USC: Chad Wheeler

USC offseason storylines: Offensive line

June, 3, 2014
6/03/14
11:00
AM PT
No position group at USC entered the spring surrounded by more uncertainty than the offensive line. With the key losses of Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz, a new position coach in Tim Drevno, and the offense transitioning into Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo, shotgun-based attack, no one knew quite what to expect. While there was certainly plenty of good to take away from their performance this spring, this is still a unit with more than a few question marks.

Both guard spots open

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsNo matter the position, Max Tuerk figures to have a starting job on USC's OL.
With only eight healthy scholarship players available, it was hard to ever get a real solid read on the offensive line, and as Sarkisian recently noted, this is a unit that will need to be solidified in the coming months.

That’s particularly the case at the guard positions, where, during spring drills, the Trojans featured a starting duo of early-entrant freshman Toa Lobendahn at left guard and second-year freshman Khaliel Rodgers at right guard.

And while both players – particularly Lobendahn -- showed promise, the entire competition at those spots is set to change dramatically as the Trojans gain an influx of talent from incoming freshmen as well as players returning from injury.

Of those players on the mend, senior Aundrey Walker, who is returning from a broken ankle, will be watched with particular interest. Establishing himself as a reliable starter at right guard in 2013 after an up-and-down 2012 campaign at tackle, he possesses veteran experience that could be invaluable to this unit.

Jordan Simmons, returning from a torn ACL, is a big mauler who was really starting to stand out in practice prior to his injury in the fall, and he’s another player who could make a run at a starting job on the interior.

Of course, in the case of both Walker and Simmons, it’s how their recovery goes, and what kind of shape they come back in -- particularly with the conditioning required for the new offense -- that will likely play the biggest role in determining whether or not they’re able to jump in and perform at a high level when fall camp opens up.

And then there is fifth-year senior Giovanni Di Poalo, as well as a pair of incoming freshmen guard candidates -- Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Both youngsters arrive not only with more than their fair share of accolades, but also with unique talent and tremendous size -- giving them the look of potential instant impact performers.

Center of attention

With Martin off to the NFL, one of the new staff’s biggest priorities heading into spring practice was to find a capable starter at center. Max Tuerk, a tried and tested veteran who started 13 games at left guard in 2013, and the majority of the prior season at left tackle, wound up getting the call. While he did have some occasional difficulties in the snapping department, he performed solidly for the most part.

Chris Brown
Blair Angulo/ESPNIncoming freshman Chris Brown has been taking a lot of reps at right tackle during summer workouts.
Still, while Sarkisian lauded Tuerk’s overall ability during the recent Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, he also appeared to leave the door open for competition through fall camp, so this isn’t over just yet. Both Di Poalo and Lobendahn lined up at the position in the spring, and have continued to do so this summer during the team’s volunteer workouts. Talamaivao is another key name to watch here, as he too, has been taking reps at this spot over the course of the last week. It will also be interesting to see if Mama gets a look here when he arrives on campus.

If Sarkisian and Co. did decide to go with someone other than Tuerk here, it’s a virtual certainty that the junior would still line up as a starter somewhere else. Arguably the Trojans’ sturdiest pound-for-pound offensive lineman, he could conceivably slide back over to left guard or either of the tackle spots without a hitch.

Stability at tackle

While the interior of the line still isn’t totally set, the Trojans do appear to be in better shape at both of the tackle spots -- at least when it comes to the starters.

No player drew more praise from Sarkisian following spring drills than third-year sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler. Having started every game last season, he looks primed for a fantastic 2014 campaign.

Over on the right side, the emergence of Zach Banner -- who sat out most of last season after having hip surgery -- was one of the great revelations of the spring. Performing at the highest level of his career, the 6-foot-9, 345-pounder took over with the No. 1 group in place of Nathan Guertler midway through camp and never looked back. Considering the fact that he said that he wasn’t even quite back to 100 percent during those workouts, there’s reason to believe he’s only going to get better, and it will be interesting to see just how much farther he can continue to progress this offseason.

Still, Drevno needs to find out who else he can count on to contribute at tackle, if nothing else, to provide depth. Early entrant freshman Jordan Austin and Guertler were the primary backups in the spring, and then there’s also Nico Falah -- returning from a back injury. Highly touted incoming freshman Chris Brown has also been taking reps at right tackle during summer drills.

