Fall Camp Five: Saturday's best

Tracking the top performers in five categories from each day of fall practice, the first day of camp was highlighted by a walk-on receiver's leaping catch Saturday night at Howard Jones Field.

"Honestly, I told him he better let go because this is my catch."

Christian Tober lay on the ground with his arms around the football with sophomore cornerback Jonathan Lockett trying to wrestle the ball away from him.

Backup quarterback Max Browne had thrown a bomb down the left sideline. Tober, listed at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, slowed down for the pass behind Lockett and leapt up to high point the football.

"It’s a play that’s usually pretty open and Max Browne does a great job of getting it out there," Tober said. "I felt like I had to make a play for him and get up there and catch the ball."

The walk-on receiver from San Clemente (Calif.) did exactly that. He snagged the pass out of the air and pulled it into his chest where Lockett tried to reach in and pull the all away after the two players hit the ground.

The grab pumped up the rest of the offense. Leading returning receiver Juju Smith said they always get pumped when the walk-on players make big plays, but he said they expect it out of Tober even after he missed most of last season due to a broken collarbone the occurred early in the season.

"We knew he was so fast. He's like what, 5-foot-6? But we know he can do that," Smith said.

Later, Tober added a long 65-yard touchdown on a bomb from Browne. Though he is a walk-on, Tober got plenty of reps during practice the last two years as USC's scholarship receiver numbers have been low. That means the walk-ons are expected to contribute in practice on a daily basis even if they aren't in on as many plays.

"I’m just coming in and trying to do what everyone should be doing. Just trying to make the team better," Tober said of his role. "It’s hard to keep my head out of being a walk-on and getting less reps, but I’m just out there working as hard as I can and trying to keep that out of my head as much as I can."

As a redshirt junior, Tober now has a new role as mentor and leader to the new crop of USC receivers that has finally given the position some depth.

"With just that young group in general, I try to help whoever has questions. Deontay [Burnett] has come to me a lot with questions. You’ve got to teach the younger guys what they’ve got to know, but it’s definitely a lot easier on your body with there being a lot more guys to go around this year."

  • Top Skill Player Saturday

Remember third string quarterback Jalen Greene? Well, that would now be quarterback/wide receiver Jalen Greene now. Greene showed great athleticism and tremendous hands, catching pretty much everything thrown his way. He still has a long way to go before potentially breaking into the regular receiver rotation, but he produced a great first practice and took a strong step in the right direction.

  • Top Lineman Saturday

Claude Pelon knows that his production on the field will determine his playing time in the future. That's why he wasn't at all concerned with being on the second team defensive line rather than practicing with the starters in the first practice of fall camp.

"It don’t even matter to me," Pelon said. "As long as I go out there and eat, I’m sure it’ll work out for me."

Rather than lining up as the backup nose tackle, Cody Temple, rather than Pelon was the starting defensive end on the line beside Antwaun Woods and Delvon Simmons. But Pelon was the one that stood out with consistent pressure and push on the second string offensive line. Pelon had a 'sack' and had pressure on Kessler that led to one of the incompletions during the final five plays.

So did Pelon think he did some eating on the first day of fall camp?

"Ate. And I’m going to come out hear and eat everyday, man. It’s a new year. It’s a new me. I’m just trying to bring the best out of me, so I can provide for this team. Help the team out in any way I can."

  • Top Newcomer Saturday

DeQuan Hampton might be the most overlooked and least talked about of Cody Kessler's new offensive weapons this season, but the Long Beach Community College junior college transfer has a great opportunity to gain consistent and significant playing time this year. He had one of the best days of any receiver in practice one.

While some other guys may have had touchdown grabs or some highlight receptions, Hampton was the one receiver that was most consistent on Saturday. He didn't waste his opportunity to make a great first impression. He caught every pass thrown his way.

  • Top Backup Saturday

There was a very familiar face with the second team offensive line unit tonight. Just not familiar being a backup. Redshirt junior left tackle Chad Wheeler, who has started 22 games in his USC career, was back in uniform and back in action.

A little more than nine months removed from tearing his right ACL in the Utah game, the two-year starter assigned to protecting Kessler's backside, was back near full strength, telling USCfootball.com reporter Keely Eure that he is "damn well near 100 percent." It's a great sign for a USC offensive line that currently features one senior, one redshirt junior and three sophomores. More depth equals more competition, which equals stronger play.


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