There may be some discussion about who will be the No. 2 receiver for the USC Trojans football team this fall, but at least in my eyes there is a clear cut No. 1. Nelson Agholor came to USC as a defensive back and wide receiver from Florida, and he looks to be the clear cut go to guy for the Trojans this fall.
Aghlor has always been a gifted athlete; blessed with speed, quickness and
agility. Now he's got the confidence, and for lack of a better word arrogance of
a No 1. He plays like he knows he's the best receiver on the field. He attacks
the ball in the air, and he attacks the defensive back. The Trojans with Cody Kessler at the helm looked to get him the ball in multiple ways from short stop
routes to quick slants and deeper seam patterns. For the most part the result
was the same, a catch by Agholor followed by excitement after the catch.
Kessler particularly took advantage of Agholor's ability in a hurry up offense
drill. Kessler drove the first team offense down the field almost effortlessly,
and the drive turned in to the Kessler to Agholor show. Agholor led the Trojans
in receiving in 2013, but I think most would consider Marqise Lee to have been
the top target when he was available. Agholor should lead the team in receiving
as well as acclaim and accolades in 2014.
While the players were going through position drills, I kept a close eye on the
quarterbacks. If one is simply watching the the quarterbacks throw drills, Max Browne would be an onlooker's first guess at who the quarterback is. Browne is
bigger than Kessler; he has a stronger arm, and he is tremendously accurate. But
when the defense goes live, so does Kessler. Granted, Kessler was working
virtually the whole practice with the ones while Browne worked with the twos
more often, but speaking plainly, Kessler was sharper.
That's not to take anything away from Browne, because I'd consider him one of my
top performers as well. He looked fantastic at Wednesday's practice. Browne is
capable of making throws in which he's the only quarterback on the field who
can, but he also makes some throws he shouldn't. Regardless, there's not a huge
drop off from Kessler to Browne, and I wasn't surprised to see them split reps
almost equally at practice.
The drop off to No. 3 is a little more steep with incoming freshman Jalen Greene
getting a lot of work. The negative on Greene today was his consistency. He'd
make a good throw, and follow it up with a bad throw. But he's a freshman, and
if we're grading freshmen, one has to be pleased with the tools that Greene is
showing early in fall camp. He's got a live arm and quick feet. The ball is
coming out of his hands crisper and with more velocity than I remember from just
last season when he was a senior at Serra. I don't see him pushing Kessler and
Browne this year for one and two, but he's not going to roll over and let '15
quarterback commitments Ricky Town or Sam Darnold just come in and pass him
On defense it's fairly easy to pick a top performer. Leonard Williams is as good
as advertised. OK, he's big, he's quick, and he's strong, but he's also
absolutely tenacious. The old saying goes to practice like you play, and
Williams sets the tone out there for the defense. He's going full speed every
play. He was getting a lot of second effort tackles during the 11 vs. 11
portions of the camp.
Having Williams line up across from you every day in fall practice is a tough
challenge for any offensive tackle. That man can either rise to the challenge or
be cowed by it. So far, right tackle Zach Banner looks like he's rising to the
challenge. When I saw him in high school, I said that he's not a next year
player; he's a three years down the line player. Well Banner is in his third
year and he looked outstanding going against Williams.
Banner has massive size, listed a trim 6'9 and 350 pounds, Banner used his feet
well to match William's initial burst off the line of scrimmage, and he's strong
enough to hold his ground against the All-American. Williams still got his share
of tackles, but usually they were laterally across the line of scrimmage as he'd
chase the play, because Banner held his ground at the point of attack. If
Williams is a first round draft pick, then Banner has a chance to have a long
and productive NFL career.
At the linebacker position, sophomore Quentin Powell was my choice as top
performer. Linebackers are through to be brutes, but Powell is a fluid athlete
who kind of glides across the field. He made several open field tackles, none
more impressive than corralling Justin Davis on a screen pass.
Using Davis in the passing game is something USC fans are probably going to get
used to seeing this year. Davis only had one catch in 2013, but if today was any
indication, he's got excellent hands. His one handed grab of a short pass during
position drills was especially impressive.
Newcomers are interesting to a lot of fans, having been in charge of ranking
these players, I have more than a passing interest as well. One of the most
heralded of the 2014 Trojan Signing Class Adoree Jackson hasn't disappointed.
Jackson earns a spot among my top performers for his good work on both sides of
the ball. Jackson shut down fellow freshman Juju Smith on back to back one on
ones, and then switched to the other side and caught a pass on offense.
Smith might be USC's strongest receiver already as a true freshman. Of course,
he's built like an outside linebacker. He's never been stiff though. He made a
ton of great plays from the receiver position at Long Beach Poly over his
career, of course so did the player I compared him to most last year, USC safety
Su'a Cravens. I like Smith as a receiver, but I love him as a safety or outside
Maybe one of the biggest surprises of fall camp among the newcomers is Crenshaw
product Ajene Harris. I'll admit, when USC took him, I wondered if he was
athletic enough to play another position at a program like USC. He was an
athletic quarterback at Crenshaw, but was he athletic enough to be a wide
receiver for the Trojans? The early returns look good so far. Harris caught
everything near him today, and despite his lack of size, he still proved to be
an effective outside receiver with his ability to elevate and use his body to
shield a defender.
At one point during practice, the future, and maybe even a good portion of the
present lined up as the entire interior offensive line. True freshmen Damien Mama, Toa Lobendahn, and Viane Talamaivao lined up at left guard, center, and
right guard respectively, and for the most part all looked to justify their
lofty recruiting rankings.
Mama is too heavy right now. He's pushing 400 pounds. And the fact that he can
still be effective at that weight is a testament to how good an athlete he is.
In short spaces, he was doing what he's done for years: moving people including
300 pound fourth year lineman Claude Pelon. In one on one pass protection
drills, he wasn't just holding his own, he was winning his reps. Where he
struggled was when he was asked to pull. His quickness isn't where it will be
when he finishes his career. But can he help now? Absolutely.
Lobendahn rotated at center and guard through the practice, and he did a solid
job of snapping the ball. I mention that, because there was more than the
occasional problem getting the snap from center today. Lobendahn showed good
quickness, and even the man in front of him got off the ball first, he's strong
enough to absorb the first attack. Impressive for a true freshman.
George Farmer was returning kickoffs today, and that's a round peg in a round
hole. Farmer's size and speed combination at 6'1 and 220 pounds will be a scary proposition
for a small skill player who is first down the field on kickoff return. Farmer
has always been faster than quick, and letting him get a full head of steam from
the kickoff return spot at his size should bode well for the Trojan return game.
Steven Mitchell missed last year with a knee injury, but he doesn't show any
lingering physical issues. He looked quick and fluid and should be ready to add
depth to the receiving corp. this year.
At 6'4 and 240 pounds, tight end Bryce Dixon also looks physically read to
contribute this year. With Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick not being available this year,
Dixon was going to be thrust into the limelight regardless, but he looks ready
to accept the challenge.
Two of the best pops of the pads today both came from defensive back D.J.
Morgan. The redshirt senior had a fairly undistinguished career on offense from
the Trojans, but he looks to be leading by example on defense. Even if he
doesn't play a down, his physical play has already set the tone for his
Finally, there were a lot of birds in attendance at practice. The Eagles,
Ravens, and Seahawks all had scouts at USC on Wednesday as well as the Rams.
For more practice discussion, please join
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Fall Camp First Impressions
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