver George Farmer is much more touch and go. It's a nagging hamstring that's been holding him back since March and it's back at it.
Farmer said on day three that he'd be back to action on day four. We finally saw him participating on day seven.
When asked to comment on the series of injuries he's experience during his time as a Trojan, Farmer said, "It's frustrating but I can't let myself get down. I've got to keep pushing forward, you can't let that bother you because it's only going to put you further back so I look at it as I have to stay in the training room and keep getting treatment so I can come out healthier than I've ever been."
When he did come back - get this – during one on one drills a team manager cut a corner of the field, the same corner one-on-one drills were taking place. Farmer and cornerback Kevon Seymour almost got run over by a Gator.
Farmer may or may not need to be surrounded by protective armor at all times. That manager may or may not be looking for a new job today. No one was seriously injured the near-Gator collision.
If the number three spot was determined from the first week of camp, it would be awarded to De'Von Flournoy.
"Flournoy right now would be way ahead because of knowledge of the game," said Kiffin on day three of fall camp. "George Farmer hasn't done anything so we wouldn't know with him, and Nelson, Nelson is working hard but he's still just trying to learn it. So, Flournoy again is having, just like spring, he's doing really well and is very consistent."
Nelson Agholor will undoubtedly be a historic Trojan when his time at USC is up.
The freshman is permanently back at receiver, after Kiffin fiddled with the possibility of moving him to running back this season. But that was all before Silas Redd made his way west.
"I think Nelson is probably as happy as anybody about Silas coming," Kiffin said, "because Nelson was going to have to play running back because he's a team guy. I know he really didn't want to, so this way he gets to go out and play receiver."
On day one, Barkley was asked if Agholor feels pressure to live up to the bill filed by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. He doesn't think so. Agholor is just a freshman, but he has approached his first week of camp in a very similar manner to that of Woods and Lee back in the day, when they too were just freshmen.
Agholor will be available to speak for himself after the Trojans complete their second week of camp. In the meantime, here's what Woods had to say about Agholor's progression on day four, "I think he's good, catching the ball, he's got to do a couple more catches and he's got to get a little more physical I think, but I love that he's running crisp routes and making tough catches. But he's just got to be consistent."
Sunday, Grimble made a couple of solid catches during 11 on 11 drills.
The wildcard option is redshirt freshman Junior Pomee.
"Junior has a tremendous upside," Kiffin said. "He's another second year player who looks a lot different, but he missed so much time that he's a semester behind some of the other guys so I think at some point he's going to be really good. Whether that's next month, where that's three years from now, I don't know. That's going to be up to Junior."
Kiffin also predicts good things are ahead for redshirt sophomore Christian Thomas, "He's going to be a tight end that can really run," he said. "Kind of like George [Farmer], you know it was brought up earlier. We have not seen a lot of him due to injuries over the two years.
Monday was a circus surrounding Penn State transfer Silas Redd.
Why wouldn't it have been? He made what he called a business decision to finish his college career and who could blame him? Well, only the Penn State fans.
Redd is a crucial piece to what could be a National Championship puzzle for the Trojans and his ability to enhance their run game was on display all week. The irony (amongst many other things) is he didn't even have a USC offer out of high school.
He broke for a 42 yard gain – just two yards short of the goal line - in one of his only two carries during the first scrimmage of the season on Friday. One couldn't help but to imagine what that would have been like if the Coliseum had been full of 95,000 Trojan faithful.
Redd was told coming into fall camp that he'd have a fair shot at the number one spot.
He's certainly making his case.
So is returning 1,000-plus yard rusher Curtis McNeal. The senior tailback was no doubt the standout player on night one of practice under the lights.
With all of the excitement surrounding Redd, Barkley made sure to make mention that Curtis is still alive and kicking.
"[Redd] will be a good compliment to Curtis whose still our guy," Barkley said on day one. "We have faith in him, they'll be pushing each other which will be good competition for them two but he's a good addition to our offense."
"I think that you're seeing a combination of things with Curtis," said Kiffin after his opening night performance. "I think that Curtis, you would have seen an improved Curtis anyway. I think Curtis has really grown up , his approach to the game, his approach to life, we've seen those strides with him and this even pushed him a little further."
Curtis agrees. He's taking football more seriously now more than ever. Not that he didn't before, but he understands now more time in the film room and doing the "little things" can push him beyond the impressive numbers he put up a season ago when he didn't necessarily go above and beyond in his approach.
Don't think for one second that redshirt sophomore D.J. Morgan is the odd man out. With the addition of Redd, Morgan had the choice to surrender his spot or compete for it. Clearly, he's taken the latter route.
