USC: Giovanni Di Poalo

USC offseason storylines: Offensive line

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

Both guard spots open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Center of attention

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

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

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

Stability at tackle

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

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

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

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

Spring battle spotlight: Center

March, 7, 2014
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When the Trojans hit the field on Tuesday to take part in the first spring practice session of the Steve Sarkisian era, competition will be the name of the game, as several players will vie for a host of spots that have been declared up for grabs by the new head coach.

And while much of the attention will naturally be directed at quarterback, where the incumbent Cody Kessler and rising second-year freshman Max Browne are slated to duke it out for the No. 1 role, it’s the fight up front -- for the starting center job left vacant by Marcus Martin’s early departure to the NFL -- that just might be the most crucial position battle of all.

After all, as everyone found out in 2012, when Khaled Holmes went down with an injury against Syracuse -- leaving the Trojans with an inexperienced Cyrus Hobbi to struggle in a loss to Stanford -- the fact of the matter is without a dependable performer at center to anchor down the line, the offense more often than not is going to have a difficult time moving the ball down field, no matter who else is in the lineup.

As such, one of the top priorities for new offensive line coach Tim Drevno this spring will be to unearth and groom USC’s next starting center.

Of course, filling the shoes of Martin – a 2013 All-Pac-12 first-team selection – won’t be easy, but the Trojans do have several promising candidates.

One player who will not be among those players, however, is Hobbi. It was recently revealed that the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro graduate is no longer a part of the team.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk is likely to start somewhere on the USC offensive line. He'd be perhaps the safest choice at center.
That twist turns the competition into essentially a three-man race, with Max Tuerk, Khaliel Rodgers and Toa Lobendahn standing out as the primary contenders.

Tuerk, a junior, is the Trojans' most accomplished and versatile returning offensive lineman. Having started games at guard and tackle during his career, while also taking snaps at center last spring, he has the unique ability to slide in anywhere along the line. The big question with Tuerk, though, is where does USC need him most? With the graduation of Kevin Graf, on top of Jordan Simmons likely being relegated to the sideline this spring as he recovers from a knee injury and Zach Banner’s potentially limited status because of fall hip surgery, Tuerk looks to be a natural fit at right tackle. He lined up there as a starter against Oregon State last season. Still, if no one else steps up at center, he just might be the safest option there.

Rodgers, who arrived at USC as a member of the Trojans’ 2013 recruiting class from Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy, spent his first season on campus learning the tricks of the trade as a member of the scout team. Generating a fair amount of buzz for his performance on the practice field while lining up primarily at guard, he’s a stout and powerfully built blocker who plays with a mean streak, and he would appear to possess all of the attributes needed to succeed at center. Still, no one will know for sure until he’s thrown into the fire this spring.

Lobendahn just arrived at USC this past January as an early entrant after a fantastic senior season at La Habra (Calif.). At 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, he’s similar to Tuerk in that he has the ability to play just about anywhere along the line. At The Opening last summer, he took reps at tackle, guard and center, shining at all three spots while going up against the nation’s top high school defensive line talent. Possessing an exceptional work ethic to go along with a strong all-around skill set, there is certainly much to be excited about in Lobendahn. But as a green rookie just a few months removed from high school, is it too much to ask from him to step in and immediately contribute? Will he be able to meet the physical and mental demands of lining up at a position that holds so much responsibility right off the bat? Everyone will soon find out.

One more possible, although perhaps somewhat unlikely, candidate could be Giovanni Di Poalo. A fifth-year senior who has yet to make a real splash as a Trojan, he was listed as a backup center as a freshman, and again in 2012, but he seems to have settled in more at guard.

Viane Talamaivao is a highly touted member of USC’s recent recruiting haul who will arrive this summer, and he also could enter the discussion at center in addition to guard, but not until fall camp.

In either case, with the field of contenders who are already in the mix, there’s reason to believe that the battle for the starting center job just might be the real position battle to watch this spring. And with so much hinging on the potential outcome, it’s a competition that can’t begin soon enough.

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.

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)

Fall camp position preview: O-linemen

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

Today, we will profile offensive linemen.

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

Left tackle

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

Left guard

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

Center

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

Right guard

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

Right tackle

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

An offensive line depth chart is always a funny thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We tackle defensive linemen tomorrow.

Where USC's 2012 recruiting class stands (Offense)

January, 21, 2012
1/21/12
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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
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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.

16 players miss practice with injuries

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
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Injuries started to mount Wednesday, but Thursday they just took control.

