Newcomer Notebook: Freshman first take

Saturday unveiled the Trojans 2015 recruiting class in action for the team's first fall camp practice. Linebacker coach Peter Sirmon had one expectation for his newly minted group of four and five-star freshmen. "Our only expectation is that they work their butts off."

The first day of fall practice is always full of superlatives and coach speak, but coming off their first full recruiting class in four years, the fruits of the Trojans coaching staff labor are beginning to show up on the field.

That is particularly true of the linebacker position, where USC fields four freshmen rated among the nation’s top 200 recruits coming out of high school. Inside linebacker, Cameron Smith, arrived on campus last January, so his extended time with the second team defense was not a surprise.

“It was very fortunate to get Cam here midyear because you can see how much further he is along,” said linebacker coach Peter Sirmon. “There’s a comfort level with what we’re asking him to do.

“From being in the meeting room to the weight room, he’s advanced. He also has good instincts and learns fast. He’s making strides, although he came in pretty impressively the way he picked things up.

“I don’t know if there is one thing he’s progressed at more than an other. He just has to get use to pushing through having practice every day and not having a day off like he did in high school.”

The grind of fall camp is daunting, but necessary. While Smith has been on campus since January, fellow freshman Osa Masina, John Houston and Porter Gustin just arrived on campus two months ago.

Masina was rated a five-star outside linebacker out of Brighton High School in (Utah), but is playing WILL linebacker for the Trojans.

“We install the defense and discuss the different techniques we’re using, but he has to just experience what it’s like to play inside,” said Sirmon. “It’s the reps that he’s going to get that determine his comfort level.

“There are some eye control things you do differently inside than outside, but he’s good at football and pick it up quick. Today he looked like a freshman on his first day.”

John Houston played inside linebacker for Serra High School, but is now playing behind Su’a Cravens at the SAM or field linebacker position.

“I think that’s where his skill set is best to help our team,” said Sirmon. “He’s athletic and he runs well. I like his range at that spot.

“Same thing as with Osa, he has to change how he sees the field. He’s outside in now instead of inside out. He’ll get a lot of reps and opportunities and be fine.”

Cravens has mentored Houston all summer long and was impressed with what he saw from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman.

“John is more athletic than he knows,” said Cravens. “He showed glimpses of that today, and because he’s a great athlete, he can play up to the talent.

“There was one play where the running back had in space by about five-yards, and he closed the gap quick. At the same time, he can get undisciplined with his hips and technique. He lunged at a few tackles today, but that’s just being a freshman and learning.

“I think he’s going to be a great player — I can see it. He has the work ethic and he takes to coaching well.”

In fact, Houston had a sack Saturday, but also overran a bootleg pass when blitzing off the edge. It’s a play Cravens has made a living off of as a Trojan.

“This is the first day of fall practice, but he came over and we talked,” said Houston. “He just have to keep his weight off his toes. But for a freshman and this being his first day, he played pretty well.

“This group (of freshmen) are confident. They’re all moving around and they’re all playing hard. So far so good. The freshmen on defense look good and a couple of those freshmen running backs look good too.”

One freshman running back, Dominic Davis, grabbed the linebackers attention specifically.

“Dominic is fast… Dominic is really fast,” said Cravens. “He’s going to be able to play a bunch of spots for us.

“He can play in the slot, but he’s fast enough to split out wide a just let him go. He surprised me with how fast he is.”

Porter Gustin is playing rush end for the Trojans, earning his first interception jumping the curl route on a deflected pass at the line of scrimmage.

“He did a nice job of playing the route from high to low,” said Sirmon. “He didn’t look great running the ball (laugh), but we’ll bust his chops about that in film.

“He’s a big, strong guy that will continue to develop. We think these guys will be important addition to the program. I stay pretty even-keel about the first day, second day. You have to let them grow.

“We continue to coach them up and define the culture that we expect and we want to build on. We rely some on the older guys, but ultimately I have to be the leader of the linebackers. I have to define the expectations of the group and make sure everyone is headed in the right direction.”

News and Note from Practice:

  • The freshmen, even the blueshirts, were out for the first day of fall practices Saturday. That included tight end transfers, Taylor McNamara and Daniel Imatorbhebhe. Both participated in the practices, although in more limited fashion than some of the freshmen.

  • Freshman linebacker Porter Gustin was hampered by a sore knee during summer workouts, but Sirmon said he is 100-percent now.

  • All of the freshmen linebackers, except Cameron Smith, started out playing with the third team defense Saturday. That defensive unit included, Osa Masina at WILL, Rueben Peters at MIKE, Porter Gustin at rush end and John Houtson at SAM. Smith played with the second team unit, eventually joined by Gustin during later practice periods.

  • Although he isn't a newcomer to the team, Jalen Greene is a newcomer to the wide receiver position this fall. Greene was one of the day’s top wide receivers. He caught several bubble screens off of motion and flashed his speed. Steven Mitchell will play a big factor for the USC offense this season with his short area quickness, but Greene could be a great compliment to the Trojans size at wide out with top end speed.

  • Junior College transfer wide receiver De'Quan Hampton saw extended reps with the second team offense Saturday. In fact, Hampton hit the field in team scrimmaging before midyear graduate, Isaac Whitney. Hampton has tight end size and it’s clear USC would like to exploit that  in the run and passing game.

  • Speaking of junior college transfers, Isaac Whitney has shown improvement this off season. He still has to become more consistent catching the ball, but he is running his routes with much more confidence. He had camp's first touchdown beating the safety don the seam.

  • Freshman Iman Marshall had a good all-around day of practice. Marshall really went at it with Hampton and walk-on Aaron Minor several times. Marshall was one of the most vocal players of the freshman. The majority of Saturday’s passes went at fellow freshman cornerback Isaiah Langley.

  • Dominic Davis received the most reps of the freshmen running backs Saturday. Davis was used as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. Davis has clear game breaking speed, but he does have the tendency to want to run wide on every play. Davis also was put on his backside by linebacker Jabari Ruffin running a route across the middle Saturday. Welcome to USC rookie.

  • Freshman running back Ronald Jones got off to a slow start returning punts. He dropped two punts and had trouble tracking the ball in the air. Jones did, however, have the nicest run of the day cutting back and juking a defender in the gap for a solid 10-yard run in the last team scrimmage period.

  • Freshman running back Aca'cedric Ware was solid today, although did not see many runs late in practice. He was also complimented on his vision by the older veterans, including Cody Kessler.

  • Freshman safety Marvell Tell probably had the most freshman-like day Saturday. Tell was burned deep a couple times in various periods. He got caught totally flat footed against Steven Mitchell in seven-on-seven from a miscommunication with Marshall in cover two.

  • Freshman safety Ykili Ross got his first interception as a Trojan. Ross was solid all day and picked the pass off as it was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Ross also had two other deflected passes on the day.

  • Freshman defensive end Rasheem Green, coming off knee surgery last year, participated in all facets of practices without a brace. Green, Noah Henderson, Christian Rector and Kevin Scott all played defensive end Saturday, while Jacob Daniel played nose guard. Rector had a near quarterback sack on Cody Kessler toward the end of practice. USC's depth and size on the defensive line from spring to now is very noticeable.

  • Freshman wide receiver Deontay Burnett may be a blueshirt, but he continues to look like a great add to the roster coming off of summer player run practices. Burnett had two good receptions in team scrimmage plucking the ball out of the air.

  • Bishop Amat receivers Trevon Sidney and Tyler Vaughns both attended practice. Mater Dei offensive lineman Frank Martin and Calabasas junior wide out Keyshawn Johnson Jr. were also in attendance with his father.

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