- Greg Katz, Columnist, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Unconcerned about having been named the AP preseason No. 1 team in the country, the USC Trojans were business as usual Saturday morning, participating in a low-key practice that lasted a little over two hours. Here are the practice highlights:
• Originally scheduled for an 8:45 morning practice, the Trojans pushed the start time back to 9:00. The reason for the early morning practice reschedule from the traditional afternoon workout was due to a youth baseball tournament on Dedeaux Field.
• With defensive ends Wes Horton and Greg Townsend Jr. in attendance but not participating, the Trojans first-team defensive line consisted of ends J.R. Tavai and Kevin Greene along with tackles George Uko and Antwaun Woods. FYI, Townsend was no longer wearing a “boot” on his right foot.There has been no explanation given for Horton being held out.
• Starting offensive right tackle Kevin Graf was dressed but did not participate and neither did starting middle linebacker Lamar Dawson. Graf was replaced by surprise walk-on sophomore Nathan Guertler and Dawson by Hayes Pullard.
• The defensive backs worked with an extremely large black ball to increase their catching ability. The ball would be thrown on one bounce and the player had to catch it cleanly.
• True freshman tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick worked some with the first offensive unit.
• Senior tailback Curtis McNeal was back in action and showed no effects from his undisclosed injury. McNeal broke off an impressive 85- yard touchdown jaunt.
• Aundrey Walker started at left tackle and showed no effects from his trio of injuries, which had included shoulder, wrist, and thumb issues along his right arm.
• True freshman Zach Banner continued to work with the second offensive line at right tackle.
• Backup quarterback Cody Kessler had a good day for the most part, working the two-minute drill well at the end of practice with the first-team offense. Kessler had an impressive deep completion in the two-minute drill to tight end Randall Telfer. Kessler finished his two-minute outing with a nice 14-yard TD pass to De'Von Flournoy.
• Earlier in the morning, Kessler connected with wide receiver Marqise Lee on a beautiful deep ball but later suffered an interception at the hands of Bailey.
• Tailback Buck Allen continued to show continued progress, especially as a pass receiver, catching a long toss down the sidelines from Wittek.
• The Trojans will have their last scrimmage of the preseason on Sunday at the Coliseum. The 4:30 p.m. event is closed to the public.
• On being named No. 1 in the country by the AP, Kiffin said it was great for the Trojans fans and university. He added the AP poll is where the media evaluates the program, but his team has to go out and prove it.
• Kiffin says the No. 1 ranking does have an effect on recruiting, and he knows that from the Pete Carroll years, when kids being recruited today remember the dominance of that era.
• Regarding what the coach is looking for during Sunday’s scrimmage, Kiffin said particular attention would be paid to the defensive line play, playing the young guys to see what they’ve got, and tackling in general, which has been an issue in the early parts of each season since he took over as head coach.
• Kiffin praised the new John McKay Center, saying the convenience of players leaving the locker room to the practice field was an added bonus.
• Praise was given to both backup quarterbacks, Wittek and Kessler, for their morning performances.
• If Walker stays healthy, he will be the starting left offensive tackle.
Matt Barkley comments:
• On being No. 1, the senior said it was “exciting” and “very cool for our school and our fan base.” He embraced the idea of being No. 1, but he said it means nothing. Barkley said the only thing that counts is being No. 1 in January and for the players right now, it doesn’t really mean that much. He doesn’t want the team to become complacent. Barkley concluded by saying the team has to be “perfect this year” to accomplish all its goals.
Tailback Silas Redd comments:
• On coming from Penn State to the No. 1 team in the country, Redd said that it was great for the university and the fans, but added, “We’re about the prep and not the hype. We’re all about Hawaii.”
• Redd said that he really needs this second scrimmage because it will be a like a practice test in school, getting ready for the upcoming real tests. He credited running back coach Kennedy Polamalu in helping him overcome the challenges of learning the new playbook terminology.