As they do at the start of every practice the Trojans spent 15-20 minutes going through various assignments at 1/2 speed with the offense on Howard Jones Field and the defense on Brian Kennedy Field. Pete Carroll, clearly enthusiastic on this opening day of camp, served as the scout QB for awhile going against the first team defense.
Zach Wilson came out in his jersey and sweatpants while wearing sandals so it was obvious he wasn't going to practice after suffering what is being called a sprained left foot in the morning session. Zach did not anticipate missing much time and said it will just need a little rest.
Special teams got a lot of work with the field goal unit at one end of the field and the punt team getting in some work at the other end. David Davis looked right on target with his kicks and was really solid. Tom Malone served as the holder for the field goal work and once he was done there he headed over to the punt team and that drill extended for a long time. While the punt team was getting that attention the quarterbacks were on Brian Kennedy Field working on throwing to different spots along the sidelines. There were a lot of fundamental drills today and one of them was a fumble drill that involved the entire defense in their various position groups. It's interesting to see six groups of players diving on top of each other for the loose ball with the coaches yelling for them to make the recovery but the work pays off when you see how fast the defense attacks whenever a ball is on the ground.
A scout offense then came over to Kennedy Field to go against the first defense. On the first play Kyle Williams jumped offsides. Hershel Dennis then took the first of many snaps in this drill although not many of them went for much yardage with Polamalu, Cody and company on the other side of the ball. Mike Pollard did a good job to track down walk-on QB Morgan Craig and then Melvin Simmons picked off a poorly thrown deep pass from Craig. Matt Grootegoed came on a blitz and caused an incompletion and then Van Brown tossed aside Williams to track down Dennis in the backfield. Anthony Daye jumped offsides (Petros Papadakis was in attendance at practice and he said Daye is a warrior who should contribute this year).
Both first units came together for an 11 on 11 drill. Omar Nazel stopped Malaefou MacKenzie after a short gain and then Darryl Poston scored quickly on a 35 yard TD run. Oscar Lua made a nice play to trip up Dennis and then Hershel was caught for a 3 yard loss in the backfield after Travis Tofi got into the backfield quickly. Fargas had a short gain behind a solid block from David Kirtman on Mike Ross and Tofi added another nice play when he beat Derek Graf and got Fargas for no gain. Tofi received from praise from Ed Orgeron for the effort he was giving today.
A 7 on 7 passing drill on Howard Jones Field provided some of the best passing plays on the day. Carson began by hitting Kareem on a pass over the middle where he was met instantly by Melvin Simmons with some solid contact that knocked the helmet off Kareem yet he was able to hang on to the football. It was the type of play that Trojan fans would love to see more of from Kelly this season. Carson then threw high to Grant Mattos who was able to go up the ladder and make a terrific grab. The good offense continued when Palmer swung a pass to Fargas who caught the ball with 10 yards of open space ahead of him and he rambled for 10 more. Bobby Otani stepped up for the defense when Carson went to the well again over the middle as it was Otani who dropped back into coverage and got a hand into the passing lane to knock the ball away. Carson then hit Mike Williams on a slant. Matt Leinart had a good afternoon practice and he hit William Buchanan on a crossing route. Leinart then dropped back, looked off his primary receiver and hit his 2nd option for a 12 yard gain which brought a smile from Norm Chow. Matt Cassel came in and tried to hit Jason Mitchell on a deep pattern but Darrell Rideaux had excellent position and knocked the ball away. Cassel then went to Williams on a slant. Leinart came back in and immediately completed a swing pass to Fargas who shook the defender and continued on for a big gain.
An 11 on 11 scrimmage was held to end the practice. Cassel hit Mike Williams on a slant pass, the ball was dropped after Otani arrived at the same time as the ball but when only one player went to the ground after the impact it was Otani, not the big freshman Williams. Jacob Rogers was doing a great job all day of dominating his man. The next play was a defensive lineman's dream come true for Kenechi Udeze as Omar Nazel put on a good pass rush by beating Eric Torres and used his 37" vertical leap to knock the Carson pass in the air. The ball came down in the arms of BKU who followed a convoy of blockers who weren't about to let Palmer tackle him as Udeze rumbled 35 yards into the end zone. Needless to say the defense was very fired up after that play. Hershel Dennis had a nifty run following a good block from Chad Pierson as the play went for 17 yards. Hershel then followed a block from Winston Justice, a familiar sight for LB Poly fans who were watching the practice, and picked up 7 more yards. Cassel then swung a pass to Mattos who was dragged down quickly by Chris Prosser. Poston broke two tackles at the line and broke off a 12 yard run and then Carson came on and threw a screen to Malaefou who read a block by Mitchell on Rideaux to pick up additional yardage. The practice ended with Leinart completing a pass to Pierson which went for 34 yards.
Among the recruits in attendance were Kevin Brown, Jon Turner and Matt Spanos.
Keep in mind that it's only the first day of practice but the starting line-ups were as follows:
Offense - Carson Palmer, Sultan McCullough, Chad Pierson, Kareem Kelly, Keary Colbert, Alex Holmes, Jacob Rogers, Lenny Vandermade, Norm Katnik, Zach Wilson, Eric Torres.
Defense - Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody, Bernard Riley, Omar Nazel, Melvin Simmons, Mike Pollard, Aaron Graham, Darrell Rideaux, Troy Polamalu, DeShaun Hill and Kevin Arbet.
Billy Hart, Chris Prosser, Nate Steinbacher and Scott Huber did not practice and spent the time doing various conditioning drills.
The top four running backs all alternated throughout the practice so there was no clear-cut starter but all of them had nice moments and we even saw the most impressive run of the day by the freshman Hershel Dennis. In an early 9 on 7 running drill on Brian Kennedy Field Hershel ended the drill with a beautiful change of direction at the line of scrimmage to elude a tackle by Travis Tofi and Dennis then reversed his field and outran the defense for a 50 yard touchdown run. Early in the drill there were some nice plays including Mike Pollard plugging up the middle on a Malaefou run, a strip by Polamalu on Sultan and Anthony Daye holding Poston to no gain with a good tackle up the middle. Malaefou also had a play earlier where he had completed his run and then, as is the custom with Trojan running backs during practice, he continued running for 40 yards after the play. What Mal didn't know was that Mike Ross was chasing him down and Ross eventually caught up to him and stripped the ball but MacKenzie didn't stop wrestling on the ground with the freshman until he got the ball back.
The linemen headed over to the far field while the skill position players went to Howard Jones Field for a passing drill. In the lineman drill Zach Wilson got hurt and spent the remainder of the day on the sidelines with ice on his left ankle. He left the field in a cart but as much as we could tell it didn't look like he was in any serious kind of pain. Fred Matua took his spot with the first group at RG and