It was the biggest story of the Trojans' practice on Howard Jones Field. It took coach Lane Kiffin 40 seconds in meeting with the media afterward just to list all the various ailments and injuries and then another couple of minutes to detail some of them.

In total, 16 scholarship players sat out practice Thursday because of injuries -- of which four were new injuries or things that hadn't yet caused the players to miss practice this fall.

"We're seeing the price that you pay for doing what we're doing," Kiffin said. "And it's a decision we made to go this direction, to tackle and have physical practices the way that we are, because we think it's too critical to prepare our guys for game-like situations.

"And so this is the downside to it."

The list of 16 players: defensive tackles J.R. Tavai (hamstring) and Christian Tupou (knee), cornerbacks Brian Baucham (hamstring), Tony Burnett (ankle), Torin Harris (concussion) and Patrick Hall (knee), safeties Demetrius Wright (hip), T.J. McDonald (ankle) and Jawanza Starling (undisclosed), linebacker Chris Galippo (shoulder) and Dion Bailey (foot), offensive guard Giovanni Di Poalo (shoulder), center Cody Temple (back), quarterback Jesse Scroggins (thumb), tight end Christian Thomas (hip) and receiver Robert Woods (ankle).

The most serious of those is Scroggins', with his injured right thumb requiring surgery that will sideline him for an unidentified amount of time. We'll go over the implications to the rest of the injuries Friday.

With 79 scholarship players in camp for the Trojans, that means more than 20 percent of the team was out of commission Thursday. And that's not counting running back Marc Tyler, who's suspended.

Injuries starting to take their toll

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
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Lane Kiffin was bracing for it, it seemed.

Each time he addressed reporters after the first few days of fall camp, he'd offer a brief injury report, updating the hurt players' statuses, and then say some variant of, "Luckily, we've stayed healthy up to this point. Hopefully we can keep it up."

And the Trojans did keep it up, for almost a full week, at least. But injuries caught up to them Wednesday, as two key players -- linebacker Chris Galippo and receiver Brice Butler -- sat out of practice and it was announced that reserve offensive lineman Giovanni Di Poalo will miss the season because of a shoulder injury that will require surgery.

"Normal injuries starting to mount at this time," Kiffin said Wednesday. "We've gotta push through and get guys back as much as we can."

The infirmary list has been getting long. On Wednesday, cornerbacks Brian Baucham (hamstring) and Torin Harris (concussion), safety Demetrius Wright (hip) and center Cody Temple (back) were all out, as was quarterback Jesse Scroggins (thumb). Tight end Christian Thomas (hip) was out; Xavier Grimble (neck) was limited. Other players like cornerback Tony Burnett (ankle) and defensive tackle J.R. Tavai (hamstring) practiced but were still recovering from injuries that sidelined them at various points this week.

And those were the more minor injuries, mostly to backups or players sharing time at positions. Three other noteworthy injuries also had updates Wednesday, as Kiffin announced that Di Poalo would be out for the year; he had been experiencing issues with his shoulder popping out since spring practice.

Then there was Butler, who Kiffin said earlier Wednesday was a likely candidate to start across from Robert Woods based on his high level of play through the first week of camp. Butler, a junior practiced in the morning session and didn't show any signs of being hurt but showed up to the night session sporting crutches.

He said afterward he sprained his right ankle midway through the morning but decided to push through it. But while sitting in meetings in the afternoon, he started to experience pain and had it checked out by team doctors. X-rays were negative, he said, and he expected to be out only on a day-to-day basis.

Galippo missed practice because of a shoulder injury he suffered Tuesday, but an MRI exam he underwent Wednesday came back negative. He was wearing a sling over his right arm but didn't appear to be in too much pain.

Kiffin and his staff are still somewhat lucky, in that no essential players have come down with anything long term. And, with more depth on this year's team than last, they can afford to have certain linemen and defensive backs miss short periods of time.

But, even so, the 10 players who were affected by injuries Wednesday represent nearly 15 percent of the Trojans' scholarship roster, so it does have some effect, obviously.

Fall camp practice No. 6 tidbits

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
6:55
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Two main stories out of the sixth day of fall camp Tuesday: with Demetrius Wright out with a hip pointer, safety Jawanza Starling impressed coach Lane Kiffin for the second straight day and freshman Aundrey Walker moved from right tackle to right guard, where it seems he could start the season opener.

