It's amazing how intense and active our practices are right now, especially when you consider today is only the second day of camp. Several onlookers, including some local high school coaches, were very impressed with how the Trojans have hit the ground running in camp and are already practicing at a very high level.
Tom Malone is certainly in mid-season form as his punting display at the beginning of the day featured many of his usual booming kicks. There was a rotation of Bush, Carlson and Arbet returning the majority of kicks until Matt Leinart snuck into the drill and returned one, Matt fielded the kick and headed upfield (there was no defense in the drill) to show his moves as he headed down the sideline to the grins of his teammates.
A run drill was held on Brian Kennedy Field which was very animated. When the defensive players gathered to start the drill they were jumping up and down, yelling and hollering with Ed Orgeron in the middle getting them fired up. LenDale White had a nice run on one of the first plays when he followed a block from Travis Watkins. Hershel Dennis had a long run along the right sideline after Kurt Katnik blocked Lawrence Jackson and Hershel was able to get to the outside. Sedrick Ellis stopped White for a loss. Reggie Bush popped a long touchdown along the left sideline. Matt Grootegoed stopped Hershel for no gain with a solid form tackle. The drill ended when Hershel fumbled the exchange from the QB and Dallas Sartz picked up the ball and went into the end zone. It's become common to notice that Dallas is often around loose footballs and that's no accident with his instincts for the game.
An 11 on 11 drill got started with Matt Leinart taking the reps. He hit Carlson for 25 yards to get things started but then Reggie Bush was tackled by Mike Patterson (got into the backfield quickly) for a 2 yard loss. At this point one high school coach turned to me and said "wow this defense is good" and I certainly agree with that statement. Leinart made a creative play when he scrambled to his right to avoid pressure from Chris Barrett and he hit Dennis with a shovel pass to get a couple yards when it easily could've been a loss on the play. Leinart was picked by Sartz who had a nice runback. Matt followed that up with one of the best plays of the day on a deep pass down the middle to Alex Holmes (as Alex was avoiding the defender after the catch he bounced into Carlson and Greig went flying to the ground).
John David Booty took the reins at QB and he was picked off immediately on a good play by Jason Leach. John David responded nicely when he laid the ball up along the sideline and let Will Buchanan run under it for a long touchdown. It was a pretty catch by Buchanan as he simply stretched his long arms out to bring the ball in. Booty hit a short pass to Bush who was covered well by Thomas Williams and Thomas tried hard to wrestle the ball away from his roommate but Reggie was able to hang on. Booty had another nice completion when he hit Chris McFoy with a crisp slant pass as McFoy made a good catch of the hard thrown ball and quickly turned upfield to elude John Walker for a nice gain.
Ryan Killeen was hitting field goals with plenty of room to spare. He really looked good today.
A blitz drill was held on Howard Jones Field. Booty completed a pass to Steve Smith who turned it into a big gain. Sartz came on the blitz and got the sack. Booty read the blitz and hit Buchanan with a quick pass across the middle. Booty tried to hit Buchanan again on the next play but the ball bounced off the receivers hands and into the waiting arms of Collin Ashton. Groots had a sack as Hershel Dennis tried to block him in the backfield but Matt was too aggressive and ran right through the block attempt. There aren't too many blitzing linebackers who do it better than Matt Grootegoed. Booty threw to Carlson who made a very nice catch down the middle. Norm Chow called a run up the middle with LenDale White in an effort to keep the defense honest and LenDale broke for a long gain. Barrett had a sack on Booty. At one point in the drill we saw Ryan Kalil at LG, Ross Burruel at center and Travis Watkins at RG. We'll see various rotations throughout camp as Tim Davis tries to find the best five players along the offensive line.
The final plays of the day were spirited as Pete Carroll set the tone with some competition between the offense and defense. Leinart didn't waste anytime going to the big play as Reggie Bush was lined up against Ronald Nunn and Leinart hit him in stride on a streak down the sidelines for a score. It was a very nice play. Leinart then saw good coverage from the defense and dumped down to Hershel Dennis who ran in open field for 10 yards before a defender came up to make the play. One of the things Chow stresses to Leinart is the fact that it's OK to hit the checkdowns in this offense because the running backs are so explosive with the ball in their hands. Reggie Bush took a handoff and tried a couple juke moves but Jason Leach wasn't buying the fakes and he stopped Reggie for no gain. Reggie tried to get outside on a sweep but Lawrence Jackson strung the play out and Oscar Lua was able to make the tackle. Leinart tried to dump a short pass to Buchanan but Greg Farr made a nice play to knock the ball away.
