USC Football: Practice Philosophy Sets Tone for Sarkisian Era

Kyle KensingContributor IAugust 6, 2014

Apr 19, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California head coach Steve Sarkisian meets the defensive players during the Southern California Spring Game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

USC opened its 2014 fall camp Monday with a new take on past Trojans traditions.

"It reminded me of back in the day, coming out here as a kid," linebacker Hayes Pullard told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times

No, these are not Lane Kiffin's Trojans. 

The coming days and weeks of practice, before the Steve Sarkisian era officially begins on Aug. 30, set the tone for the new head coach's tenure.

Fans were welcomed to the first camp session of the new season, and music played over the sound system. The players endorse it, if standout sophomore safety Su'a Cravens is any indication.

Cravens gave his seal of approval via Ryan Abraham of     

With practices reopened after three-plus years of a closed-door policy, Sarkisian is instilling an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Pete Carroll era.

A looser practice atmosphere certainly didn't seem to hinder the Carroll-era USC teams, of which Sarkisian served as an assistant. Those teams put together a streak of seven consecutive conference championships from 2002 through 2008. 

And in his return as head coach, Sarkisian is guiding players who saw success with a similar practice philosophy just last year.  

In certain ways, the current philosophy is a continuation of the changes interim head coach Ed Orgeron adopted midway through last season. USC rallied from a 3-2 start to reach the 10-win mark after Kiffin's dismissal.

But practice in this new era of USC football isn't merely about allowing in spectators or playing music. At Pac-12 media days last month, Sarkisian promised to test his team's limits despite a thin roster.

"We won't ever change the intensity of practice," he said in reference to the Trojans' limited roster. USC opened camp with fewer than 70 scholarship players due to NCAA sanctions. "It's physical [and] mentally challenging.

"We're going to focus on the exact numbers of reps our starters are getting," Sarkisian added. "If our practices end in an hour and 45 minutes instead of 2 hours and 15 [minutes], so be it."

And therein lies the most significant change Sarkisian and his staff are introducing in 2014. Implementation of an uptempo offense requires a practice with high energy and higher snap counts.

Practice No. 1 worked toward that end, with the Trojans running more than 200 plays, per Fox Sports' Rahshaun Haylock.

The second practice pulled back a bit, per's Ryan Abraham and Chris Swanson, but remained at a high repetition count.

Such a torrid pace must be standard practice fare for USC throughout the season in order for the Trojans to successfully execute the new staff's vision.

A season ago at Washington, Sarkisian's Huskies ran 1,023 plays—99 more than USC ran despite the Trojans playing one more game.

USC has ground to make up in order to reach Washington's pace, and the repetition of practice is designed to address the physical side of that as well as the mental.

At Pac-12 media days, quarterback Cody Kessler described the outlook the Trojans are cultivating in workouts.

"One of our mottos as a team is 'next play.' Next play mentality," he said. "You can't focus on what happened...because as soon as one play ends, you're looking automatically to the sideline for what formation you're in; what play's next."

Come fall, the Trojans are going to have to enact that mindset before spectators and with background noise.

So, in their own way, even the fans and music at USC practices are playing a role in shaping Sarkisian's first season.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via