Morgan produce a fumble during Friday's scrimmage. If he can learn to hang on, he'll get some carries come game time.
Redshirt freshman Javorious "Buck" Allen is also making his case during fall camp. Kiffin noted on day two that Allen is following the second year theme, i.e. he looks much different than he did during the spring.
Despite tailback perhaps having the most depth as any position on the team, it still remains an area of concern. Friday's scrimmage exposed the fact that McNeal is prone to get dinged up, Morgan does drop the ball, and Allen, who hasn't seen game time, is capable of giving up a fumble, too.
It's a well-known fact in the world of football that turnovers directly correlate to losing. Kiffin laid the emphasis on taking care of the ball after the mishandling of it during Friday's scrimmage.
Back to the theme of second year guys who are making an impression and turning corners, add redshirt freshman Soma Vainuku to the list.
Vainuku has provided a spark of excitement somewhere you may not have thought of.
"He's bigger than the guys that we've had and he's faster," Kiffin said. "He's actually faster than most of our tailbacks at 240-some pounds. He's a very special athlete and he's still young. I think at some point he's going to be really good. I don't know when that is."
Vainuku is getting a healthy amount of reps everyday at practice.
If tailbacks start dropping, Vainuku may even get a look there.
"Soma ran faster than most of our tailbacks at a lot heavier, so I think there is a point, some package or something where he'll be of value, especially if some other guys were banged up," Kiffin said.
Vainuku has four years of eligibility left. Needless to say, Kiffin has said that fact in itself is pretty exciting, given Vainuku's progression since last season.
Senior center Khaled Holmes is the clear anchor and leader of the offensive line. He went down with an injury on The Opening night of camp. He was limited during practice up until the last two days. Senior center Abe Markowitz stepped up in his absence.
Aundrey Walker, the projected starter at left tackle, is the latest to be hindered by the injury bug. There's no way to be certain what exactly is wrong with Walker due to Kiffin's new policy of not discussing injuries.
Up until Sunday, Walker had been seen wearing a wrist guard on his right wrist. He has been taking part in team warm-ups. During jumping jacks, he wanted no part part in moving his right arm up and down. That could be shoulder injury… but, your guess could also be as good as mine.
Prior to being sidelined, Kiffin said Walker "flashed at times" but also had some false starts, too. Kiffin finally said the next time Walker false started, the entire unit would run. Let's just say, Walker didn't make the same mistake again.
With no timetable given for Walker's return, it's hard to say how serious the concern over left tackle is.
In the meantime, redshirt sophomore Nathan Guertler is getting reps in the spot.
On Saturday and Sunday it was freshman Max Tuerk's turn to try his hand at left tackle.
Kiffin's hypothetical from day four if Aundrey were out, "Nate would be there right now, you could flop Kevin [Graf] back over there because he's had some reps over there, but I would say if you did it today that Nate would be over there probably because it's not like if you flop Kevin you have a right tackle, so you'd be double swapping."
Fast forward to Sunday and the possibility of Max Tuerk getting the start there seemed fairly realistic as well.
"I think he's doing great," Kiffin said on day six. "Obviously that's a long, long ways to go there, but I think he's going to be a really good player wherever he ends up."
Freshman Chad Wheeler was an early enrollee and continues to make the best of his situation.
He's seen time at both right and left tackle during camp.
"I hope he's going to be one of those stories," Kiffin said. "[He's] not a 5-star guy, not as highly recruited as a lot of other guys, but is coming with the right attitude and there's been a lot of stories like that here before."
Wheeler has put on at least 30 pounds since arriving on campus at USC last spring.
Freshman offensive lineman Zach Banner is huge. There's no other way to say it. He makes left tackle Aundrey Walker look small. He's been moving around at practice, playing both left and right. Kiffin says he shows a "lot of potential" but there's still a lot of work to do with him as well.
A couple of days after Pac-12 Media Day when Kiffin said next to running back the defensive line was his top concern – and just days before the opening of camp – the Trojans lost senior defensive end Devon Kennard to a torn pectoral muscle suffered during a routine weight lifting session.
His injury has caused questions marks over the defensive line to be put in bold print with a few exclamation marks.
On day one of camp, sophomore defensive tackle J.R. Tavai received the news he was moving to defensive end.
"He played end before we moved him inside last year early on in the season," Kiffin said on day one. "Now we've decided to move him back outside, to the left, to help us with the loss of Devon."
"Coaches needed me to replace DK and that's what I did," Tavai said on day two. "I like it a lot. I'm just going to compete with Greg Townsend and do my best. Just learning the playbook. I get to drop now, so that's pretty fun, turn into a linebacker, I enjoy that."
