Playing faster, 'playing to our strengths'

USC defense knows what it's doing now and able to do it much faster as it seems to be 'playing to our strengths.'

Justin Wilcox could not be happier, the USC defensive coordinator says, with the way his guys are going this spring.

"I couldn't be more excited about this place -- and this group," Wilcox said after Thursday's eighth spring practice session. There are a number of reasons why as he talks about how much better it is for a coach -- and his players -- in the second season doing the same thing.

"You get used to the people you're playing and coaching with," Wilcox said. And they get used to doing what they're doing -- only quicker with anticipation letting them to get where they have to be much sooner than a year ago.

Second-year safety John Plattenburg, for example, "is mentally playing so much quicker," Wilcox says.

And senior corner Kevon Seymour "has probably batted down more passes already this spring than he did all last fall."

Which means more ability to play man-to-man, something Wilcox says "we've got to get better at that."

But knowing his players, and his players knowing what to do, has put a smile on Wilcox' face. "It's a combination of all that," he says. He knows his guys and his guys know what to do.

"It's the same defense," senior middle linebacker Lamar Dawson says. "We're just playing to our strengths more."

Lamar certainly is. "He's a big dude -- and really smart," Wilcox says of Dawson. And despite being out last fall rehabbing after knee surgery, he's not playing like it's his first year in the system.

"Mentally, he stayed with it," Wilcox says. And physically now, "the word we use for him is 'rangy,' " he says of the 235-pound Dawson whose long arms and big hands bely his 6-foot-2 frame.

"When he gets his hands on you, you go down," Wilcox says. "And when he gets his hands up in the passing lanes, he can close them down."

He can also run down ball-carriers from behind, Wilcox says of the Kentucky player he recruited hard when he was at Tennessee.

Sark says

Sark said one thing that really pleased him Thursday, and for the entire spring, was how "guys are fighting through the bumps and bruises," something that will happen in games and it's good to start handling it now . . . and how impressed he's been with Juju Smith and his "unbelievable work ethic" and how he's "playing with a cast on his thumb" after a procedure performed on it before the spring . . . said JuJu is "a go-to guy . . . he wanted to be that last fall" . . . As to the NCAA revelations this week after the public release of nearly 500 pages of documents and emails in the Todd McNair lawsuit, "I haven't read one page of it at all," Sark says. And since it doesn't help USC practice and get better this spring, Sark says it doesn't impact him and his team right now . . . "It doesn't pertain to us . . . it's out of my hands honestly."


Instead of a "final five" plays Thursday, USC finished after the first one, a TD bomb on a perfect post pattern from Cody Kessler to JuJu Smith who got just behind Chris Hawkins . . . Saturday's practice will now be at 9 a.m. at Cromwell Field and is open to the public . . . redshirt freshman corner Lamont Simmons had a hamstring limiting him Thursday while Justin Davis was rested after getting lots of work Tuesday with fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner along with James Toland getting the bulk of the work . . . Plattenburg, who lost some weight when he was sick last month, is down to 181 but says he expects to play at 190-195 . . . Tre Madden is at 235 right now but says he'll be at 223 in the fall.

CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Thursday's workout at THURSDAY SPRING DAY 8 GHOST NOTES.

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