Looking back at Barkley

A hot topic of conversation Tuesday, as it often is, was Barkley's most recent performance -- in this case the Trojans' first scrimmage of the fall, held at the Coliseum Monday.

Asked about it after Tuesday's practice, Kiffin reiterated what he said immediately after the scrimmage Monday: it was just OK, in his eyes.

“There were some things he could have done better, some decision-making,” Kiffin said. “He’s got to continue to run the offense and not try to do too much."

The coach was then asked to clarify what he meant by trying to do too much. Was he, in other words, thinking too much on the field and not letting his instincts guide him into making the right throw?

"I don’t think he’s thinking too much, I just think he tries too hard," Kiffin said. "Sometimes you just get in the moment and you’ve done these plays so many times and you just kinda get bored of completions sometimes, in that setting. In a game you hope that wouldn’t happen.

"And you have to try to keep him out of that.”

For his part, Barkley agreed with Kiffin, saying that he was at times bored with Monday's offense -- although he stopped short of saying he forced any passes on the Coliseum turf, as Kiffin had said earlier.

"It's true, it's true," Barkley said about it being boring. "And we were still pretty limited last night with the playcalling. I was just trying to not be creative but do a little more, rather than just be happy with what the defense gave me."

Highlights

Two freshmen connected on an 65- or 70-yard strike during team drills: quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver Victor Blackwell. Redshirt freshman Kyle Prater caught back-to-back passes from Barkley at one point, including one impressive leaping grab on the sidelines.

Walk-on Will Andrew had the only interception of practice when he picked off freshman Max Wittek. Running backs Curtis McNeal and Dillon Baxter each broke off a few long runs.

(Read full post)

Fall camp practice No. 4 tidbits

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
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Two main stories out of the fourth day of fall camp Sunday: the USC receivers have the potential to be a dominant group, and right tackle Kevin Graf is showing the Trojans' coaching staff he is a completely different player after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Here's the rest of what went on at Howard Jones Field:

Carlisle impresses again

True freshman running back Amir Carlisle has made a habit, four days into camp, of impressing coach Lane Kiffin and his staff on a daily basis with his runs. Each day Kiffin has raved after practice about what the 5-10, 180-pounder showed that day, whether it be his ability to get right back up from a number of hits from the Trojan defense or his smart cutbacks that have often led to long runs thus far.

Sunday it came in a slightly different form, when the Trojans coach was asked if there was starting to be any sort of gaps, formal or informal, forming on the running back depth chart through the first few days of camp.

"Amir's standing out. He continues to every day," Kiffin said. "But I don't think there's a lot of separation between guys at that position because so much is based off of real-game stuff.

"Receivers, there's not a whole lot of difference. Sometimes quarterbacks can do certain things. But running backs, how are they gonna pass-protect when it's live, how are they going to hold on to the ball, how are they going to take it if they have to carry the ball 15 or 20 times tomorrow night.'"

Tomorrow night, or Monday night, is a big deal to Kiffin. It's his players "first big test," as he said Sunday, to prove themselves in game situations as the Trojans will practice at the Coliseum. The question now regarding Carlisle becomes if it is indeed a possibility he could start the season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3 while Marc Tyler is suspended.

That's a long way away, of course, but Carlisle can move one nice-sized step closer to securing that spot with a good Coliseum performance Monday.

Highlights

Junior cornerback Isiah Wiley concluded practice with the only interception of the day, a leaping in-the-end-zone pick of freshman Max Wittek's lob to Brice Butler.

Receiver De'Von Flournoy and tight end Randall Telfer both scored on pretty skinny-post routes during drills, Flournoy corralling his ball on a pass from redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins and Telfer from junior Matt Barkley.

Junior running back Curtis McNeal broke two long runs, including one on the first play of 11-on-11 drills Sunday.

Injury report

Freshman defensive tackle J.R. Tavai (hamstring), freshman center Cody Temple (back) and redshirt freshman guard Giovanni Di Poalo (shoulder) continued to sit out of practice. Junior cornerback Brian Baucham (hamstring) and sophomore tight end Christian Thomas (hip) were added to the injury list. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris (concussion) did not suit up and will have to pass traditional post-concussion tests before he's allowed to step on the field again.

Senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou sat out again after suffering a flare-up in his surgically repaired knee on Saturday, but Kiffin said "it was not a major issue."

