Week 2 of the Trojan summer went public again Thursday. And even if the kind of news USC fans are hoping to see and hear won't happen in summer workouts, it starts there. And with the arrival of USC's four summer freshmen, it's becoming clear here.
Sure, we understand the arrival of running back Stephen Carr, linebacker Levi Jones and safeties Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao for the early summer session starting in May had something to do with who graduated when and the rest of the freshmen will get here for the June 23 second summer session.
But watching the four of them out there, watching Carr catch it and turn upfield or show you the kind of quick feet and confidence that you can see in person but not always on tape to the extent you can see it even at the other end of Brian Kennedy Field, says something else.
Just as the ability of Levi Jones, looking bigger than his listed 6-foot-3 and 220, to jump in there with the first group with John Houston not at practice. He looked bigger than we expected, flowed to the ball well and did not seem in over his head.
The same for the safety duo of the 6-3 Bolden and the 6-4 Pola-Mao working with their mentors -- Chris Hawkins and Matt Lopes. These four are here for a reason. These guys have a shot to make it into the rotation. And by being here early, they're getting that shot.
None of the four look like they need all that much physical seasoning. Carr looked leaner and more cut than his video shows. He does not look like a freshman. USC coaches said it when they signed him. He will play. He will make USC better.
Speaking of playing and making USC better, redshirt freshman Jamel Cook can play every spot in the secondary but may get his start as a 6-4 quick-footed and quick-twitch, smooth-hip-turning, aggressive corner. Might be the surest way to get him in there even though he'll be down in the box on the slot and back at deep safety as well. Hard to think of the slim and tall DB as the next Troy Polamalu but that's where he is only with more of a corner skill set.
USC fans can only ream of 2018 with a secondary of 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3 (Marvell Tell). Not sure we've ever seen that anywhere.
But first 2017. The one story line that's likely to play out for a while here is the mixing and matching along the offensive line with Nico Falah at center and right tackle, Toa Lobendahn at left tackle and center along with Cole Smith, who got his chance last spring. Then there's Chuma Edoga at both tackles and freshman Andrew Vorhees at guard and tackle. Looks like this might play out all the way to the two weeks before the Western Michigan game. Not a bad thing, that kind of competition.
But the really good news this year is the way the Trojans seem connected across the board to the rest of the college football world -- just as they were last year after the win at Washington game through UCLA, Notre Dame and the Rose Bowl. It's neat to be relevant again. The Trojans matter. And you can't ask for anything more than that in June -- to be one of the players with a chance.
*** YOGI ON USC HYPE: Former USC coach and Pac-12 amalyst Yogi Roth says he “thinks USC is worthy of the hype is because of (the defense). I was around there a lot in spring. I love the middle of their defense . . . They’re built to win their games if they stay healthy. They’ll be favored in every game, even with no bye. The first three weeks are at home. The hype is there, and they have two trap games they’re aware of, at Wazzu on a Friday and at ASU on Halloween weekend.”
*** JEREMIAH ON SAM: Here's the key part of it of his Sam Darnold analysis: "His ability to avoid pressure, extend plays and keep his eyes downfield generated a lot of big plays in the games I studied. I love his no-flinch attitude in pressure situations (see Rose Bowl) and his even-keeled personality is a good fit for the position." Catch the rest of Daniel Jeremiah's smart NFL.com analysis after much tape-watching of Sam at this link.
*** STILL NOT MOVING UP IN ATHLON: With the release of its complete preseason rankings Nos. 1 through 130 Wednesday, Athlon still has USC at No. 5 right behind Washington at No. 4. And still has as a key part of its rationale that Washington has by far the easier schedule. We're thinking if USC runs the table, that 4-5 positioning won't hold. As to the easier schedule being an advantage, it wasn't last year. USC's schedule had prepared the Trojans far better for the UW game than the Huskies had been prepared to play a team with USC's talent. But even if the 4-5 rankings do hold, we'd prefer to be the team coming off USC's schedule and a bye week going into the Pac-12 championship game, especially since that Friday game will be a short week for whichever of the three teams, all in big rivalry games the Saturday before when USC will be watching on TV, come out of the North. Oregon will be coming off the Oregon State game, Washington off its Washington State game and Stanford from its Notre Dame game.
*** REASONS FOR TROJANS NOT TO GET TOO FULL OF THEMSELVES: Athlon also downplays USC talent with its unit rankings in the Pac-12. Not a single Trojan group -- RBs, WRs, O-Line, D-Line, LBs and DBs, is ranked tops in the Pac-12 although Darnold is. Washington meanwhile has four of the six No. 1's -- RBs, OL, DL and LBs. And only one USC group is No. 2 -- the linebackers. USC's RB's, WR's and DL are all No. 3 with the DBs No. 4. And the OL not in the top five.
*** LOTS OF NUMBERS LEFT: Now that we know what numbers the four freshmen will be wearing: Bolden No. 2, Carr No. 6, Pola-Mao No. 7 and Levi Jones No. 13, there are still a number of numbers left. More than we'd have guessed as we check the current 85-man roster on the USCTrojans site, not counting the four freshmen above and the 11 more arriving next week. The doubling-up of offensive and defensive numbers helps. Still available are: Nos. 3, 5, 9, 11, 12, 20, 22, 30, 32, 33, 39, 40, 43, 53, 55, 57, 58, 59, 62, 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 75, 83, 84, 91, 96 and 97.
*** SURPRISE IN 5 TOP FANTASY BREAKOUT QB'S: We've become big fans of the folks at Pro Football Focus in recent years and thought USC fans might be interested in their latest. No real shock at the first four breakout QB candidates on the PFF list: Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston, Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, NYG's Eli Manning and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. But No. 5? None other than Trojan Cody Kessler who behind a Cleveland O-line PFF says is arguably one of the better lines in the NFL. Who knew? But what they say about Cody is really positive: "Over the last 10 years, there have been 31 rookie quarterbacks with at least 195 pass attempts. Among that cohort, Kessler ranks third in completion percentage (65.64 percent), fourth in passer rating (92.3), sixth in adjusted yards per attempt (7.23), and he owns the second-lowest interception rate (1.03 percent). Those are numbers that the Browns can build on and provide a solid foundation for Kessler moving forward. Despite the Browns drafting DeShone Kizer in the second round, Kessler proved in his rookie season that he’s an adept quarterback. Barring injury (Kessler had two concussions last season), Kessler has a great opportunity to take a big step forward in Year 2.as good as any in the NFL could get it rolling."