They've come a long way in nine days. And they're not hesitant to talk about it. But maybe that's in response to their coach, who won't just yet.
Ask Zach Banner how he did Tuesday and there's no hesitation in the 6-foot-9, 345-pound redshirt sophomore's response after occupying the first-team spot there most of spring and every day in August.
"I did great," he says.
He kids that he's saying it because his coach, Tim Drevno, won't just yet. "When he gives me a compliment, I'll let you know," Banner says. That's not Drevno's job.
"He's coached in the NFL, he's coached five all-pros," Banner says. They're not there yet. "He says we're just skimming the surface." Although Banner did say Drevno had one nice thing to say tohim: "He said I'm 'one tough son of a gun," he says with a smile. And he'll take that.
Max Tuerk, cool and comfortable now and looking like a different player almost since Day 1 as the snapping part of his new position has become much more natural. He'll accept those compliments/observations.
"Thanks," Tuerk says. He likes the position now. Likes it a lot. From tackle to guard and even tight end, he's all center, Tuerk says.
And as the natural leader of the O-line, he can make the calls, and the blocks, now that he can get the ball back every time with no issue. "I feel really comfortable now," Tuerk says with the way Drevno is having him snap the football after "tilting the ball straight up and down . . . It helps my grip and keeps my wrist straight and the ball doesn't move."
A little change but another step in the overall development of this group that Cody Kessler says is "huge," over the last nine days. "It's so cool to see," especially the way "these freshmen are stepping up and making plays."
And not just at the skill positions. A generous interpretation there would extend that to four players in the mix on an O-line that Drevno says must have a top five emerge with another four ready to step in with an uptempo offense Steve Sarkisian says should average a play every 13 seconds on the occasions when there are no subs and no formation changes, just going from one play to the next.
Don't be surprised, Sark said Tuesday, if the Trojans have a 60-play half some game. And he's aiming for 80-85 plays over the season. Which is where true freshman Toa Lobendahn and redshirt freshmen Khaliel Rodgers, who have been part of the five-man first-team crew at guard every practice backed up by freshmen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, each of whom have had significant first-team reps.
"I'm not concerned," Drevno said about having so many "newcomers" in the mix. He also likes it that the numbers are extended by having multiple position guys. "Max is a multiple guy,"Drevno says, "and Toa is a guy who can handle multiple positions." And Talamaivao has played both guard and center.
In fact, that's one of the secrets to extending the numbers on a scholarship-limited roster, Sarkisian told a gathering of donors after practice Tuesday. And not just at the skill positions.
But as much as it looks like the Trojans could have their five-man group with returning starter Chad Wheeler at left tackle opening together the same way every practice as the No. 1 unit, Banner says that's not how he sees it.
"I don't think we'll know until we're running out of the tunnel for the Fresno State game . . . this isn't about a five-man offensive line but a 15-man offensive line . . . It's about all of us."
It's also about returnees Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons, who seem to be going in different directions with Simmons, not quite back from his knee surgery nine months ago, is progressing although limited to a one-practice-a-day regimen. While Walker, a senior, seems to be having significant issues playing through the pain of his surgically repaired ankle in the offseason. Both of their immediate futures for this fall are undecided.
Trojans' Tuesday afternoon workout in helmets and shells at Howard Jones was the "lightest" of the year and open to patrons of Salute To Troy . . . Today has them going with a very light closed morning workout and a 7 p.m. game-condition but not full game-like scrimmage at the Coliseum . . . Tuesday's injury list had Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Antwaun Woods (elbow) both here, both in uniform and probably able to play if there were a game this week but wanting to get the nagging injuries out of the way . . . same for Adoree Jackson (foot), Darreus Rogers (calf strain not achilles as first reported), Su'a Cravens (groin pull) as well as Anthony Brown, who hyperextended his left elbow and has been fitted for a brace as Woods has been . . . how many will go in the scrimmage is to be determined . . . none of them have been ruled out although if Jackson goes, it will just be one way, Sarkisian said.
For a complete wrapup of Monday's practice, check out TUESDAY GHOST NOTES, FALL PRACTICE 9.