USC: george farmer

Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

April, 10, 2014
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring ball. There were other position battles that took place on the field this spring, as well, and the WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following competitions and who they would name as the starter.

WR opposite Nelson Agholor

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with Darreus Rogers right now, but I’m not going to rule out George Farmer being the starter by the season opener. Rogers has all the tools and flashes them often, but the one thing Sarkisian has noted is his inconsistency. Farmer, on the other hand, has been steadily consistent as he continues to come back from a knee injury. He is looking strong and mature right now and if his health holds up, he could make a push for the spot.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCould former five-star prospect George Farmer be in play as a starting wide receiver?
Johnny Curren: While the performance of Farmer as of late makes this decision more difficult than anticipated, I would still give the nod to Rogers. With his combination of size, athleticism and sure hands, he really adds a unique dimension to the offense. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone -- something he showed last Thursday when he hauled in three touchdowns with the offense in close.

Greg Katz: Although Farmer and Victor Blackwell have made strides, the vote here goes to Rogers, who has made some standout plays and continues to improve on his consistency and concentration.

DE opposite Leonard Williams

GP: The Trojans have a pair of veteran options to replace George Uko in Delvon Simmons and Claudeson Pelon. Both are big, strong bodies in the middle who will contribute this year, but if I have to name a starter I will choose Pelon. He got praise from Sarkisian this week for the way his conditioning seems to be paying off, and looks to be an impressive run stuffer.

JC: Simmons is the choice here. Not only does he possess 6-foot-6, 300-pound size, but what has impressed me most this spring is his quickness, and perhaps most of all, his stamina -- something Pelon and Kenny Bigelow appeared to struggle with at times. When you throw Simmons into a lineup that will also include Williams and an improved Antwaun Woods, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will have one of the nation’s most formidable starting defensive line units in 2014.

GK: Simmons is the choice, having shown his experience of having already played for two seasons at Texas Tech. Simmons, while still striving for consistency on a play-by-play basis, is big and talented and has shown the most progress, which hasn’t been entirely unexpected.

SAM linebacker

GP: There are two really good options with a lot of upside in Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. I would have said Powell at the start of spring, and while he didn’t do anything to lose the spot in my mind, Ruffin has showed me a little more. Any way you look at it, the Trojans are fine here.

JC: This is the toughest one to choose because Powell and Ruffin have each been stellar this spring. Still, if I have to pick one, it’s Powell. An explosive athlete with strong football instincts and the length that the USC coaches look for at SAM linebacker, Powell is really the total package. I think he has the potential to develop into a difference-maker down the line, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.

GK: With Scott Starr having been moved to rush end, it’s a battle between Powell and Ruffin. Powell has the quickness and the attitude, but as Sarkisian recently pointed out, Ruffin is one heck of an athletic who really brings a physical game. I’ll go with Powell for the moment, but the way Ruffin is improving, Powell better do the same if he wants to hold on to the position.

CB opposite Josh Shaw

GP: Kevon Seymour is the choice, and he should be, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of Adoree' Jackson making a run in the fall. Chris Hawkins has stepped up his game to the point where he is in the mix too.

JC: A more refined and physically mature Hawkins certainly proved himself to a certain extent this spring, but I’d still give the edge to Seymour here. Not only has he had a solid spring, but with 11 starts under his belt, he has the undeniable edge in experience. I’d need to see more of Hawkins in fall camp before I’d be comfortable putting him ahead of Seymour, who is coming off the best performance of his career in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

GK: There is no reason not to start Seymour, who had an outstanding performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, like Ruffin and Powell, the competition gap is closing, and look for Hawkins to continue his quest to unseat Seymour.

Unproven Trojans who could make impact

January, 25, 2014
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Every season in college football there are previously unproven players who rise up to play major roles for their teams. For the Trojans in 2014, here are five players who will be looking to make their mark in a USC uniform for the first time:

1. DL Delvon Simmons: This 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech could have an immediate opportunity to step into the starting lineup to replace George Uko. Simmons started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and has 40 career tackles under his belt, along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At the very least, he is expected to be a key part of the interior D-line rotation next fall.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCan highly-recruited wideout George Farmer star for the Trojans in 2014?
2. S Gerald Bowman: There was a lot of hype surrounding Bowman when he transferred in as a highly-ranked junior college prospect but academic delays and injuries have prevented him from making an impact . There isn’t a ton of depth at the safety spot so Bowman will have the chance to get immediate playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that forced a redshirt year in 2013.

