USC: De'Von Flournoy
But now, as a fifth-year senior, Flournoy is finally getting an opportunity to see the field, and it’s safe to say that he’s making the most of it -- never more so than this past weekend.
“He made a point that I’ll never forget,” Flournoy said. “He said, ‘When the big brother leaves, it’s time for the little brother to step into his shoes and take over the household.’ ”
Flournoy did precisely that against the Utes. With Lee, as well as Victor Blackwell, unable to suit up, he made the second start of his career and came through with two receptions for 45 yards, bringing his season total to five catches for 69 yards.
Flournoy’s second reception of the day, a quick toss from Cody Kessler that the Van Nuys (Calif.) Birmingham product turned into a 31-yard gain after breaking a pair of tackles, ultimately set up a field goal and was one of the highlight plays of the afternoon in a 19-3 USC victory.
“I try just to never stop my feet when I catch the ball,” said Flournoy, who missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury. “You catch the ball and you move north and south. That’s what the game is all about … getting first downs. And the line did a nice job of holding things up, Cody made a great read and delivered the rock, and I just had to go get the first down.”
For a player who entered the 2013 campaign having amassed just one reception in the previous three seasons combined, his performance against Utah marked the realization of a dream.
“Any way that you can contribute always feels good, but to contribute on the stat sheet to help get a W, it feels tremendous,” Flournoy said. “The emotion kind of took over, and my teammates told me how proud they were of me, and the coaching staff did too. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. To have your parents in the stands, and you actually get on the field to make plays for your team, it’s a great feeling.”
The joy that Flournoy’s teammates and coaches took in his outing is well justified. As one of the Trojans’ most dedicated practice performers, he’s garnered a reputation as a leader-by-example whom the younger players gravitate towards for guidance.
“My role has always been the guy that knows all of the plays,” Flournoy said. “If you come to me with any questions, I’ll always have the answer. I’m able to be fluid in every position.”
Having now moved beyond just being a mentor, Flournoy figures to continue to get plenty of playing time this Friday when the Trojans face Oregon State, particularly with Lee’s status still up in the air. It’s another opportunity that he’s more than ready for.
“I definitely hear my number being called a lot more,” Flournoy said. “It’s just time for me to execute.”
“There are some good parts about it,” said Kiffin in looking at the pros and cons of the physical way the team has practiced this spring. “I think that our guys that are still healthy are playing more physical than they were at the end of last year, and our front seven on defense is better because of it. But at the same time, obviously, we have a lot of players out.”
“It’s been kind of the theme of the spring -- very physical -- as we come down to one practice left here,” Kiffin said. “I think you’ll still see the stars out there making plays. We’re just going to have to be creative because we’re not going to be able to go at the same speed in between series, and obviously we can’t have two teams with only one tight end, and all of our formations use a tight end, so we’ll figure it out -- probably just a little more time in between [each] series.”
Agholor and Lee at corner?
“We really wanted to focus on keeping guys staying up today and that usually happens when we don’t go full pads,” Kiffin said. “I thought we were still able to have a physical practice.”
- From deep in his own end, Cody Kessler stood in the pocket against strong pressure and fired late to Nelson Agholor for 12 yards and a first down.
- Max Wittek had his chance with the ball near his goal line and he found Victor Blackwell with a quick strike, and Blackwell put on the jets to race for a long touchdown despite valiant pursuit from Leon McQuay III.
- Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick made a nice catch of a low-thrown ball across the middle from Wittek.
- McQuay popped the ball loose from Cope-Fitzpatrick after a short catch.
One of the most fiery drills of any practice is when the ball is placed inside the 5-yard line and the offense takes its shots at the end zone.
The news was more dire for Farmer after Kiffin confirmed the earlier media reports of a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, which will force him to miss the 2013 season. For Cravens, he has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery Friday. The injury is the same as the one suffered by Silas Redd. Cravens is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and will be back in plenty of time for fall camp.
The Trojans entered the Thursday practice session with 20 players out of action because of injury and two more left practice – Torin Harris and Cyrus Hobbi.
