USC: Christian Thomas

Four could be back

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
4:05
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin has expressed hope this week that four players who have missed the Trojans' recent games because of injuries could be back by next week's game against Utah.

The foursome -- running back D.J. Morgan, receiver George Farmer, tight end Christian Thomas and defensive end J.R. Tavai -- have all missed at least the last two games.

"We're trying to develop all those guys so they can get snaps here and there," Kiffin said.

Morgan carried seven times in Week 1 before undergoing minor knee surgery. Farmer and Tavai played in the first two games before staying home from Stanford for unspecified reasons and staying on the sideline against Cal. (Kiffin said Farmer was not medically cleared as of Sunday.) Thomas still hasn't suited up for a game since September 2011.

Tavai, a sophomore was a starter in games one and two. The other three guys could all presumably help immediately on special teams if cleared for competition.

That's one of USC's goals, then, for the bye this week: getting some crucial special-teamers back.

Five things to watch: USC-Hawaii

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
10:35
AM PT
The No. 1-ranked USC Trojans begin their 2012 season on Saturday against Hawaii (4:30 p.m. PT) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Here are five things to watch:

1. Who's playing? Because of Lane Kiffin's new injury-reporting restrictions that began this week, we don't know which of the Trojans' injured players will be playing on Saturday. It certainly creates some mystique around this opener, as there's really no telling who was practicing this week and who wasn't. Among the players who missed all or most of USC's Saturday scrimmage, the last day injuries were allowed to be reported, were receiver George Farmer, tight ends Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, defensive ends Wes Horton and Greg Townsend Jr., linebacker Lamar Dawson, cornerback Torin Harris and safety Demetrius Wright.

2. Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. The expectation is that McNeal will start, because he's been at USC longer and been successful with all of his opportunities. But Redd's first three-plus weeks in a USC uniform have gone about as well as the Trojans could have expected. The early-season competition between the two to decide who the primary back will be might be more interesting than the battle between Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, because we don't yet have any idea of how Kiffin plans to use Redd in games. Here's guessing both guys will get about 15 touches on Saturday, with another 5-10 for D.J. Morgan.

(Read full post)

Wednesday practice quick hits

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
8:28
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes from Wednesday's no-pads two-hour practice session that won't make it into our other coverage from the day.

Talking about tiers

Coach Lane Kiffin was all about defining the depth chart Wednesday, referring to his players strictly in terms of tiers during his post-practice session with the media.

First-tier players are starters, second-tier guys are key reserves, and third-tier ones might be needed depth. Whether it goes down to a fourth tier is unknown.

But Kiffin spotlighted four so-called second-tier players for their preparation and playbook knowledge this camp: receiver Nelson Agholor, running backs Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan and left tackle Max Tuerk.

None of the four are starters, but all four figure to play this year. And, interestingly, three of the four haven't been with the team before this summer.

The tier-by-tier description is fitting, Kiffin said, because of the varying amount of readiness the Trojans have displayed in fall camp. Some have proved ready for the season opener; some have proved they won't even be ready by the time it comes around.

"We have some guys who could go play today and some guys who aren’t close," Kiffin said. "So you have all different levels. I think they are in the time of dragging because you’re not really in game week yet but you’ve been going against each other for so long.

"So we kinda change things up."

(Read full post)

Monday practice quick hits

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
10:23
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes from Monday's afternoon practice, once again held on Dedeaux Field, that won't make it into our other coverage from the session:

More urgency

Energy was a big issue in the Trojans' Sunday scrimmage at the Coliseum, with the offense appearing sluggish, lackadaisical and flat-out slow pretty much all throughout the action.

It was not an issue 24 hours later on Monday.

"For whatever reason, we had great energy (today)," coach Lane Kiffin said Monday. "I don’t know why, but it was really good to see.

Kiffin said the team came out with a spark in individual drills and carried it all the way through to the overtime session at the end of practice, two hours later.

And, given Monday's events, he said he was happy with the way the scrimmage went, because it energized his team into a full-go session just 12 days before the season opener.

Defensive ends return

J.R. Tavai and Wes Horton, the Trojans' likely defensive end pairing in next month's season opener, both returned to practice on Monday after sitting out several days due to injury. Tavai did just about everything, while Horton mostly sat out of 11-on-11 drills. Neither player's injury has been disclosed.

