Last February, USC signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. The true success of that class will depend on how its defensive line recruits pan out going forward.
The Trojans signed five interior defensive linemen, which included Christian Rector, Rasheem Green, Kevin Scott, Noah Jefferson and Jacob Daniel.
It’s a young group still making their way in camp, but youth doesn’t reflect the immediate size upgrade it gave USC.
“The theme is they’re all big, maybe outside Christian,” said USC nose guard Antwaun Woods. “They’re big bodies and I think the coaches want to get bigger to control the front.
“We have five seniors leaving this year, so we have to make sure those guys are ready to go.”
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson is the recipient of last cycle’s recruiting haul. Although Rasheem Green has been withheld from much of practice as he comes back from knee surgery, the young defensive line has been getting plenty of reps.
Christian Rector, a somewhat overlooked part of the 2015 class, may be one of fall camp’s most pleasant surprises.
“He’s a change up guy with some speed and wiggle off the edge,” said Wilson. “He can play defensive end, but not just inside but he can play some five-technique in some packages for us.
“It’s really fun because he did that in high school and I really think he has a bright future ahead of him here. He’s a young 18-years-old, so with his frame he can get bigger and stronger. He’s in that 260-pound range, but we don’t want him to lose his mobility. He has a lot of quick twitch.”
Both Kevin Scott and Noah Jefferson have been playing the four-technique during the first week of camp. Jefferson, who hyper-extended his elbow in practice last week should be back in action soon according to Wilson.
“This is only Kevin’s second year of playing football,” said Wilson. “He doesn’t have a ton of bad habits to break, so it’s just a matter of him getting use to the speed of the game.
“First thing he said to me was, ‘Coach, it moves so fast.’ Once he gets acclimated to that, he’ll fit right in.
“With Noah, hopefully he’ll be back in the next few days. It’s nothing serious, but the training staff will take care of that. What he showed early in camp was really positive. Noah is just learning and he also has a bright future with us.
“That’s really true of all these guys. They’re playing against grown men now. The young guys are just learning to the tempo and the sense of urgency you need at this level. Once they get that down it will bode well for us, not only in the future, but this season.”
Jefferson was a recruit USC offered a scholarship early in the process when many questioned whether he would qualify academically. The Trojans staff went on Jefferson in order to carve out a clear path to eligibility.
That proactive approach paid off with Jefferson graduating on time with the rest of the incoming freshmen.
“When you invest all of the time and resources into a young man, it’s nice to see if make it and to be on campus,” said Wilson.
Jacob Daniel, who went from 285-pounds as a junior at Clovis North to 320-pounds this off season steps in at the nose guard position.
“I don’t know if it’s a header position to play, but the nose has more variables because he’s surrounded on both sides by blockers,” said Wilson. “It’s not like your typical four-technique where you’re just covered up from one edge.
“What Jacob does a great job at is block recognition. He is big and he has reshaped his body, but he’s also smart. I’m really excited about what he brings to the table. He gives us some opportunities to do different things coming into the season.”
Woods, who is a returning starter at the position, has help mentor Daniel during summer work outs.
“What I lie about Jacob is his want-to,” said Woods. “He was out of shape and he knew that, but it didn’t stop him from getting better. He shows the effort to want to fix things and get better.
“Right now he’s trying to understand how everything works around him. I feel like we play in the middle of the defense, which is the most important part of the defense. You have to be strong in the middle to have a strong defense.
“I like to be the quarterback of the defense though. It’s about knowing your assignments, but also know all the calls and being able to set the front. You have to know tendencies and be able to talk to the guys around you.”
While Green isn’t practicing, Wilson did have some good news about his progress coming back from knee surgery last year.
“Rasheem is in recovery, but we should get him back soon,” said Wilson. “Coach Sark talk about injuries in that regard, but we expect full go by the time our first game comes around.”
Practice news and Notes:
- News broke Sunday afternoon that freshman quarterback Ricky Town will transfer out of USC. Town had struggled in camp throwing interceptions and had not established himself as the clear No. 3 quarterback over freshman Sam Darnold despite participating in spring football.
- Hardly a newcomer to USC, Bishop Amat wide out Tyler Vaughns was back on campus this past weekend visiting USC. Vaughns spent time talking with wide receivers coach Tee Martin between practice periods. Vaughns will make a decision on a college public Aug. 22.
- Freshman defensive end Rasheem Green dressed again Saturday and Sunday, but had a brace on his left knee only. Green did jog around the field from drill to drill and did jumping jacks on rehab island. Green saw some swelling in his knee after the first day of practice, but defensive line coach Chris Wilson says that expect him back soon. "Definitely before the start of the season.”
- Freshman defensive end Noah Jefferson was also held out of practice with his elbow injury, but he did cardio and moved well in rehab. Wilson said that he expects Jefferson back within the next few days.
- Although Deontay Burnett has been very impressive all camp long, he was called out Saturday when he ran the entirely wrong route in position drills. Catching some choice words from Steve Sarkisian, Burnett dropped the next pass still not running the right route. It’s a reminder that Burnett is only a freshman.
- Freshman running back Aca'Cedric Ware was the first to get carries behind Tre Madden Saturday. Ware ended up with double digit touches in competition periods, including a nice 20-yard run and a reception for a long gain up the sideline from a wheel route. Ware's big run came in the last 11-on-11 period where he bounced back to the right side of the offensive and took advantage of some over-pursuit by the linebackers.
- Freshman tailback Ronald Jones got plenty of carries between the tackles Sunday, and it appears the staff really wants to see what he does stringing together multiple consecutive rushing attempts. Saturday, he had no big runs and was bottled up during the scrimmage periods of practice. Sunday, Jones had a strong finish to practice in a closing roll behind Tre Madden.
- Jones does continue to have trouble securing the football on kick off returns. He has had multiple drops in multiple practices. Before USC can use his speed on special teams, he has to learn how to track and catch the football cleanly.
- Freshman tight end Tyler Petite had his daily two receptions for about 25-yards during seven-on-seven Saturday and Sunday. As it stands, Petite is clearly the team's No. 2 option at tight end behind Connor Spears. Last year around this time Petite was committed to Duke.
- De'Quan Hampton led the newcomers in receptions again Saturday and Sunday. Hampton did have a pass broken up on a 50-50 ball against Jonathan Lockett in 11-on-11 Saturday. It was the type of pass Hampton was recruited to catch.
- Freshman linebacker John Houston recorded a sack in team scrimmaging Saturday. Slowly but surely, the freshman linebackers are flashing more and more playmaking ability. This has been a good week for Osa Masina and Porter Gustin, although neither had any big highlights plays. Masina definitely seems to have another gear when the practice intensity picks up. Monday’s scrimmage should be a showcase practice for him.
- Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall and freshman safety Ykili Ross have been quiet, yet solid the past few practices. Marshall is still looking for his first interception of camp, while Ross has been close to adding to his total. Both players had multiple pass deflections this weekend and Marshall had two tackles for losses as well.