Sarkisian: 'Lot of work' needed on line

May, 1, 2014
5/01/14
4:30
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took his turn on the phone on Thursday during the Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, revealing that among his biggest concerns for the Trojans heading into the fall is finding the right combination along the offensive line.

“Solidifying that front five -- who’s going to be where, that depth and all of that -- I think, is one key component for us,” Sarkisian said.

That doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, this past spring the Trojans were without a 2013 starter in senior guard Aundrey Walker (ankle), as well as promising guard/tackle Jordan Simmons (knee) and tackle Nico Falah (back), all to injuries, making the lack of depth a glaring issue.

The Trojans featured a No. 1 offensive line unit throughout the majority of the March and April workouts that was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Toa Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk played center all spring and is almost certain to start somewhere on the line this fall.
But with Walker, Simmons and Falah all expected to return in time for fall camp, on top of the fact that the unit will add a trio of highly touted freshmen to the mix in Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the starting group could potentially have a very different look when the Trojans open up against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

Sarkisian noted that Mama and Talamaivao will both begin their USC careers on the interior. He did not discuss Brown, but most consider him to have the ability to line up at guard or tackle.

How the players who are coming off injury, as well those freshman additions, adjust to the new uptempo system and how they perform in fall camp will play a major part in what kind of role they’re ultimately going to play.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sarkisian said. “So, that’s why the challenge is so big for us of how we’re handling that first week to get guys opportunities to show what they’re about, so we can start developing some cohesiveness amongst that offensive front as we move toward the season.”

Sarkisian spoke glowingly of Wheeler and also praised Tuerk, Lobendahn and Banner for their efforts this past spring. He also noted that Tuerk will continue to line up at center, where he played during the entirety of the spring, but he appeared to leave the door open for others to still compete at the position.

“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“

Response to SEC decision

One topic that was brought up throughout the call to all of the Pac-12 coaches was the Southeastern Conference’s recent decision to stick to an eight-game conference schedule.

With college football moving to a four-team playoff next season, the trend has been for conferences to adopt a nine-game conference schedule. Pac-12 and Big 12 teams already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten is scheduled to make the change in 2016.

When asked about the SEC’s decision, Sarkisian took the opportunity to praise the Pac-12 while also expressing his desire for a level playing field down the line.

“The Pac-12 has been on the forefront of the scheduling thing here for quite some time,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s encouraging to see that the majority of college football is moving their way towards nine. I think for college football to find the common ground, the more areas we can all be the same so that there’s a competitive and level playing field for everybody, I think should be the goal.”

Hawkins impresses

When asked if there were any redshirt freshmen who stood out to him this spring at USC, Sarkisian answered with cornerback Chris Hawkins.

“From all of the accounts of all of the people that were here on the previous staff, he has really matured mentally and physically,” Sarkisian said. “I thought his body has really changed. I thought he had a very good spring for us.”
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans true freshman offensive left guard Toa Lobendahn stood in the west end zone of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and wondered if he had really started in the annual spring game on Saturday in front of 17,500 tanning, cardinal and gold-clad fans.

“It was overwhelming. Well, not really overwhelming but joyful,” Lobendahn said moments after completing his first spring game. “It was great being in front of all these fans.”

It’s been quite a spring of learning, performing and adjusting to life on a college campus for Lobendahn, who left La Habra (Calif.) High after the 2013 fall semester of his senior year to enroll in time for spring practice.

Inside the Coliseum locker room 

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
7:00
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the Trojans (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) defeated Utah State (2-2, 1-0 MWC) by a score of 17-14.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin

Opening statement: “We knew it was a really good team we were going to play. Anytime you have a great player at quarterback (Chuckie Keeton) like they do, it’s going to be hard to take him out of the game. Their defense has played really tough and really physical.”

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Injuries raise questions, provide chances

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
9:39
AM PT
The Trojans are navigating through their share of injuries this spring. But at this time of year, as long as the injuries are not serious, they can offer a mixed blessing of sorts.

When one player is forced to sit on the sideline, it gives another player the chance for extended reps with the hope of showing the coaches he is ready for a bigger role. For the injured player, there is still plenty of time to return either in spring or in fall camp before the season begins. As quarterback Max Wittek noted after a recent knee injury, “you never want this to happen, but if it’s going to happen, better to have it happen now.”