It was, in total, a good day for the defensive ends, then, as Kiffin praised Horton and spotlighted juco transfer Morgan Breslin as one of the Trojans' better players in Sunday's scrimmage. Kiffin said he felt "better after watching the film" about the play of the ends in the scrimmage.

(Read full post)

Fall camp position preview: Receivers/tight ends

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
11:51
AM 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. Today, we'll do receivers and tight ends.

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.

Receiver

Flanker

1. Robert Woods, junior
2. De'Von Flournoy, redshirt junior
3. Nelson Agholor, freshman
4. Darreus Rogers*, freshman

Split end

1. Marqise Lee, sophomore
2. George Farmer, sophomore
3. Victor Blackwell, redshirt freshman

Tight end

1a. Xavier Grimble, redshirt sophomore
1b. Randall Telfer, redshirt sophomore
3a. Christian Thomas, redshirt sophomore
3b. Junior Pomee, redshirt freshman
5. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, freshman

*Assuming he qualifies academically

(Read full post)

Pac-12 media day notes

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
9:43
PM PT
UNIVERSAL CITY -- Here are a number of notes and quotes from the USC contingent's appearance at Pac-12 media day on Tuesday. Coach Lane Kiffin, quarterback Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald all spoke to the media in the Gibson Amphitheatre and took questions at lunch afterward. Other stories from the day, including updates on Nelson Agholor, Silas Redd, Robert Woods and USC-Penn State comparisons, are on the USC Report and ESPNLA.com, but this stuff hasn't been anywhere else on the site yet:

People like Lane now

Kiffin is fully aware that people are starting to like him a lot more in Los Angeles and even across the country.

But he insists that the adjustment in perception has had nothing to do with any modifications he has made to his public perception. Rather, he says, the public has changed the way it looks at him because of the success he had in 2011.

"Winning solves a lot of problems," Kiffin said at lunch. "The change hasn't been me."

He's at least largely correct, but one could argue he has made subtle changes to the way he approaches news conferences that have slowly caught on.

The third-year coach also pointed out that Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado could have changed a lot of this if he had made his kick at the end of USC's game against the Ducks last November.

Kiffin and Tim Tebow

From the this-would-have-never-happened-three-years-ago department: Kiffin said in an aside that he met with New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow recently to discuss how to deal with sky-high preseason expectations.

Of course, Tebow dealt with those for years at Florida. Kiffin said the player reminded him to "have fun" with it and tell his players to do the same.

ESPNLosAngeles.com reported last week that Tebow has worked out at USC several times in the last month.

(Read full post)

Update on the Trojans' injury situation

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
4:00
PM PT
After USC's 2012 spring game had concluded, at the end of his post-scrimmage meeting with reporters, coach Lane Kiffin was asked about his star receiver Robert Woods, who sat out the entire spring while recovering from an ankle injury originally suffered a year ago.

Would Woods, Kiffin was asked, be ready to go by fall? After all, he was supposed to be fully healed in February after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the ankle in December. Missing the entire spring wasn't even an option until midway through it.

"That's what we believe," Kiffin said.

USC is hoping -- or believing -- a lot of its other players will be ready for the 2012 season, too. Truthfully, the Trojans need most of them back for depth reasons.

"We couldn't have something like what has happened this offseason to us in the fall," Kiffin said after the spring game. "We wouldn't be very good. So we need to make sure we keep our guys healthy."

Here's an overview of who's been out and when they are expected back, going position-by-position:

(Read full post)