Final notes

USC's Monday night practice at the Coliseum will begin at 7 p.m, under the lights. It'll be a scrimmage in the style of the NFL preseason games that Kiffin has often referenced since arriving at USC, and the Trojans will tackle for the duration of three-hour session, unlike last year. ... Incoming freshmen Javorious "Buck" Allen and Junior Pomee have not been present at any USC practice yet, despite Kiffin's claims that the Trojans expected them in attendance as soon as this past weekend. ... Summer-school classes end Monday, meaning receiver Markeith Ambles should theoretically rejoin the team Tuesday. It also means final eligibility rulings will be delivered in the coming days for guys on the border like McNeal.

Assessing Walker and O-Line

August, 6, 2011
8/06/11
9:52
PM PT
USC offensive line coach James Cregg says he has coached only one other player like freshman guard/tackle Aundrey Walker in his 14 years of coaching at the collegiate and NFL levels: former Tennessee tackle Chris Scott.

Walker, a Glenville, Ohio product who the Trojans stole from under the nose of Ohio State, is listed at 6-6 and 375 pounds. Scott, a Parade All-American as a Georgia prep, was listed at 6-5, 346 while with the Volunteers, although some reports had him as high as 370 pounds at various points during his five years in Knoxville.

The comparison's valid, to be sure. But, in comparing photographic evidence, Walker seems even bigger, although a lot of the weight does seem to come from his massive frame.

"He’s not fat," Cregg said Saturday of Walker. 'He's just a big-boned kid.

"Aundrey’s in a growing process. He’ll get it down. But he is athletic for how big he is. He wants to work hard and he’s grinding, getting better on a day like today. He’s learning how to work harder."

A big-boned kid who absolutely flattened 265-pound defensive end Wes Horton on the second day of USC's fall camp this week. But the 18-year-old Walker has been wildly inconsistent in one-on-one drills, with some great performances and some not-so-great.

He's getting a look at right tackle right now, but that doesn't seem like a long-term option. Both Lane Kiffin and Cregg have layered extensive praise on Kevin Graf's early play in camp at that spot, and he's already in the early stages of solidifying a starting spot there.

Both guard slots are wide open, though. Cregg wouldn't say when Walker would get a shot at one of those positions -- "Shoot, it’s only his third practice," he said -- but it seems he will at some point soon.

And, for what it's worth, Scott started his Tennessee career at right guard before switching left tackle as a sophomore. There's a precedent for Kiffin- and Cregg-coached for behemoth linemen with massive potential to start their college careers at guard.

As for the other offensive linemen, there a number of players in competition for the two guard spots -- among them juco transfer Jeremy Galten and returners John Martinez and Martin Coleman. Giovanni Di Poalo, another potential player there, missed part of Saturday's practice with a shoulder injury.

With the Trojans in half-pads for the first time, the linemen vs. linemen action was amped up a notch compared to the first two days, and the offensive guys struggled to keep up. End Devon Kennard, in particular, terrorized whoever was assigned to him on many a play.

"It was a big test today with the pads and we didn’t dominate today the way we wanted to, so I’m curious to see, as camp goes on, where we’re gonna be on each day," Cregg said. "But there’s a couple core pieces in there and the guys want to do well and they’re working together, so it’s just important that we get better, day in and day out."

And, on Walker, Cregg said he's down to 364 pounds the last he'd heard. The eventual goal would be to have him at 330 or 335 in game situations. But, Cregg said, "if we could get him at 340 right now, we’d be in good shape."