“I don’t see any way we could practice like this in the fall. We wouldn’t be able to play a game,” Kiffin said. “Of the 22 guys who ended up being out today, 18 of them are scholarship players. With the roster reductions we already have we would not be able to give up that many players. We will start fall camp practicing this way, but I don’t think we will end fall camp this way.”
There was some good news on the injury front as Marqise Lee returned, albeit in a limited role, after missing two-and-a-half weeks with a knee injury. Lee seemed to be running fine with no major issues but he was held out of contact team drills. Kevon Seymour and Jordan Simmons also returned to action.
“Marqise was back, which was obviously good to see,” Kiffin said. “He basically took part in the first hour of practice and we’ll add to him as we go.”
George Uko was out today and J.R. Tavai took his spot with the first unit at defensive end. During the final team drill, Aundrey Walker was out and Max Tuerk had moved to center with Hobbi out, so the first unit left side of the line was walk-on Nathan Guertler at tackle and Giovanni Di Poalo at guard.
With Farmer out, that means opportunities for players such as Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy along with first-year players Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell. Kiffin also made sure to note the high level of play from Nelson Agholor this spring when discussing the receiver group.
“It was a very physical practice,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I liked the defensive mentality at the end in the goal-line drill. It’s been a very competitive spring. It reminds me of the spring when we first got here. We need that to establish a competitive mindset.”
As Kiffin mentioned, the Trojans ended practice with a goal-line drill that got started with Hayes Pullard stuffing a run up the middle by Buck Allen. Justin Davis tried to slash into the end zone, but J.R. Tavai came across the line and knocked the ball out as he was bringing Davis to the ground, although Randall Telfer recovered for the offense. Davis did punch in a score at the end for the offense. There was also a little skirmish between a few offensive and defensive players after one play.
“It’s always a tough line between physical play and getting penalties with the goal-line drill,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin speaks with Enfield
Kiffin said he talked with new USC basketball coach Andy Enfield on Sunday night, prior to the announcement that Enfield had taken the job.
“I talked to him about the program and about working with Pat (Haden) and Max (Nikias),” Kiffin said. “I think it’s a great hire. He brings an exciting style of play and kids will want to play in that style. He’s also a guy who understands the academic side of being at a private school.”
Brady on campus
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady worked out on the USC campus Tuesday, throwing passes to his new receiver, Danny Amendola. Kiffin said it is common for NFL quarterbacks to use the USC facilities in the offseason, mentioning Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Matt Cassel as players who had thrown recently on the USC field.
* Anthony Brown knocked away a pass at the sideline intended for Nelson Agholor. Brown has put together a very solid spring while consistently in the lineup as one of the starting corners.
* A few plays later, however, Brown went for a pick on a rope thrown over the middle by Max Wittek and missed, allowing De’Von Flournoy to go for a long gain. Flournoy also had a touchdown later in the drill when he caught a pass from Max Browne and split the safeties with his speed.
* Victor Blackwell caught a short pass and got loose from Torin Harris with a nice shake move.
* Kevin Greene had a sack on Cody Kessler.
* Ryan Henderson had a pick off Kessler, who was trying to get the ball to Blackwell.
* George Uko had a nice play to move along the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Davis and hold him to no gain.
* Davis provided yet another dazzling touchdown run, this one a 45-yarder behind a block from Kevin Graf.
* Allen had a 20-yard gain down the left sideline thanks to Jahleel Pinner, who got one block at the line and then hustled down field to get another block.
* Browne hooked up on a 25-yard pass to walk-on Robby Kolanz on the right sideline.
Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Steven Mitchell, Adoree’ Jackson, Dwight Williams, Chase Blakley
“The offense did a lot better today,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see them bounce back that way after what happened on Tuesday. They came out today with a much better mindset.”
It was Davis who got things going with a pair of long touchdown runs in a team drill. The smooth freshman, who has provided multiple promising moments in his brief time at USC, took both runs to the left side and showed a combination of speed and moves to get to the end zone.
Morgan followed in the next drill with a 10-yard touchdown run, showing a quick burst through the line. A few plays later, Morgan took a handoff and went down in a pile after a short gain. When he came up, he was limping a little and did not return.
