USC FALL CAMP: First Five Days

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IAugust 13, 2009

PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 06:  Joe McKnight #4 of the USC Trojans runs away from Rahim Moore #3 and  Reggie Carter #51 of the UCLA Bruins during the game on December 6, 2008 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Today was the fifth day of Fall Camp, the first in full pads. So let’s take a look at which players on offense and defense have been the standouts so far.

It is no secret that all eyes are on the freshman sensation Matt Barkley in his attempt to overtake Aaron Corp as the starting signal caller. That competition took a strange turn on Monday, Day Three, as Corp went down with a leg injury.

Surprisingly reminiscent of last year’s injury to starter Mark Sanchez, Corp’s injury occurred at about the same point in Fall Camp as the Sanchez injury. Like Sanchez, Corp is expected to miss valuable reps while the small crack at the top of his fibula heals.

Even before the injury, many observers felt that Barkley was gaining ground on Corp. On Sunday, Day Two, during seven-on-seven period, Barkley completed a 35-yard fade to David Ausberry for touchdown down the right sideline. On the very next play, Barkley checked down to tailback Allen Bradford who ripped off a long gain.

During team period, Barkley showed good scrambling ability on a broken play as he evaded the rushing defensive linemen, rolled to his right and hit tailback Curtis McNeal to turn a sure loss into a positive gain. Later Barkley hit David Ausberry on a sideline pattern for a long TD.

As practice was ending, however, Barkley forced a pass into coverage that cornerback Will Harris should have picked.

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On Monday, Day Three, Barkley had a five-play set in red zone seven-on-seven drills, where he went 4-for-5 with touchdown passes to tight end Anthony McCoy and wideout Jordan Cameron. Later during team drills, Barkley had another near pick, but so did Corp for that matter.

On Tuesday, Day Four, Corp sat out practice due to the leg injury that he suffered at the end of Monday’s practice.

Barkley received most of the reps at quarterback and had another outstanding seven-on-seven period. He threw a 40-yard touchdown over the middle to Damian Williams. He followed that up with a TD pass to tailback Joe McKnight on a sideline pattern.

Today, Day Five, when it was discovered that Corp would be out from one to two weeks, Barkley took over the first-unit offense and continued his penchant for the big play while remaining turnover-free.

During seven-on-seven period, Barkley hit two of his favorite targets for long touchdowns. The first was a 51-yard touchdown to tight end McCoy. The second was a 47-yard touchdown to McKnight. That led head coach Pete Carroll to comment, "He's out here playing football with these guys like he's been here a long time."

I’m sure that’s good news for Trojan fans knowing that whether it’s Corp or Barkley, the quarterback spot is in good hands. So, let’s move on to the other outstanding players. Two of them I have already mentioned.

The two players who sat out spring practice with injuries but came back with an impressive summer team workout have been outstanding so far in Fall Camp. I’m talking about Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight.

On Day One, McKnight broke a 75-yard touchdown run during team drills behind outstanding blocking from the offensive line. Later he had another long run, shuffling and cutting his way through a narrow opening and breaking into the open field.

On Day Two, Bradford took that short hitch from Barkley in seven-on-seven drills and turned it into a long gain. Then during team period, both Bradford and Marc Tyler, who has also had an outstanding camp, broke long runs of 40-plus yards each.

Not to be outdone, McKnight turned a short screen pass into a huge play when he cut from the right sideline all the way across the field before bursting into the open.

On Day Three, Bradford, Tyler and McKnight all broke long runs behind terrific blocking from the offensive line.

On Day Four, McKnight caught another long TD pass from Barkley in seven-on-seven drills. Bradford had another good day running the ball, both in 11-on-11 drills and during the team period. A very physical tailback, Bradford stiff-armed linebacker Chris Galippo on one of his runs to gain extra yards.

Sharing rushing honors with Bradford were McNeal, who like Tyler, also had a terrific spring practice, and Ahmed Mokhtar, who played at Oregon State in 2007. Both had a couple impressive runs.

Another injured player who has shown signs of a complete recovery is Ayles. He has made several impressive catches in camp.

Aside from Damian Williams, two other wideouts have been staking their claim for playing time, Brice Butler and Jordan Cameron. Both have looked very good so far.

Freshman wideout De'Von Flournoy has also impressed the coaching staff despite having just joined the team.

The other quarterback, Mitch Mustain, is starting to get into the mix now that he is back at the No. 2 spot, at least temporarily.

On Day Four, he hit Travon Patterson for a deep completion down the left sideline during team period. During seven-on-seven drills on Day Five, Mustain, completed several nice passes, one to Butler deep over the middle and another to Cameron in the front corner of the end zone.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the entire offensive line, which was looking every bit like one of the best in the Pac-10, if not in the nation, for the first three days, anyway.

However, on Day Four they began to slip up against more defensive pressure, and on Day Five the defense completely dominated.

On defense, nose tackle Christian Tupou and defensive end Everson Griffen have been putting pressure on all the quarterbacks in rushing drills and in the team periods.

On Day Two, during a 10-play blitz-focused segment of team period, the defense totally dominated the offense, recording six sacks and three pressures and allowing just one completion.

On Day Three, both Josh Pinkard and Jurrell Casey made huge hits. On Day Four, the first Competition Tuesday of the fall, the defense turned in an overpowering performance to capture the final team period 17-13.

Day Five also went to the defense in the Trojan’s first full-pads practice of the fall. Their hard-hitting shutdown the offense for much of the workout. During an 11-on-11 period, the defense held the offense to no gain or a loss on seven consecutive plays.

Both the linebackers and the D-line put a real pounding on offense throughout the team period. But the hit of the day came from a cornerback. Kevin Thomas flattened tight end Blake Ayles the moment he turned upfield after catching a short pass.

I will have more on the Trojan defense in my look at the USC Trojans Part III: The Defense.

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