Tuesday practice report: Breakdown

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
8:27
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Tuesday's practice:
  • News items coming from the practice field: defensive back Patrick Hall has been reinstated to the team after being suspended indefinitely last month, and junior safety Drew McAllister will "most likely" have surgery on an injured hip and miss the rest of the season, coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday.
  • The McAllister news, accordingly, means that freshman safety Demetrius Wright will not redshirt this season and will instead serve as the fourth safety, working with Marshall Jones to back up Jawanza Starling and T.J. McDonald.
  • More injuries: defensive end Armond Armstead (shoulder) was limited in practice, as were tight end Xavier Grimble (ankle) and linebacker Michael Morgan. Grimble participated in practice for the first time in several weeks; Armstead's injury is the same as last week's -- a shoulder AC sprain -- and the coaching staff appears to be taking it easy with him during the week.
  • As for the tailback spot, it appears Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford are still in competition to start against Washington State on Saturday, although both associate head coach John Baxter and offensive coordinator/running backs coach Kennedy Pola referred to Tyler as the starter on Tuesday. The two split carries as the first-team runner in practice, while freshman Dillon Baxter continued to take his typical dose of snaps as the change-of-pace back. "They're all getting better," Pola said of his stable of backs. "We have a lot of improvement to do."
  • Freshman cornerback Nickell Robey may also be in danger of losing his starting spot after he was called for two penalties against Minnesota and appeared at times overmatched against tallest receivers. Possible candidates to take over that spot include Torin Harris, Brian Baucham and T.J. Bryant. "Right now, there's probably about to be some changes," Robey said Tuesday. "I don't ever know, I gotta let the coaches make the decisions, so I just practice every day."
  • Over the weekend, Kiffin looked into the possibility of redshirting freshman receiver Markeith Ambles, who played three snaps in the season opener against Hawaii. After determining that doing so was impossible, Ambles will now be available, beginning this week against the Cougars and continuing for the rest of the year. Ambles' case also appears to firm up the redshirt/non-redshirt decisions that had to be made with the entire freshman class, giving USC six freshmen who will not redshirt this season: receivers Robert Woods and Ambles, defensive backs Robey and Wright, defensive end Christian Thomas and Baxter. Among the 10 players that appear set to sit out of the rest of the season's 10 games: defensive tackle George Uko, receiver Kyle Prater and offensive lineman Giovanni Di Poalo -- plus sophomore De'Von Flournoy and now McAllister, a junior.
  • On-field highlights: quarterback Matt Barkley was twice forced to run a lap around Howard Jones Field after being intercepted. The first time, he threw a slow-paced over the middle that almost appeared targeted for Wright, who took it back a good 20 or 30 yards before being touched down. On the second play, Barkley threw to the left sideline for receiver David Ausberry, only to see Ausberry tip the ball right into the hands of cornerback Shareece Wright. Robey attributed this recent surge in defensive turnovers to improved play from the defensive backs as a whole -- and not to any decrease in play from Barkley, although his two picks against Minnesota would seem to indicate otherwise. "We're getting casual with the ball," Kiffin said Tuesday. "It was frustrating today. Sometimes they're gonna happen -- the ball's gonna get tipped or the guy's gonna miss a protection -- but when you force a ball, like the one out here today towards the end, there's no excuse for that."
  • Final notes: The Trojans will stay in Los Angeles until Friday this week before traveling up to Washington, meaning that practices will be at 4 p.m. both Wednesday and Thursday. ...Kickers Joe Houston and Jacob Harfman will continue to each wear No. 10, Baxter said Tuesday, in an effort to open up more numbers for special-teams players to wear. Asked why Kiffin said after the game Saturday that it was a strategical move, Baxter indicated that was because he wanted to have all of its players available on each of the units and added that Kiffin didn't care enough about the kicking game to spend his time strategizing there.

***

Kiffin addressed the media after Tuesday's practice, talking over injuries, the start of conference play and other topics.

See what the coach had to say:



***

Pola talked about each of his running backs on Tuesday, including his view on Baxter's progress so far, what the coaching staff would need to see from a back to make them the starter, and more.

See what he said:

Loss of Henderson leaves offensive line depth-free

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
10:52
PM PT
Seantrel Henderson is — in all likehood, of course — gone, leaving USC is now dangerously, dangerously thin at the two offensive tackle spots.

The depth chart released by first-year coach Lane Kiffin at the end of his first spring practice with the squad featured just three scholarship tackles — and only two healthy ones, redshirt sophomore Matt Kalil and junior Tyron Smith.

The other tackle on the depth chart, redshirt junior Martin Coleman, has suffered from a variety of nagging injuries throughout his USC career and is unlikely to see the field for any meaningful snaps this season. In two seasons, he's appeared in one game for the Trojans — then as a reserve offensive guard.

Another option at tackle, redshirt freshman Kevin Graf, spent the spring working at offensive guard due to injuries there and appeared as the starter at left guard in front of the injured Butch Lewis on the end-of-spring depth chart.

Assuming Graf transitions back to tackle in fall camp, he will be the Trojans' only real backup for Kalil and Smith at the bookend line positions and one of only six scholarship backups across the entire offensive line.

Compounding the problem, only one of those players — undersized redshirt freshman guard/center John Martinez — stayed healthy for the duration of 2010 spring practice.

The tandem of Kalil and Smith carries a total of 13 starts, essentially one full season. Smith started the first 12 games at right tackle across before becoming academically ineligible for USC's Emerald Bowl game against Boston College. Kalil then started that game — his first as a Trojan — and performed well in USC's win.