[+] EnlargeRedd_Silas
AP Photo/Grant HindsleySilas Redd's knee injury opens the door for other USC tailbacks to impress this spring.
Wittek is perhaps the most notable USC injury right now, primarily because he is engaged in a battle for the starting quarterback spot. Wittek suffered the knee sprain on March 9 prior to a scrimmage at the Coliseum and has been out ever since. He is expected to return when the Trojans practice on March 26. Cody Kessler has played well with Wittek out and any small gains by either player can end up meaning a lot in a competition that is so close.

On the same day that Wittek got hurt, Marqise Lee also went down with a “minor” knee injury and has been held out as well. There isn’t as much of an impact here as Lee certainly isn’t in any competition for his starting job. If anything, his absence gave the other receivers a chance to step up and the overall group is doing well from top to bottom. Right now, Nelson Agholor appears to be the clear leader for the starting spot opposite Lee.

A recent loss came with the news that Silas Redd would undergo surgery this week for a torn meniscus. Redd is the established senior starter at tailback, but he has only been on the USC campus for eight months, so any time spent on the field was beneficial. Instead, Redd will be out until fall camp and the Trojans are further limited at tailback with Tre Madden still not cleared for full contact due to his knee rehab. That means the remaining spring practices will be huge for guys like D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen and maybe even Justin Davis, although it remains to be seen how much a recent broken finger will hamper him.

The offensive line had been fairly healthy until the news that Chad Wheeler will miss the rest of spring with a knee injury. Wheeler had added bulk and was progressing nicely as the No. 2 left tackle.

On the defensive side of the ball, injuries are really impacting the interior depth on the line and the safety positions.

There are three linemen who have missed all of spring: J.R. Tavai, Greg Townsend and Cody Temple. All three figure to provide important depth at the three interior spots of the 5-2 defense, so it’s vital to get them back on the field. Right now, the Trojans have Kenny Bigelow as a legit reserve at nose tackle, but the other spots are being manned by players out of position such as Charles Burks. Scott Starr is also out of action until fall, and he is expected to be a key reserve behind Morgan Breslin.

[+] EnlargeDion Bailey
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAs Dion Bailey recovers from shoulder surgery, the question of whether he'll play safety or linebacker in 2013 remains unanswered.
In the secondary, the Trojans have a lot of talent but not much is going to be settled until the coaches figure out where to put Dion Bailey. Most speculation centers around Bailey ending up at safety rather than linebacker, but he won’t be available for spring after recent shoulder surgery. So Josh Shaw, Demetrius Wright and Su’a Cravens are auditioning for starting spots. Gerald Bowman could also be in that mix, but he is also out this spring. This means it’s likely the safety rotation won’t be determined until well into fall camp.

At corner, the top player through the early part of spring was Kevon Seymour, but he has missed the last couple of days with an ankle injury. Devian Shelton is also out with a foot injury. That means extended reps for Torin Harris, Anthony Brown and Ryan Henderson, as well as the freshman Chris Hawkins.

USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the time off for spring break this week was coming at a good time for a team looking to get a few bodies back. The Trojans return to the practice field next Tuesday and having some of those injured players on the field will go a long way toward helping to determine starting spots.

Kiffin also acknowledged that the extra hitting in practices so far this spring -- done to achieve his goal of returning to a more physical style of play -- has played a part in having so many injuries. He said the team will continue to practice with full hitting for the rest of spring but gave no word on if there will be any changes in philosophy beyond that point.

USC spring practice report: March 14

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
7:23
AM PT
The Trojans put an emphasis on the offensive line during the Thursday full-pads practice, and coach Lane Kiffin liked what he saw.

“I thought the offensive line responded well today,” Kiffin said. “We had some issues on Tuesday with fumbled snaps and false starts, but the players came out today with good energy along the line of scrimmage.”

Kiffin also noted the continued strong play of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne, who have been forced to take extra snaps this week as the only two available players at the position.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comWith Max Wittek sitting due to injury, Cody Kessler continued to impress in Thursday's practice.
“I thought both the quarterbacks did some good things today," Kiffin said. "Cody [Kessler] is really doing a great job and really comes alive in those team settings. Max [Browne] is moving around probably better than we thought this early from pocket movements and getting out of trouble for a tall, young guy."