Freshman defensive end Leonard Williams found out at the start of camp that coaches believe he is more suited for defensive tackle.
"Leonard is getting so big that he's just kind of grown into the spot," was part of the explanation Kiffin gave when discussing moving Williams to tackle.
Morgan Breslin is another name who is continually brought up when talking about a good start to camp.
"He's great, he was here in the spring, you see that all of the time," said Kiffin on the junior transfer from Diablo Valley Junior-College. "It's so hard for guys to come in and do well in the fall if there's not a spring. There's a big difference and he's miles, miles ahead of where he was when he got here to start the spring so that's good to see and it's a position we need a lot of help out."
Nothing is set in stone and it doesn't look like it will be until perhaps the end of week two.
As for the rest of the players who have been circulating through the line, they show signs of being up to the task, but experience remains the issue.
Lamar Dawson has been unable to practice due to an undisclosed injury.
In his absence, weakside linebacker Hayes Pullard has moved to middle linebacker.
"I thought Hayes looked really good," Kiffin said of Pullard's play over the opening week. "I think that's a great deal for him to go in there, sort of if we need it in a game we don't have to try to figure it out during the game or on a Friday or something like that, so I think I mentioned to you guys last week we were planning on doing this regardless."
Redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao is getting Pullard's reps at weakside linebacker.
"Anthony has done a really good job on special teams and on defense," Kiffin said. "We've given him a lot of snaps with Hayes moving inside, he's played a lot with the ones. He's a very savvy player and has a really good approach to the game. Once again, has no experience, some of these scrimmages will be really important, but we're excited about Anthony."
Freshman Scott Starr is also on the radar after taking part in spring drills.
"With Scott Starr not being very experienced in there, Will Andrew, even though he's been around for awhile he hasn't played very much," Kiffin said. "So, we kind of have some other plans too if we got into desperation mode where Hayes would go inside and Anthony could play outside, so we'll keep working the guys that we have and figure it out."
*Editor Note: As of Monday 8/13/12, Dawson, Pullard, and Bailey were sidelined with undisclosed injuries. Starr, Tony Burnett, and Sarao were taking reps with the first team.
It's been slim pickings at cornerbacks as players have been limited with undisclosed injuries.
The situation became so thin that safety Josh Shaw began taking reps at corner even though that is not the long term plan.
"We want Josh to play safety and special teams and I thought Josh showed up today," said Kiffin after day four. "He showed up yesterday in some drills as well, so he's another exciting guy to have with some experience."
On day seven, Kiffin said he expects Torin Harris to return to action soon. Harris went down on a deep coverage route at the teams scrimmage on Friday.
The two freshmen cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Devian Shelton have been making a good impression at fall camp.
Both are physical players who provide some height and length to a unit that has been small in stature.
"Even when they're not supposed to be tackling, they're throwing themselves in there," said Kiffin of Seymour and Shelton. "We're excited about both of them and they are long too. We're real short at corner, have been for a couple of years, so if those guys can come and play for us, get that length, it would be great."
No real news regarding the safeties, which I'm sure is welcome news compared to the injuries and lack of depth you've been reading about everywhere else.
It will be interesting to see how Shaw competes at safety once his time filling in at cornerback comes to a close. Given how he's been able to adapt to playing corner, it's likely he will be a bright spot at safety as well.
Safety Demetrius Wright is going into his junior season and seems to be peaking at the right team.
"Demetrius Wright so far has had a great camp on special teams and defense," Kiffin said during the first week of drills. "He's made a ton of plays, phenomenal attitude, great approach to the game. It's great to see a guy going into his third year who seems to have really turned the corner."
Credit first year secondary coach Marvin Sanders for preparing the unit to make a strong showing at fall camp.
"[He] has done a great job and this is the best – it doesn't have to do with anybody that was here before – this is the best I've seen our defensive backs play," Kiffin said.
Kicker Andre Heidari is another player who, like Aundrey Walker, showed up to fall camp with a body transformation.
"That happens a lot with second year players," explained Kiffin of players who take extra care and efforts of working toward a healthy physique. "It's really good to see because it helps them and you can see how strong he is. He looks completely different, body wise and we take it for granted, for such a young kicker."
75 Is No Easy Number:
The Trojans may be stacked at numerous positions, but make no mistake, it hurts to not have those ten extra bodies that the NCAA won't allow.
"You feel the 10 people," Kiffin explained, "wherever you put them, three more linemen, two more defensive linemen, a couple linebackers, a safety, whatever they are those ten that aren't there you feel it and you feel it wear down your guys and I think that's why we have so many guys beat up because you don't have the numbers to go to."
Kiffin, however, is seeming to manage, crediting his experience as a coach.