Afternoon Practice Recap
The newcomers practiced again this afternoon with a couple key position switches being evident right from the start. Michael Stuart is still wearing #43 but he is now lined up as a strongside linebacker. Eugene Germany is wearing #80 and is playing tight end. I talked with Stuart after practice and he said the coaches recruited him as an athlete so he wasn't surprised they wanted to take a look at him at different positions. It remains to be seen if the move is permanent but Michael said the defensive system is similar to the one he played in at Westlake so he felt pretty comfortable today. He played at rush DE his last two years in HS but as a freshman and soph he was a stand-up defender so he has played the position before.
One walk-on that was noted is LB Clay Matthews Jr (son of the former Trojan) and he has pretty good size. He's wearing #47.
Marco Chavez was back at linebacker today after seeing some time at DT.
Former Trojan defensive tackle Ennis Davis was at practice today and he received a nice reception from his position coach Ed Orgeron and teammate Petros Papadakis.
After watching a sharp morning practice from the veterans we saw the offense struggle to move the ball this afternoon although there were some good performances.
Matt Cassel continues to be steady without trying to do too much. Matt threw the ball away on several plays if the receiver wasn't open and he also completed several passes on the run. The offensive line this morning did a pretty good job of handling the blitzing packages being thrown at them but this afternoon it was a struggle for the o-line to get consistency against the hard charging defense.
In a run drill on Brian Kennedy Field we saw some good blocks from Taitusi Lutui as he was in some battles with Fili Moala. On one play Lutui completely opened a hole and received high fives from many of his teammates. Deuce played at RT with Matt Spanos at LT and Drew Radovich seeing action at both spots. Keith Rivers showed good instincts in arriving at the right holes and it's going to be nice to see what he does when the pads come on this Sunday.
On Howard Jones Field there was a passing drill and Rivers barely missed an interception on a deep pass attempt to Jimmy Miller. Desmond Reed made a terrific play when he juggled a ball while coming across the middle but he kept his concentration and eventually made the grab. Rivers added a pick. Eric Wright made a nice play to knock a pass away. Michael Stuart dropped back into coverage on Dale Thompson and calmly batted down a pass attempt. Rocky Hinds threw one of his best passes of the day on a deep throw to Reed down the middle of the field. Desmond has put together two good practices in a row.
An 11 on 11 blitz drill got started with Cassel completing a deep pass to Dale Thompson. Thomas Herring recovered a fumbled snap, there were multiple fumbled snaps during the afternoon session. Scott Ware came on a blitz and forced an early throw from Cassel into coverage, Eric Wright was in position for the possible pick but he and Dwayne Jarrett both went for the ball and it fell incomplete. Rivers forced Hinds out of the pocket on a blitz. Brandon Ting got a sack on Hinds. Rocky rolled out to his right and tried to throw a pass back across the middle of the field, the ball floated incomplete but it was the kind of throw that he won't be able to get away with in the future. Cassel hit Jarrett on a nice slant pass. Matt then hit Fred Davis and Fred looked pretty good today. Lawrence Miles got pressure into the backfield on a handoff to Reed and he forced the play into the middle of the field for no gain. It was a nice play by Miles. Stuart did a good job to stay home on a run from walk-on John Griffin and he held the play to a short gain. The final play of the practice was a short Cassel pass to Jody Adewale.
The freshmen posed together on the field after practice for a Sports Illustrated photographer who was taking a group shot of the talented Trojan recruits. Look for the photo in an upcoming issue.
The freshmen also had to do some push ups after practice after losing the "rookie ball", a football that Coach Carroll had given to them with instructions not to be without it during fall camp. At a meeting last night the ball was nowhere to be found and the freshmen did their brief punishment today.