Kessler hit Nelson Agholor against coverage from Morgan Breslin and the play went for a long gain. Browne had his best practice of spring and it included a pair of touchdown passes to Darreus Rogers. There was also a nice sequence for Browne where he had a pass attempt broken up by Leon McQuay III but he came right back on the next play for a nice completion to Buck Allen.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
It was a breakout day for Rogers. The first touchdown from Browne came on a short throw that he caught and put a spin move to get away from Ryan Dillard for a 20-yard score. The second touchdown was the highlight play of the day on a 40-yard pass reception at the goal line. He also had an impressive play with a sideline catch where it took multiple defenders to bring him down.

“Darreus Rogers had an unbelievable day,” said Kiffin.

Bucking the trend
Buck Allen hasn’t made a ton of noise during his USC career so far, but he’s quietly put together a pair of strong practices in a row. Allen finished the practice off right, first with a 4-yard TD run and then with a 20-yard touchdown dash off the left side on the final play of the day.

Injury update
Marqise Lee and Max Wittek continued to sit out practice with the knee injuries they suffered last weekend, and Kiffin said both will wait until the first Tuesday practice after spring break (March 27) to get back on the field. Silas Redd and Chad Wheeler both left the Thursday practice with knee injuries, while George Farmer had a shoulder injury. There was no word on the status of those three. Kevon Seymour sat out with an ankle injury and is day to day.

MVP
Xavier Grimble was named the MVP of the day with Rogers a close second. Kiffin gave a lot of praise to Grimble as a guy who is on his way to becoming a potentially great player. Grimble wasn’t even supposed to practice due to a rib injury but he went out and performed well, most notably in a blocking drill against the safeties.

Other highlight plays

Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson both had pass deflections. Dawson also added a big hit on Justin Davis. Kiffin said Dawson has put together five great practices in a row after changing his body in the off-season.

Sarao, Devon Kennard and Charles Burks each had a sack.

Leonard Williams had a pass deflection.

Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Damien Mama, Rey Maualuga and several players from Upland HS including safety Jeff Farrar, QB Tyler Hilinski and incoming ninth-grade receiver Nathan Telfer (no relation to TE Randall).

Quotebook
“The competition between Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer is good, no issues between the two of them. It’s kind of like how it was with Robert (Woods) and Marqise. They are really close, and they just push each other. They are almost exactly the same size, Randall is five pounds heavier and tests better.” -- Lane Kiffin

“This has probably been my best day here, but obviously still making a few mental errors. We slowed it down today and didn't install that much, so I was able to go out there and play. I felt like today I was the most comfortable and I think it showed in our offense as a whole." -- Max Browne

Sunday practice quick hits

August, 26, 2012
8/26/12
8:49
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes that won't make it into our other coverage from Sunday's practice on Howard Jones Field.

Backup quarterback coming

USC coach Lane Kiffin indicated he'll name a backup quarterback to Matt Barkley on Tuesday morning, a relatively big announcement because it'll designate who will play quite a bit during the Trojans' first few games.

Kiffin said, as usual, he was impressed with both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek's performances in the mock game the Trojans held on Saturday.

"They both played really, really well," Kiffin said.

Wittek added that he was comfortable with his play in the mock game, saying he "felt fantastic" and was looking forward to Kiffin's upcoming announcement of the No. 2 QB.

"I think anytime a depth chart comes out, it's meaningful, to see where you're at, a crisp 2 or 3 ... instead of a 2a or 2b," Wittek said. "Those mean a lot when you see them."

Pomee puts in some time

Kiffin said Saturday talented tight end Junior Pomee has been "extremely inconsistent" in his year with the USC Trojans.

Maybe the message got through to the redshirt freshman. Pomee stayed on the practice field after the conclusion of Sunday's practice and got extra work in with the walk-on quarterbacks.

If he can put together a few weeks of consistent production, he could overtake freshman Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick for the No. 3 tight end slot.

Likely redshirts

Kiffin also said Saturday he didn't expect very many freshmen to redshirt this season, "at all," but it does appears there will be at least a few.

Players expected to redshirt include fullback Jahleel Pinner, offensive linemen Jordan Simmons and Chad Wheeler and defensive linemen DeVante Wilson.

Offensive lineman Zach Banner, linebacker Jabari Ruffin and cornerback Devian Shelton could also redshirt, and it's conceivable another scholarship freshman of some sort will also sit out the season.

And sophomore running back Tre Madden will also be using his redshirt this year, although it won't be for the typical purpose. Madden tore his ACL in the spring and is out for the season.

Injury report

There will be no more injury reports until March. Kiffin announced a policy on Sunday preventing media members from reporting and/or commenting about any players' injuries off of practices.