Allen took his turn as the lead runner at the end of the day when the Trojans were in goal-line situations. The chatter between the offense and defense had reached a crescendo as time was running out in practice and both sides were eager for victory. With the ball at the five-yard line, Allen was able to punch in two touchdowns, including the final play of the day to signal a win for the offense. Davis also had a short touchdown run in the goal-line drill.
“I thought D.J. Morgan was having a very good day before he went down,” Kiffin said. “Justin Davis had a great day.”
It was also a good day at the quarterback spot, Max Wittek looked much better than he did on Tuesday, while Max Browne had his best practice as a Trojan.
Wittek got things going early with a deep touchdown pass to De’Von Flournoy against solid coverage from Ryan Henderson.
In a red-zone drill, Browne hit Nelson Agholor as Torin Harris went for the ball and missed, so Agholor was able to go in for the 20-yard score. Browne also hit a pair of short touchdowns to Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The highlight throw of the day for Browne came when he hit Farmer on a 55-yard completion. It was yet another sign of the accurate touch that Browne has shown on the deep ball so far, and of the fact that Farmer is continuing to make plays as well.
“George has stayed healthy and he’s doing well,” Kiffin said. “We need him to make the hard plays, to be physical, and he’s doing that. It’s been great to see.”
O-line adjusting to coaching changes
One of the primary areas of emphasis for the Trojans this year will be to get more physical, and that starts with the line. To that end, Kiffin has put two coaches on the offensive line, adding Mike Summers and keeping James Cregg, who had been the line coach for the past three years, as his assistant. There was some curiosity as to how the arrangement would work but, through the first three weeks, Kiffin is pleased with what he sees.
“Mike Summers has done a really good job of coming in and capturing the group,” Kiffin said. “It’s worked out like we had hoped with the two of them in combination, that’s why we put two coaches at such an important position.”
Xavier Grimble will miss the remainder of spring with a chest fracture. There was no update on Morgan after practice. Jordan Simmons missed practice after getting sick earlier in the afternoon.
* Ryan Henderson had multiple solid tackles on the day coming up from his corner position. Two of them were on Agholor, including one at the end of the day when emotions were high and his big hit brought a huge roar from the defensive sideline.
* Anthony Brown also had a solid tackle for no gain from the corner spot.
* Josh Shaw read a screen pass from Cody Kessler to Agholor and he was able to bat the ball down.
* J.R. Tavai recorded a sack of Browne.
* Leonard Williams tracked Davis along the line of scrimmage for no gain.
Notables in attendance
Naijiel Hale, David Sills, Steven Mitchell, Nico Falah and several members of the Chaminade Eagles program.
“It was a slow adjustment at first for me because things are so different at this level. There were little things I could get away with in high school, some bad habits, but you need to pay attention to those techniques here. I’m getting those little things down right now. The good thing is that I get a first chance to learn everything now in spring and then I will get another camp in the fall. That will really help me learn the playbook. I’m not sure about redshirting, I’ll just work hard every day and see what happens.” -- Justin Davis
USC head coach Lane Kiffin was particularly pleased with how the defense performed today and looks for them to have a strong showing against a Stanford offense that the Trojans have had problems containing as of late.
“I think that, going back to Saturday, our players weren’t pleased with the way that they finished in the second half,” said Kiffin. “So, its good to see not just the coaches, but the players take ownership in it. I think we’re going to play really well on defense.”
Plenty of room for defensive improvement
USC played alright on defense against Hawaii, but Kiffin wanted to see more playmaking from his defenders -- especially a deep secondary that possessed a significant athleticism advantage over the Warriors receivers.
But the Trojans' head coach attributed a lot of the desired playmaking to the three defensive starters who did not play in the game due to injury: defensive end Wes Horton, middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and cornerback Torin Harris.
When some of those guys get back, Kiffin will expect immediate improvement, with games against better offensive teams Syracuse and Stanford quickly approaching.
"We're gonna need to make more plays on the ball in the secondary," Kiffin said Sunday.