3. OL Jordan Simmons: It has been a rocky road for Simmons at USC. His freshman year started with knee surgery prior to the season but he came back in the second half of the season and was named offensive service team player of the year. Simmons was showing promise last fall as a road-grading guard until he hurt his knee trying to catch a pass before a practice and will be sidelined for spring.

4. WR George Farmer: It seems like forever since Farmer came to USC as the top-ranked receiver in the country. It has been so long that his high school teammates -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- have already wrapped up their college careers and will be playing in the NFL next year. Farmer, meanwhile, will be hoping that his knee rehab goes well enough to allow him back on the field to regain the momentum he was showing last spring before suffering the injury.

5. RB D.J. Morgan: Another player who has battled knee injuries, Morgan has two career starts under his belt with 364 yards on 83 carries and one touchdown. There is a clean slate waiting for Morgan when he returns -- Morgan had fallen in Lane Kiffin’s doghouse for fumbling -- but there is also a deep and talented stable of backs to compete with for carries. The one thing Morgan brings to the table is speed and if he is healthy enough to offer that he will have a chance to crack the rotation.

Replacing the Pac-12 South's early entries

January, 24, 2014
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The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.

Lee leaves great memories for USC fans

January, 3, 2014
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Boy, was he good.

Marqise Lee announced tonight that he would be leaving school early to enter the NFL draft -- a move that surprised nobody -- and it gives a chance to look back and appreciate a player who arguably ranks as the most dynamic receiver in school history.

USC has had some explosive receivers through the years. Hal Bedsole is a College Football Hall of Famer, Lynn Swann an NFL Hall of Famer, and Lee’s former high school teammate, Robert Woods, sits atop the USC career receptions list.

But Lee offered something different. His combination of athletic ability and will to compete not only led him to the 2012 Biletnikoff Award -- the first in school history -- but at one point had former USC receiver and current ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson saying that he had a chance to go down as the greatest college receiver ever.

[+] EnlargeLee
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee's penchant for big plays and positive energy put smiles on the faces of USC fans for three seasons.
Ironically, Lee was known more for his prowess as a basketball defensive stopper when his athletic career first took off at Gardena (Calif.) Serra. Lee was part of a state-title winning team on the hoops court while playing a supportive role on the gridiron behind team stars such as Woods and George Farmer. But during his junior year, then-USC coach Pete Carroll paid a visit to a Serra practice. Within minutes he was pointing to Lee and asking “Who is that?”

What caught Carroll’s eye was Lee’s athleticism. He’s not an overly big guy -- he is listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds -- but he has a chiseled frame and can be aggressive and acrobatic at the same time. He is enough of an athlete that he went out for the track team on a part-time basis in his freshman year at USC while still taking part in spring ball, advancing to the NCAA Championships in the long jump.

That athleticism created a bit of a dilemma for Lee coming out of high school. Many people in the recruiting world -- this writer included -- projected Lee as a defensive back, a position that would have fit his skill set to a tee. Most schools wanted him on the defensive side of the ball, but Lee was up front with schools about his desire to play offense. The Trojans eventually agreed to put him at receiver and former coach Lane Kiffin said, “If we hadn’t done that, he would have been playing at Oregon.”

The impact Lee had as a freshman was immediate. He offered a complement to Woods on the other side, after Woods had already established himself as a true freshman. In their first year together at USC in 2011, Woods led the way with 111 catches -- a new school record -- and 15 touchdowns, but Lee wasn’t far behind with 73 catches and 11 scores. Both players also went over 1,000 receiving yards.

The roles were reversed in 2012. Woods dealt with some nagging injuries but still produced at a high-enough level that allowed him to leave USC with the career receptions mark. But, as far as big years go for a receiver, it was all about Lee.

His numbers in 2012 were simply sublime. Lee led the nation with 118 catches -- a new school and Pac-12 record -- while his 1,721 receiving yards were good for another conference mark. Perhaps the most impressive stat was the fact that his 15 touchdowns (14 receiving, 1 kickoff return) averaged over 40 yards per score (40.8). He was named an ESPN All-American in addition to winning the Biletnikoff and was expected to be one of college football’s shining stars in 2013.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way for Lee and the Trojans, as a pair of injuries prevented a big season. First it was a shoulder injury suffered in spring ball that he recovered from in time to play in the season opener. He wasn’t 100 percent, but Trojans fans hoped that he’d be healthy enough to play at a high level. Then a knee injury hit, and that was an issue that stuck with him the rest of the season.