Spring practice No. 14 notes

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
9:02
PM PT
Here are notes from Thursday's practice that won't make it into our other coverage from the session, the last official practice until August for the Trojans. Of course, USC scrimmages on Saturday at the Coliseum in the annual spring game, which starts at 1:30 p.m.
  • Running back Buck Allen took the most snaps out of the backfield he has taken all spring and showed improvement as he returns from a strained right hamstring that bothered him for nearly a month. He, Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan are again the Trojans' only three scholarship running backs with Tre Madden now out for the year.
  • Cornerback Brian Baucham continued his strong play toward the end of the spring with an interception on a tipped pass off a Max Wittek-to-Junior Pomee throw. Baucham has put himself into the competition for the third corner spot.
  • Injury report: Receiver Victor Blackwell (foot) did not participate in practice but could return for Saturday's scrimmage, Lane Kiffin said. Kiffin also said cornerback Ryan Henderson could play Saturday. Receiver George Farmer (hamstring) did only individual work, as has been the case since the first week of the spring. It seems unlikely he will participate in the scrimmage portion of Saturday's session. Officially out for Saturday are tight end Randall Telfer (hamstring) and linebackers Dallas Kelley and Marquis Simmons.
  • Among the recruits at practice were high-profile 2013 defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, the first player to commit to the Trojans' next class, and 2015 quarterback David Sills, who was also there Tuesday. Signee Jabari Ruffin was also in attendance and spent some time with linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton after practice.
  • Final notes: USC will not tackle in Saturday's scrimmage to preserve players' health over the offseason, Kiffin said. We'll have more on that on Friday. ... Tight end Christian Thomas underwent surgery this week on his ailing hip and is expected to be ready for fall camp. ...Defensive back Josh Shaw had his hardship waiver claim granted by the NCAA on Thursday and will be eligible to play for the Trojans in 2012. We'll have more on what that means for USC later.

Junior Pomee's injury is latest blow

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
10:37
PM PT
USC couldn't scrimmage last Saturday because of a lack of healthy skill-position players, and it looks as if the Trojans might be in the same boat again this week.

None of the injured offensive players' statuses have improved, and, to make matters worse, redshirt freshman tight end Junior Pomee went down because of an injured right foot midway through Thursday's practice. He was carted off the field before returning later on to watch practice from the sideline.

With Pomee and fellow tight ends Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas all out last weekend, the Trojans were forced to use walk-on fullback Hunter Simmons as their only tight end and avoid a full-on scrimmage. If Pomee's not able to suit up Saturday, that'll be the same approach again.

"Unfortunately we can't seem to keep a tight end healthy," USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Thursday's practice. "The problem right now is the offensive skill players (being out) aren't allowing us to practice the way we'd like, but we're making the best of it."

Receiver George Farmer (hamstring) is also out, and Robert Woods (ankle) is out for all of the spring. With Marqise Lee set to be in Texas for a track meet, USC could have only two scholarship receivers available again in De'Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell.

Asked if the Trojans will scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday, Kiffin said he didn't know.

"There are so many guys in question, we may just practice like we did last Saturday instead of doing a scrimmage," he said.

The case of the pulled hamstrings

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
10:45
PM PT
The Trojans are five practices into the spring and four of their players have already suffered hamstring injuries: tight end Randall Telfer, receiver George Farmer, running back Buck Allen and linebacker Dion Bailey.

What gives?

"I don’t know what to attribute that to except for just not much depth at the skill spots where it’s happening," coach Lane Kiffin said after Thursday's practice. "They’re taking a lot of reps. That’s the only thing I can guess."

The reps make some sense, but only for certain players. Telfer, the latest player to injure his hamstring when he came up lame Thursday, had been taking the vast majority of tight end snaps this spring while Xavier Grimble (toe), Junior Pomee (undisclosed) and Christian Thomas (hip) have been nursing injuries; Farmer was working as the No. 2 receiver because of Robert Woods' ankle injury.

Allen was getting carries as the third-string running back, but not a ton. And Bailey was playing his normal strongside linebacker snaps.

Telfer said he had "no idea" why so many players were getting hurt in the same manner, but he said his was a "freak accident" involving a cut in the wrong direction.

Farmer said he will not participate in Saturday's scrimmage. Kiffin indicated Thursday that Bailey may not be ready and Allen might not either. Telfer said he still anticipated being able to, but it seemed questionable with the way he walked off the practice field.

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: TEs

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
6:48
AM PT
We’re doing position-by-position previews in the two weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down the depth chart for one position group each day, paying special attention to potential things that can change in the spring.

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

Quick: Who started more games at tight end for the USC Trojans last season, Randall Telfer or Xavier Grimble?

Most would say Telfer because of the way he came on strong at the end of the year and finished with five touchdowns and 26 total receptions. But Grimble actually officially started seven of USC's 12 games in 2011, including most of the first half of the season. He's a better blocker than Telfer -- so, while his speed and hands might be a touch worse, he does have that going for him.

USC's tight ends, in general, have plenty going for them. The question with the unit isn't at all if someone will step up and fill a role -- it's, will there be enough roles for capable players to fill?

