It was the first day in pads and the players got a break from the usual California sun with an overcast morning practice.
One early drill for defensive players on Brian Kennedy Field had four players line up at once in a line with 4 dummy bags placed near the sidelines. Pete Carroll would blow the whistle for the players to begin stutter stepping in place, he would blow the whistle again for them to hit the ground and get right back up running some more and then the last whistle sent the players charging for the bags where they were to take a flying leap and make a mid-air tackle. Needless to say there was a lot of emotion in this drill as the sight of players like Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody flying through the air got the players pumped up.
The defensive line playes moved to a bag drill. Bernard Riley was the first player to go through and as he finished he stood at the end of the drill and high fived each other player as they came through. Good senior leadership.
The RB's and LB's worked together, first on pass blocking drills and then on one on one routes. Melvin Simmons went to the sidelines early in practice with what looked like a left knee injury, he sat out the day but when I spoke with him after practice he said it didn't seem serious and was only out as a precaution. In the pass blocking, Pierson did real good against Graham, Fargas stayed with Prosser and drove him right out of the play, Prosser had to go again and Hancock pushed him 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Sultan put his head down into the chest of Lee Webb and Webb was able to toss him aside easily, Poston went against Groots and Matt was basically able to push Darryl into the ground for the sack. Kirtman and Sartz was a draw, Sunny Byrd did a good job of staying on his toes as he beat Bobby Otani, Hershel Dennis drove Collin Ashton into the ground, Fargas beat Pollard fairly easily (Justin showcased his pass blocking as well later in the day, read on). Pierson did an excellent job against Graham, Sultan held Grootegoed at bay and received high fives from Malaefou and Fargas for the effort. Hancock did a solid job holding Sartz straight up, Webb easily beat Kirtman. Byrd beat Oscar Lua, Otani got inside Poston with a nice move, Graham and Dennis went to a draw, Fargas showed great usage of his hands as he got inside Pollard and held him up. In the pass receiving drill Malaefou made the first catch against Pollard, Sultan caught one against Graham, Grootegoed knocked the ball away from Pierson, Hancock dropped the ball with coverage by Sartz, Webb drew a PI flag vs Fargas, Webb had to go again and he bumped Byrd but the coaches were unsure if a flag would've been thrown. Kirtman dropped a pass against Lua, Poston made a nice move to get separation from Groots and made the catch, Dennis was covered well by Sartz but was able to make the catch.
A run drill was held on Brian Kennedy Field. Fargas went off RT and was stopped by Hill and Groots after one yard. Malaefou went on a sweep behind a good block from Torres on Graham for 12 yards. Fargas ran the ball and was tackled by Polamalu who immediately went to the sideline to repair a cut on his finger which was losing a lot of blood. Poston tried to run wide but Van Brown corralled him for 3 yards. Dennis followed a block from Hancock on Webb for 12 yards. Fargas went off LT for 17 yards. Hancock got a quick handoff but the ball was fumbled and Otani recovered. Sultan took a handoff and was stopped for a loss after Patterson beat 62 with help on the tackle from BKU. Malaefou got the handoff and was immediately faced in the backfield with a blitzing Mike Ross but Mal put a shake move on the freshman and lost him before a short gain, Ross came to the sideline shaking his head and got a pat on the butt from his teammates. Fargas went up the middle and got 7 before a Jason Leach tackle.
A 7 on 7 drill took place on Howard Jones Field while the linemen moved to the far field. Carson got things started by hitting Kareem on an out and up pass against Nunn that went for 20. Carson then drilled a rope over the middle to Colbert against Forrest Mozart for a 35 yard touchdown. Carson tried a short pass to Dennis but Collin ashton knocked the ball away. Carson threw to Mike Williams and the freshman used his body well to shield Rideaux and made the play. Cassel threw a very nice deep in pass to Colbert vs Nunn for 15 yards. The ball was then placed on the defense 15 yard line for some red zone work. The first play was a touchdown as Carson hit Malaefou with a pass. Palmer went to Holmes but Graham and Pollard were there to knock it away. Carson threw low to Grant Mattos who went down for the good catch. Carson completed a pass to Greig Carlson and Rideaux was there to hold the play to no gain. Leinart came in and hit Mike Williams on a crossing route against Lee Webb. Leinart then tried to hit Fargas over the middle but the ball was bobbled and Webb came in to deliver a hit while the ball fell to the ground. Mike Pollard made a nice read when Carson tried to hit Butler and Mike stepped right in front to knock it down. Carson then dropped back and threw to the back of the end zone for Kareem who made a nice catch against Arbet. Cassel threw low to Malaefou and the ball was dropped. Cassel then went to Mike Williams in the end zone and the catch was made despite good coverage from Rideaux. The field goal unit then came on for some work as follows; Davis (32 yards - good, 42 yards - good, 45 yards - good), Kileen (32 yards - good, 42 yards - wide left).
