The Trojans came out in full pads for the first time during fall camp on Wednesday, with USC head coach Lane Kiffin using the practice as a tuneup of sorts for the team’s initial scrimmage, coming up on Thursday in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“Normally this really is the day that we scrimmage because it’s the first day that we’re in full pads, but we really wanted to make sure that we were still working on our basics, that we were still working on our fundamentals of tackling in our first day that we were allowed to do that,” Kiffin said. “So, it was good to have this day and to set it up this way so that we’re giving our players everything, so that we can really have a good test tomorrow when we have a full-live scrimmage.”
Predictably, the workout was marked by some physical play, with the defense getting the better of the offense in what has become a trend in the early portion of this year’s camp. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- who took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback -- struggled at times to find open receivers against tight coverage from the secondary and an effective pass rush by the defensive line.
Defensive end George Uko set the tone right off the bat in an early team period, stuffing tailback Justin Davis on a run up the gut. Linebacker Lamar Dawson picked off a Kessler pass soon after that, and then just a few plays later it was safety Leon McQuay’s turn, stepping in front of a Wittek toss over the middle. Kessler came back to connect on a deep touchdown pass over the middle to Marqise Lee, but the session ended with a pair of two-minute drills, one led by Wittek and the other by Kessler, neither resulting in a score. Kessler’s drive ended on an interception by cornerback Ryan Dillard on a ball that was initially tipped in the air by safety Dion Bailey. Kessler was picked off once more later on, this time by linebacker Hayes Pullard during a 9-on-7 period.
During the final team session of the day, Wittek connected on a couple of deep passes to Victor Blackwell and Lee, while Kessler found Blackwell on a nice toss over the middle.
In the end though, the defense was the big story, with Pullard coming up with a big stop on Davis for no gain near the end of the day, and then SAM linebacker Devon Kennard capping it off by stripping the ball from Kessler, and then taking it in for six.
“Devon would be up there, if there was an MVP or something like that, on the whole team so far,” Kiffin said of Kennard. “I think that he’s playing really well at that position. We do a lot of things with him, he gives the tight ends a lot of problems and then at times he ends up on the tackles. I think that he’s really making the right steps to have a really good year.”
Kiffin also had high praise for the safeties and cornerbacks -- a question mark heading into fall camp.
“I think that kind of a storyline so far is that the secondary is playing better than they did in the spring,” Kiffin said. “They’re not giving up as many big plays, and they’re playing better on the outside -- the corners are playing better than they were in the spring.”
Wheeler still at LT
The most significant news in regard to the offensive line on Wednesday was that -- with Aundrey Walker still sidelined -- Chad Wheeler continued to line up with the first-team offense at left tackle for the second day in a row. Initially slated to compete with Kevin Graf at right tackle, he’s more than held his own on the left side despite going up against an outstanding Trojans defensive line unit.
“Chad looks really good over there,” Kiffin said. “Obviously tomorrow will be a big test. I think that any time that you get a position like we have at outside linebacker -- that’s a very good position for us -- those guys really make your offense better, and make them have to work. So he’s really getting tested out there by some really good players.”
Redd continues to come along
Limited throughout fall camp as he’s continued to ease his way back after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee in the spring, tailback Silas Redd received his heaviest workload of the fall on Wednesday. Donning a yellow jersey to prevent contact, he even took a number of reps during the team period. And while he didn’t find a lot of room to run today, he certainly appeared to be close to 100 percent. Still, Kiffin is in no hurry to rush him back.
“Yeah, we threw him out there,” Kiffin said. “We put a jersey on him because he’s really not back. I don’t think he’ll go tomorrow, but it was good. I think the thing about Silas is that he’s a leader, he’s very confident, very emotional, he gets into the game and he gets into the practice, so that’s good to have.“
Other notes: In addition to Walker, safety Su'a Cravens and wide receiver De'Von Flournoy did not participate in Wednesday’s workout. Tailbacks Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan were also limited, and defensive end Leonard Williams was also held out later in practice.