USC Football: Trojans Winter Workout Sessions Showcase the Developing Talent
The USC Trojan football athletes come for twice weekly players-only afternoon throwing sessions and four-times-a-week early morning strength and conditioning sessions led by Aaron Ausmus. This schedule will continue until spring football practice starts on March 22.
The quarterbacks are airing the ball and letting the receivers run under it. Everyone is working hard and having a great time getting ready for spring practice.
The Trojans redshirted most of the top-ranked 2010 recruiting class. They have used that time wisely, and it shows in the workouts. There are 22 additional athletes from the 2011 recruiting class who won’t be available until fall practice.
Here are a few observations from the winter workout sessions to highlight some of the developing talent on the USC team.
P.S. Nice to see George Farmer and Marqise Lee at the winter workouts on Feb. 21. They had a good time with their Serra teammate Robert Woods.
The throwing session emphasis is on the offensive side of the ball with different players at different positions on different days. The one constant is the four scholarship quarterbacks: Starter Matt Barkley, redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins, and early entry recruits Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.
Jesse Scroggins is quicker and more confident than in the fall. The 6’3”, 210 pounder says, “I was an 18-year-old kid who didn’t know what to expect.”
After six months of weightlifting he is quicker, stronger and more flexible. He has a setup and release that is more precise with power. Scroggins has learned how to take care of himself in the classroom also.
Matt Barkley looks free and loose with the zip and spiral we saw at the Cal game last year.
The 6’1” Kessler throws a Drew Brees-like catchable ball. The 6’4” Wittek may be in the Carson Palmer size soon with a delivery to match.
Hayden Rettig attended the throwing session on Feb. 10. He may well be USC's next quarterback commit as a 2013 recruit. He is going to be special with a great arm and deliberate passes.
Grimble is down to a trim 245 pounds and wants to stay at tight end after being considered for offensive tackle.
And when Christian Thomas puts it in gear, he can run with the wide receivers. He could play multiple positions on defense if needed.
Telfer is 6'4" and 230 pounds which is the same as high school when he played slot and wide receiver in addition to tight end. He could be a big wide receiver liked the departed David Ausberry and Jordan Cameron played last fall.
The trio is benefitting from playing behind Rhett Ellison, who is like a coach on the field for them. Ellison always finds a way to catch the ball.
The shake-and-bake Robert Woods looks like a reincarnated Steve Smith with a higher top gear. His feet are so quick and sure. It is hard to believe that he could improve in his second season as most college athletes often develop the most.
The other WR is redshirt freshman Kyle Prater seems larger than 6’5” with long arms and big hands. He also has quick and sure feet and can really run and play in traffic. He can stretch the field downfield and up. He can really jump. He has also been very impressive in the weight room. Prater could be a real weapon this year. Unfortunately, he fractured his foot a few days ago and will be sidelined six to eight weeks. The injury could require surgery to fix the break.
Redshirt freshman Markeith Ambles says he never left USC the first semester and stayed in class, got his grades and remained eligible. He is ready for the spring with that long loping stride that never seems in a hurry. Ambles is looking precise in his route running and makes it really hard on defenders when he throws in a fake or two.
Veteran Brandon Carswell does so much for the team, but he has been unable to participate due to a lingering hamstring injury. De’Von Flourney is running great routes and was seen making a circus catch.
Then there is Dillon Baxter doing things only the Baxcat can do. "Just working hard, staying focused, that's what I'm doing," Baxter said. He is up to 199 pounds after playing at 193 in the fall. Baxter thinks USC will run the Wildcat more and take advantage of his dual-threat role.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan’s knee is perfect, and he is up to 185 pounds from 173 a year ago. The only thing holding him back from the throwing sessions is a hamstring problem that occurred the first week of morning winter workouts.
Incoming freshman FB Soma Vainuku’s trimmed down 240-pound frame and quick feet, combined with soft hands, helped him make deep catches in traffic.
Offensive tackle Kevin Graf will not have a spring return because the right shoulder surgery was more significant, requiring six anchors inserted to tie the shoulder down. He will start weightlifting in the spring and be ready by August. The 6’6” Graf is now 308 pounds and will likely play right tackle, the position that Tyron Smith vacated.
Only eight of the 13 offensive linemen will be available for spring practice, so that will limit what can be done. Most of the competition for starting spots will take place in the fall.
Freshman early-enrollee long-snapper Peter McBride is worth watching. The nation's top-ranked long snapper has so much power in his snaps at short range for placekickers that you don't want to take your eye off the ball if you are the holder or kicker.
There are six scholarship defensive linemen and two walk-ons participating in the throwing sessions.
Walk-on Peter Yobo, a 6'5" 235-pound defensive end, is a transfer from San Jose State who fell in love with USC as a teen when his family returned from Ghana where he grew up.
Walk-on Zack Kusnir, a 6'6" 260-pound defensive lineman, is a transfer from San Diego State where he was a quarterback. He came to USC for the academics.
Redshirt junior Nick Perry is running free and laughing because you may not recognize him without that big brace he had most of last season. "It's 100 percent now," he says.
The 300-pound Tupou is happy to be back for his senior season after sitting out last year due to left knee surgery.
Watching Uko and Harris do the 25-yard bag drill is interesting because both are fast and quick, and Harris can keep up with Uko.
USC doesn't have anything to worry about with its defensive line this season.
Devon Kennard is recovering quickly from the surgery on his hip cartilage. He may return to the field for the spring, but in the meantime he is overseeing the snaps. He made it clear in a recent interview that he will continue to play LB this year. A decision has not been made whether he or Chris Galippo plays MIKE. Both will play however.
Bailey has surprised some people and is making a lot of plays. He seems to get at least one interception every workout and is finding the ball very well in seven-on-seven drills. Brown may be looking good enough to step into the other starting cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey.
Patrick “Birdy” Hall is interesting to watch playing corner without a brace after his knee injury healed.
Yes, these athletes look impressive. They are having fun and working hard.
Spring practice starts March 22. See you at the April 23 spring game in the Coliseum.
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