USC is about one-third the way through fall camp. There is less than three weeks left before the first home game (9-3-11) versus Minnesota. So how is USC's offense shaping up?
USC's one-third-fall camp depth chart is compared to the end of spring depth chart.
Since 12 USC players expected to be on the 2011 two-deep missed all or much of spring practices, coach Lane Kiffin seemed torn on whether to release a depth chart after spring concluded. Now they are back.
The variables: True freshman standouts who can not be ignored (and there are a few - even on offense).
Starter: Matt Barkley
Backup: Cody Kessler or Max Wittek (probably Kessler - pictured)
Note: Jesse Scroggins sprained his right thumb, throwing hand, requiring thumb surgery on 8-11-11. No return timetable. Coach Kiffin has not identified the backup yet, but Kessler has been playing the best of all quarterbacks.
Starter: Matt Barkley
Note: Lane Kiffin did not have a final decision on the backup
How the Quarterback Battles Have Been Going:
In Sunday's (8-14) scrimmage, Kessler and Wittek both had interceptions; however, Kessler's was a rip-away by CB Torin Harris against WR Marquise Lee. Barkley hooked up with Xavier Grimble for a TD. Later in the scrimmage, Wittek threw a 20 yard touchdown pass to Dillon Baxter. Scrimmage stats: Barkley 17-27 for 135 yards and 1 TD (Kiffin acknowledged Barkley's progress today); Kessler 14-21 for 86 yards and 1 TD with 1 INT; Wittek 12-23 for 157 yards and 2 TDs with 1 INT.
On Friday, 8-12, freshman quarterback Cody Kessler led two scoring drives in two-minute drills to end practice.
Coach Lane Kiffin told Scroggins on Friday "that life's not fair and things happen. Adversity happens and it's how you deal with it that determines the outcome. This will not be the worst thing that happens to him, even though he may think it is. This is a minor setback and how will he deal with it. Will he utilize the time to get better in the classroom or will he sit around and feel sorry about himself. What I’ve seen of him he’s ready to go, he’s ready to get better as much as he can."
On Thursday, 8-11, Coach Lane Kiffin called Cody Kessler "a gamer" and said "that he's very, very mature in his approach to being great." Kiffin has did not name a backup on Thursday saying,"Those guys will battle it out. They’re both doing great. If you look at the last two days, those guys are up there above 60 percent and all the way into the 80 percents at times. So it’s good to see those guys they don’t look like freshmen but then again this isn’t the real thing, either."
In Monday's scrimmage. 8-8, Kessler went 16-of-18, 187 yards and 3 TDs with one interception. Matt Barkley struggled a bid in Monday's scrimmage going 10 of 20 for just 82 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
In the first week of practice, Jesse Scroggins struggled somewhat in the pocket when pressured. He lost a few fumbles and took a few sacks. He did throw strong and accurate passes. Matt Barkley was a little inconsistent playing well for the most part, but forcing a few passes.
Starter: Rhett Ellison (probable - pictured)
Backup: Soma Vainuku or Charles Burks or Hunter Simmons
Note: On Saturday (8-13), Rhett Ellison cut open his left thumb. It happened during a special-teams drill (no-pads practice). Ellison got stitches and should be available as soon as the scrimmage (8-14) if not a few days later.
Starter: Soma Vainuku
Note: Charles Burks did not get on campus until after spring.
How the Fullback Battles Have Been Going:
Fall camp is much better now with experienced Rhett Ellison taking most of the snaps at fullback. Soma Vainuku continues to learn the offense and will take more snaps with the ones as the season continues. Charles Burks and Hunter Simmons are learning as well, but are both behind Vainuku. Ellison's use at fullback during the season, versus his former tight end position depends on the development of the whole team and injuries according to Coach Kiffin. "How do the two freshmen Vainuku and Burks), behind him at that position develop; how do the freshmen at the tight end position develop? So that's why he's there (at fullback). We already know he's a really good tight end. We want to make him a really good fullback so we have the ability to do all those things for us at any time."
Tight end Rhett Ellison caught the second most passes last year and Coach Kiffin believes Ellison’s experience and knowledge of the offense is enabling the Trojans to learn the position while younger players such as Randall Telfer, Xavier Grimble and Christian Thomas work at tight end
Other than receiver Robert Woods, no one caught more passes for USC last season than tight end Rhett Ellison. Ellison is liking the fullback position saying “It’s cool. It’s a different view. I just look at it as a way to get onto the field more here,” he said. “The more I can do for USC, the better.” Ellison started a few games when Havili was injured in 2008. Coach Kiffin believes that Ellison has been one of the best players in fall camp so far.
Starter: Curtis McNeal (probable - pictured) and Dillon Baxter
Backups: D.J. Morgan or Amir Carlisle, then Javorious Allen and Marc Tyler
Note: Marc Tyler is suspended until week 2 for being a TMZ fool
Note: McNeal injured his right leg Sunday (not serious).