McNeal should play more
No, it was not part of Kiffin's plan to run Curtis McNeal only five times in the Trojans' season opener.
It sort of just happened. And so McNeal finished with only 10 yards, his lowest rushing total since the second game of the 2011 season.
Kiffin said Saturday was "kind of a strange game offensively," what with how many explosive plays USC was able to achieve through the air and how few the Trojans got on the ground.
That probably had to do with the fact that Kiffin called 43 pass plays and just 21 running plays. But Kiffin said Hawaii's defense "really dictated" how much USC tried to throw the ball.
He did at least allow that it wasn't "the balance we're looking for."
As expected, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are still listed as co-backups to starter Matt Barkley. We should have a resolution soon, according to Lane Kiffin, who said Sunday he'd have something to say on the subject on "Tuesday morning."
For what it's worth, Kessler was listed first at the end of spring and Wittek was listed first this time. But they still had an all-caps "OR" in between their names both times.
This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart.
Curtis McNeal was expected to be the for-sure starter heading into camp, and that didn't change much when Silas Redd was added just days before. McNeal has done very little wrong over the last few weeks, yet, somehow, Redd's listed as his co-starter on the depth chart.
As the third-string running back, D.J. Morgan cannot afford to fumble this season. A turnover or two and his carries will be going to redshirt freshman Buck Allen, who has improved in camp.
Soma Vainuku is the starter here. There was never any doubt.
Freshman Jahleel Pinner is listed as the second-stringer, but it's likely he'll redshirt, so third-stringer Charles Burks is probably bound for the backup role. Walk-on Hunter Simmons gets on the depth chart after re-joining the team this year.
LOS ANGELES -- USC entered into fall camp with a few key spots up for grabs: the backup quarterback, the starting running back, the No. 3 receiver, one starting defensive end and the second starting corner.
Slowly but surely, most of those have been decided, mostly by injuries but also in some cases because of actual play. Curtis McNeal will be USC's starting running back against Hawaii, because he has been too good not to be. J.R. Tavai will be one of the Trojans' two primary ends, as long as he's healthy. Anthony Brown will be the second corner to Nickell Robey, unless Torin Harris gets healthy over the next week or Isiah Wiley somehow becomes eligible shortly.
That leaves two: the third receiver, where it seems as if USC will mix and match with De'Von Flournoy, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer, and the backup quarterback, which is still, according to coach Lane Kiffin, totally tied up between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.
And, if Kiffin has his way, it might stay tied up for the entire season. He said this week he won't name a backup unless the situation presents itself, which, translated from coach-speak, means he probably won't name a backup at all.
"There’s never been a date on that, and there won’t be," Kiffin said. "It’ll be more if there’s some separation.
"And if there’s not, we’ll just keep going.”
Sure, that makes sense, but it also makes for a departure from Kiffin's previous public comments on the subject. Twelve days ago, Kiffin said he couldn't envision a situation in which he didn't have a clear-cut backup.
“I would foresee having a No. 2," Kiffin said on the third day of camp. "I wouldn’t know how to do it the other way with the reps, because there’s just not many reps to go around for backups once you get to the season.
"I would sure think we’d have a No. 2.”
At the time, those words were surprising. The expectation has always been that Kiffin would refrain from naming a backup so as to keep both players in the fold for as long as possible.
USC freshman receiver Nelson Agholor has two models to follow for his upcoming collegiate debut that's so quickly approaching.
Current Trojans Robert Woods and Marqise Lee have set the tone for freshman wideouts at USC over the past two fall seasons, and head coach Lane Kiffin has expressly laid out how Agholor can match each of those players' initial impacts this year.
Now, it's his job to execute what he's been told -- which he's done fairly well thus far.
"I'm part of a really prestigious wide receiving corps, and those guys have all done great things because of the way they approach the game, the way they learn and the way they compete," Agholor said on Monday in his first media session at USC. "I'm really just trying to follow their lead."
He will certainly be following them in the receiving depth chart. Woods and Lee are entrenched as the Trojans' No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, and Agholor is competing with three older players for the right to join them in three- and four-receiver sets in 2012.
