Fall Camp Five: Sunday's best

Tracking the top performers in five categories from each day of fall practice, the second day of camp was highlighted by a ridiculous sideline snag Sunday night at Howard Jones Field.

Sometimes a quarterback just knows better. And sometimes a receiver makes a quarterback’s decision look brilliant with an impressive catch.

During a half-field pass skeleton drill, USC quarterback Cody Kessler threw a back shoulder pass that didn’t come out crisp and looked destined to sail out of bounds with junior receiver Darreus Rogers in mid stride a full step in front of the ball. But Rogers pulled the emergency brake, stopped, spun and reached his arms out high and away from his body.

The ball hit Rogers’ hands as he was falling out of bounds. But the entire time, Rogers' tippy-toes never left the ground. Like a ballerina, he produced a half-pirouette on the sideline with his toes just centimeters from the sideline. It was a perfect catch on a slight miscommunication between Kessler and Rogers.

“I ran a little corner route and I took it up,” Rogers said. “I thought Cody was going to lead me, but he threw it behind me, so I just had to adjust. I told myself that I was going to keep my two feet in and use my range. I plucked it, fell down and was like, ‘That’s what I’ve got to do. That’s what I’ve got to do to make my plays.’”

Even Darreus Rogers had to pat Darreus Rogers on the back.

“I was proud. I wasn’t surprised,” Rogers said. “I knew I was going to make it, but I’ve got to make more plays if I want to be great and earn a starting spot on this team.”

Besides his highlight grab, Rogers had a strong day, catching everything thrown his way, including the first touchdown during the 11-on-11 team sessions. He made a grab near the left sideline and raced into the end zone, beating the defender to the pylon.

It was another solid effort for Rogers, who is trying to put last season behind him after he struggled with consistency, producing some solid highlights, but also having some lowlights in the form of drops.

“Had a lot of missed opportunities last year. This year, I want it all.”

Last year, Rogers said he struggled to fully grasp the new playbook under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian. While Nelson Agholor was capable of learning things in one day, Rogers needed multiple repetitions before things would sink in. But now he says he knows the playbook front-to-back, back-to-front.

“I’m not thinking any more. I’m just out there playing. That’s how it should be for me. I’ve got a second year under my belt in Coach Sark’s playbook. Now I know the playbook like the back of my hand. You can see the results.”

For Rogers to succeed, he came to the realization that he wasn’t Agholor. He was going to have to come in for extra work and more study sessions.

“If that’s what I’ve got to do to be great, that’s what I have to do. Everyone keeps saying that Darreus is going to have a breakout year. I haven’t done anything. Now, it’s like I’ve got to blossom and put my name on the radar, so I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

With Agholor gone, the trio of Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell are trying to continue the recent string of successful USC receivers and they’re all gunning for that top role as the next great Trojan wideout.

“We’re always trying to take that role. JuJu had a great season last year, so he’s on the top, but we told him, “Me and Steve coming.” But it’s all jokes, all fun. That’s our boy. Humble kid. One thing about JuJu is that he wants us to be better than him, so that makes him great.

“I look up to JuJu as a young guy. It’s crazy, but I look up to him. I learn things from him. I ask him questions. He asks me questions, so we’re all just one man. We just click man. We’re trying to do big things this year, so we’re trying to be as close as possible.”

With Justin Davis not practicing with a sore hamstring, Tre Madden got a taste of what Davis and Allen got last season with Madden out — more reps. Madden and the rest of the running back group were forced to pick up the slack and Madden did just that producing a solid practice that saw him producing a burst that belies the fact that he had foot surgery and missed all of 2014.

“I thought Tre had a really good practice tonight,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I thought he looked sharp. I thought he ran well. I thought he showed good patience and then good burst through the hole. It was a really good practice for Tre. He got a little more work. It was good for him.”

  • Top Lineman Sunday: Chuma Edoga

Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern true freshman Chuma Edogahas put his name out there as a potential fill-in should any of the Trojans’ starting offensive linemen go down at some point this year. In the second team session, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Edoga got first-team reps in place of Zach Banner at right tackle. The coaching staff is doing a lot of mixing and matching with depth chart personnel right now, but it’s never a bad thing to get some first-team snaps.

It’s been two practices and San Clemente (Calif.) freshman Sam Darnold has already made an impression, on the coaches, on his teammates and on those that have been in attendance.

“I don’t know if we could ask for a whole lot more than kind of what he’s been doing,” Sarkisian said. “He’s shown good arm strength, good athleticism. He seems to have a really good demeanor about himself that he doesn’t get rattled when he’s back there.”

Darnold has displayed tremendous pocket awareness. Unlike many mobile quarterbacks, Darnold isn’t a guy that immediately abandons the play and takes off running. He has a great feel for the internal clock that all quarterbacks must possess that tells them just how much time they have before the pass rushers get to their mark.

Sensing when the rush is arriving, allows Darnold the opportunity to spin out to buy more time on the outside as he did on one play when a linebacker came pressing down hard off the edge or gives Darnold the option to step forward and take off running up the middle.

He produced a candidate for play of the day during the first team 11-on-11 session. Feeling the pocket collapse around him, he stepped forward, put a juke on and bounded through the line, picking up a good 15 yards before any defender was able to react and get near him for the play to be blown dead.

“One word: fearless,” Darreus Rogers said of Darnold. “Just a natural baller. I was telling Steven Mitchell today that that kid is going to be a baller. He can run, pass, sling the rock. A receiver loves great quarterbacks and we breed them here at SC.”

  • Top Backup Sunday: Don Hill

Don Hill did not have the ideal offseason, getting arrested in January back home in Boise, Idaho on suspicion of driving under the influence, but he has paid his pound of flesh since then and is trying to bounce back this fall camp.

Hill got good pressure off the edge on Sunday, including back-to-back times during the final team session. On the first play, Hill blew by freshman Roy Hemsley to get a “sack” on one of the freshmen quarterbacks. The very next play, Hill was in the backfield once again, forcing Darnold to spin out of the pocket and throw on the run. The pass ended up incomplete.

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