Moving forward, it will be allowed during spring practice and fall camp, but not during the season.

Final notes: Kiffin said the Trojans are watching film from Norm Chow's previous stops to prepare for the offensive sets and plays they're going to see against Hawaii on Saturday. ... Redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao is looking more and more like he will be the opening-day starter at weakside linebacker, but strongside 'backer Dion Bailey said Sunday he is also learning how to play on the weak side. ... Kiffin indicated new defensive end Morgan Breslin will play often after impressing in the scrimmage, but he appears unlikely to start the first week. ... USC plans to release a depth chart later on Sunday night.

Saturday scrimmage quick hits

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
4:51
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes from Saturday's scrimmage -- or "mock game", as coach Lane Kiffin called it -- that won't make it into our other coverage off the day.

Trojans name captains

USC's players voted to name the team's 2012 captains on Saturday, and they came up with some familiar names.

As expected, Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley will be a team captain for the third straight season, setting a school record. Safety T.J. McDonald will also serve in the role for his second season.

The newcomers will be senior center Khaled Holmes and junior cornerback Nickell Robey.

Kiffin said he agreed wholeheartedly with his players' choices.

(Read full post)

Fall camp position preview: O-linemen

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
6:05
PM PT
With the start of the 2012 USC football season drawing near, we’re doing position-by-position previews of the Trojans’ roster all this week. We began Monday with quarterbacks and continued Tuesday with running backs and Wednesday with receivers and tight ends.

Today, we will profile offensive linemen.

For each position, we’re starting with the current depth chart, going off the end-of-spring depth chart as released by Lane Kiffin, and discussing what needs to be resolved by Sept. 1.

Left tackle

1. Aundrey Walker, sophomore
2. Nathan Guertler, redshirt sophomore
3. Chad Wheeler, freshman

Left guard

1. Marcus Martin, sophomore
2. Giovanni Di Poalo, redshirt sophomore
3. Max Tuerk, freshman

Center

1. Khaled Holmes, redshirt senior
2. Abe Markowitz, redshirt senior
3. Cyrus Hobbi, redshirt freshman

Right guard

1. John Martinez, redshirt junior
2. Jeremy Galten, senior
3. Jordan Simmons, freshman

Right tackle

1. Kevin Graf, redshirt junior
2. David Garness, redshirt junior
3. Zach Banner, freshman

An offensive line depth chart is always a funny thing.

The backup at a given position might technically be the No. 2 guy there, like Guertler is at left tackle, but that doesn't mean he'd be the guy to come in if Walker got nicked up and had to miss a series. And the same thing goes for Di Poalo backing up Martin -- it's much more likely that Markowitz would be the short-term replacement than Di Poalo.

But, about the starters, there really isn't going to be much competition going on here. The interior spots are all solidified, and Kiffin and his staff seem pretty set on keeping Walker on the blind site. The only foreseeable changes would be a switch between Walker and Graf if Walker is underperforming, and maybe a move of Markowitz into the left guard slot if Martin is experiencing a sophomore slump.

Walker's offseason weight loss has been remarkable. He weighed around 375 pounds on his official visit to USC in the winter and then proceeded to slowly lose weight over the next year and a half.

In early June, he was 296 -- too light for what the Trojans' coaching staff wanted. So he's tried to gain back some of the weight since.

Even when Walker was a lot heavier last year, you could see the makings of a left tackle in his game. He has a wide body, his feet are quick and he has long arms. It also makes sense to keep Graf at the position he has a year of starting experience at already.

Other things to watch in camp include the development of Banner, the mammoth freshman listed at 6 feet 9 and 335 pounds. He's a redshirt candidate, along with the other three first-year freshmen, but he might have the best chance to play this year of the group.

Simmons' status is unknown, as a knee injury has prevented him from most team workouts since he arrived on campus earlier this summer. Wheeler, still a serious project, is almost a guarantee to redshirt although he enrolled in January.

We tackle defensive linemen tomorrow.

Analyzing the 2012 depth chart

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
9:24
PM PT
USC released its annual end-of-spring depth chart last week, which we posted mostly without comment at the time. Here, now, is our position-by-position analysis of what Lane Kiffin and Co. released, with an eye on what it means for the 2012 Trojans.

