USC Football 2011 Spring Practice: Third Week Observations and Highlights

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USC Football 2011 Spring Practice: Third Week Observations and Highlights
USC Team at the Coliseum scrimmage courtesy of USCTrojans.com

Barkley-to-Woods passes and touchdowns at the Coliseum highlighted the USC Trojans Saturday scrimmage of 86 plays.  Many freshmen played very well, which is good news for the future.  Enjoy the photos taken by Pierson Clair of USCTrojans.com and the photos from Jaime Rodriguez of SCPlaybook.com.

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

WR Robert Woods has been spectacular all week.  During the scrimmage he played all three receiver positions, and not only knew all the plays but also did well at each position.  He learned the playbook when he arrived last summer and became an immediate contributor.

We kind of know what each other is thinking now," Woods told Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com.  "It makes it easier and execution is higher."  Here is a Woods interview courtesy of masskicksass.

QB Matt Barkley noted that when you see Woods one-on-one it is hard not to throw to him because you know he is going to win most of the time.  Here is the view from Barkley's helmet cam courtesy of Fox Sports West.

Here are statistical highlights from the scrimmage including goal-line (GL) drills with the USC college year in the fall:

QB Matt Barkley with helmet camera for FoxsSports West courtesy of USCFootball.com

PASSING

  • Junior Matt Barkley 22-33-152-7 (4 GL TDs)
  • Freshman Cody Kessler 4-5-21
  • RS Freshman Jesse Scroggins 3-3-21
  • Freshman Max Wittek 3-4-(minus-6) 

RUSHING

  • RS Freshman D.J. Morgan 16-51
  • RS Junior Curtis McNeal 8-42 

RECEIVING

  • Sophomore Robert Woods 10-65-3 (1 GL TD)
  • RS Senior Brandon Carswell 5-49-1 (1 GL TD)
  • Freshman Soma Vainuku 4-11-2 (1 GL TD) 

DEFENSE

  • RS Freshman George Uko 7 tackles, 3 TFL
  • Sophomore Demetrius Wright 7 tackles
  • Junior Dallas Kelley 6 tackles, 1 pass breakup
  • RS Freshman Anthony Brown 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU
  • Junior Jawanza Starling 5 tackles
  • Sophomore Nickell Robey/RS FreshmanHayes Pullard/RS Junior Brian Baucham 4 tackles
  • RS Junior Nick Perry 2 PBU

USCTrojans.com provides the complete statistics.

The stars of the scrimmage were QB Barkley, WR Woods, WR Flournoy, RB Morgan, RB McNeal, FB Vainuku, DE Perry, CB Brown, S Wright and DT Uko.  Wright was playing first-string safety for the first time this spring.

WR Markeith Ambles did not show up at practice today and did not tell the coaches.  He was held out of practice on Thursday for being late to a weightlifting session.

OL Jeremy Galten impressed the coaching staff by returning to practice only two days after a grade two knee sprain.  He played the whole way.

D.J. Morgan scoring a TD courtesy of USCFootball.com

Armond Armstead, Christian Tupou, Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard, Kyle Prater and Shane Horton participated in running and drills.

TE Christian Thomas sat out because a class he was taking was dropped after the add-drop deadline so he didn’t have enough units.  The athletic department is working a fix and expects to have him back next week.

RB Dillon Baxter suffered a high ankle sprain during mid-scrimmage when it was rolled on.

 

Thursday Practice Highlights

Thursday’s practice again had the defense dominate, especially the pass rush.  Kiffin noted the great play of Nick Perry.  Barkley had no interceptions and the offense had its moments. 

Marc Tyler participated in the entire practice instead of just the 7-on-7's because he felt good.  His only problem right now is that he is up to 230 pounds but played at 217 last season, and he will lose the weight by summer.

D.J. Morgan had the highlight run with a quick cut to the right sideline for 40 yards before going out of bounds.

WR Coach Ted Gilmore pushes his receivers through physically challenging drills.  On Thursday it was a five-cone drill requiring quick feet and a smooth, fast hip turn with a fastball in the face as the receivers turns before locating the ball.

