Competition back in season at USC

There's a new and critically different feel around the Trojans program this fall that might matter more than anything.

Zach Banner said he didn't quite get it at first, how new O-line coach Bob Connelly was inserting a Chris Brown one day at guard or the last two days, a freshman like Chuma Edoga, in with the ones to get things going in 11-on-11 play each day.

Especially when Chuma was in for him at right tackle.

Then he nodded at Connelly as he was explaining. "Let's get Chuma out there listening to Max make his calls . . . What are there, 15 of us on the O-line? . . . Why not have us all as one unit."

Why not indeed.

And while these moves that maybe are unexpected, maybe don't mean more than moving guys around and giving them chances, well, maybe they do. Like the way we've seen fifth-year senior Cody Temple out there at defensive end with the first group the first three practices.

Or the way Columbia transfer Connor Spears and incoming freshman Tyler Petite have become the 1-2 combo at tight end of 6-foot-6 guys (well, that's how they list Tyler) who can both catch the football.

Or there's a Chad Wheeler, returning quicker than he thought he would from knee surgery nine months ago. He's not all the way back to his starting spot at left tackle but the 6-7, 295-pounder is getting there.

"It is," Wheeler said after Monday's first practice in shoulder pads. "I'm farther along than I thought I'd be . . . It's a building process . . . we're taking it a day at a time . . . I'm just another tool in the toolshed," he said.

"A tool in the toolshed?" Echoes of someone? Chad grinned and admitted he was "a cosignor with Coach Connelly" on that one.

But it can't stop there. Those tools are only as good as they're used. And the way they're being used right now, the idea of the "final five" plays teaching the Trojans how to finish games is positively Pete Carroll-esque.

All of which puts the focus in the right place -- competing to the very end and from the very start. If there was one secret to what went right, what separated that USC team a decade ago from everyone else, it was their ability, and daily desire, to compete.

Compete against, and with, one another at the same time. Hard to do that when you're not more than one deep in places. But that's no longer the case.

One way Pete did that was with the freshmen, getting them into the mix. Like with Chuma. Or finding a veteran who was ready to step up -- like Cody Temple.

You need them all -- every day. But you need them going hard and developing the kind of confidence that when push comes to shove, when it really matters, you -- and the guy next to you -- will step up and make a play.

And it never varied with those Pete teams. They'd tell you they absolutely knew -- not just believed but knew -- that would happen, that they would step up when it mattered the most.

Because, they would say, they'd done it every day on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields against a guy with talent who was competing just as hard as they were.

Looking at the way this ended up Monday, in the afternoon sun when they were getting tired, maybe making some mistakes, and the offense was trying to get its first "final five" win, they seemed to do it.

First of all, Steven Mitchell had come back in, trusting his knee and the USC medical staff, after a spectacular midair collision with Adoree Jackson that could have injured both of them. Then Cody Kessler had recognized instantaneously the wheel route to Soma Vainuku and drilled him, under close Cameron Smith coverage, for a 15-yard TD.

But the defense didn't take that sitting down.They sacked Cody and shut down a Tre Madden run. But on the deciding play, there was one fifth-year senior, Cody, recognizing the seam route was there to another, Tre, for the win.

So there was something for everyone. Steve Sarkisian liked the way on the first day in pads, "our defensive front made it tough on us to run the ball on them." Even if there was that final coverage breakdown.

Someone has to win, someone won't. That's how competition works. And if you do it right, you -- and by that we mean USC -- can be the winner coming out of all this competition that because the numbers weren't there, couldn't happen the last three years.

But it has to happen here first. Then at the Coliseum and in Tempe, South Bend and Eugene.


Practice time changes for fans the next two days -- both open to the public. New practice times for Tuesday and Wednesday are 5:30 with Dedeaux Deck not available Wednesday . . . Trojans will go in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts again Tuesday . . . Another good crowd on a great day to practice football -- again, for the first day in shoulder pads . . . S John Plattenburg (hip pointer) dressed and hanging in there with his DB mates but not turned loose yet . . . DL Rasheem Green in his lineman knee braces but still limping an not doing anything but observing . . . OG Viane Talamaivao also held out with a hamstring . . . practice injuries to freshmen RB Dominic Davis (back bruise) and DL Noah Jefferson (hyperextended right elbow) . . . Davis' not thought to be serious, not sure about Jefferson . . . Sark said that Justin Davis' hamstring is close to allowing him to come back . . . big plays in the "final five" to get the offense a 3-2 win for its firstin three days came on a wheel route TD to Soma Vainuku from the 15 and a seam route on a busted defensive assignment to Tre Madden with great reads and throws by Cody Kessler on both of them . . . TE Tyler Petite, Juju Smith-Schuster and Christian Tober also had TD catches today . . . tough call for catch of the day between Deontay Burnett and his midair catch in traffic or De'Quan Hampton with his backward shoetop grab while getting pounded. Flip a coin on those two.

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details and play-by-play on Monday's workout, check out FALL PRACTICE 3 MONDAY GHOST NOTES.

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