It's worth mentioning, also, that Smith had thumb surgery prior to spring practice and that Kalil missed considerable time during his redshirt season in 2008 due to a sprained knee, and missed some of spring practice this April.

In the past, USC has prided itself on versatility among its players, especially among the offensive line. But the current depth chart on the line seems to have a limited amount of that attribute.

Yes, Martinez can play either of the three spots in the middle of the line and Lewis started seven games at right tackle in 2008. But, other than those two, the other linemen tend to stick to their positions.

Redshirt junior center Michael Reardon worked at tackle during his first year at USC but was never a serious threat for playing time, similar to Coleman. Redshirt senior Zack Heberer has spent the duration of his Trojan career at guard, as has redshirt sophomore Khaled Holmes, a likely starter in 2010. Senior Kristofer O'Dowd started the first game of his career at center in 2007 and has never played another position for the Trojans.

What does this all mean for next season?

Firstly, USC's lone class of 2010 offensive line recruit — sizably undersized center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo — probably will not redshirt. Di Poalo, a three-star recruit and the 38th-ranked guard in the class by ESPNU, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He'll need to bulk up immediately.

Secondly, the Trojans will simply need to avoid injuries. Counting Di Poalo, James Cregg's group will have 11 scholarship players — plus capable walk-on Abe Markowitz — available for 2010. An injury or two would put USC at only two-deep or worse for every spot, not an enviable position.

Fans will likely be reminded of spring practice, when Kiffin frequently had only six or seven linemen available for use and was forced to adjust his offensive gameplan accordingly. It wasn't a pretty sight in intra-squad scrimmages, and it surely won't be a pretty sight in Pac-10 play.

We won't know the exact extent of the depth issues until September, but we already know one thing for sure: It'll be interesting.

10:30 a.m. update

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
10:57
AM PT
Letters of intent have been arriving into Heritage Hall all morning. Here's what we know for sure.
  • Receiver Markeith Ambles (McDonough, Ga./Henry County) faxed in his agreement early this morning. USCRipsIt confirmed his signing. Ambles was recruited heavily by USC head coach Lane Kiffin when he was at Tennessee, and was also recruited by Pete Carroll's regime. In an odd twist, the Los Angeles Daily News' Scott Wolf reports that Carroll had stopped recruiting Ambles because of character issues.
  • Linebacker Glen Stanley (Thatcher, Ariz./Eastern Arizona JC) announced he would send in his LOI from Florida. Stanley had first told UCF he would be an early enrollee this spring semester but switched his commitment to Tennessee last week.
  • Offensive lineman Giovanni Di Poalo (Ventura/St. Bonaventure) has sent his in as well, according to both his high school coach and the university. He was notably deciding between USC and UCLA.
  • Receiver Robert Woods (Gardena/Serra) sent in his LOI, according to USCfootball.com and the university. Woods is quietly one of the top prospects in the nation, ranked in the top 10 nationally by most recruiting services.
  • Cornerback Nickell Robey (Frostproof, Fla./Frostproof), whose commitment was first reported last night, has his LOI officially in.
  • Four-star defensive tackle George Uko (Chino/Don Lugo) is in as well.
  • USCfootball.com has reported six more players have signed: cornerbacks Demetrius Wright (Corona/Corona) and Anthony Brown (Fontana/Kaiser) quarterback Jesse Scroggins and safety Dion Bailey (Lakewood/Lakewood), and tight ends Randall Telfer (Rancho Cucamonga/Rancho Cucamonga) and Xavier Grimble (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). Scroggins, Telfer, and Grimble's signings have been officially announced by USC. Brown, yet to have his LOI confirmed, is USC's only three-star signee as of now.

There are more, as ESPNU reports USC has received 17 LOI's. Meanwhile, the Trojans have officially lost out on at least two prospects:
  • Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (Huntington Beach/Edison) didn't broadcast his announcement, but he gathered some publicity nonetheless, deciding on UCLA after heavy flirtations with Stanford.
  • Safety Sean Parker (Harbor City/Narbonne) chose Washington — coached by former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian — over USC and Michigan.

Still yet to be announced are the decisions of a number of top prospects, including:
  • Offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Durham Hall)
  • Offensive tackle Chaz Green (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic)
  • Linebacker Josh Shirley (Fontana/Kaiser)
  • Tight end Christian Thomas (Palmdale/Highland)
  • Safety Dietrich Riley (La Canada/St. Francis)

More as it happens.

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