There also was the coaching change. Lee had a good relationship with Kiffin, a coach who believed in him and got him the ball. Lee handled the transition well, carrying himself as a team leader both on and off the field. Through all the turmoil, Lee was always out front with a smile and positive attitude.

By the time the showdown with Stanford rolled around in mid-November, it was clear that this was not going to be Lee’s season due to the injuries. He was giving the team what he had physically, and at no point was that more evident than late in the game, when he came through with a catch on a fourth-and-2 which led to the game-winning field goal for the Trojans. Lee had left the field just two plays earlier after getting hit in the shin, but the grit he showed to come back and make the play was something he will long be remembered for.

Fittingly, Lee was able to go out with a bang in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. He led the Trojans with seven catches for 118 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. It was the kind of game that USC fans had come to expect from Lee in 2012, and it was good to see him end his career in that fashion.

There is no sadness within the Trojans family tonight with Lee’s decision to leave, only appreciation and gratitude for what he accomplished. The recent injuries might not have allowed him to shatter the marks that were expected, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lee is as ready for the next level as anybody in the country. Whoever drafts him is going to be getting one dynamic player, that’s for sure.

Farmer healthy, looking to make impact

July, 25, 2013
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George FarmerJoe Andras/WeAreSC.comWIth Robert Woods off to the NFL, George Farmer is hoping to become a big-time contributor for the Trojans this fall.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say George Farmer has learned a thing or two about adversity in his time at USC. Forced to deal with a number of injuries -- including nagging hamstring and ankle setbacks -- not to mention a brief experiment at tailback during his freshman season, the junior wide receiver never found his groove in his first two seasons on campus, collecting a grand total of five receptions for 49 yards.

But in a spring marked by change, a new-and-improved Farmer has emerged, performing at a higher and more consistent level than ever, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. After all, Robert Woods is off to the NFL, and USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans’ offense need capable receivers opposite 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee.

With so much at stake, Farmer is fully aware of the opportunity that lies in front of him.

“This is a big spring for me -- very big,” Farmer said following Saturday’s scrimmage, where his 47-yard reception was one of the day’s highlights.

But Farmer isn’t showing any signs of cracking under the pressure. On the contrary, he seems to be thriving under it.

“George is making plays,” Kiffin said. “We need him to make the hard plays -- down the field, to go up and get the ball and take it away and be physical. We know how fast he is, we know he can run by people, but you have to make those plays, and he’s doing that.”

Of course, it’s not as if Farmer’s play is coming as a complete surprise. Hailing from Gardena (Calif.) Serra, where he played alongside Woods and Lee, he had 65 receptions for 1,514 yards and 21 total touchdowns in his senior year. He arrived at USC in 2011 with arguably more fanfare than either of his high school teammates.

The reason for the sudden turnaround in his level of play is anything but a mystery -- he's the healthiest he's been in what seems like forever.

“I feel great,” said Farmer, a former standout prep sprinter who will compete for the USC track and field team later this spring. “I feel a lot more fluid, my legs are back up under me and I feel like I’m just back to my normal speed. I’m playing fast again. It feels really good to be out here competing with my brothers on the field.”

A thickly built athlete with a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, Farmer has come to understand that unlike some players who can just roll out of bed ready to play, he needs to take extra precautions. As such, in addition to working hard this offseason to push his body to the limits, he also made sure that he spent plenty of time in the training room.

“I’m a very heavy-set type of person, and I realized that I have to stay and get rehab -- not just for the sake of rehabbing, but for injury prevention, and staying in there and preventing my injuries before they happen,” Farmer said.

Now finally close to where he wants to be physically, Farmer has been able to more fully develop the other aspects of his game, including the mental side, something USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin has noticed.

“We put him on the board, ask him questions, and he’s on it,” Martin said. “He’s very smart, he understands what to do -- it’s just getting him a lot of reps. You still have to remember that last year was really his first year of college football playing at wide receiver. And now, in his second year … the spring time, this is where guys grow.”

And growing is something Farmer has done plenty of this March, providing at least some evidence suggesting he might be ready to step into the rotation at receiver next fall and make an impact.

