Another week of spring practices has come and gone at USC, and while the tempo is quick on the field, slow and steady seems to be the name of the game as far as overall progression is concerned. That's because depth is still a major issue in Troy, and head coach Steve Sarkisian has no reason to rush during this part of the offseason.
No major developments came out of Troy this week, but there has been some notable progression in the quarterbacks battle.
That said, here's a recap of what went down in spring ball this week.
Quarterbacks Call Plays
The quarterback duel between Cody Kessler and Max Browne rages on, and the pair gained a new responsibility.
Sarkisian said he allowed Kessler and Browne to call some plays at the line of scrimmage today. First time for that.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 2, 2014
While each is trying to prove he has the mechanics to be USC's starter in the fall, Kessler and Browne are now beginning to demonstrate they have the vocal presence to lead as well. The learning curve of the new offense is getting steeper, but as they have been calling plays for only two practices, there's no indication yet as to who is ahead in this facet of the competition.
Each week, we can expect a new element to be thrown at them, and the quarterback that displays the most skill and the most confidence will be the one who ultimately wins the job.
In post-practice interviews, Sark elaborated on what his short-term goals are for Kessler and Browne and how that will translate in the fall, according to Alicia de Artola from Reign of Troy:
Right now we’re focused on getting these two guys really prepared to play at a championship level, regardless of the situation, regardless of home, away, crowd noise, weather, who our opponent is. I just want them to be able to step on the field knowing that they’ve prepared in a really hostile, tough environment. We make practice as hard as we can on them so that when the game rolls around for those two guys they’re going to perform great.
The play-calling will be something to watch in the coming weeks, as it will have a significant impact on whether Kessler continues to maintain his lead in the competition or if Browne can turn the tables in his favor.
The Trojans have less than 60 healthy bodies to work with this spring, so keeping them all active is critically important to this early learning period. Fortunately, no major injuries have befallen anyone in Troy yet.
That said, two of USC's most important playmakers did miss practice this week, though it should not be cause for alarm:
Su’a Cravens missed practice with a sprained knee and Buck Allen with a sprained ankle. Neither serious, Sark said.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 2, 2014
Both players sustained those minor dings during the scrimmage on Saturday and are being kept out just as a precaution.
As previously mentioned, slow and steady is the name of the rehabilitation game at USC. Sark told the media after practice on Thursday:
RT @ChrisPSwanson: Sarkisian is hoping for a 100% healthy team by fall and says he won't risk injuries by rushing anyone back— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) April 4, 2014
As players come and go from the spring rotation, it will really open up opportunities for guys buried on the depth chart (including walk-ons) to make their own waves. That will be something to note this weekend: Guys like fullback Jahleel Pinner and walk-on tailback James Toland will be getting some face time, as Tre Madden is currently the only available scholarship running back.
George Farmer, the oft-injured wide receiver that is finally having a productive spring, also tweaked his knee on Saturday and subsequently didn't practice much this week. However, Sark and the coaches are liking what they have seen from Farmer, and there is optimism that he will be back in the rotation soon.
“As you’re coming back from a knee injury, half of it physical of the knee getting physically right. The other half is mental, of believing that your knee is right,” Sarkisian told the media about Farmer's progression.
Beyond these minor hang-ups, the Trojans are managing to stay relatively healthy, which is exactly what Sark and the coaches want as they install their new scheme.
Work Hard, Play Hard
In a bit of a fun moment during Thursday's practice, the Trojans did something out of the ordinary:
USC had a 10-minute on-field dance contest during practice today. Yes, really.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 4, 2014
One of the staple elements of former head coach Pete Carroll's tenure was a fun, energetic practice atmosphere. It seems that Sarkisian has wasted no time in bringing those kinds of elements back to Troy.
After the Trojans cut a rug for a few minutes, winners were crowned:
Zach Banner and Antwaun Woods were unofficial winners of the dance-off, per..Antwaun Woods.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 4, 2014
It was a brief moment, but it's those little bonding instances that really forge relationships between a team and a new coaching staff.
As a whole, Sarkisian seems to be very happy with how the team is coming together under his leadership:
Today was the midpoint of spring ball. Sark believes "we're starting to learn who we are... They're a tough group, there isn't woe is me"— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) April 4, 2014
Sark has touched on the team mentality before, but the fact that the Trojans are establishing an identity amidst so many changes is a good sign about what they will be able to handle come the fall. Under Lane Kiffin, USC often shied away from greatness and disappeared in the face of prime competition.
Sark is preaching a message of toughness, and the team seems to be responding favorably to that.
And if they have a little fun along the way, that's all good, too.
The Trojans will have another practice at the Coliseum on Saturday, and like last week, it will feature a short live-tackling period.
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