Quarterback

This was exactly as expected, with Matt Barkley entrenched and Cody Kessler and Max Wittek continuing to compete behind him. It is noteworthy that Jesse Scroggins is listed a spot behind the two redshirt freshmen and not tied with them, but it'd be a little unfair for him to be anywhere else. He missed most of the spring with hip issues and is still in academic jeopardy.

Running back

Where would Tre Madden have been if he wasn't out for the 2012 season? That's the question this portion of the chart begs. Curtis McNeal would still be starting, but Madden could very well be vying with D.J. Morgan for that No. 2 spot. Javorious Allen will be the third-string back unless he gets beat out by an incoming freshman.

Fullback

Soma Vainuku is locked in as the starter with no pressing competition, but he had himself a nice conclusion to the spring anyway, giving the coaching staff more confidence in him going into the summer. Jahleel Pinner will be somewhat of an unknown.

Receiver

De'Von Flournoy jumped in front of Victor Blackwell with an impressive spring, and has now put himself into position to challenge George Farmer for third-receiver status in the fall. And if Farmer can't stay healthy (again), then Flournoy's suddenly the favorite to line up with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

(Read full post)

Spring practice No. 1 notes

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
8:39
PM PT
Notes from Tuesday's spring-opening practice not covered in our other posts off the session:
  • Players expected to miss the entire spring because of injuries include tight end Christian Thomas (hip), offensive tackle Chad Wheeler (shoulder), defensive tackle Christian Heyward (shoulder), defensive end DeVante Wilson (knee), cornerback Torin Harris (shoulder) and punter Kyle Negrete (shoulder). All six underwent offseason surgeries. Negrete appeared to punt normally in practice but was announced as out for the spring by Kiffin.
  • Players who missed all or part of Tuesday's practice because of injury but are expected to return soon include quarterback Jesse Scroggins (hip), running back Curtis McNeal (shoulder), receiver Robert Woods (ankle), tight ends Xavier Grimble (toe) and Junior Pomee (undisclosed) and defensive back Josh Shaw (back). Only Woods' appears anywhere near serious, and Kiffin himself said he at one point thought the junior would suit up Tuesday. He's still recovering from the same ankle injury he suffered last April playing pick-up basketball.
  • Shaw, a talented transfer from Florida, has not received a final determination on his hardship waiver from the NCAA. He is petitioning to be able to play this season instead of sitting out a year based on the argument he returned home to be with ailing family members.
  • Kiffin said the MVP of the day was receiver-turned-running-back-turned-receiver George Farmer, who we'll have more on later. Fullback Soma Vainuku made the play of the day with a diving catch on a Matt Barkley throw. Barkley called the play "Havili-esque" afterward after former USC fullback Stanley Havili, who graduated in 2011.
  • Forty-one USC students participated in walk-on tryouts during the tail end of practice -- more than twice as many as have come out in the spring or fall in recent years.
  • Weight gains and losses: right tackle Aundrey Walker says he is down to 320 pounds after measuring in at 375 on his official visit last January. McNeal says he is up to 195 pounds -- 10 more than what he was at during last season. Left guard Marcus Martin is now listed at 325, a 15-pound drop from last season.

Spring position preview: DLs

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
10:18
AM PT
We’re doing position-by-position previews in the weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down the depth chart for one position group each day, paying special attention to things that can change in the spring.

We’ve looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen so far. Today, we analyze the defensive linemen.

Lane Kiffin always said former USC defensive end Nick Perry was a unique athlete.

Everyone else finally saw the same thing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend. Now the tough part comes, though: The Trojans have to replace him and the pass-rush presence he provided on the defensive line the last three seasons.

There isn't another returner on the line who has proven capable and consistent as a pass-rusher. Wes Horton has been effective in stretches and George Uko has shown flashes, but that's about it. Devon Kennard has struggled to get to the quarterback and the other projected starter, nose guard J.R. Tavai, doesn't even try to get there much.

Where will the sacks come from? That's part of what this spring will help figure out.

(Read full post)

Kiffin: "Our bullpen got rocked"

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
6:20
PM PT
Lane Kiffin and USC's coaching staff were a pitching a shutout for the early part of National Signing Day on Wednesday, picking up two huge out-of-state signees in receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive end Leonard Williams early in the morning and sealing the deal on all but one of their longtime commits.

