5 Things We Have Learned About USC Through Fall Camp So Far
As USC continues its journey through fall camp in preparation for the 2014 college football season, some things have become clear while others remain murky.
While those players deemed starters remain so for the time being, spirited battles for positions on the depth chart are a daily occurrence and are being monitored very closely by the coaching staff.
Installations of offensive and defensive schemes and game plans are of primary importance and this is also a focus of the coaching brain trust as well.
This slideshow will look at some of the things we have learned so far in this critical set of practices before the games start for real.
So without further delay, here are some observations on what we have seen so far in USC's fall camp...
The Tight End Unit Might Not Be the Issue We Thought It Was
One of the more serious concerns heading into the 2014 college football season was the depth of the tight end unit.
With Xavier Grimble's ill-advised departure after 2013, combined with the recent news that Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will miss the season due to academic woes, those who follow the Trojans correctly felt that this might be an issue that would come back to haunt USC this year.
However, those worries might be premature if what we have seen so far in camp continues.
While returning co-starter Randall Telfer is a known commodity, true freshman Bryce Dixon is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster and he is joined by walk-on Chris Wilson and both of them have been impressive so far.
In fact, according to Scout.com's Scott Kennedy (paid subscription) both Dixon and Wilson have given USC's defense all they could handle thus far in camp.
Kennedy wrote, "I don’t think that the linebackers at USC aren’t capable of bringing down a tight end in short spaces, so knowing the depth concerns at tight end this year, it was encouraging to see Chris Wilson and Bryce Dixon running roughshod over the linebackers."
The linebacker unit for USC is very well regarded so the success of Wilson and Dixon is welcome news indeed.
The Offensive Line Remains a Work in Progress
Another source of concern for USC in 2014 is the offensive line where only two starters—left tackle Chad Wheeler and new center Max Tuerk—remain from last year's squad.
So far in camp, according to ESPN.com's Greg Katz (paid subscription), besides Wheeler and Tuerk, the Trojans have featured true freshman Toa Lobendahn at left guard, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and sophomore Zach Banner at right tackle in the first week of practice.
But the offensive line is a fluid unit and USC's stellar incoming class of "big uglies" are also playing well and are looking to position themselves on the depth chart as well.
Speaking of his young charges, Katz quoted offensive line coach Tim Drevno as saying, "I am really excited about them," Drevno said. "All those guys have done a good job, especially sticking them in a fire like that in their first college practice."
While that is good news for incoming freshmen Lobendahn, Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown, the line remains a work in progress and until things sort themselves out, it will remain a concern for the Trojans.
The Young Skill Freshmen Are Picking Things Up Quickly
Considering that head coach Steve Sarkisian is installing a new offense, it wouldn't be a surprise if there were hiccups for those players looking to implement it in 2014.
This would be especially true for the incoming freshmen as young studs Adoree' Jackson, John "JuJu" Smith and Rahshead Johnson look to impress their coaches in an effort to see some playing time this year.
However, that hasn't been the case so far according to the Los Angeles Times Gary Klein who quoted Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler as saying, "The guys know it perfect" when talking about the new hurry-up offense and the youngsters attempting to master it.
Though it remains to be seen exactly how much these true freshmen will contribute to the offense this year, it is heartening to know that their cerebral attributes match the considerable physical talents they bring to the Trojans.
The Pressure Will Be on Felix with Ruffin Gone for the Season
The strength of USC in 2014 is expected to be their defense and in particular, the front seven of that side of the ball.
Part of that front seven includes outside linebacker where both containment, as well as penetration will feature as part of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's game plan.
Initially, the Trojans looked good at this position with the two-headed monster of Scott (Felix) Starr and Jabari Ruffin both excelling in fall camp so far.
Until Sunday that is.
Now Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry reported that Ruffin has torn his ACL and will be lost for the 2014 season.
Ruffin is a fantastic prospect and his injury is devastating both from an individual and a team standpoint, and this is particularly true for a team such as USC with its depth issues.
Look for Quinton Powell to move up to Ruffin's starting position but suffice to say, with this injury, Felix will have to shine even brighter in 2014 to make up for the loss of Ruffin.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour Is Back and Looking Good
After battling a stomach virus which landed him in the hospital for a while, cornerback Kevon Seymour returned to practice and immediately made his presence felt.
According to Scout.com's Kennedy, Seymour was impressive, "Junior cornerback Kevon Seymour was back on the field on Friday, and he immediately looked like USC’s best cornerback. He has size, quickness, flexibility, and instincts that aren’t matched by anyone in the Trojan secondary."
With Seymour playing opposite Josh Shaw, a player who brings outstanding press coverage to the secondary, having Seymour available and playing well is critical to the success of the Trojans defensive backfield in 2014.
Although it is still fairly early in fall camp, by and large, the Trojans have looked pretty impressive, especially those who are perceived to be the starters and their backups.
Whether it is 270 pound fullback Soma Vainuku rumbling over hapless tacklers in the secondary or big Leonard Williams creating havoc on the defensive line, USC has some of the top talent not only in the Pac-12 conference but indeed, the whole nation.
Perhaps as important as anything we have seen this fall, the fact that the Trojans have remained relatively healthy (not counting the injury to Jabari Ruffin) through the early part of camp may be as important as anything they have accomplished on the field so far.
If the Trojans can continue to progress through camp as they have done so far, the Pac-12 will once again come to fear the Cardinal and Gold like they used to not so long ago.
And that would make all connected to the men of Troy very happy indeed.
Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan
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