How the Running Back Battles Have Been Going:
On Sunday's (8-14) scrimmage McNeal started at running back and Baxter returned kickoffs. McNeal injured his right leg during the scrimmage. Dillon Baxter had a few impressive runs including a 37 yarder that later led to his 20 yard touchdown reception from Max Wittek. Kiffin said Dillon Baxter had his best week of practice. Amir Carlisle added 75 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Kiffin wants two TBs in his main rotation. Right now its McNeal and Baxter who will get 50/50 or 75/25 carries. "It will depend on who is hot," said Kiffen.
Kiffin said McNeal is most improved. "Curtis has come further than anyone in our program since the day we got here," Kiffin said. "There were a lot of questions if Curtis would ever make it in our program. To see his turnaround and how far he's come, it's why we do it."
Youngblood RB Amir Carlisle is understanding the schemes faster than most. The intelligent Carlisle is very physical for his size too.
Kiffin said "If we were to play today, he (Baxter) would probably start based on D.J. putting that ball on the ground early on but they're very close and Amir continues to do things right."
"Amir is standing out. He continues to every day, but there's not much separation among the backs because we still have to see how they do in real game situations," Kiffin said.
Recent USC Tailback Articles:
Left Tackle: Matt Kalil then David Garness
Left Guard: Martin Coleman or John Martinez or Marcus Martin or Jeremy Galten
Center: Khaled Holmes then Cyrus Hobbi or Abe Markowitz or Cody Temple (injury)
Right Guard: Aundrey Walker (pictured) then Cyrus Hobbi or John Martinez or Nathan Guetler
Right Tackle: Kevin Graf then Jeremy Galten
Note: Giovanni DiPoalo is out for the season (shoulder surgery). Cody Temple is also injured his back.
How the Offensive Line Battles Have Been Going:
I love how the media says how USC is stuggling mightily on the offensive line. Most say it is a "big" concern. What they forget to remember is that Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, and the rest of every one of USC's opponents are having the exact same problem, except they don't have USC's talent-level in the cupboard for replacements.
Kahled Holmes stays late after each practice to teach Aundrey Walker OG techniques
Aundrey Walker did strain his hip, but not seriously. Galten, Martinez, and Markowitz took his reps.
Kiffin says Walker may start at RG, "We're going to give him a shot at it," Kiffin said. "We'll see how far he can take it. He's a very, very special athlete."
Many questioned USC's O-line this year, but it is all taking shape now. "We feel good about center and left tackle," Lane Kiffin said. "And we are starting to feel good about right tackle, too."
At 6-6 and 370 pounds, Aundrey Walker can be called 'Aundrey the Giant,' even as a true freshman.
Kiffin said that Matt Kalil, Khaled Holmes and Kevin Graf are standing out so far. Holmes said he was having fun and feels comfortable at center. Carolina Panther Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil has been helping Holmes with technique.
“It’s extremely unique for him (Aundrey Walker) to be able to move at that size the way that he does," Kiffin said. "Even at today’s practice, we’re probably at 2 ½ hours out here, and we run probably 18 plays at the end of a long drive. The last one’s 80 yards. He sprints down there, and he’s running there with the 275-pound guys. That’s very abnormal. We have ourselves a very, very special athlete, so now we’ve got to put the other stuff together so he can be a special player.”
Kiffin said "we feel great about our center, great about our left tackle and we're starting to feel great about our right tackle. Kevin's (Graf) completely different (than) a year ago. He just looks like a completely different guy. He's changed his body fat, he's changed his speed, strength. Linemen on both sides going into their third year and they kind of start to blossom. So hopefully that will carry over when they put the full pads on."
Starter: Xavier Grimble (probable starter)
Backup: Randall Telfer (close second - pictured) and Christian Thomas
Note: Christian Thomas is recovering from a hip injury.
Starter: Rhett Ellison
How the Tight End Battles Have Been Going:
Telfer and Grimble both had several good catches in Sunday's (8-14) scrimmage. Grimble caught a Barkley pass for a TD.
With Ellison out of commission on Saturday (8-13) due his thumb stitches, TE Randall Telfer was arguably the star on offense, making several long receptions over the middle
Xavier Grimble has reduced down to his playing weight and should see a lot more playing time. On Thursday (8-11) he made the play of the day, catching a pass over the middle and ran through a defensive back while making a big gain.
The bottom line: Grimble may be the starter because he blocks better because of his size
Recent USC Tight End Articles:
Starter: Robert Woods (pictured)
Backup: Marqise Lee then De'Von Flournoy, then Victor Blackwell or Robbie Boyer
Note: Robert Woods is almost recovered from a slight ankle injury.