The day ended with an 11 on 11 drill. Carson dropped back and had good time but the coverage was solid and Cody was able to come in and knock the ball from CP's hands. Carson went to Holmes on a little trickery and the play went for 10 yards. Carson went right back to Holmes and Cody and Pollard combined for the stop. Cody got a sack when Sunny Byrd missed his block attempt. A Cassel pass attempt to Mattos fell incomplete. Fargas went on a sweep with Groots closing fast but Justin was able to shake the tackle attempt and gain 7 more yards. Malaefou then took a screen with Matua and Torres out front but Arbet came up and did a nice job to sacrifice his body against Matua while reaching out to trip up MacKenzie. Fargas had his best run of the day, it was a simple pitch play that saw him running hard, he broke a tackle by Pollard until Troy Polamalu was able to tackle him after 15 yards. It was vintage Fargas, the legs were pumping hard as he broke through the hole and before you knew it there was a long gain. Poston followed a good block from Guenther on Dallas Sartz and broke a tackle attempt by Webb before Justin Wyatt came up to make the play. Leinart was sacked by Daye and Ashton. Sultan McCullough then showed that the hamstring injury which kept him out yesterday was not going to hamper him too much as he hit the hole as hard as we've seen from him and followed blocks from Graf and Norm Katnik for 12 yards. Katnik was alternating as the #2 LG along with Torres and we also saw Jacob Rogers get into the action at RT with the 2nd unit. Leinart missed a wide open Keary Colbert down the middle. The highlight play of the day featured Hershel Dennis who caught a screen pass and did an unbelievable job of waiting for his block from Matua before changing direction with a cut inside then out on his way to the end zone for a 20 yard score. With the way he is playing so far it is going to be a difficult decision for the coaches to keep Hershel out of the rotation no matter how many running backs are ahead of him on the depth chart. The ball was placed back on the 20 and Carson hit Doyal Butler who broke a tackle by Groots and went for a touchdown himself but the play was called back for offensive holding on the receiver. Sultan continued his hard running by breaking a tackle attempt at the line by Mike Patterson and sprinting to the end zone for a score to give the offense touchdowns on 3 consecutive plays (even though only 2 counted). Cassel faced a huge rush from Sartz and threw quickly to Colbert but it was incomplete. Cassel then dropped back and Anthony Daye came on a rush but Justin Fargas stepped up and absolutely up-ended Daye with a block that flipped Anthony on his back. It was a very similar block to the one that Malaefou put on an Arizona Wildcat rusher a few years ago that was captured well with a perfect photo . The pass from Cassel was dropped, however, by Mike Williams. Malaefou ran up the middle, Lee Webb met him immediately but didn't wrap up and Mal charged through for 4 more yards. Cassel hit Mike Williams over the middle and Sartz laid a great form tackle with helmet in chest to make the play. Malaefou followed a block by Matua and broke a tackle attempt by Arbet at the goal line to get into the end zone but holding was called on the offense to bring the play back. Polamalu got into the face of Arbet after the play to kindly request a better effort at stopping the run. Carson hit Holmes with a pass in the back of the end zone for a TD. Poston was stopped for a short gain when Pollard filled the hole nicely. Carson tried to hit Holmes again in the end zone but Webb and others combined to knock it away. Daye got a sack on the final play of the practice.
Among the notables in attendance were Charles White (wearing a #12 USC baseball jersey), Rod Martin, Crenshaw HS defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and Los Alamitos junior safety Randy Estes.
After going so hard in the morning the Trojans took the field this afternoon in shorts and shoulder pads. They will practice twice tomorrow before holding a scrimmage on Saturday morning.
Carson Palmer was dressed this afternoon but was feeling sluggish and his arm was a little tired so he didn't do much this afternoon except handoff in a few drills. That meant a lot of snaps for Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart and even Billy Hart saw his first extended action of fall camp.
