With the departure of veteran receivers Nelson Agholor and George Farmer, 19-year old Juju Smith-Schuster not only steps into the role of USC's top receiver, but the youngster has also become one of the leaders for receivers coach Tee Martin.
"He is a vocal leader, but also he does it by example as well," Tee Martin said. "But I don't put that on him, the best way to lead is by doing it. People gain respect for you by what you do.
"I didn't say anything to him, he didn't say, 'Coach, I've got to be whatever,' he's just doing it. That's who he is. He came in the door that way. He came in the door wanting to be on all the special teams, wanting to start at receiver and ever since he has been here he has just been a natural born leader."
On Sunday, Smith-Schuster was the top skill position performer on the team.
Many times this fall Smith has been the top target for the Trojan quarterbacks and Sunday was no exception. His highlight play was a rolling grab where Smith-Schuster was running towards the right sideline and hauled in a low throw from Cody Kessler.
"He's much improved, much improved," Martin said. "There were some things coming out of the spring we wanted him to work on. From a route-running standpoint, releases and different things like that. He worked hard and coming into training camp we went back and revisited some of it. The retention was there, the attention to detail was there and he is now at that point where he can be the feature guy, or one of the featured guys."
- Top Play Sunday: Jonathan Lockett
The top play on Sunday was actually the last play of the practice. It was during the final competition between the offense and the defense where five plays are run and whichever side gets to three wins first, wins the day.
The situation was set up as two-point conversions and the defense was already up 2-1. Cody Kessler dropped back looking for a receiver on the right side of the field. Everyone looked covered, but because of the situation where an interception counts the same as an incompletion or a sack, Kessler tried to fit one into a small window.
Cornerback Jonathan Lockett, who was getting first team reps all day after Kevon Seymour bruised his knee on Saturday, saw the pass all the way and closed in for the kill. Lockett was positioned in a zone between Juju Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell. Kessler tried to loft the ball to the deeper Mitchell but Lockett was there to make a heads-up and athletic interception.
Honorable mention goes to a break taken during practice where players were all given Pedialyte popsicles, trying to deal with the intense mid afternoon heat.
- Top Newcomer Saturday: Sam Darnold
With the news of freshman quarterback Ricky Town transferring breaking on Sunday, fellow true freshman Sam Darnold made the most of his increased reps. Our Dan Weber talks about Darnold's impressive performance:
"He wasn't here last spring but Sam Darnold made up for it quickly from the first day in the summer. Everybody knew he could run but his ability to throw on the run, deep and accurately, was a surprise. He looks a little like a linebacker or a tight end, and could one day be that 6-foot-4, 245-pound Ben Roethlisberger type although with a great deal more foot speed. One of the more interesting recruits USC has come up with in recent years. Not what we exactly expected. The clear No. 3 in the battle with fellow QB recruit Ricky Town, now transferring, who was the much more touted prospect out of high school. "
- Top Lineman Saturday: Chris Brown
Sunday was a difficult day to evaluate linemen considering the one-on-one drills were in the far corner of the field with players obstructing the views of the media. But we gave the lineman of the day award to offensive guard Chris Brown, who has been getting first team reps at right guard and second team reps at left guard. Here is what Dan Weber had to say about Brown:
"He's gone from a soft 295 pounds as a first-year fill-in scout teamer to 303 solid and reshaped pounds as a fill-in first teamer who says all his hard work with Max Tuerk and Zach Banner in the weight room since last season is paying off. He looks the part now and knows he might just be 'a play or two away,' he says from being out there on the field in games. Probably has come the farthest of all the young O-linemen."
- Top Walk-on Sunday: The wide receivers
You could say picking all of the walk-on receivers is a bit of a copout, but as a group these guys played extremely well on Sunday. It started early with redshirt sophomore Yoofi Quansah, working on the scout team punt block team. He blocked a punt against the first team punt protection team and he got in there close on the next attempt.
Redshirt senior David Mellstrom hauled in a one-armed catch down the right sideline and George Katrib, Robby Kolanz and Christian Tober continued to make tons of plays at practice.
"I love those guys, man. They work hard," Tee Martin said. "It takes so much work to get to where they are and they are going to help us this year.
"They have been here for a while. They know the system, they know what the standard is and what the expectations are and they are ready to play. A lot of them have already played.
"It is to the point now that I feel comfortable putting them in games. And they know it."