But before then, there's still a lot more work to be done, and a lot more to prove on the field.

“Right now I’m just focused on getting out to practice, executing my assignments and doing what the coaches tell me,” Farmer said. "This is going to get me right for fall camp so I can just come out on fire, and we can just move forward from there. Right now, though, the only thing that I’m focused on is spring ball.”

Notebook: Cravens latest to injure knee

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
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LOS ANGELES -- Injuries continue to be one of the big stories for the Trojans this spring as it was confirmed after practice that both George Farmer and Su’a Cravens will undergo knee surgeries.

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.

Su'a Cravens
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comSu'a Cravens is the latest USC player to get dinged in spring practice.
“Whenever there is an injury you hope, like Su’a, that’s it’s not going to be a long setback,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “With guys like George, those are the ones you feel really bad for. A guy who battles back and was playing well and then to have this setback.”

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.

Receiver shuffle

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.

(Read full post)

Injuries continue mounting for USC

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
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As the USC Trojans begin their fourth week of spring ball, it has become apparent that injuries are taking a toll, as 19 players sat out on Tuesday and two more left practice due to injury.

[+] EnlargeUSC's George Farmer made little impact during his freshman season.
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comGeorge Farmer is waiting for an MRI after being carted off the field on Tuesday with an apparent left leg injury.
Both wide receiver George Farmer and defensive back Demetrius Wright were forced to depart the Tuesday practice early due to injuries and there was no word on their status at the end of the day. Wright was walking and appeared to be fine, but there was concern about Farmer, who had to be carted off the field after suffering an apparent left leg/knee injury during a non-contact drill. Results of an MRI for Farmer are expected on Wednesday.

“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.

Highlight plays
* 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

Week Three: Spring depth chart 

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
8:31
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After a week away from action, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday as the spring slate of practices officially picked back up again. With a number of players coming off injuries trickling back into the rotation, not to mention some interesting position changes, there was plenty of movement up and down the lineup.

Quarterback
Max Wittek (6-foot-4, 235 pounds, RS So.) OR Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.) OR Max Browne (6-5, 215, Fr.)

Wittek stepped back into the rotation on Tuesday after missing three practices due to a sprained MCL, and while he showed some rust, USC coach Lane Kiffin is optimistic he’ll soon return to his old form, making this competition one to watch once again. Of the trio, Kessler continued to be the most consistent this week, with Browne showing promise at times.

USC spring practice report: March 14

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
7:23
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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

Plays will be called by Lane Kiffin again next season

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
6:41
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin will continue to call plays for the offense in 2013, he said Sunday.

Kiffin, criticized for what some found to be uninventive play calling, had previously said he planned to re-evaluate the USC program after the Trojans’ Sun Bowl appearance against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Dec. 31.

That does not include his own work as the de facto offensive coordinator, we now know. Kiffin confirmed Sunday he won’t be hiring a new playcaller this offseason. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu will keep his job title and continue to work as the team’s running backs coach.

Kiffin also said he still does not plan on interviewing defensive coordinator candidates until after the Sun Bowl. USC’s head defensive slot is open after Kiffin’s father, Monte, resigned last month.

Here are other notes and quotes from the Trojans’ two weekend practices. USC will practice four more times in Los Angeles this week -- Wednesday through Saturday -- before breaking for the holidays. They will meet up again in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 26 to prepare for the New Year’s Eve bowl game.

No Barkley for a while

Quarterback Matt Barkley, out for a month with a sprained throwing shoulder he suffered against the UCLA Bruins, did not attend either of USC’s weekend practices.

Kiffin told reporters Saturday that Barkley will sit out of practices until at least Dec. 26.

Max Wittek, Barkley’s redshirt freshman backup, said he is preparing as if he’ll start -- just as he did for every other game the Trojans played this season. He has split reps with third-stringer Cody Kessler.

Barkley and Wittek are officially listed as co-starters on the Sun Bowl depth chart.

Farmer the surprise star

Sophomore receiver George Farmer has earned his head coach’s praise after each practice since the regular season ended.

“He’s really had four good practices in a row,” Kiffin said Sunday. “It’s great to see.”

He says it’s a product of his increased focus of late, which he credits in part to the stress of school soon to be over. Farmer is done with final exams as of Monday, with the rest of his teammates finishing up by Wednesday afternoon.