"I hope that has to do with experience as a head coach," he said. "Not being stubborn that we're just going to practice to practice, no matter how hot it is, no matter what it is just to show we're tough. We've got to practice really smart and I hope we're doing that by limiting some different areas and not tackling a whole lot during 11 on 11 drills."
Senior cornerback Isiah Wiley and redshirt junior linebacker Marqise Simmons have yet to step foot on the practice field due to academic issues.
Grades are not out from summer school and until they are, these two aren't expected to be at practice. There should be an update this week.
Freshman Darreus Rogers has yet to be cleared by the NCAA to participate as well. Rogers was at the first day of practice dressed in street clothes, accompanied by his father. No timetable for an announcement on his clearance has been set.
Off Campus for Camp? Not in the foreseeable future
Other programs may choose to hold fall camp off campus, but don't expect the Trojans to do it anytime soon. With the completion of the new McKay Center, everything Kiffin and the players could want for fall camp is at their fingertips. Plus, there are players who are still in summer school. A trip away would not bode well with professors or probably grades.
Sparkling Brand New
The new athletic facility, the McKay Center, is up and running. Coaches and players can't get enough of it.
It is closed to the public, the media will supposedly be taken on a tour in the near future, but rumor has it the building is all encompassing when it comes to accommodating anything a student-athlete could possibly need.
And as far as that balcony which belongs to Kiffin that overlooks the practice field?
Well, he's not allowed on it.
"I can't watch anything from it because of compliance," he said.
The building not only serves as a great spot for current student athletes, but as Kiffin noted, it's serving a great purpose on the recruiting front as well.
Campus safety is a priority, but who is mentioning it?
The college football season is only a week old but the jabs in Los Angeles began when first year UCLA head coach Jim Mora when on the Rodger Lodge radio show and made a recruiting pitch about UCLA's safety, saying "We don't have murders a block from our campus."
Mora later issued an apology, apparently unaware of the recent tragedy just blocks off campus when two graduate students were killed.
Kiffin responded to the comment, saying "I don't really think that's something to joke about.
He also addressed safety at USC and how often recruits and their parents ask about it.
"Well, it only comes up when opposing coaches bring it up," he said. "So, we have stats to point and show the facts – not opinions – and we feel that the campus is very safe."
A number of 2013 verbal commits made their way to USC for unofficial visits this week including cornerback Chris Hawkins, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, receiver Sebastian LaRue, and receiver Steven Mitchell. Despite rumors that Jalen Ramsey could be a possible flip to Florida, Ramsey told Scout.com national recruiting analyst Chad Simmons that he remains solid to USC.
Contributed by west coast basketball recruiting analyst Josh Gershon
It's been a productive few weeks for USC basketball recruiting, as the Trojans locked up three commitments, meaning the staff is halfway towards its goal of signing six total prospects in its 2013 class.
First to pledge to head coach Kevin O'Neill was 5-foot-11, 160-pound Hartford (Conn.) Capitol Prep guard Kahlil Dukes. A player known for his scoring ability, Dukes is considered a combo guard and could ultimately help the Trojans out at both the one and the two.
More of a pure point guard is 6-foot-2, 170-pound Richardson (Texas) Berkner's Kendal Harris, who turned down coaches from the Big 12 and SEC to end up at USC. Harris is a strong point guard who plays hard, makes good decisions with the ball, can defend and get to the basket.
Rounding out the trio of new Trojans is 6-foot-6, 180-pound Long Beach Poly forward Roschon Prince. A successful high school player at Poly, Prince does the majority of his damage inside, as he plays hard and uses his strength and athleticism to pile up points and rebounds.
USC has some options to round out its recruiting class. Local shooting guard Isaac Hamilton has been a top target for a long time, although at the same position the Trojans have tried to become involved with Sacramento (Calif.) Sheldon's Darin Johnson as well.
The Trojans lead for Chicago Whitney Young center Tommy Hamilton, who says he will come visit the USC campus officially during September. He told Scout.com that USC was his leader following an August unofficial visit.
USC is also looking at another post from Chicago in De La Salle center Gavin Schilling, who has several other high major options.
Another sleeper to end up in USC's 2013 class is 6-foot-5, 200-pound forward Soma Edo, a teammate of Kendal Harris' at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas. Edo is a big time athlete that doesn't have a ton of skill yet, but his athleticism definitely gives him a lot of upside.
A player the Trojans are trying with is 2013 Santa Monica (Calif.) shooting guard Jordan Mathews, who has been on campus unofficially. It's tough to get a feel for just how good of a chance USC has, as Jordan's father, Phil Mathews, is an assistant coach at UCLA.