They're "doing OK," was the way Steve Sarkisian answered the question about his offensive line.
Well, OK then.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement after Friday morning's first of double days work that focused on the nitty-gritty stuff: short-yardage situations, huddling up, getting some wedge space for a couple of freshmen running backs with Justin Davis still out and Tre Madden mostly getting rest instead of reps.
"We learned a bit about our pad level," Sark said. It's still too high but getting better.
Two areas to improve: the aforementioned "pad level" and "picking up the blitz," Sark said.
One big plus for an offensive line of great promise is the presence of sophomore Toa Lobendahn, who started at left guard the first eight games of his freshman year and at left tackle for the injured Chad Wheeler the final five.
"He's versatile and willing," Sark said of the flexibility Toa brings. But something more: the "want to," Sark said. Which was demonstrated Friday with Toa picking up the second center spot, his third position this fall.
With Wheeler looking like he's back -- "Chad looks great," Sark said -- that ability to pick up three spots just expands an O-line deeper than USC has been accustomed to.
But if you want to feel good about USC's O-line, the man to talk to is Zach Banner.
"I love this team . . . I love how it's looking," Zach said, noting that since "losing 25-plus pounds" himself, he's also looking pretty good. And looking at lots of film -- of himself last season and of USC alum Tyron Smith -- "the best left tackle in the NFL," he says.
"It's all about effort," he says. No more of this 95 percent stuff. Only 100 percent every play. That's what works.
But about the NFL: Is the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior thinking about it?
"That's for the end of the year," he says, noting that he could have gone after last season."It's on my mind -- and it's not on my mind," he says, making sure you got all of that sentence -- especially the part about "not" on his mind. But here's what is.
"I want to be an All-American. I want to be on that wall," he says with a wave at the legendary Trojans surrounding Brian Kennedy and Howard Jones Fields. But he wants more than that, much more.
He wants to be an NFL first-round pick, but not just any first-rounder, the overall No. 1 pick, Zach says. But this isn't just an individual quest. He looks at the numbers on the walls.
He wants the 11 national championships to be 12, the 12 NFL Hall of Famers to be 13, the 24 Rose Bowls to be 25, well, you get the picture.
But the voluble Zach doesn't stop there. Ask him about the new-look USC defensive line and he'll give you this scouting report.
"They're high effort guys," he says, "and they've gotten stronger. And there are a lot of them. It's like a different guy across from you every play. That's good."
Straight Outta Compton
"I loved it," Darreus Rogers was saying as the lone Compton native on this Trojans team that caught the first day of the film's showing Thursday. "I'm going to see it 100 times."
"I wasn't even born yet," he says of the time his folks told him about when rap was king in Compton. But he recognized all the places in his hometown.
And something else: "How you can be somebody," he said, coming out of Compton. Which is what Darreus is doing these days as one of the most obviously improved Trojans.
He's much more flexible, he says. And faster, a tribute he says, to USC's strength boss, Ivan Lewis. And his younger teammate, Juju Smith-Schuster, who has shown him how to work hard -- really hard.
But there's something else. Darreus knows the playbook completely now. He doesn't have to stop and think, "I can just play with no hesitation."
FRIDAY QUICK TAKES:
Lots of atmospherics today with the band practicing for the first time on Brittingham Field and visitors like Mike Williams, now head football coach at LA's Lott HS, along with Jeff Byers, down 90 pounds from his top NFL weight of 310, who has moved back from Colorado to start a West Coast branch of a national wealth management company and Kyle Matthews, also down to 195 from his playing weight of 220 . . . Quinton Powell said his concussion on the last play Tuesday was serious and he barely made it off the field . . . said he's doing better on the concussion tests now but just observed while wearing a visor to cut down on the glare that was a problem . . . Says he's holding his weight almost at 210 and that's not a bad thing . . . With all the attention to short yardage and huddles and some basic housekeeping details, and with the freshman running backs Ronald Jones II and Aca'Cedric Waredoing the bulk of work, it wasn't exactly the most exciting of workouts with a second session, closed to the public and the media, Friday night at 7 . . . First time we're seeing AD Pat Haden here . . . also Associate AD J.K. McKay as well . . . feels more like a school day. CHECK THIS OUT: For more details and play-by-play on Tuesday's workout, check out FALL PRACTICE 6 FRIDAY GHOST NOTES.
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