It was a shorts and shoulder pads practice this morning and today marked the return of Dominique Byrd to action. The big Trojan tight end has been limited to sideline workouts thus far in fall camp but today he was able to get out on the field with his teammates and it didn't take long for him to make an impact as Byrd caught a long touchdown pass down the middle from Mark Sanchez during one team drill. It was classic Dominique as he just used his speed to get behind Brian Cushing and he brought the ball in with no problems. It's great to have Dom back but it was also nice to get a look at our young tight ends in his absence.
Speaking of tight ends, Gerald Washington from Chaffey College, who committed to USC earlier this summer, arrived to catch the last couple minutes of the morning session and he will be staying to watch the afternoon drills as well. Washington certainly passes the eyeball test with his size. We will talk to him following the late practice to get his thoughts on the day.
One encouraging sign that we've seen in the early stages of camp is the leadership role being assumed by Frostee Rucker. In the run drill on Brian Kennedy Field we saw Frostee shouting encouragement from the sidelines while the reserves were on the field, constantly reminding them to "run to the ball". After one session Frostee pulled walk-on Jeff Tola aside to go over a coverage scheme. Frostee has talked openly about needing to be more of a leader for the younger guys this year and he seems to be backing that up with his actions.
Right now the d-line features LJ and Frostee at the end spots with Sed Ellis (who was one of several players who missed the morning session as the final session of summer school wraps up today) and LaJuan Ramsey are set at the tackle spots. Carroll has consistently praised Ellis for his work and he said Ramsey bring a lot of experience with the ability to rotate with the athletic Fili Moala. Travis Tofi will be the back-up NG although he has the ability to play all four line spots. Rashaad Goodrum and Kyle Moore were the back-up ends today although Chris Barrett and Alex Morrow have also seen action.
We talked with Ramsey after practice and he said he is confident about the play of the line so far. "We just need to tighten up our technique right now and we should be fine. Coach Jethro works a lot on technique, more than Coach O did, and he focuses on the little details. That's good for us because it keeps our attention on what we need to do. I feel comfortable taking over the starting role right now because I've basically known the system since I was a sophomore but I didn't get to play too much since I was behind Cody and Patterson."
The defensive line had a good drill when the team moved to Howard Jones Field. Lawrence Jackson had a pair of sacks within the first five plays and the d-line (I couldn't see which player) also tipped a John David Booty pass which was eventually intercepted by John Walker and returned for a touchdown. A couple plays later Kyle Moore put good pressure on Mark Sanchez but Mark was able to get the ball away to Fred Davis before Cushing came in to strip the ball for a fumble. Sanchez had the biggest pass play of the drill when he hit Chris McFoy on a deep in pattern and Mark later hit Steve Smith for a short TD.
Booty and Sanchez took controls of the offense as each had the opportunity at a 2:00 drill and the results were impressive as the ball never touched the ground. Booty completed five straight passes as he moved the ball downfield while Sanchez completed four in a row including a deep pass down the seam to an outstretched William Buchanon who made his best catch of camp so far.
In the kicking portion of the day we saw Mario Danelo make 3 of 3 kicks while Troy Van Blarcom hit 2 of 3. Both hit their 40 yard attempt.
At the end of the day there was a lot of work in nickel pass coverage situations. The starting corners are Wyatt and Thomas with John Walker being the fifth back although when John comes in he plays corner with either Justin or Terrell moving to the nickel slot. Coach Greg Burns said Justin and Terrell have more experience playing nickel since both have played it for the Trojans in the past so that's why Walker plays the normal corner spot with one of the other guys moving to the slot.
Sanchez hit a couple throws to Patrick Turner and he also had a nice completion to Dwayne Jarrett. Leinart had one pass to Fred Davis knocked away on a nice play by Dallas Sartz. Will Harris and Brandon Ting both had sacks. Collin Ashton had a pick to end the day.
The Trojans held a full pads practice this afternoon as they get ready for the first major scrimmage of fall camp which will be held tomorrow. Reggie Bush and Dallas Sartz both sat out the afternoon session but freshman tight end Charles Brown did show up and said he should be cleared to begin practicing tomorrow. According to Brown, he took a sign language class in high school to count for a language elective, the NCAA originally turned the class down but eventually cleared him and Charles said he will be good to go for the Wednesday practice.
One guy who looked good today was Brandon Hancock as Brandon caught several passes and showed no ill effects of the recent injuries that have hampered his progress. If Brandon can stay healthy it gives us a tremendous pair of fullbacks along with David Kirtman. David was involved in the best collision of the day when he went head to head with Collin Ashton on a run up the middle in a run drill.
The middle linebacker spot is far from settled and the coaches are showing no indication of playing any favorites as all the candidates are getting a look. At various points in a practice we could see Ashton, Oscar Lua, Ryan Powdrell or Thomas Williams working with the first team while Rey Maualuga and Luthur Brown are rotating in as well. No player has jumped to the front to claim the job yet although each has had their moments.
As far as the offense today, Chris McFoy had a nice day with several catches and he looked smooth with some good YAC (yards after catch). Chris has come a long way since his days as a blocking receiver for Chino HS to the point where he is a legit Pac-10 receiver who is also one of the best blocking receivers in the conference. Whitney Lewis has displayed great hands throughout camp to this point but today he had a couple drops, hopefully he will come back strong tomorrow in the scrimmage. Patrick Turner caught a nice ball over the middle from Matt Leinart on a fairly deep throw where Matt put a lot of zip on it. Turner is bigger, stronger and faster than either Mike Williams or Dwayne Jarrett when they came in and there is a lot of excitement about what this young man is going to be able to accomplish as a Trojan. William Buchanon, who had a nice catch this morning, made a tremendous adjustment on a deep pass from Leinart that was a little underthrown but Williams read it well and came back to make the grab between two defenders. Greig Carlson scored a touchdown on the final play of practice off a beautiful throw from Sanchez who launched the ball 50 yards in the air until it landed in the arms of Carlson in the back of the end zone.
We caught up with Chaffey College tight end Gerald Washington to get his thoughts on the practice and his future team:
"I really like the high tempo of practice. They really get into it a lot and I know I've got a lot to learn when I get here. I can't wait to get started, I wish I could be here right now. I'm going to be playing some wide receiver this year in addition to tight end so I think I'm going to catch 50 passes!".