When the team practiced kickoff returns we saw the following players back returning kicks; Malaefou MacKenzie, Hershel Dennis, Justin Wyatt, Sultan McCullough, Jason Mitchell, Darrell Rideaux, Kevin Arbet and D Hale. Later during practice David Davis was practicing field goals and he made both efforts from 45 yards, he is really kicking well right now. Tom Malone is resting his leg due to a little tendinitis and tightness in his hamstring which will only get better with rest and he will be back kicking in a day or two.
On Brian Kennedy Field a short drill was held with a few standout plays. Darryl Poston took a handoff and went off the right side by getting through the line quickly and only a shoestring tackle by Omar Nazel prevented Poston from taking it to the house. Matt Cassel completed a comeback route to Kareem Kelly for 17 yards against Nunn. Sultan then took a carry and had the ball stripped by Otani but the recovery was made by William Buchanan. Pete Carroll wasn't pleased with the effort of his defenders in going after the loose ball on the ground so he brought them together and threw one ball after another on the ground and made the players scramble after it.
The backs and receivers moved to the middle of Howard Jones Field but I followed the linemen onto the far area next to Dedeaux Field to watch them work on some pass rush drills. The entire lines get into a stance and then one defender gets off the ball on the pass rush against one offensive lineman. Mike Patterson started it off by beating Matua fairly easily, Van Brown then beat Winston Justice even more. Nate Steinbacher did a good job against Anthony Daye and then Derek Graf manhandled Travis Tofi. When talking about early pleasant surprises from camp you have to mention Graf. He has battled so many injuries in his career that few Trojan fans really expected him to compete for playing time but so far he has done well and is a solid #2 center to Norm Katnik. Derek has 22" biceps, can bench 455 and surgery on his foot has left him with healthy feet for the first time in his career at USC. Travis Watkins did a great job stuffing Spencer Torgan at the line, Kenechi Udeze was just too strong for Phillip Eaves and BKU just drove the OT backwards into the quarterback, Udeze then flipped to the other side and was held to a draw by Justice. Steinbacher looked good by stopping Torgan, Graf did another nice stop on Tofi, Watkins held Daye at the line and then Eaves did a good job of keeping his arms out in front of him to stop Van Brown.
The 2-deep on the offensive line today was as follows:
LT - Rogers, Justice
LG - Vandermade, Steinbacher
C - Katnik, Graf
RG - Matua, Watkins
RT - Torres, Eaves
The line coaches then brought another player from both sides of the ball into the drill for a 2 on 2 pass rushing drill. Bernard Riley did participate in this drill and looked OK but it is obvious he is still struggling a little with his leg. Jacob Rogers and Lenny Vandermade teamed up to really do a good job against Shaun Cody and Omar Nazel before Mike Patterson and Kenechi Udeze lined up against Fred Matua and Eric Torres with Patterson putting on a quick swim move to beat Matua. At one point in this lineman drill I looked over to the receivers and saw Cassel try to throw a pass in the flat to Keary Colbert but Mike Ross came flying in and made a terrific play to bat the ball down.
An 11 on 11 drill on Howard Jones got started with Fargas taking a handoff to the right and he was driven out of bounds on a pretty wicked hit from Polamalu. Darrell Rideaux was on the sidelines with a twisted left knee but says he will be fine, LaJuan Ramsey was also watching the drill with a sling on his left shoulder and he said it was hyperextended and not expected to be serious. Leinart then came in and hit Doyal Butler with a pass but John Walker came up and made an impressive play of his own. We've been waiting for Walker to make a play in camp that would kickstart his aggressiveness and that might have been it. Billy Hart came in and immediately completed a pass to D Hale with a big hit from Ross but he was able to hold on. Mike Ross is only 160-165 pounds right now but he is a headhunter with a swagger on the field and a nose for the ball, he could emerge as a real sleeper from this class as he fills out under the Carlisle program. Hart completed another pass to Hale with good protection provided by Kyle Williams who held off Travis Tofi. Hart then threw a quick pass to Hershel Dennis for a big gain before Matt Cassel came back on the field and tried to go to Chad Pierson but Jason Leach knocked it down. Cassel attempted a pass to Colbert over the middle but that's not always a good idea when Matt Grootegoed is circling around and Groots laid a wallop on Colbert who still hung on to the ball. Cassel completed a pass to Holmes and Jason Leach brought everything he had to drag Alex down after 10 yards. Cassel then dropped back, read the blitz well and threw to Colbert with single coverage in the end zone but the ball was barely out of his reach. Leinart tried to hit Butler but Lee Webb had good coverage and batted the ball away.