The practice doors to Howard Jones Field were wide open at 2:30 pm on Wednesday in time for 2:45 pm practice, the first practice under USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron since the firing of Lane Kiffin.
Orgeron jogged onto the field, high fiving and shaking hands of members of the media, who were allowed in to watch practice for the first time since Aug. 21., when Kiffin opted to close practices during the season.
"I missed you all," Orgeron said, chuckling. "It's good for the team, it's good for USC. It's good exposure. It is part of USC. It is part of what coach [Pete] Carroll built with us. It's the excitement."
Since the dismissal of Kiffin early Sunday morning, Orgeron says the team has turned the page. "I think they're really positive, really upbeat," he said after Wednesday's practice. "We've had some fun meetings and I think they're ready for a new start, it's fresh, they have a lot of pride and they really want to do well."
The Trojans are off to a 3-2 start to the season, including an 0-2 mark in Pac-12 conference play. They have a bye this weekend before hosting Arizona on Thursday night.
Orgeron's only stint as a head coach came in 2005 and ended in 2007, when he led Mississippi to just a 10-25 record through three seasons. He says since that experience he's gained valuable knowledge and has learned much more about being a head coach, though admits the present circumstance in which he has taken over isn't easy.
"Under the circumstances, they're very adverse but I've been through adverse circumstances before and we'll see what happens," Orgeron explained,"We'll take one game at a time."
Cookies for everyone
Well, cookies for all the players and coaches, that is.
One of the biggest changes since the departure of Kiffin has been the return of sweets to training table. Orgeron emphasized that he wanted to go in a different direction because if the team kept doing the same thing "nothing changes," he said.
"[It's good] for me and them," Orgeron laughed. "It's a change. I wanted to have a change.
"If you feed a lineman a cookie, he's happy."
Position players are happy, too. Asked what change has injected the most fun into the program in just a few days, tailback Silas Redd said "We got desserts and stuff back at dinner," he said, smiling. "That's been pretty good."
Players and coaches alike expressed empathy over the firing of Kiffin, but all noted that they needed to move on with the season and it appeared that they are all ready to do so.
"The guys came out with a lot of energy," Orgeron said. "They looked forward to practice, they are rested."
Tailback Silas Redd said it was great to have more music and more team-on-team drills.
One noticeable change to the normal routine came at the end of team stretching. Orgeron gathered the players around after "Trojan-jacks" for some one-on-one competition. "We had a little ‘big man' contest," Orgeron explained. "Just to get them jacked up a little bit. They liked it."
Orgeron, usually contained to just coaching the defensive line, had his hands on the entire team Wednesday -- that included the offense. "The first thing you think of with Coach O is competitiveness," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "The first day of him being the head coach and, he's not even an offensive coach, and he was stopping us, making sure we got the plays right. He wants to win in every aspect. You've got to love that in a head coach."
The injury breakdown
According to the USC athletics office, only 55 scholarship players made the trip to Arizona State to face the Sun Devils.
The injury situation has been under lock and key since the season began due to Kiffin's policy, but Orgeron decided Wednesday to take a different approach and do things the way former coach Pete Carroll did it, revealing all information. "The good and the bad," Orgeron explained. "We are what we are. Come see us and write about us. We love it."
Senior tailback Silas Redd participated in practice Wednesday. Though Orgeron wasn't sure of his progress during the update, Redd was adamant he'll be ready to play next Thursday against Arizona.
Defensive backs Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens, who both suffered rib injuries at Arizona State, participated in full drills on Wednesday.
Star receiver Marqise Lee went down in a scary moment in the fourth quarter against Arizona State. He was carted into the locker room and left the stadium on crutches. Orgeron announced Wednesday that Lee is suffering from a knee sprain and is listed as day-to-day. "We're going to try to get him ready for next Thursday," Orgeron said. "You know Marqise Lee makes some miraculous recoveries…but we don't know if he will be ready or not."
Freshman Justin Davis went down during Wednesday's practice. Orgeron said it is an ankle sprain for the tailback. He walked off the field with his cleat removed from his left foot. "We don't know how serious it is," Orgeron said.
Right tackle Kevin Graf was dressed in full pads but left practice early. His status was not disclosed. True freshman Nico Falah practiced with the first team at right tackle in his absence.
The talk around town has been all about "fun" and that the Trojans need to have a lot more of it on the field.
That's all good and true, according to Orgeron, but they also need develop some consistency. Orgeron says inconsistency and "not believing" have been the problem in their sluggish start to the season. "They work hard," he explained. "These guys have done everything we've asked them to do since we've been here."
For the first time this season against Arizona State, the offense showed signs of life, posting 41 points against the Sun Devils. However USC's defense, a top ten unit entering the game, allowed ASU to score 62 points.
"One time the defense plays well. The other night the offense plays well. If we can just put it all together and play as a team and learn how to compete every down, start fast. Come out in the third quarter with a little fire and have some fun and play and we got to make plays."
Helton on the field, Martin in the box
Newly appointed offensive coordinator and play caller Clay Helton has decided he will direct the offense from the field. Receivers coach Tee Martin will communicate with him from the press box.
"It's kind of 50-50 what's better, to be in the box or on the sideline," Orgeron explained. "I think for our situation, for him to come down and manage the sideline would be -- it's going to help."
Quarterback Cody Kessler says the change of play caller won't really affect his quarterbacking abilities. "[Kiffin] and Helton were always on the same page," Kessler explained. "Coach Helton, he's going to get the opportunities to call plays, get an opportunity to do what he was hired to do. He knows the offense better than anyone."
Helton was the play caller at Memphis as the offensive coordinator for three years.
"We're going to establish the mentality of Coach Orgeron, our head coach," Helton said after practice. "[We're going to] be able to run the ball and play action offense and do the things that we've done."
Recruits show up
The west side of Howard Jones Field was lined with recruits to watch Wednesday's practice. According to one source who has been inside closed practice over the last five and a half weeks, Wednesday's attendance by recruits was "more than double" the total attendance of recruits since Aug. 23.
Quick hits: Only two scholarship receivers were available to practice Wednesday, Victor Blackwell and Nelson Agholor. "They're going as hard as they can," said receivers coach Tee Martin. "We're going to move forward and try to do the best we can to get prepared for those guys to play."… The Trojans return to practice Thursday at 4:45 PM.