Fall Camp Five: Monday's best

Tracking the top performers in five categories from each day of fall practice, the third day of camp was highlighted by a blueshirt freshman that continues to make an impression at Howard Jones Field.

Deontay Burnett wasn’t high on USC’s recruiting priority list initially. While one or two coaches liked what they saw from the Gardena (Calif.) Serra wide out, it was nowhere near a consensus that the Trojans should bring in a string bean three-star receiver.

“Deontay kind of grew on me because you see a slender kid and he kind of sprouted throughout his senior year,” USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He kind of got taller and got longer.”

Burnett was committed to Washington State and flirted with a flip to Michigan late in the process, but on National Signing Day, he surprised even some of his own high school teammates by choosing USC as an advanced scholarship/blueshirt recruit.

“It really came down to Tee Martin,” Burnett said on National Signing Day. “I’ve known him since my junior year, and he’s been pleading his case to get me an offer from SC for a long time.”

Once he caught his dream offer from USC, he dropped Washington State and never looked back. He probably hasn’t dropped anything since. Burnett caught everything during the summer player-run practices, showing up after the team runs since he was technically not a part of the team yet as a walk-on that will be announced to have a scholarship likely in the next few days of fall camp.

He has continued that trend in the first three USC fall camp practices. At Howard Jones Field on Monday, he made a really nice catch during one-on-ones, snagging a post route over the middle. He didn’t get great separation from fellow freshman Ykili Ross, but when the ball came in high, he went up and nabbed the ball with his arms outstretched over his head. He held onto the ball despite Ross hitting his legs and sending him spinning on a pinwheel ride.

“Deontay is a guy that has a really high football IQ. He’s got a great body control and really good hands,” Sarkisian said.

With the Trojans working on red zone offense Monday, Burnett also had a pair of touchdowns during the 7-on-7 pass skeleton portion of practice. He caught one pass in the right flat for a score and made a much tougher grab in the middle of traffic over the middle. He also showed some shakes, catching a swing pass (that wasn’t thrown great) and then cutting inside and then outside. Burnett showed his quickness bursting up the sideline for a seven or eight yard pickup on a play that had potential to be a loss.

“I think the guy’s got a really bright future. I really do,” Sarkisian said. “I think he can play inside in the slot. He can get outside as well, so I’m really happy we got him.”

  • Top Skill Player Monday: DeQuan Hampton

While Burnett is slender and needs to add some weight, 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior college transfer De’Quan Hampton already has the size and frame needed to maintain a full Pac-12 season worth of hits at the receiver position. And Hampton is likely to take some hits because he is bound to be on the field if he continues to catch the ball like he’s done so far in fall camp. Burnett may not be dropping anything, but Hampton is catching EVERYTHING that hits his hands.

With Hampton making grabs on other cornerbacks in the one-on-one drills, USC’s veteran leader in the secondary, Kevon Seymour, was pushed forward to match up with the newcomer. Seymour was draped all over Hampton on a short stop route and the ball was thrown at Hampton’s ankles, but it didn’t matter. Hampton made a fingertip grab.

Hampton definitely has the skills to excel and the size to take some hits, but it will be interesting to see if he can combine the two once the Trojans start going full contact. The one ball he didn’t catch on Monday turned into an interception. Running a drag across the middle, Hampton took a good shot from Olajuwon Tucker that sent Hampton to the ground and the ball into the air after bouncing off Hampton’s shoulder pads. Marvell Tell did a nice job of being aware when the ball bounced into the air and adjusting to make a diving interception.

USC may have lost Leonard Williams, but there are five hungry senior defensive linemen that are battling for spots on the depth chart and eventually playing time. Guys have come back with new weapons in their arsenal of pass rush moves and are trying to stand out as the guy that’s going to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.

Greg Townsend was able to do that on Monday. He showcased some strong moves, particularly in the one-on-one segments. He was able to get around the tackle on back-to-back plays using a bull rush once and a spin move on the next play.

Townsend has been very active when on the field and very exhausted when off the field. The added depth of the defensive line has allowed the big boys to give maximum effort constantly and that’s what Townsend has done. And the results so far have been positive.

On Sunday, when Darreus Rogers produced the play of the day, he called his day good, but said that Monday was going to be a great day. The junior receiver had another good day, but he produced an even more impressive catch.

During one-on-one wide receiver/defensive back drills, Rogers often draws the unenviable task of having to go up against Mr. All-World, Adoree’ Jackson. But Rogers isn’t one to back down. Completely shaking Jackson is nearly impossible, so when there is a little bit of space, Rogers has to take advantage. On one 20-25 yard pass down the left side, Rogers made another outstanding sideline grab. This time, however, he used only one hand as the ball hit his mitt and never moved again.

With the pads finally (half way) on, the running backs got to show their abilities a little bit more. And with Justin Davis missing practice to nurse a sore hamstring, that meant more reps for both the old guys like Soma Vainuku and Tre Madden as well as the new guys Aca’Cedric Ware, Ronald Jones II and Dominic Davis.

Vainuku has repeatedly shown that he can be a power running threat for the Trojans should they need to run the ball on third-and-1. (Whether they will choose to do that rather than throwing wide to a receiver and trying to give them an opportunity to make a play is a completely different story.) Sunday he had a long run that included him making multiple cuts, which is something we haven’t necessarily seen much from him before.

In Monday’s practice, he showed another element of his game by going out and snagging a wheel route and running it in for a touchdown. Freshman linebacker Cameron Smith had really good coverage on the play, but Cody Kessler fired a dart right at Vainuku’s ear hole. Vainuku showed good hands and concentration to make the grab despite Smith being right there. He then raced the final five yards into the end zone.

“In recruiting, hopefully you see that we’re trying to recruit more really versatile backs — guys that can do a lot of things and can catch the ball,” Sarkisian said. “Two of our best plays today, in the red zone, one was to Soma on a wheel route and one was to Tre down the middle for a touchdown.

“When you have those types of backs, you make all five [eligible receivers] a weapon. Then it makes it hard to defend you because then you can’t go double a wide out. You can’t go focus double the tight end. You have to defend everybody.”

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