More plays, more players, more prepared

Time to get it in gear for the USC Trojans and that seems to be just what they did Monday in finishing up a 210-play day that saw every player on this team save a couple get a chance to make a play and ern a spot.

More plays, and even more players. And fans everywhere you looked Monday at Howard Jones Field for the first fall workout in a new era of USC football.

This was not your usual Trojans practice of the last four years. It wasn't anything like last spring, even. This was different. This was as advertised.

This was 210 plays counting the afternoon's walkthrough that jammed almost 80 into 45 minutes earlier. And then another 130 between 6:15 and 9:04.

Although this is not something a USC team could have attempted exactly a year ago. "We'd have never done 210 plays," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "Coach Sark's not playing around," Su'a Cravens said.

Sounds like a lot, you say? Not so many when you realize that for the first time in forever, USC ran three full units onto the field on offense and defense.

"All of our injured guys except for Kenny Bigelow were back," Steve Sarkisian said. Only Kevon Seymour, after six days in the hospital with a serious stomach virus, missed the practice but the junior starting corner was here in workout gear coaching up the freshmen.

"A lot of guys got to touch the ball," Nelson Agholor said, after touching it first, catching Cody Kessler's first two completions in 11 on 11.

And only academically ineligible junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick won't be here for the fall, although he was here and practicing. He just won't play.

But otherwise, this didn't look anything like spring, when as many as 20-plus players missed practice on any given day "I'm extremely positive," Sark said, "it's a really competitive situation -- more bodies, more competition in the position groups."

And more freshmen to talk about starting, of course, with Adoree Jackson, who obliged by playing both ways -- and fielding punts. Starting on defense at corner, USC's No. 2 then put on a yellow jersey over his white one and took 15 or 16 snaps on offense, as a target much of the time.

"An electric player," Kessler called him. "I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. But all those [freshmen] guys can make plays," he said of Ajene Harris, Rashead Johnson and Juju Smith, who ended the night pulling in a 50-yard bomb in traffic.

Not freshmen but impressive if for nothing more than practicing without knee braces were returning-from-surgery wide receivers George Farmer and Steven Mitchell, each talking about how confident they were.

Farmer talked of his 4.44 time in the post-spring 40-yard dash ("a 4.3 hand-timed," he said) and Mitchell noted he considers himself able to play without limitations now.

But about those freshmen, Sark ticked off the names so fast, it was hard to keep up. There was tight end Bryce Dixon ("He showed me in one practice he's plenty good enough," Sark said). And DB's "Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburgh and Lamont Simmons, all who helped make it possible to run so many plays andrest a bit the first-team guys.

When it got to the offensive line, Sark simply said "all of them," of a freshman group led by Toa Lobendahn, who moved from left guard to center for "more than 15 snaps," he said. The coaches thought it might be too much on his plate to ask him to snap in the spring but not now. How this plays out is anybody's guess.

We're looking for the best five," Sark said, and clearly the 290-pound first-year guy is in that group right now. It's not so much if but where, it would seem.

Where returning Aundrey Walker fits in is a question. He lined up at left guard on the second and third groups, seemed to be favoring his surgically repaired ankle but was asked to play though it by O-line coach Tim Drevno now that he's been cleared and it's just a pain thing, not a health issue.

Jordan Simmons liked it that he got to play "a lot," he said. "I'm feeling good. I'm coming around at the perfect time."

As Sark said, after theyget the first five worked out on the O-line, time to come up with the next three or four, which is where freshmen Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama and maybe even a Nico Falah, back in action for the first time in a year, with senior Nathan Guertler, all fit in.

"I thought our guys were more prepared than in the spring," Sark said, "especially when fatigue set in." Although that wasn't obvious the way these players stayed around afterward working on individual things with their position coaches well past the three-hour mark./p>

he said they plan to take it one day at a time as to where Jackson ends up -- day by day," Sark said is how they'll approach it. "We don't play a game for four weeks." And they don't have to answer all the questions today.

Like how the secondary will break down with three safeties -- Cravens, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman -- on the field at the same time. Or what the rotation at linebacker will look like.

"It's putting it all together," Sark said of his quarterbacks getting to where he wants them but he could have been talking about this whole team.

"It's just the first day," Sark said. There's a long way to go. And a lot of plays to run.

FOOTNOTED: Trojans return to practice Tuesday at 6:15 again in helmets and shorts and shirts . . . First full-pads work will be Thursday in the Coliseum at 1:45. Wednesday's workout is at 2:30 at Howard Jones.

For a complete wrapup of Monday's practice, check out MONDAY DAY 1 USC GHOST NOTES. Top Stories