USC jumped back into spring ball on Tuesday after being away from the practice field due to spring break. With only one week under their belts before the break, the Trojans are still in the early stages of getting it together under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. Where slow and steady used to be the mindset in Troy, this new coaching staff is all action, all the time.
Sarkisian hasn't hesitated to quicken the pace, which has led to some interesting results.
In the very first practice, the Trojans ran 120 plays in 90 minutes, which breaks down to about 1.14 plays per minute. The players have spoken favorably to the media about the change of pace, which bodes well for the learning process going forward.
That said, Sark has told the media that walk-through sessions have been added to practices so players can really understand their new assignments. Under the old regime, the team would run a play, then pause to break down the mechanics of it. Now, they just go, go, go.
During Tuesday's session, Sark discussed the shape his team is in at this point in the offseason:
Sarkisian said from a physical standpoint the conditioning was "pretty good."— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) March 26, 2014
There's surely a long way to go, but through these initial practices, Sark is happy with the progression.
He elaborated to the media present:
It showed a willingness by the players to work during spring break. Coming out of the break there were some key things that our staff wanted to focus on, the first one being pad level. That was a point of emphasis today, especially late in the practice. The ability of our defense to tackle and attempt to strip the football was another priority, and I thought that was evident.
The head coach went on to further applaud the effort put forth from the defense:
Sarkisian says he was pleased with the defensive communication.— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) March 26, 2014
With so much more activity taking place on the offensive side of the ball, it's a good sign that the defense is responding so proactively to it. One of USC's biggest struggles throughout the past few seasons has been against the more agile offenses touted by teams like Oregon. If the Trojan defense can contend well with what USC is installing, then it should bode well for what the team will be able to do come game day.
“I think the players are getting more comfortable with the uptempo part of things,” Sarkisian also said to the media.
As positive as the results have been so far, it's important to remember that it's still early, and the lack of depth and injury problems that USC is facing could curtail this development during spring practices.
The Trojans have less than 60 scholarship athletes that are healthy and active during the spring, and if any of those guys get hurt between now and the end of April, Sarkisian and his team could be in trouble. Maintaining their limited health is critically important for the Trojans at this stage, as it will determine how much of the new offense the team can pick up, and at what speed.
In a sense, it's a bit of a gamble to come out blazing like the Trojans have, but it's what Sark needs to do if he wants to have one less issue to deal with come the fall. And with a handful of position battles finally crystallizing later this year, Sark is surely going to have his hands full.