USC Football 2011 Spring Practice: Second Week Observations and Highlights

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USC Football 2011 Spring Practice: Second Week Observations and Highlights

The USC Trojans capped three spring practice sessions this week with the first extended scrimmage action (53 plays) that included lots of action and players making plays. Enjoy these photos from Saturday’s practice/scrimmage taken by John McGillen of USCTrojans.com.

The Trojans Spring Practice Preview, Challenges and Goals article includes individual practice session highlights in the comments, a link to the first week observations and highlights, and provides a basis for judging these spring practice sessions.

Spring practice has been limited by injured players, but some are starting to make their way back on the field as indicated in the below injury report.

No one changes the offense more than WR Robert Woods who returned on Mar. 31, and had highlight TDs on both Thursday and Saturday.

Even though Woods is probably 75 to 80 percent, he grabbed a quick toss inside during the scrimmage, got clobbered by a trio of defenders and then kept moving his feet while circling back until he popped free and took it up the right sidelines for an “easy” 70-yard TD.

He had a small camera strapped to his chest to shoot some remote shots for a TV special, so that should be interesting when it airs.

Robert Woods was asked about incoming freshman WR George Farmer. He noted that Farmer is bigger, faster and stronger than he is. Hopefully he also can master the offense the way that Woods did, and show the good hands.

WR Robert Woods scoring 70-yard TD after breaking tackles at line of scrimmage

The defense has dominated the offense in all spring practice sessions until Thursday due to the over matched offensive line. 

The starting offensive line is junior college transfers David Garness at LG and Jeremy Galten at RT, with Martin Coleman at RG, John Martinez at C and Matt Kahil at LT that he played last fall. Most of these players are in positions they have never played before.

QB Matt Barkley had more time and protection, and threw sharper than any time this spring.

QB Jesse Scroggins had his best day of the spring on Saturday, especially in the huddle where he got all the plays and protections called right. Kiffin said that is the most important part of being QB Matt Barkley’s backup. Scroggins delivered his passes on time, on target, and looked very poised in the pocket.

Head coach Lane Kiffin has said that CB Nickell Robey and Safety T.J. McDonald have taken their game up another level. The big hit of the scrimmage was D.J. Morgan getting him by McDonald high and Robey low causing Morgan’s helmet to go one way and his mouthpiece another. But Morgan got the first down in a very physical play.

Kiffin also called out CB Tony Burnett for the second straight day noting that he played extremely well and earned the team’s MVP award for the day. Burnett went straight from Howard Jones Field to Cromwell Field after practice to set a personal record in the triple jump.

PK Andre Heidari against the "broom" defense

Jawanza Starling, Demetrius Wright, Drew McAllister and Jawanza Starling have all looked good at times at the safety spot opposite T.J. McDonald. It is important that the defense has been simplified so that the players can be athletic and not have to think too much.

The defensive backfield is the most improved unit on the team according to Michael Lev of the Orange County Register.

Lane Kiffin said WR Brandon Carswell may be the best player to emerge from the spring. He was the spring MVP for the first week. This is a great story since he thought about leaving USC.

WR Markeith Ambles is also clearly improved. He left USC for Georgia due to the free-agent rule but his family was convinced that he should return to USC.

RB Curtis McNeal put in several good days and just needs to get his academics in order which caused him to miss last season.

Michael Lev of the Orange County Register had a nice article about USC tight ends and defensive line.  USC not only has great wide receivers but tight ends.  The defensive line, while limited due to injuries, looks very good also.

There were 15 Pac-12 officials, including six supervisors, working their way in at Saturday’s practice. Special teams gets the team portion of practice going, this time with officials observing as requested by special teams coach John Baxter

Dillon Baxter running into people before making moves

Another candidate for running back kicks is speedy DB Patrick Hall. The field goal block team held up brooms to increase the difficulty for freshman kicker Andre Heidari.

RB Dillon Baxter is still improving with a second day of solid, mostly inside running. USC is adjusting his running style so that he puts his foot on the ground and push through the first contact before making a move. 

The coaches are focusing on fundamentals and tackling drills led by Willie Mack Garza, Joe Barry and Ted Gilmore. The scrimmage on Saturday was shorter so that basic drills could be stressed.

Team speed seems to increase during every practice.

After intercepting a pass in every practice until Thursday, Will Andrew told USCFootball.com, “We've got a lot of young guys who want to prove themselves and make plays. We're listening to Monte Kiffin, who tells us to make plays. That's what we're trying to do." He earned a scholarship last year but doesn’t know about this season.

Here are Lane Kiffin interviews after each of the practices provided by Kevin Carden of SCPlaybook.com: Mar. 29, Mar. 31, and Apr. 2.

 

Injury report

QB Matt Barkley and pass blocking

Returning players included WR Robert Woods (hamstring), WR De’Von Flourney (hip), LB Dion Bailey (nerve damage to forearm) and LB Ross Cumming.

DT Christian Tupou and DE Wes Horton were in specialty contact work Saturday for the first time and now are expected back sooner than anticipated next week with full clearance.

Armond Armstead got some good news from his doctors on Friday allowing him to run, exercise and lift weights. So, he was able to do some of the drills with his linemates for the first time since February. He will find out more from the doctors in a month so he will miss the contact part of spring practice.

FB Soma Vainuku has a sore hamstring that is slowing him.

WR Kyle Prater was in his football shoes for the first time, but not in pads yet. He still hopes to be back before the end of spring practice.

Backup FB Hunter Simmons could miss all of spring because his appendix was removed just before the first day of spring practice.

 

Nike Camp Tour

USC hosted the Nike Camp tour on Sunday, Apr. 3, with an impressive group of prospects. Two of the best linemen in the country participated, OL Jordan Simmons (6’4”/335) and DT Ellis McCarthy (6’5”/310). McCarthy looked very good in drills. 

Aziz Shittu at NIKE Camp

DT Ronnie Stanley (6’7”/285) was also there. Before attending Sunday's camp, Stanley unofficially visited USC with his teammate, running back Shaquille Powell. Joining them in the two day stay in Los Angeles was Elk Grove (Calif.) defensive lineman Arik Armstead.  

Some of the other athletes who participated included Damion Turpin, Jimmy Pruitt, CB Davonte Neal, DT Aziz Shittu, Derrick Woods, Bryce Teggs, Taylor McNamara, Jeremiah Valoaga, Travis Talianko, DL AJ Fanene, OL John Lopez and OL Lacy Westbrook. Note that this is a Nike camp and not run by USC. 

Shittu earned the DL MVP Award over McCarthy, and learned that USC will make an offer to him on Apr. 4. But, McCarthy established himself as not only the camp's best player and maybe the best player at his position for 2012.

Here are photos from NIKE Camp courtesy of Scout.com.

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