Quote of the day, Part I: During a drill where tight ends and running backs ran routes against the linebackers, Desmond Reed caught a ball over the middle, spun around and faked a few moves on the linebackers, who let him run unmolested up the field. As Reed cut left and right, obviously trying out his right leg every step of the way, Coach Ken Norton Jr. yelled, "You ain't quite back yet, Dez! You ain't quite back yet!" Norton continued his not-so-subtle motivation as Reed jogged back to his running backs and accepted their offered high-fives. "Don't you guys high-five him!" Norton yelled. "He ain't quite back yet." While it's true that Reed probably "ain't quite back yet," it's impossible to hide the enthusiasm that coaches, players and Reed himself has for his return.
Quote of the day, Part II: As the linebackers and tight ends go face-to-face with each other during every practice, their respective coaches have embraced the competition. When Fred Davis caught a ball on a crossing pattern, outracing several linebackers, Coach Brennan Carroll shouted at his competition, "You do not want 83!" Then, pointing at the second-string linebacking corps of Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava, repeated, "You, you, you and all of the first-stringers do not want 83." With the kind of performances that Davis has put on thus far, it's fair to say that the entirety of the Trojans' schedule does not want 83.
Bringing new meaning to 7-on-7s: Each practice, the offensive skill position players will go against the linebackers and defensive backs during the 7-on-7 drill. But during the rest of practice, several one-on-one matchups have been outstanding. In fact, here are seven of them:
Terrell Thomas vs. Steve Smith: Steve Smith has really improved his overall skills coming into fall. His routes are still extremely precise, but he has become much more physical and is showing the ability to go up and get the ball, which he has displayed on several leaping grabs along the sideline. On the other side, it could be argued that Terrell Thomas has been the best defensive player in camp thus far. He is the most physical of all the cornerbacks and his confidence level is sky-high. These two have had more than a few great one-on-one battles so far, with neither of them giving an inch.
Lawrence Jackson vs. Sam Baker: Jackson sat out Friday's practice as a precautionary measure, but during the offensive line vs. defensive line drills on Thursday, Jackson and Baker's tangle was everything we expected it would be. If Jackson can fully recover soon, his matchups with Sam Backer are going to make both players a heck of a lot better. And with both guys already among the best at their respective positions, Trojan fans should be very excited.
Fred Davis vs. Dallas Sartz: Fred Davis has been all over the field during the first two practices. With an athlete as talented and experienced as Davis at the position, tight end will be a dangerous position for the Trojans this season. Sartz, as the strong side linebacker, will match up against Davis at the line of scrimmage, and while he isn't constantly responsible for matching up one-on-one, the initial release has been fun to watch.
Sedrick Ellis vs. Ryan Kalil: Sedrick Ellis is becoming what everyone thought he could be while Ryan Kalil is showing that he's even better than everyone thought he was. As the defense shows signs of implementing something of a 3-4 alignment, Ellis will be more important than ever in terms of stopping the run.
John David Booty vs. Mark Sanchez: The quarterback battle that everyone was waiting for is turning out to be worth it. Booty and Sanchez are making every throw with pace and accuracy. The receivers are consistently being put in a position to make the play no matter who is throwing the ball. There are really only two things that need to be corrected. There have been more than a few exchange fumbles from the center to the quarterback. And two, we need a universal name to call John David Booty. Some people will go the Samuel L. Jackson route and say the full, "John David Booty." Some will go the bathroom humor route and shorten it to "Booty." Ken Norton Jr. has taken to calling him, "Bootylicious." But for all the potential there with that particular last name, I might have to bend to my friend's demand and just go with "JDB." Call me boring if you must, but at least I won't be the doofus with the "I heart Booty" shirt on at the game. And while we're on that subject, is there anyway to put a pre-emptive halt to all un-clever "Booty" merchandise? Even pirate related booty equating to treasure stuff might be too old at this point.
Dwayne Jarrett vs. The Laws of Nature: I say this with all due respect to Dwayne Jarrett, but the guy is a freak. He does absolutely anything he wants on any given play and nothing can stop him. Defensive backs, poorly thrown balls, gravity. None of it matters. At this point, he is completely unstoppable. He's like a runaway train mixed with Takeru Kobayashi.
Vidal Hazelton vs. Cary Harris: This is the most literal of all the 7-on-7 matchups. They went one-on-one against each other several times yesterday, but the most memorable was Hazelton's sprawling one-handed catch along the left sideline. Harris has shown some promise as well. He isn't a physically dominating cornerback, but he has displayed wonderful make-up and closing speed, and a knack for getting his hand in at the last second.
Getting defensive, end: After practice, I caught up with Kyle Moore and he spoke about the different between this year and last year for him in particular. "I know what I'm doing this year." Seems like an easy enough explanation, but he had more. "Coming in, I had to learn the strong end and weak end positions. That was a challenge for me, having to learn both positions. This year I know a little bit more. I've been here for a whole year; I've been through the process and I know what to expect so I can move way faster."
Asked about the defense this year, Moore said, "Our defense is stronger than ever. Everybody's back; everybody's healthy. We got more talent on the team, everybody's gotten stronger – I know I've gotten stronger. The entire defensive line has improved, linebacker, defensive backs. Everybody's back together."
Moore then went into the offensive side of things. "Our offense is working together. Everybody's doing well. We just have to keep it pushing. We're not going to fall off. We're never going to fall off. We're just going to keep doing it."
While Frostee Rucker's departure leaves a hole at one of the defensive end spots, Moore feels that it won't be empty for long. "Frostee was a good player. I'm coming in to take up his spot. Pretty much, I just need to know my stuff and it's going to be mine."
Asked if he felt that was locked up for him, Moore said, "It's not locked down yet because it's a long camp, but I'm going to work hard enough so that nobody can take it from me."
With the abundance of talent at linebacker, many Trojan fans have been clamoring for a 3-4 alignment this season, but Moore had different thoughts. "I don't like the 3-4. That's not the business for D-linemen because we're in the trenches. I'd rather do 4-3 anyday."
During practice, Moore has the opportunity to go up against the Trojan offensive line every day. "The offensive line, that's Sam Baker. That's the main man right there. I go against him, he makes me better, I make him better. We battle it out every day."
Moving into the backfield, Moore said, "With the running backs, we're going to see what they're working with when we put the pads on Monday. We're going to see what they're working with. But they're doing pretty well out there. They're out there moving, shaking it up. I mean, nobody's going to be another Reggie, so they have to do what they have to do."
Asked about his goals for this year, Moore responded quickly and confidently, "Ten sacks. All-American. For the team, we want to take the rushing defense title over and lead the Pac-10 in sacks. And, of course, the National Championship."
Now, I don't consider myself a small person by any means, but standing next to Kyle Moore, I felt like I was five. So if he was going to stand there and tell me about a National Championship, I was more than inclined to trust him like a child trusts a father. And believe me; you should too.