Midsummer SC scouting report

Here's our midsummer look at where this USC team is as it takes a week off to recharge its batteries and gets fresh legs for August.

Time for time off -- for some of the Trojans this week. At least time off from the player-run throwing sessions that have gone so well.

But never time off from talking Trojan football at this midsummer moment as we look at what they got done and where this team stands as it gets ready for a 2014 season with more promise than anyone could have realistically expected.

For Sark, the word for this team is "uptempo."

For us, as you can clearly tell, it's "upbeat."

Here's why as we take a look at the guys who will have to make it happen and where they find themselves right now.

* START WITH THE QB: And you couldn't have asked for a better summer from Cody Kessler, from throwing the ball and saying all the right things, from leaning up a bit to get quicker to leading every day and saying all the right things. Exactly the summer you wanted and needed from a returning quarterback looking to take the next step up.

* BUT NOT JUST ONE QB: Then there's this. Max Browne also did what he needed to do, getting stronger and making it clear if he's needed, he can step in and win any game for this team. Jalen Greene? How good will he be standing in for all those dual-threat spread guys USC will see? And smart senior walkon Anthony Neyer is there to do what every team needs from its seniors.

* BUCK AND HIS BUDS: Like he did last year, there's Buck Allen making it a pleasure to watch these guys work the way he catches and runs and goes all out in better shape then we've ever seen him. but don't overlook Tre Madden, who looks like he's being very smart to be 100 percent when they get going as is Justin Davis in coming back carefully but showing just enough. We like both their chances.

* BUT THAT'S NOT ALL: One of the best things we've seen is the way they've integrated Jahleel Pinner and Soma Vainuku into the running back spot and anywhere else they might line up in the backfield or go in motion. Not sure how much straight fullback we'll see here from them. And then you add in speedy D.J. Morgan, if his wheels hold up since we've only seen him in flashes, with solid walkon James Toland and ex-DB Anthony Brown and it will be SRO in Johnny Nansen's position group meetings.

* PLAYER OF THE SUMMER: How about Nelson Agholor. All-American picks don't always work this hard, and don't always help the managers get the equipment on and off the field but there he is, pushing, worrying, making sure . . . and making plays. Can't have a better summer than he's had.

* POSITION GROUP OF THE SUMMER: How about the offensive lne, from the veterans to the new guys, the returning starters to the rehab guys almost ready to go, getting to run 90 plays a night with a real rotation against an athletic D-line that will flat-out embarrass you if you're not on top of what you're doing has gotten them where they are faster than we'd thought possible.

* BEST JULY RETURN: We liked seeing O-lineman Aundrey Walker and Davis but getting senior tight end Randall Telfer back and saying he's all the way back really fills out that position with a four-deep rotation of guys with differing skill sets. Big boost here.

* STILL WAITING: Would have liked to see more of the George Farmer-Steven Mitchell receiver duo but it's not about being ready now but Aug 30. Need one of them although Darreus Rogers seems ready to be that consistent guy he needs to be, freshman Ajene Harris has been an unexpected star and Victor Blackwell, who doesn't get mentioned all that much, has shown us things we haven't ever seen from him.

* BEST IS YET TO COME: Sure, the D-line is down one rotation guy ready to step up in Kenny Bigelow, but that leaves four for sure led by All-American Leonard Williams, the happy warrior, and three, maybe five, more.

* SURPRISE, SURPRISE: We'll admit, Claude Pelon is way better than we thought he'd be the first time we saw the JC D-lineman.

* NOT A SURPRISE: We can say from the summer that Antwaun Woods and Delvon Simmons will be there and maybe, just maybe, one or both of the Cody Temple-Greg Townsend Jr. duo will stay healthy and step up. Can't say that for sure. Just that it could happen.

* EDGY STUFF HERE: As much attention as the D-line guys already are getting, and the secondary will, based on what we've seen this summer, the linebackers -- inside and out, all eight of them -- can't be ignored. Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin, Quinton Powell and J.R. Tavai, all seem like they've been around forever even if they haven't. But they could end up playing like they have. And Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson almost have, with Anthony Sarao halfway there. Not worried here.

* NUMBERS NOT A CONCERN: We know some won't agree but the secondary numbers here, with a rotation six deep is where we like it -- for starters. And then see who can figure a way in. But get these six playing together -- three corners and three safeties with some real help behind them -- and this is where you want to be. Size, speed, strength and experience. Not sure USC has had six better to start a season.

* WHAT ABOUT THE NEW GUYS? All we can say is wait and see. There are places for any of them who can make a place for themselves but maybe only Toa Lobendahn has to step up up right away although we think Adoree Jackson and Bryce Dixon will as well. Their physical skills and ability to catch and advance the football in a hurry don't have to be taught. They just have to be on the field.

* SPECIAL TEAMS? Who knows. Except for long-snapper Peter McBride, haven't seen them much. We'll be as interested as you in where this goes.

* CATCHING YOUR EYE: If we had to guess what you'll see when these guys hit the field that will jump out at you that we've seen this summer, it's this: Overall team speed. These guys can run. At every position. And they'll get to do just that. Running to the ball on defense. Running to the next play on offense.

OK, gotta' run. Pac-12 Media Days start Wednesday. It's almost here.


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