Things were looking good. Then slowly but surely over the next four hours, quarterback Cyler Miles, defensive tackle Aziz Shittu and tackles Kyle Dodson, Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, top prospects all of them, each turned the Trojans down. USC, limited to only 15 signees because of NCAA sanctions, finished by securing an important local kid in Carson receiver Darreus Rogers, but the damage had been done.

As Kiffin put it later Wednesday in his press conference at Heritage Hall, USC's "bullpen got rocked."

Kiffin resorted to a pitching analogy to explain how well he thought USC's "starting pitcher" was performing for the first six innings of Signing Day -- getting the Floridians Agholor and Williams, among others -- and how poorly the bullpen performed afterward.

In all, it's unclear if the Trojans actually won the nine-inning game -- that'll come in a year or two or three -- but it didn't go as well as Kiffin and his staff had hoped. It also didn't go nearly as badly as some had projected around the country.

"Obviously you want to focus on the positive, but there's a reality side to it," Kiffin said Wednesday evening. "We had a rough end to the day. But it was a great start, obviously."

The start included Agholor and Williams, which "shocked a lot of people," Kiffin said, and one other "touchdown maker," as Kiffin called him, in tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The local kids -- including key offensive linemen Max Tuerk and Jordan Simmons -- all stayed true to their commitments, and the only recruit who defected away from USC was Northern California defensive end Pio Vatuvei, who the Trojans quickly replaced with Williams.

Together, Tuerk, Simmons and Zach Banner, the recruit from the state of Washington who announced he'd picked USC on Monday, add much-needed depth to the Trojans' offensive line, although Murphy, Peat or Dodson would have solidified it even further.

"Size is what sticks out about this class," Kiffin said, recounting the biggest positives from the day, in his eyes. "Really big guys and guys that can play a number of positions.

Kiffin also admitted that he fully expected Murphy, Peat or Dodson to sign, with the Trojans believing at one point last week they were leading in the chase of both Murphy and Peat and believing Wednesday they were first or second in the chase of all three prospects.

"To go 0-for-3 there, I thought we would have at least went 1-for-3," Kiffin said, continuing with the baseball analogy. "And I certainly didn't think two of them would go to the same school."

USC stayed three players below the 15-men limit, which Kiffin said wasn't entirely by design. But it makes sense. By taking only 12 players now, the Trojans save themselves from having to cut three more players to get under the 75-man overall limit come fall camp and allow three early enrollees to come in next January.

The only issue: Depth is at a premium. All 12 players need to pan out and stay in the program, or USC could be in for long-term issues.

"We can't afford attrition," Kiffin said. "So we had to look at everything, from academics to character to how well they play on the field and all the other stuff too.

"We tried to take all that into account."

Here's the full class of the 12 signees:

Nelson Agholor, WR, 6-1, 180, Tampa, FL (Berkeley Prep HS, Tampa, FL)
Zach Banner, OL, 6-9, 335, Puyallup, WA (Lakes HS, Lakewood, WA)
Gerald Bowman, S, 6-1, 215, Philadelphia, PA (Pierce J.C.)
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, TE, 6-5, 260, Rocklin, CA (Whitney HS, Rocklin, CA)
Jahleel Pinner, RB, 5-11, 225, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA (Mission Viejo (CA) HS)
Darreus Rogers, WR, 6-2, 195, Compton, CA (Carson (CA) HS)
Jabari Ruffin, LB, 6-4, 230, Downey, CA (Downey (CA) HS)
Kevon Seymour, DB, 6-0, 170, Pasadena, CA (Muir HS, Pasadena, CA)
Devian Shelton, DB, 6-2, 185, Inglewood, CA (Inglewood (CA) HS)
Jordan Simmons, OL, 6-5, 335, Inglewood, CA (Crespi HS, Encino, CA)
Max Tuerk, OL, 6-6, 295, Trabuco Canyon, CA (Santa Margarita HS, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA)
Leonard Williams, DL, 6-5, 275, Daytona Beach, FL (Mainland HS, Daytona Beach, FL)

And the five players who have already enrolled for a total of 17

Scott Starr, LB, 6-3, 230, Norco, CA (Norco (CA) HS)
Chad Wheeler, OT, 6-6, 265, Santa Monica, CA (Santa Monica (CA) HS)
DeVante Wilson, DE, 6-4, 235, Corona, CA (Corona (CA) HS)
Morgan Breslin, DE, 6-3, 255, Walnut Creek, CA (Diablo Valley J.C.)
Josh Shaw, S, 6-2, 195 Palmdale, CA (Florida)

Signing day preview

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
10:56
PM PT


With the Monday commitment of four-star offensive tackle Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wa./Lakes), USC now has nine Class of 2012 prospects committed to sign with the school out of 14 available spots.

NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to 15 signees. They can actually only take 14 because safety Gerald Bowman (Philadelphia, Pa./Pierce College) signed as an early enrollee but didn't finish up his junior-college requirements in time to actually enroll early. So, with barely 36 hours remaining until the faxes will begin rolling in to Heritage Hall on Wednesday morning, let's take a look at which players could potentially fill those five spots.

The following 10 prospects are the candidates. They are listed in a rough order of the likelihood they will sign with the Trojans, from most likely to least. Then we'll go over some of the other things that could still affect the final formulation of the recruiting class, like current commits defecting to other schools and last-second, under-the-radar signees.

WR/RB Nelson Agholor (Tampa, Fla./Berkeley Prep)

Although not yet on campus, Agholor has quickly become Robert Woods' understudy at the receiver position, through social media and his official visit to the Trojans earlier this month.

He seems like a perfect fit as the next top-recruit receiver at USC after Woods and Lee. And he has gotten rave reviews on his character and attitude from all over the country. The only other school he could choose at this point is Florida, but he seems very likely to pick USC.

DE Leonard Williams (Daytona Beach, Fl./Mainland)

Williams is also down to just USC and Florida, according to a recent interview with Rivals.com. An interesting aspect of his recruitment is that he is originally from Los Angeles, which would ease the cross-country transition.

One question: Is a third (or fourth) defensive end really the Trojans' biggest need in this limited class? One could make a convincing argument that a running back would be a better use of the scholarship offer. But Williams is also big enough to make a potential transition to defensive tackle possible, and depth is needed there.

OT Andrus Peat (Tempe, Ariz./Corona Del Sol)

Peat is arguably the second most-important recruit remaining for USC, and he has the Trojans in his final three alongside Nebraska and Stanford. Now that he's gotten in at Stanford and with his brother heading into his second season at Nebraska, it's really an unknown how interested he is in USC.

But he has a ton of potential as a tall, room-to-grow player who could easily bookend USC's line with Banner for two or three seasons.

OT Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente)

Let's put it this way: If the Trojans don't get either Peat, Murphy or Kyle Dodson (more later) to go along with Banner, something went wrong in the final week of the 2012 recruiting season.

He has USC and Stanford as his final two schools, and many recruiting analysts have speculated that Peat and Murphy will pick different schools, which would obviously help USC's cause. But there's also the worst-case scenario of Murphy picking Stanford and Peat joining his brother as a Cornhusker.

An item of note on the 6-7 Murphy: His high school teammate and good friend, Christian Tober, announced over the weekend he'd be coming to USC as a preferred walk-on in the fall.

(Read full post)

Where USC's 2012 recruiting class stands (Offense)

January, 21, 2012
1/21/12
6:21
PM PT
USC can sign 15 players this year as part of its 2012 recruiting class. It's likely the Trojans will ink all 15 of those players on Signing Day, although there is a possibility they could hold off on a player or two to save space for a last-second top prospect.

Position by position, let's delve into who will make up that 15-man list, including the eight prospects already committed, with assistance from ESPN Recruiting, Rivals and Scout. We'll do the offense Saturday and the defense Sunday.

Quarterback

USC is not seriously recruiting any signal-callers. The Trojans have three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster with three or more years of eligibility remaining.

Running back

This is probably the Trojans' biggest position of need after Amir Carlisle left to Notre Dame and George Farmer switched back to receiver.

Curtis McNeal is the clear-cut No. 1 and D.J. Morgan will back him up, but Javorious Allen is the only other scholarship player on the roster. Jahleel Pinner (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) is committed and expected to sign, but he's more of a fullback than a running back.

It's a near-guarantee USC will sign another running back in the 15. Arizona prep athlete D.J. Foster, who dropped USC during his senior season but is now reconsidering, could be the player the Trojans pick up.

Fullback

Pinner is likely to start his USC career as a fullback, so he'll fill the need here. Plus, the Trojans already have redshirt freshman Soma Vainuku and Simione Vehikite also available.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler452315382639
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen27614895.411
J. Davis1295954.64
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor104131312.612
J. Smith5472413.45
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense158.2294.6452.8
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring35.123.811.3