Behind Telfer and Grimble, the 1a and 1b of the USC tight end corps, are redshirt sophomore Christian Thomas and redshirt freshman Junior Pomee, both intriguing prospects themselves. Pomee, in particular, is about as enticing a player as you get, a 6-3, 235-pounder with the speed of a receiver and the size of a tight end.

Thomas has had recent injury issues of late was deemed ready enough as a tight end to play over both Grimble and Telfer as a first-year freshman in 2010.

The four will likely be coached by grad assistant Justin Mesa in 2012 and will certainly be without Rhett Ellison for the first time since the 2006 season. But there is new talent enrolling in Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, although he won't be at USC until the fall. So the spring will be about determining who the third tight end is and how much he will be used.

Especially with uncertainty at fullback for the fall, it wouldn't be too surprising if the Trojans took a page out of rival Stanford's playbook and resorted to a lot of two-tight-end sets. If that's the case, then Thomas and Pomee suddenly become very valuable as passing-game threats and injury insurance.

This one's a good one to watch.

Check back Monday for the offensive linemen.

Vainuku the early favorite at fullback

February, 11, 2012
2/11/12
7:42
PM PT
USC brings back a lot of talent at the skill positions in 2012, with quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Curtis McNeal and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee all returning.

But there's one spot still open as spring practice nears and official preparation for next season approaches: fullback.

Trojans coach Lane Kiffin says redshirt freshman Soma Vainuku will get the first crack at replacing the departed Rhett Ellison, but he'll get competition from Simione Vehikite and Jahleel Pinner over the next several months, and potentially others, too. There are a number of Trojans with some experience playing fullback, like tight end Christian Thomas and defensive end Charles Burks.

And the interesting thing about the fullback slot this year is that it might involve quite a bit of carrying the ball -- or at least more than in past years. With only three running backs on the roster and the two experienced ones both weighing under 210 pounds, the fullback might also be the big back.

Vainuku would fit that role well.

"I would definitely embrace that," he said this week, after an unofficial team throwing session. "In high school, I was a fullback. But, really, I was pretty much a running back."

"Especially with the depth at running back for us this year, I could definitely see (running backs) coach (Kennedy) Pola asking me to get a couple reps at running back and helping them get a breather, being there for them."

There's that, and there's the aspect of pass-catching. Since he got to USC, Kiffin hasn't called for it as much as expected, but the fullback position in the Trojans' offense does have the potential to be serious safety valve -- especially considering that the team's tight ends are big-play threats more than short-route options.

"You gotta be able to catch the ball," Vainuku said. "You have to run a wheel or something a lot. You gotta be good in the flat. You gotta be elusive."

Vainuku was originally a Class of 2010 signee but didn't qualify academically and had to wait for the subsequent spring to begin classes. There was a thought that he could step right in for Stanley Havili last fall, but Kiffin made the decision in fall camp to move Ellison from tight end to fullback to give Vainuku time to develop.

Ross Cumming ended up spending significant time at the spot, too. And Vainuku used his redshirt year and excelled on the scout team.

Now, with a year in the system and a new class of early enrollees joining him last month, he's been one of a few players staying late after each of the throwing sessions and practicing his timing in the passing game with some of the walk-on quarterbacks.

"I feel comfortable right now," Vainuku said. "Having the guys come in the spring finally makes me feel old."

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)

Thomas, Simmons out for season

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
1:47
PM PT
Two of USC’s key backups, tight end Christian Thomas and linebacker Marquis Simmons, will undergo season-ending surgeries and miss the rest of the year, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin announced Wednesday.

Thomas, a sophomore from Palmdale, has been bothered by hip problems for much of the year. He was kept out of most of fall camp because of the injury but played on special teams against Syracuse before re-aggravating his hip.

Simmons, a redshirt sophomore from Compton, played in the first two games against Minnesota and Utah but hasn’t practiced since with a neck injury. He has worn a neck brace to practice the past two weeks and watched the sessions from the sideline.

“It’s that time of year when injuries start to mount,” Kiffin said. “A lot of times it’s the down-the-line guys that affect you with your service teams and stuff, so we need guys to step up all over the place.”

The Trojans will rely on freshman Tre Madden to replace Simmons as the backup strongside linebacker and senior Ross Cumming to fill in for Thomas as the No. 3 tight end.

Kiffin also announced that offensive linemen Abe Markowitz (foot) and Giovanni Di Poalo (shoulder) had undergone season-ending surgeries, as expected.

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