As a defensive end, Washington has been surprisingly good. He's been able to penetrate into the offensive backfield on more than one occasion and his physical stature goes a long way in preparing him for the position.
Remaining at tight end, Anthony McCoy has been unbelievable. Physically, he is an absolute man. In the offensive huddle, he looks like an offensive lineman. But his speed and hands will make him a valuable weapon as early as this season. He's put together a very nice camp, highlighted by a great catch along the sideline during Sunday's scrimmage.
Make An Entrance: If you've ever had the chance to visit Howard Jones Field, chances are you've made your acquaintance with the doorstop. It's not exactly the same tradition that the players have with touching Goux's Gate or Goux's plaque, but it still probably counts for something.
You push open the red, swinging door and stand for a moment to gaze out onto the field, soaking in the green grass and cardinal and gold streamers. Then, as you move to your left and out of the way of the people entering the field behind you, your eyes still focused on the players…whoops. You've kicked the metal doorstop and your shoulder is sore from banging it into the wooden fence to brace your fall. Or, if you're unlucky enough to be wearing sandals, your shoulder is sore and your toenail feels like it's about to fall off.
Today, sitting across the field with a perfect view of the doors, I witnessed an unprecedented three consecutive doorstop entrances. Now, I realize that sitting there and watching this is a little bit like hanging out next to an unpainted speed bump at night instead of grabbing a can of yellow paint, but it's almost become something of a practice field ritual. I'm not exactly sure why it hasn't been fixed or if it even can be fixed. Maybe it goes along with the football adage of playing through pain, but whatever the reason, the next time you make your way to the practice field, welcome, and watch your step.
Run Like Mays, Hit Like Mays: Taylor Mays has been the focal point of nearly every practice field observer's first impression. "Did you see 29? That guy's huge!"
In fact, there are more than a few people who are ready to see Mays get some playing time very early. He's definitely shaken off the stigma that he's not a physical player after some of the head-on collisions he's incited and his willingness to go headlong into a tackle.
He's also shown that he has a knack for getting to the ball in the air, evidenced by his interceptions in each of the fall scrimmages.
But what some people are failing to realize is that Mays' interception in the most recent scrimmage, a fabulous, leaping grab, was made because of a very poor play by…Taylor Mays.
On the play, while John David Booty faked the handoff and rolled out to his left, Steve Smith sprinted down the field and toward the left sideline, getting behind Mays by a good ten yards. Only an underthrown ball on the run allowed Mays back in the play. While it showed that Mays is definitely athletic enough to play the position, it also proved that he doesn't have a full mental grasp yet.
Of course, none of this is to say that Taylor Mays is a poor safety. He's been in this system for all of two weeks. I went three months of my first semester freshman year without knowing one of my professor's names. If he stays at safety, which is looking more and more likely, he'll be just fine.
T3 – Raising the Freshmen: If the team insists on calling Terrell Thomas, T2, I'm going to insist on calling him T3. As in, Terrell Thomas: Teacher.
After tweaking a hamstring and taking it easy through much of fall practice, Thomas has taken that opportunity to assert himself as a true leader in the defensive secondary. Whether it's pulling Taylor Mays aside after a specific play to go over an assignment or spending extra time with Shareece Wright and Vincent Joseph after a drill, Thomas is proving invaluable as a player/coach thus far.
"I'm just trying to help them out," Thomas said, "because I know we're going to need them later on. I just want to share some secrets with them about working the craft and what the coaches want and how they can get better each and every day."
Asked about how he felt the freshmen were progressing, Thomas said, "They're coming along just fine. Vincent's a little bit hurt so it's slowing him down, but he'll be back out there once it's healed. Shareece (Wright) is learning every day and competing, so it's real good to have him out there."
True to form, with Vincent healed and back out in pads for Tuesday's practice, both he and Wright authored some fine plays in the secondary.
But it's Thomas who will be the leader of the cornerbacks, and his health will go a long way in determining the fate of the Trojan defense. After spending last week alternating practices where he would perform one day and sit out the next due to that hamstring, Thomas saw heavy action in the Sunday scrimmage and has now been active for a handful of practices in a row.
"It's going well," Thomas said of his recovery. "I'm about 95% right now. I just don't have my burst, but I'm able to get through practice and contribute."
Contribute is an understatement when it comes to Thomas' importance in the secondary. After doing a great job in limiting the offense in Sunday's scrimmage, Thomas said of the defense, "I think the first-team defense played well. We played real well. We were real fast and we swarmed to the ball."
He went on to say, "The second defense played well, but they had a lot of missed tackles. That's something that's easy to correct; we just need to wrap up. So other than that, I think we played well overall."
Thomas knows that as one of the elder statesmen on the team, his role goes beyond just what he can do on the field. "I can contribute leadership this season," he said. "I've been around and I know what Coach Carroll wants out of us, so just helping out, making sure the defense can count on us by staying deep, and just being a solid player and holding my side down."
Thomas and several of the wide receivers have hooked up in some intense one-on-one battles in practice, and he commented on lining up against this particular group every day. "It's a blessing," said Thomas. "We get to go against the top wide receivers in the nation and it just makes us better every day. All of them are big, fast, even the freshmen; they're all good. They all make us better."
As for the team as a whole, Thomas summed it up quite well.
"We're scary young. We still haven't found our identity, but we're going to be a great team. I don't know where we're going to end up, but we're going to take one game at a time and we're going to keep fighting and hopefully get to the Rose Bowl again."