“Strictly focused on football; that’s your job, that’s your craft,” Farmer said. “With the pressure of finals off of you, I think that’s a plus.”

Farmer caught only one pass this season, and has just 10 offensive touches to show for two years of college football. He said Sunday he wasn’t worried about that.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable; keeping up on the minor details,” Farmer said. “Now it’s just playing faster; that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He said he’s also paying more attention to keeping himself healthy and adopting some preventative measures to avoid the hamstring injuries that have plagued him at USC.

“I do a lot more stretching,” he said.

Final notes: USC’s Saturday practice was distracted by an on-campus police investigation for a suspect alleged to be in possession of narcotics, with a helicopter hovering over the practice field while the Trojans worked out. USC announced the investigation was called off -- without the suspect being caught -- later that day. … Redshirt freshman receiver Victor Blackwell was named another practice standout by Kiffin. … USC did one-on-one linemen drills during Sunday’s practice, which players credited for bringing out excitement and passion. “It’s really about toughness and going back to camp mode a little bit, not having a game this week,” Kiffin said.

George Farmer, the sports car receiver

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
8:14
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC receiver George Farmer is like a Ferrari, according to his position coach, Tee Martin.

And Martin means that in every sense of the word -- fast and sleek, but also fragile and breakable.

"God has blessed that kid with a lot of tools," Martin said of the oft-injured sophomore. "I joke with him, 'You're a Ferrari.' And everything has to work right for that Ferrari to run the way you want it to run.

"When something's off, it's like everything's off."

Something has been off with Farmer for most of his time at USC. He has been bothered by hamstring pulls on-and-off since his arrival last summer, and there have been other trips to the shop, too.

But now he has been healthy the last three weeks and starting to ease into a bigger role with the Trojans -- mostly on special teams for now but also as a backup receiver and occasional running back.

"It's good that he's come back and fought through the setbacks that he's had this year," Martin said. "He's been getting more and more reps and he's looking more and more comfortable.

"As someone that had been a receiver and then a running back and now a receiver again, that's a tough transition."

Martin extended the sports-car analogy further with Farmer -- he has to be more careful when warming up than other cars, er, receivers.

"His routine, and what it's going to take for him to be ready, may be different than some other guys," Martin said. "Marqise (Lee) may be able to get out of bed, shake his legs and run a 4.4. (George) may have to stretch and do more stuff in preparation to play.

"At the end of the day, it's a bottom-line business. You gotta be ready to go when it's your time to go. I think he understands that now."

(Read full post)

Record day helps Woods honor sister

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
11:16
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- After he made his record-breaking touchdown catch Saturday night, the first image that flashed before Robert Woods' eyes as he looked down for the ball was that of his wrists.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA reminder of how Robert Woods' sister Olivia would cheer him on can be found on his wrists. Olivia died of cancer in 2007.
They are the last things he looks at before he takes the field and have been since he was a sophomore in high school.

Woods will sit in front of his locker before games, tape his wrists and take out a black marker from his gym bag and draw a large "O" on each wrist with a crucifix in the center.

The pregame ritual is Woods' way of honoring his sister Olivia, who died of cancer on April 19, 2007, when she was 17. Robert, who was a year younger than Olivia, was a sophomore at Serra High in Gardena, Calif., when she succumbed to her five-year battle with the disease.

As Woods stood in the end zone after breaking USC's career receptions record, he looked down at the familiar drawings on his wrists, then looked up and smiled as he raised the football to the one person with whom he wished he could share the moment.

"After I scored the touchdown, everything was calm for me," Woods said. "I looked at my wrists and I saw my sister's name and I pointed up. I just thank God for allowing me to play for her and through her. I had to give her some glory, too."

When Woods, who finished with eight catches for 132 yards and four touchdowns, was later shown on the video board at the Coliseum after becoming the first Trojan to catch four touchdown passes in a game, he pointed to his wrists and pointed to the sky again.

"I always put her on my wrist tape as a reminder that she's always with me," Woods said. "My mom likes it as well so I'm going to keep doing it. It's a reminder that my sister still lives on through me."

Woods always knew he wanted to be a receiver when he was growing up in Gardena. His father and grandfather each played college football and when Robert would go grocery shopping with mother, Sharon, he would throw fruit up in the air and catch it as if he was in the corner of the end zone.

His biggest cheerleader was always his sister. Despite going through treatment for cancer, she would go to every one of his games and yell his name after every catch.