RB Marc Tyler back at practice courtesy of USCFootball.com

Demetrius Wright has shown flashes of solid play including speed, hitting and tackling.  He may be able to push for the starting strong safety (really the deep safety who spends more time in coverage and less time in the box) spot opposite free safety T.J. McDonald in the fall, so Kiffin is switching him and Jawanza Starling.

Christian Tupou was held out because he banged his knee on Tuesday and has a bruise with some swelling.  He could miss contact for a week and a half but will be back for the spring game.

CB Tony Burnett did not practice on Thursday and Saturday because he is participating in a track meet in Texas.

Some of the visitors at Thursday’s practice include Mark Sanchez, Alex Holmes, Lawrence Jackson, Pat Haden, JK McKay and Max Nikias.

Pedro Moura of ESPNLosAngeles.com wrote good story about Sanchez’s visit: Jets QB Mark Sanchez visits with the Trojans.  Michael Lev of the Orange County Register also wrote about the message that Sanchez gave to the Trojans.  Here are some photos of the visit courtesy of USCTrojans.com.

Here is a great interview of Mark Sanchez by Pat Haden courtesy of USCTrojans.com.

 

Head coach Lane Kiffin with the offense courtesy of USCFootball.com

Tuesday Practice Highlights

Tuesday’s practice ended with Kiffin concerns about Barkley’s interceptions because he threw another one.  Of course, Kiffin was much happier after the scrimmage on Saturday. 

Defensive end Wes Horton returned to practice along with defensive tackle Christian Tupou, who bruised his knee.  Horton took nearly every rep.

Dillon Baxter continued his improved play this spring by breaking a 70-yard run against the first defense on a quick-hitting trap, which has been a missing element from his game. 

Kiffin announced that former walk-on Tony Burnett is the other starting corner.  The Trojans do not have a game for five months, but he has solidified a spot in the starting lineup with steady play this spring.

George Uko is also pushing for a starting nod at defensive tackle.   He appears to have made it a three-way rotation at the two tackle spots with the returning DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou.

As a unit, the defensive line does not have the same question marks as most of the position groups.  "We've got to get better," said defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.  "We've got to dominate.  That's USC football."  Here is the video of the interview with Coach Orgeron courtesy of the Orange County Register.

Orgeron expects things to be different this year and his linemen will be consistent difference-makers.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Coach Ed Orgeron

"They better be," he said. "They're gonna be. We understand the effort, the commitment now. It's not all new now—we've simplified the things on defense to where there shouldn't be as much thinking and they should play faster. That should help us."

"Our two defensive ends ran faster times than two of our tailbacks," said Kiffin.  Nick Perry ran a 4.6 this offseason.

Kiffin listed Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Rhett Ellison, Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald, Tony Burnett and Nick Perry as the elite talents.  Robey may be the best player on the field this spring.  He gives Woods fits in one-on-one drills and was the most explosive punt returner in the group today.

The lack of depth is apparent all over the field, according to Kiffin.  "We have some legitimate NFL star players," said the head coach.  "There's such a gap between those guys and not just the bottom of the roster, but really some of the lower starters."

Matt Kalil was left off the list but not because he doesn’t have the physique and ability.  Kiffin wants to see him be more consistent to take his game to the next level.

Here are Lane Kiffin interviews after each of the practices:  April 5 and April 7 (USCTrojans.com), April 9 (ESPNLosAngeles.com).

 

Looking Forward

Harry How/Getty Images

There is a lot of good work going on this spring, especially with fundamentals, and inexperienced athletes getting more playing time.  But, many of the top players are not able to have contact because they are recovering from injuries. 

So the fall is when this team will come together including over 20 incoming freshmen, some who will be relied upon to contribute this year.

There are players stepping up in the spring, but all the starters and key back-ups will need to improve in the fall and early games for USC to have the kind of season that the team and fans expect. 

The attitude and work ethic are there, and the coaches are simplifying things so that the better athletes can use their abilities to make plays.

Two more weeks of practice before the spring game at 1:00 p.m. on April 23 at the Coliseum.  Tickets are available for $10 at the gate, online at USCTrojans.com or by calling the USC Ticket Office at (213) 740-4672. 

Of course, there is lots of work to do before the Trojans first game on September 3 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Coliseum.

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