So far, he'd be either the Trojans' fourth or fifth receiver, with veteran De'Von Flournoy performing well to earn the No. 3 lead and second-year players George Farmer and Victor Blackwell challenging as well.
Bad day for the offense
The circumstances weren't exactly great, as many of the first-team Trojans began the scrimmage watching from exercise bikes on the sidelines while Lane Kiffin reserved live-tackling drills for the backups.
But the USC offense just didn't perform well on Sunday. Matt Barkley and the first-team unit didn't, and neither did Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and the second unit. It looked ugly, all-around, from start to finish, with few positive blips in between.
"We struggled today," Lee said. "I think we weren't really focused here and there. That's really about it."
Kiffin said it wasn't any of the quarterbacks' fault, choosing instead to blame it on overall inefficiency from the group. He also found a positive aspect of it.
"There's not just one person to blame or anything," Kiffin said. "We didn't play well in any of our position groups for the most part. But there's always two sides to that. It means we were doing some good things on the other side as well."
Among the players who sat out of the scrimmage due to injury were right tackle Kevin Graf, defensive ends Wes Horton, J.R. Tavai and Greg Townsend Jr, linebackers Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson (calf) and cornerbacks Torin Harris (hamstring) and Brian Baucham.
Woods, Lee, Curtis McNeal, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald all began their days on exercise bikes on the sidelines before participating in the lighter portion of the session. Barkley and Khaled Holmes also logged a limited amount of snaps during the live-tackling part of practice.
LOS ANGELES -- Here are news and notes from Friday's practice session for the Trojans, once again held on Dedeaux Field while the normal practice field gets re-sodded:
Left tackle Aundrey Walker practiced with full pads on Friday for the first time this camp. He sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder on the second day of camp last week, he said, and had also been dealing with a hyperextended thumb on his right hand during that time.
While pleased with his play on Friday, Walker said he lost some more weight while out because of all the cardio work he was doing, and hopes to gain 10 or so pounds over the next two weeks.
"I thought Aundrey did some good things," coach Lane Kiffin said. "He's still not full speed after missing some time, but you see flashes of why we're so excited about him. He's gotta have a great two weeks here and get ready to play."
Receiver Robert Woods practiced after sitting out in the morning under the Trojans' new one-a-day policy for him, and Nelson Agholor also practiced after missing Thursday's session.
Kiffin said Agholor is "hitting the wall" right now, as is typical for most freshmen midway through their first camp.
Marqise Lee was next and missed by about the same amount, squawking loudly when he realized he wouldn't get to it.
Then George Farmer, the talented but injury-plagued sophomore, followed in the go-route drill the Trojans receivers were running after Tuesday's practice. He gave it an all-out sprint and actually outran Martin's throw before stopping and coming back to grab it in the end zone.
Still breathing heavily a couple of minutes later, Farmer pronounced himself 100 percent healthy from the hamstring injury that's bothered him the last five months.
"I feel good," Farmer said. "I feel like I'm ready to go."
The go route was the first time Farmer had successfully went all out in a drill since the first day of spring practice in March, he said. In that span, he's fallen way behind fourth-year man De'Von Flournoy for the third receiver spot, according to Trojans coach Lane Kiffin.
Farmer is fully aware.
"I have a lot of ground to make up," he said Tuesday. "It starts by staying in the training room, staying healthy, showing the coaches that I'm out here to play and I've been working hard for it."
He had his best camp practice yet on Monday, logging two impressive touchdown catches in individual drills. But he continued to sit out of 11-on-11 work.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin expressed optimism about Farmer’s return.
The 19-year-old Farmer has lost ground to redshirt junior De'Von Flournoy in the battle to be the No. 3 receiver behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Every day he stays off the field is another day Flournoy steps ahead, so Farmer has to be on the field as much as possible until the season starts if he hopes to climb the receiving corps ladder.
"We're getting him back," Kiffin said of Farmer. "He does some things early and we want to make sure we're not regressing. It's good to see.
"I think these next two weeks are going to be huge for George Farmer."