The USC Trojans wrapped up their final Saturday practice before the Spring Game in full pads at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. As has been the usual on Saturdays, the Trojans broke out their variation of the “Oklahoma” drill and used a number of team competition portions. Though a couple of offensive players had strong days, the defense as a whole had a pretty dominant performance.
Here are the players that stood out the most on Saturday:
It often takes a little bit of time for a player to get accustomed to the speed of the collegiate game and be able to take the next level step. For Cameron Smith, that growing pains period seems to have taken about seven or eight practices. The early-enrollee linebacker continues to pop up and make an eye-opening play a couple of times each practice and that's been the case for the last week.
On Saturday, Smith showed his ability to make an impact in the passing game in a couple of different ways. Though it was a no tackling practice, that didn't stop Smith from putting a good pop on receiver Ajene Harris when he tried to make a catch over the middle. The loudest hit of the day easily jarred the ball free from Harris. Smith later showed good ability to drop as he sunk deep on a pass over the middle and nearly intercepted it in the end zone.
It seems like Darreus Rogers has become the forgotten man in the wide receiver corps. With Steven Mitchell getting a ton of deserved attention this spring and Ajene Harris being mentioned by head coach Steve Sarkisian on multiple occasions in the last week, the ranks behind standout Juju Smith seemed to have slipped by Rogers. But that was definitely not the case on Saturday.
The big-bodied receiver showed off his tremendous hands and his ability to get open on the deep ball a couple of times. In general, the outside receivers were able to get open on some deep passes against the undersized walk-ons, but unlike Smith, who dropped a touchdown late in practice, Rogers made the easy and the difficult catches.
Earlier this week, Steve Sarkisian said he would have complete confidence in Max Browne taking over the reins at quarterback, if Cody Kessler were to be sidelined. It's something he wouldn't have said last season and there's a reason he's saying it now -- Browne looks really, really good now. Browne showed great patience in the pocket and his decision making was stellar throughout Saturday's practice.
On one particular 7-on-7 pass attempt, Browne even caught himself about to make a mistake and changed his mind. Rather than trying to fire a ball through a small window over the middle in between two linebackers and in front of a safety, and it would have taken a perfect throw to thread the needle, Browne changed his mind and instead went for a checkdown to a receiver in the flat that probably only picked up four yards, but it's a lot easier to try to get a first down on the next play rather than trying to get the ball back on defense after a turnover.
Browne also threw a couple of great deep balls, including one right in the hands to Isaac Whitney that went for an 80-yard touchdown. He also had one that was under thrown, but Steven Mitchell helped him look good, by coming back and high-pointing the ball for another long reception.
If we were to do just a list of top players for every single practice, Su'a Cravens name would simply get copy and pasted almost every day. Cravens is a consistent playmaker at the linebacker position. He's come off the edge more this spring and that's resulted in him being in the backfield often. He just is too big for running backs to try to block him and often too fast off the edge for the tackles to fully get their big mitts on him. The kid with the quick tongue that is never afraid to speak the truth also is quick to make big play after big play.
A person around the Texas Tech program recently told me that Delvon Simmons was probably the biggest waste of talent he had ever seen. Simmons, who transferred from Texas Tech to USC, seemed to be much more of a space eater than a play maker last season, but he is becoming more and more active every practice this spring. Rather than his only tackles coming on plays run right to him, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound former five-star recruit is making plays that are out of his area more and more. One great example came in the final five plays of practice when the offense attempted to run a screen pass to JuJu Smith on the left side. The defense stuffed the play and who was out there to make the play? Simmons recognized the quick screen and hustled outside to make the stop when Smith tried to juke another defender.
In a one-on-one lineman drill, Smith also made Damien Mama look bad as he quickly grabbed Mama and flung him off balance on his way to an easy pressure up the middle. It was a good battle back-and-forth between the two as Mama was able to stuff Simmons on three subsequent reps, but as a defensive lineman, you only have to win your battle and make the stuff on a handful of plays to have a great game, so Simmons takes the overall win.