"She would be the only voice I would hear in the crowd," Woods said. "She would always yell, 'Let's go, Robert!'"

Olivia was the biggest reason Woods decided to go to Serra High. Many kids in Woods' neighborhood usually end up going to Narbonne or Carson and Woods could have also gone to Banning like his father, Robert Woods Sr. But since his sister chose Serra, that's where he wanted to go as well. Of course, Serra is where Woods would eventually meet and become teammates with Marqise Lee and George Farmer, who would later follow him to USC.

"I wanted to be with her at Serra," Woods said. "If she didn't go there, I would have gone somewhere else. I might have gone to Los Alamitos with my cousin."

The first thing players and coaches say about Woods is he doesn't play or act his age. They've been saying that about him since he was in high school. He became one of the top prep players in the Southland during his sophomore year at Serra, catching 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns while making eight interceptions as a defensive back. And last year as a sophomore at USC, he caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"He is beyond his years," said USC receivers coach Tee Martin. "God is smiling on a kid like that. I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to be in his life. Robert has had some tough things that have happened to him in his life and he's the kind of kid that you want good things to happen to him in his life because you know what he's been through. He doesn't complain about anything. As a coach you don't normally say this, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Woods was forced to become an adult after the death of his sister. He went from being a baby brother to an only child and was expected to act like a man before he was old enough to drive.

"Things got a lot stricter when I became the only child," Woods said. "My parents were constantly on me and making sure I was doing the right things. It was something that just came along with it."

When Woods was at home watching football games with his sister, he would watch USC receivers like Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Keary Colbert and Steve Smith. He always wanting to be just like them and play in the Coliseum, never dreaming he would pass them in the record books midway through his junior year.

"I grew up watching all those receivers ever since I understood USC football," Woods said. "As I accomplished what I did today, I don't see myself above them, I just see myself being a part of them in an elite group. I'm just following in their footsteps to be a great receiver at USC."

Olivia's final words to Robert before she passed were to "be a role model." She always envisioned her brother playing in front of thousands of people one day in college and later the NFL. When Woods caught his final touchdown of the day after setting two USC receiving records, he smiled as he looked up into the crowd and saw kids and adults wearing his No. 2 jersey.

"I'm going out there and actually living what her last words to me were," Woods said. "Everything she lived for and fought for, it was kind of like a breakthrough. I felt that I had made it just to be along with that group of guys."

As Woods exited the Coliseum to have dinner with his father and mother, he looked up and smiled again, thinking of the one person he wished he could share the moment with.

"I know she would be proud me," Woods said. "I'm just trying to be a role model like she told me to be."

USC-Colorado: 10 things to watch

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
12:11
AM PT
The USC Trojans face perhaps their final tuneup of the 2012 season in the Coliseum against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday at 3 p.m. PT, a last chance to get things right before games against the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks over the next two weeks.

The Trojans are coming off a 10-point road win against Washington. We take a look at 10 things to watch in Saturday's action.

1. Time to break some records. It all lines up. Lane Kiffin likes to set records, and his quarterback and wide receiver are on the verge of some meaningful ones. Let's put it this way: It would be very surprising if both Matt Barkley and Robert Woods didn't set their marks tomorrow. Barkley needs four touchdown passes to break Matt Leinart's all-time school and conference mark of 99 scoring throws, and Woods needs five grabs to pass Dwayne Jarrett's 216 career catches in a USC uniform. There's about – what? -- a 90 percent chance both players do it against the Buffaloes.

2. A test for the tackles. Like almost all college football teams, the Buffaloes have some talented players ... just not enough. Their left tackle, junior David Bakhtiari, is an NFL prospect who would slot right in above USC's Aundrey Walker on the Trojans' line. But he's really the only Colorado player who'd be a for-sure starter in L.A. There's another one who could prove a threat, though: the 6-3, 250-pound defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who's been timed at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. He'll line up directly across from Walker and Max Tuerk at left tackle; he has six sacks this season, so he'll be a good test for the two offensive linemen. Walker's been wrecked by the good ends he's faced this year.

3. Not the outcome, the score. Let's be honest, Colorado's not beating USC. If the Buffaloes somehow topped the Trojans, it'd be one of the biggest sporting upsets in recent memory. It's not even a possibility, though, right? But keeping track of the score could be interesting, because USC's at the point of the season where it really could matter. If the Trojans only beat the Buffs by 21 and someone else beats them by 42, that someone else is going to boast about that mark in a month. Kiffin said he has no plans to run up the score, but it's important to at least make the final margin look nice and convincing.

