After two intense practice days over the weekend the Trojans held a shorter practice this morning in shorts and shoulder pads before putting the full pads on this afternoon. The morning session featured a lot of teaching of the two-minute drive situations for the offense and nickel packages for the defense.
With the limited practice sessions today we spent most of the time following the linebackers to get a status on this impressive group. Matt Grootegoed is the starter at wekside backer, Lofa Tatupu is in the middle and Dallas Sartz is set on the strongside although Dallas didn't practice this morning after getting a bee sting on his arm (he's expected back shortly). The back-ups are Collin Ashton and Thomas Williams at SLB, Ryan Powdrell and Oscar Lua in the middle and Keith Rivers on the weak side. Clay Matthews, Jr and Michael Stuart are also seeing some time although Stuart sat out the morning practice.
Groots is healthy right now and playing like we all know he can. He's just always around the ball. Lofa is one of the leaders on the team and he's basically the quarterback of the defense. One of the interesting things about Groots and Lofa is that both of them played QB in high school so their understanding of offenses is a boost for the coaching staff. Lofa is pretty scrappy and today he made tackles on both Bush and Reed where he was grabbing at their jerseys and hanging on until help arrived from his teammates. Lofa did a great job on one play today where he covered Steve Smith downfield and caused an incompletion.
Rivers has so many raw skills and it's just a matter of time while he learns the system until he becomes a top player. He was getting a lot of praise this morning from Ken Norton for his work taking on the fullback in one running drill. Keith also had an interception today although Smith stripped him of the ball on the runback and Josh Pinkard recovered (the sidelines were yelling "high and tight" during the runback to remind Keith how to carry the ball). The battle between Powdrell and Lua is ongoing and both of them are very much in the hunt for the back-up role in the middle. Ryan did a good job on one play today where he filled the hole to stop a run by Reed. The thought on putting Ashton on the strongside, he played weakside last season, is that he can play both spots and he already knows the weak position so the coaches want him to learn strong as well. His flexibility gives the coaches a lot of options to play him where needed. Williams is a hitter as well so he will be fighting Collin for time throughout camp.
Linebacker coach Rocky Seto said this group is making great strides so far in camp and he's excited about the depth available to him this year. He and Norton make a good pair of coaches as Rockyt said Ken is very intense and gets the players motivated while Rocky is trying to focus more these days on technique and teaching of the system.
Mark Sanchez was in attendance.
A couple of walk-on additions to the roster:
#22 Jimmy Abbot CB (Loyola)
#48 Brad Walker WR (Foothill)
#65 Jeff Tola DT (Upland)
#98 Mike Davis (Saddleback College)
Afternoon practice recap
The Trojans were scheduled for a full pads practice but came out again in shorts and shoulder pads as the team gets ready for a scrimmage tomorrow. The main thing that stood out this afternoon is the continued impressive display by Dwayne Jarrett as the young freshman made several plays that continue to build upon his already solid reputation.
"He's just a natural,' said receivers coach Lane Kiffin. "He does something special every day and that's what you look for in a big time player. He's got a lot of similarities to Mike as a freshman, maybe not as big in the lower body, but he knows how to act like a power forward when he goes up to get the ball."
The play of the day for Dwayne was a deep slant from John David Booty where the ball seemed destined to sail past Jarrett but at the last minute Dwayne put one paw out and grabbed the ball in a manner that Mike Williams would've been proud of ("that was his special play today", said Kiffin). In fact, Williams had walked onto the practice field moments before the catch and he was smiling broadly after Dwayne came down with the ball. Dwayne received cheers from his teammates the entire time he ran back to the huddle after the catch. It certainly wasn't his only big play of the practice but it stood out from the others. He also had an impressive sideline catch against DaSean Cunningham, a juggling catch over the middle and another tough catch on a slant where the ball was thrown high but he went up effortlessly to make the play.
There were a couple other impressive catches on the offensive end. Nick Vanderboom made a one-handed catch in a short yardage drill on Howard Jones Field that brought cheers from his teammates. Chris McFoy made a nice grab in traffic along the sidelines with two defenders nearby. Alex Holmes had a deep reception.
We talked this morning about the linebackers and in the afternoon practice we saw a new look. With Sartz sitting out we had Groots moving to SLB with Rivers playing with the 1st unit at WLB. On the play when Vanderboom made his catch Groots got swallowed up on a block from Sam Baker where Baker just seemed to overwhelm Matt with his size.
Spent some time watching the linemen in their one on one drills. Shaun Cody went up against Tiny Malu on back to back plays and simply went past him without any trouble. Lawrence Jackson and Baker had some good battles and each got the better of each other at various times. Fred Matua is having a solid camp. Travis Tofi had a sack in a drill and he also blocked another field goal attempt (he blocked two yesterday). Taitusi Lutui made one block where he moved Jeff Schweiger several yards away from the play in an impressive display of strength from Deuce.
Tom Malone rested his leg today and so we saw Ryan Killeen try a couple punts. His first one went off the side of his foot but the 2nd one was a pretty nice kick. The field goal unit attempted a pair of 45 yard kicks, the Killeen effort was blocked by Tofi while Mario Danelo made his try.
Practice ended with an interception by walk-on Jimmy Abbott and he was quickly mobbed by his defensive teammates giving him congratulations.
Among those spotted at practice were Pete Arbogast (looking tan coming off vacation) and a pair of younger brothers with USC ties (Khaled Holmes and Kevin Graf). Holmes is 6-3, 245 and about to begin his freshman year at Mater Dei while Graf is 6-4, 240 with a size 16 shoe and he is about to start 8th grade. Kevin was visiting practice with his dad, former USC OL Allan Graf.