Gerard Martinez |

Growing up to compete

It takes a lot of work and in many cases, a lot of weight when you want to compete the way Porter Gustin does this year. So that's what you do.

It's what you do when you know you're going to be going against Zach Banner every day of the 2016 season. While Zach was busy losing 40 pounds, down to 345, Porter Gustin was putting them on. The 6-foot-5 sophomore Predator tips the scales at 270 now, up from 245 as a freshman.

"I'm stronger and I'm smarter," Porter says of the player he was a year ago. "I have to be able to set the edge and in the pass rush, I have to be able to power rush." Even against a guy as imposing as the 6-9 Banner.

"He's one of the best in the country and those guys [the O-line] are all a lot older and stronger than they were," Porter says. "But then so has the D-line."

Banner especially. "He's hard to beat in the pass rush even when you get separation, it's hard to see around him," Porter says. "That's one of the biggest things he has going. And to get separation isn't easy because he gets those long arms attached to you."

Not a problem, Gustin says. It's a benefit playing here now. "It's great having an O-line that good -- one of the best in the country -- to go against."

And go they do. "With all the blitzes we do, I love the attitude of shooting the gaps," Porter says. "They don't know what you're doing every play."

Getting to play under Clancy Pendergast and his aggressive style of defense is just what Porter would have ordered if he could. But until Clancy got here, "I'd heard stories," he said but didn't know all that much. Now he does.

"I love it," he says. "I don't want to be just another player out there. I want to strive for greatness. And I think all the hours I've put in the offseason have helped me."

Watching today's practice was ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden, a good friend of Clancy's who had the USC defensive staff in for a visit in the offseason. Clay Helton said he was lucky to get some advice as a young coach from Gruden: "He told me the same thing my dad [former NFL and college coach Kim Helton who was here again today] told me -- be myself."

That advice is certainly carrying over to the defense where Clancy is his aggressive self back at USC again. Clay had good words for a number of defenders after practice. How Cam Smith "is such an instinctive player it allows him to play faster" than what his Combine numbers might show.

Said they're trying to get Osa Masina "assignment sound" after missing reps in the spring and that Osa has "done a nice job." And after a deflection by 6-foot-7, 265-pound Connor Murphy at the end of practice sending a Sam Darnold pass to C.J. Pollard for Sam's first interception of Fall Camp, credited the drill work of Kenechi Udeze for the way the D-line has stepped up there to get their hands up in the pass rush.

"That's a quarterback's worst nightmare," former QB Helton said. "You think you have an open throwing lane . . . " and then you don't. "I really like the way Clancy is changing up the nickel package."

Gerard Martinez
And doing so with backups in with a number of front-line guys nursing injuries and Iman Marshall out for a family funeral. That was the chance for Ajene Harris, recently having moved over from wide receiver, to get first-team work opposite Adoree' Jackson at corner.

"I'm just working on knowing the playbook and getting the technique down," Ajene said, playing with a solid 187 pounds on his 5-11 frame. "I talk a lot to Adoree' and Biggie. It's great to have them here. I watch them and then talk to them about what they're doing."

No. 1 thing for Ajene, he says, is getting out of my breaks, getting on top of the receivers. I feel like I belong out there. Those are some of the best wide receivers in the country. I think if I can stay with them, I can stay with anybody."

"He's grinding out there," Adoree' said. "He's not afraid of competition. You get a player like that, you go with him."

As far as competition, Adoree' was asked by reporter A.P. Steadham if USC was thinking about playing an SEC team again. "Not much," Adoree' said. "Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, ball is ball." 

FOOTNOTE FRIDAY: Three hamstring guys back Friday -- for some team work anyway -- Chris Hawkins, Matt Lopes and Jalen Greene . . . Kevin Scott, Frank Martin and E.J. Price out with a stomach flu bug that's hit the team . . . John Plattenburg still out on concussion protocol . . . Clay said it's not official until next Wednesday but he's been assured that there will be no academic casualties on this team . . . Pres. Max Nikias here today and got a big hug, not to mention a USC hat and t-shirt from Clay . . . Lynn Swann also with the president . . .        

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