4. How many will be watching? This game will be on the Pac-12 Network, the second time a USC game has been broadcast there this season. Many Trojans fans don't have the network, and a lot of college football fans don't have it, either. Adding to the fact that West Virginia and Kansas State will be kicking off an hour later, it seems likely to be USC's least-watched game this year -- by far. (All the more reason to run up the score late.)

5. More Shaw, or back to Harris? Kiffin's not saying who he's he starting, but logical signs point to Josh Shaw getting another go at corner against Colorado. He played well last week, and Torin Harris got hurt. Against an opponent like the Buffs, with games against Arizona and Oregon up next, it makes a lot of sense to rest any players who've been ailing at all as of late.

6. Walker and Tuerk. The second corner spot has been one of two problem spots for the Trojans this year. The other has been left tackle. Tuerk, a true freshman, is getting another crack at Walker's job this week, although it's not known who'll be getting the start. It's safe to assume that the player who looks better against the Buffs will be the starter against Arizona next weekend, and that's actually a fairly big deal.

7. Crowd. USC has sold out Saturday's game, quite an accomplishment considering the opponent. Colorado couldn't even sell out its allotted amount of 2,500 seats. The Trojans have talked all week about how much it means to be back at home, so the Coliseum crowd could really support that argument by filling up by kickoff -- or at least early in the first quarter -- and staying until the fourth. The loudest point is probably going to be early. It's parents' weekend at the school, too.

8. Second-stringers. The whole point of the hoopla surrounding USC naming a backup quarterback in the summer was that he was going to have to play a lot when the Trojans opened up big leads over teams and brought in the backups. That hasn't really happened, and Max Wittek hasn't thrown a single pass over the last five games as Barkley's backup. That should change Saturday, and it should be good experience for the guy who appears to have the early lead in becoming Barkley's successor. Skill-position players like D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen, De'Von Flournoy and George Farmer also should get more opportunities.

9. Speaking of Farmer … Has there been a bigger disappointment for the Trojans over the last year and a half than George Farmer? It's sad, but it's true. The ultra-top prospect has done virtually nothing this season after an up-and-down freshman year. His breakout needs to come sometime soon, if it's ever going to happen. Injuries have been an issue and drops have been, too, but his biggest problem has been wholly mental. Would it surprise people if he suddenly came out and caught two touchdown passes tomorrow, though? Not really.

10. Penalties. Flags have been USC's single biggest teamwide issue this season. You can't be the worst in the country at anything and expect to be a dominant team, but that's what the Trojans have done through six games. If they can't fix it in Saturday's game, then it's an even bigger problem than we've realized. The biggest culprits are Walker, tight end Xavier Grimble and overall delays of game on the offense ... plus a myriad of offenders on special teams.

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.

Kiffin: Revisiting Cal

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
12:08
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin reviewed the Trojans’ 27-9 win over California Golden Bears and looked ahead to the bye week in a Sunday evening conference call with reporters:

Turning a corner?

Kiffin seemed genuine Sunday in talking about his goals for his team this season, indicating that he's tried to become a little less stats conscious and more aware of his players' thoughts and feelings after comfortable, but not dominant wins.

Saturday's win was a good example. He didn't say it outright, but Kiffin seems to have made an effort to focus on positive results from the Cal win and less so on the negative aspects.

"I know a lot of people would like 50-0 type games, but I think this game was really good for this team," he said. "I think that we all know that we can throw the ball when teams allow us to, so I think it was more critical for this team to build confidence in its running game and defense. And that's exactly what happened in this game."

He said he is unconcerned about "Heisman races or records" -- two things he has still certainly been concerned about in his two previous seasons at USC, often mentioning them in his opening statement at postgame press conferences.

"It's not about getting numbers for certain guys," Kiffin said. "It's about doing the best thing to win."

As he has multiple times during the last couple months, Kiffin brought up an offseason conversation with Tim Tebow, mentioning that the former Florida quarterback stressed to him the importance of having fun during a season replete with such high expectations.

"I told myself this offseason that I'm not going to worry about that," Kiffin said, referring to statistics. "I'm going to celebrate these wins with these kids and make sure they feel good about them."

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