Newcomer Notebook: Secondary Four

Although the team is not in pads yet for fall camp, physicality is not an attribute USC freshman cornerback Iman Marshall is missing from his game.

With the team still in shirts and shorts, the second day of fall camp saw a continuation of head-turning plays through the air by junior wide out De'Quan Hampton. But Hampton couldn't skate through his second day of practice without being challenged by young wolves like Iman Marshall and Ykili Ross in the secondary.

Sunday saw several periods where four freshmen could be seen getting reps in the secondary. For defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, it’s trial by fire.

“We integrated them as fast as we could,” said Heyward “It’s a really athletic group with a high football IQ.

“Individually, they’ve each picked up on certain things in our defense. In time, they’re going to put it all together. It’s exciting, but they still have a lot of work ahead before they’re game ready.”

While Tell was picked on some Saturday, he bounced back with a better day Sunday. Ross continued his progress after posting an interception the first day of practice.

“I’m surprised at how they’ve studied over the summer picking up the defense,” said Heyward. “And just these two days, you can hear them both vocally calling out their assignments and getting lined up.

“I know sometimes it gets a little fast for them, but for guys on day two of summer, they did pretty well. Usually you see big eyes and a lot of busted assignments. Now there are some busted assignments, but it’s fast and with the noise there’s some distraction. They’ll get better over time.”

Freshman corners Iman Marshall and Isaiah Langley have never seen the amount of passes thrown their way as they have the past two days of practice at USC. As star bluechip cornerback recruits, most high school quarterbacks ignore their side of the field.

“One thing I will say about Iman, he is physical,” said Heyward. “You can notice that right away.

“Isaiah Langley has really quick feet - quick like a cat. He moves around a little too much, so I have to settle him down. Those guys are also smart and high football IQ guys. They’re good football players, but we have a lot of work (to do) on technique and scheme.”

Last season, Adoree Jackson started as a cornerback as a true freshman. This season, Marshall and Langley hope to make that same impact.

“Iman… all he has to do is learn the defense,” said Heyward. “Isaiah has to learn the defense, but probably has to put a little more weight on too.

“And then they have to understand situations. That’s the hardest thing for a freshman. We saw that in the games last year. You have to know the situation and when to be aggressive and not tentative.”

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Chris Hawkins has played both corner and safety for USC. His assessment of the freshmen starts with psychology.

“The freshmen are great, but you can see some guys are up, some are down,” said Hawkins. “It’s our job as veterans to pick them up.

“We were more focused this summer and every PRP got done. Nobody left early unless they had class. Everybody is on board, including the freshmen. In the past, I don’t know if I could say that.”

Hawkins has been especially impressed with Marshall, who he knows from the seven-on-seven passing circuit in high school.

“Biggie is a man,” said Hawkins. “He looks like he has been out here with us. He’s playing confident and I love that.

“He can come out here and play with us any day. Langley looks good as well. He got beat a couple of times today, but we’ll watch the film and he’ll ask questions as soon as he gets in the locker room.”

News and Notes from Practice:

  • Freshman defensive end Rasheem Green watched during warmups Sunday, spending time with the trainers and strength staff most of practice. Green got some run Saturday, so it appears the training staff wants to bring his surgically repaired knee along slow.

  • Freshman safety Ykili Ross, wide receiver Deontay Burnett, cornerback Isaiah Langley and running back Dominic Davis continue to return punts during team stretch. Running back Aca'cedric Ware and cornerback Iman Marshall returned kickoffs. Davis muffed one punt return and had to do pushups.

  • During two-on-one drills in a special teams period, Ross and Langley both got the ball but both were tackled  quickly. Wide receiver Steven Mitchell got the ball and evaded both Long Beach Poly alums Juju Smith and Biggie Marshall. Langley bounced back breaking free a couple times as a returner showing good burst. Deontay Burnett also broke through once with the ball in his hands. Marshall came back and tackled Burnett right away.
  • Junior wide out De'Quan Hampton showed some good hands position drills. Again, with Hampton size, he is an enormous target for the quarterbacks to throw too.

  • While Hampton looks like a tight end, the tight end group has a whole is so much deeper now. Taylor McNamara is still getting his footing, falling down on one of his routes. McNamara runs high and needs to dip into his breaks more. He moves well, and all of the tight ends did a decent job catching the football in position drills Sunday.

  • During running back-linebacker one-on-one space drills, Dominic Davis made a nice move on Osa Masina to slide by him. Davis has serious quickness and footwork, so his challenge will be squaring his shoulders and getting upfield more often.

  • During the first team scrimmage, no freshmen were used on either side of the ball for the first units. Tight end Tyler Petite and running back Ronald Jones eventually shuffled in. Iman Marshall looked like he horse collared Dominic Davis taking him to the ground later in the series. All three freshmen tailbacks got second team reps during this period. First catch by a newcomer was Hampton from Max Browne. Davis caught a short pass setting up Tyler Petite with a nice touchdown catch to cap the period.

  • Freshman quarterback Ricky Town's first throw Sunday was a pick over the middle by Osa Masina. Sam Darnold came in and immediately found tight end Caleb Wilson on a slant. Darnold also showed his athletic ability avoided pressure and running the ball up the middle for a solid gain.

  • During skeleton drills, Isaiah Langley had a nice pass breakup. He followed that up with another pass break up on De’Quan Hampton. Both Browne and Town targeted Hampton several times in this drill. No. 89 is shared by Hampton and Christian Rector. Hampton is the big No. 89. (sic)

  • With the team back to 11-on-11 scrimmaging,  Chuma Edoga getting some first team reps at right tackle. The second team defense had all four freshmen — Langley, Marshall, Ross and Marvell Tell in the secondary playing at once.

  • Ronald Jones got a lot of work this period rushing and catching some balls out of the backfield. Jones had a rough day catching the ball Saturday, but was better Sunday. Third rotation of defense had John Houston, Smith, Masina and Gustin once again.

  • Max Browne got a bad snap, but picked up the ball and just chucked it down the sideline where Hampton made a leaping catch over Iman Marshall. Hampton endearing himself to the quarterbacks making plays like that.

  • Back to seven-on-seven, Deontay Burnett with a nice deep catch from Kessler for the last play of Kessler's drive. Ricky Town had a nice drive completing most of his passes. Burnett and Hampton both caught balls from Browne, with Hampton catching another pass deep one down the right sideline. Darnold tossed a deep TD to Aaron Miner, for a pretty score. Darnold later hit Petite in stride deep down the right side. Browne was five-for-five on his drive.

  • During the last team session, transfer tight end Taylor McNamara got in some first team reps, catching a sideline pass from Kessler. Ross continued to shone, breaking up what looked like a beautiful deep ball by Browne.

  • Sam Darnold, running right, threw a football away that almost ended up on McClintock Avenue. Darnold has been patient when he runs, waiting for the play to breakdown before taking off.

  • Town found Jalen Greene streaking over the middle for a short pass. Burnett followed with a second team grab that he turned up field for a nice gain. Hampton caught the next Browne pass on an intermediate route.

  • Freshman defensive end Kevin Scott made a diving attempt at Aca’Cedric Ware penetrating the offensive backfield with a good push.

  • Darnold again showed some flashes of his running ability during this period. It’s a dimension of his game that stand out with a largely immobile group of quarterbacks.

  • Freshman offensive center Cole Smith looked like he had some trouble with shotgun snaps Sunday. Smith got reps with the third team offense.

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