Starter: Robert Woods
Backup: De'Von Flournoy, then Robbie Boyer, then Victor Blackwell or Marqise Lee
Note: I prefer the depth chart format shown in "End-of-Spring" link above rather than the "Updated" depth chart (further above), because it segregates the flanker and split end positions more accurately. There is a difference between how these wide receivers are utilized.
How the Flanker Battles Have Been Going:
Freshman flanker Marqise Lee had the most spectacular play of the scrimmage (8-14) with a 56 yard touchdown reception-and-run for a touchdown. He was the leading receiver with 7 receptions for 87 yards.
Marqise Lee has been more than impressive in practices with his circus catches. He is leading the way for all the talented flankers to follow, including Robert Woods, but he is coming back from a slight ankle injury. Lee is a true freshman and perhaps the least experienced of the flanker group; however, he has been so impressive that any thoughts of moving him to the secondary are probably dispelled. Lee was one of the best safeties in the county coming out of high school a few months ago.
Wide receiver Robert Woods who is sidelined with a minor ankle injury said that he would be available for the second scrimmage Sunday afternoon in the Coliseum (8-14).
Lane Kiffin called flanker Marqise Lee a “Natural playmaker when you have guys, especially at that position, some guys are high rep guys when you have to show them, and then they have to do it, and then they screw it up and then finally, eventually they get it. He just naturally does things. You can see why he’s such a gifted athlete in track, basketball, things just come easy to him. I think the sky’s the limit with him. I think he’s untapped on how good he can be. So really excited, I think that’s the classic story that if our staff wasn’t covering the ground, because initially early on he wasn’t a high ranked guy early, all the attention was on Robert [Woods] the year before and then George [Farmer]. Glad that our evaluation process kept digging with him to find him. He may end up being one of the best ones in that group when it’s all said and done.”
Lane Kiffin compares Marqise Lee to Damian Williams. “Even though I didn’t coach him the guy that he would compare to most is Damian Williams, very similar releases, fluid route runner, natural hands, really smooth and looks like him, just from watching old film of Damian they look very similar.”
Lane Kiffin calls Woods good - not great. “He’s been good, not great so we got to make sure that we’re still pushing him, he’s pushing himself to make sure that he’s going to the next level not just being one of the top freshmen in America but being one of the top receivers period, in America. So we’ll continue to do that, we limited his play in preseason game one and we still want him to continue to improve.”
Recent USC Flanker Articles:
Starter: Brandon Carswell (pictured)
Backup: Brice Butler then George Farmer, then Kyle Prater or Junior Pomee
Note: George Farmer has a slight back injury. Markeith Ambles is academically ineligible.
Starter: Brandon Carswell
Backup: Markeith Ambles, then Kyle Prater, then George Farmer or Brice Butler
How the Split End Battles Have Been Going:
Kiffin called wide receiver Brandon Carswell "the camp MVP to this point." He is a leader for the younger wide receivers.
Brice Butler and Brandon Carswell are the most likely to start opposite Robert Woods. Lee, Farmer, and Blackwell are still learning the offense. De'Von Flournoy is not excelling and Kyle Prater still looks like he is a freshman.
Brice Butler impressed coach Lane Kiffin when he came back the next day after an injury. "It is impressive. A few hours after he was [on cruches] so it was good to see. I don’t know if that would have happened a year ago, so I’m proud of him,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin said wide receiver Kyle Prater is behind where he should be saying, "We hoped to see more consistency. He's in his second year now but he's still got some freshman tendencies going on. We'd hoped he'd be further ahead than he is."
Wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore said that "George Farmer is a complete receiver who can run every route. He's ready to play from a physical stand point, he just needs to improve mentally."
Markeith Ambles took summer school classes to maintain academic eligibility, but his grades did not cut it. He may be considering a transfer, which would free up a scholarship.
Kiffin feel Brandon Carswell has developed a lot. “I think when he came in if you would have asked me I probably would have thought we wouldn’t see this day based off of what we were seeing, the level we were trying to get to, the play we expected and it’s a credit to him. You guys have heard me say it before but when you stay you play because you stay long enough you learn the stuff so well you mature on the field and off the field and in your approach to the game and you end up playing. Chris McFoy did that, he’s a kind of guy like that when we were here before but Brandon has even moved up further than that probably. So very proud of what he’s done.”
Recent USC Split End Articles:
Quarterback: Matt Barkley
Fullback: Rhett Ellison
Tailback: Dillon Baxter/Curtis McNeal (50/50)
Left Tackle: Matt Kalil
Left Guard: Martin Coleman or John Martinez
Center: Khaled Holmes
Right Guard: Aundrey Walker
Right Tackle: Kevin Graf
Tight End: Xavier Grimble
Flanker: Robert Woods (rotating De'Von Flournoy or Marqise Lee)
Split End: Brandon Carswell (rotating Brice Butler)