USC: Martin Coleman

Film study: Utah

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
5:47
PM PT
Here's the second post in our new 'film study' series started earlier this week.

Every other day from now until Aug. 23, we’ll be putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes from each game, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, on Aug. 25, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year's opener.

We did USC's 19-17 win over Minnesota on Wednesday. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 23-14 win over Utah on Sept. 10, 2011.

Barkley's mistakes

This was either Matt Barkley's second- or third-worst performance of the 2011 season. We'll be able to more accurately place it after a re-watching of the October win over Cal, but he just doesn't look sharp in this contest.

Notable mistakes included a clear overthrow of Robert Woods on a screen play in the first quarter and two miscommunications with Rhett Ellison -- the latter of which resulted in an interception. At first, it looked as if it were an Ellison mistake, but the two players' reactions seem to indicate otherwise. And, after the first one, you can clearly see coach Lane Kiffin's mouth, "Come on, Matt" from the sideline on the TV broadcast.

A displeased Barkley told the sideline reporter after the game that the Trojans had "a lot of work to do on offense, that's for sure."

That seems like so long ago, doesn't it?

(Read full post)

Pro Day notes, quotes and video

March, 7, 2012
3/07/12
7:37
PM PT


Here are notes and quotes from USC's annual Pro Day event held on campus Wednesday that didn't fit into the rest of our coverage from the day:
  • The stars of the day were left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry, by far. Both players dominated the only thing in which they participated -- position-specific drills. Perry's agility showed up in his drills, when he looked twice as fast as the other defensive linemen in changing directions in small areas. Kalil went one-on-one against Rhett Ellison and Martin Coleman in line/tight end drills and consistently controlled each situation.
  • Ellison looked good in pass-catching drills, far more fluid than he did last season. With a respectable time of 4.83 in the 40 and height/weight of 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, Ellison might be drafted higher than initially projected. Worst-case scenario, he could probably be a usable special-teamer in the NFL. And he has the bloodlines and work ethic to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • Christian Tupou again didn't test well, running 5.50 and 5.40 in the 40-yard dash and struggling some in the defensive-line drills. He's really not a workout-type player and this setting hurts his stock. Running back Marc Tyler said scouts had him in between a 4.64 and 4.70 40, but his official time was in the 4.8-range. He joked that he wasn't going to be running for any 70-yard touchdowns regardless, unless the defender chasing him slipped.
  • The fastest 40-yard dash time from a 2011 Trojan was Brandon Carswell's 4.56. Former USC defensive back Cary Harris ran the overall fastest time with a 4.53. The slowest went to Coleman who was timed at 5.95 and 6.03 (gulp). Of the prospects with a legitimate hope of being drafted, Carswell's time helped him the most.
  • A general theme from those who went to the NFL combine: It's a little bit scary. Tyler said the time change messed him up and an injured hamstring contributed to his poor running in the 40-yard dash. Linebacker Chris Galippo said he was happy with his performance, not only on the field but in the interview room, where he said he hoped he showed teams he was a "fast-twitch brain" kind of player.
  • Among the walk-ons who worked out for USC were tackle Peter Yobo and cornerbacks Boomer Roepke, James Harbin and Allen Noble. Former players included Cary Harris, safety Kevin Ellison, linebacker Nick Garratt and defensive back Josh Pinkard. 2011 Trojans who worked out but aren't expected to be drafted included linebacker Shane Horton, safety Marshall Jones and long-snapper Chris Pousson.

Where USC's draft-eligible prospects stand

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
4:18
PM PT
USC has seven players who stand at least a decent chance of being selected in April's NFL draft. With none of them participating in this week's Senior Bowl and the four who played in all-star games already done with their commitments, we figured it's time to delve into where they could be selected and what kind of players they could be at the next level -- starting with the clear-cut top prospect.

LT Matt Kalil

Kalil is going to be a top-10 pick, no doubt about it. The only question with him is how high he'll go. Some draft prognosticators have him firmly entrenched in the No. 2 overall spot of the St. Louis Rams, where new coach and USC alum Jeff Fisher would use him to protect quarterback Sam Bradford, who is said to be the reason he picked the Rams job over other options.

He could also go third, sixth, ninth or 10th -- the teams picking in those spots all need offensive tackles. And potential pick trades could leave him going at any of the other slots, too.

DE Nick Perry

All season long, Perry was projected as a second- or third-round selection. Now that draft analysts are seeing his film, though, Perry has moved right up into the thick of the first-round mix. It's gotten to the point now where it'd be a surprise if he wasn't selected in the first round -- especially after next month's NFL Combine.

Is there anyone who stands to benefit more from next month's festivities than Perry? It's doubtful. He could run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, based on what he's run in college testing. And he'll put up superb bench-press and weight-room numbers for his 6-3, 250-pound frame.

There are only two questions, then: (1) Can he play defensive end in the NFL or is he better suited to a 3-4 outside linebacker spot? (2) How come he didn't produce a bit more with the Trojans? He never had the monster year he and others predicted he would have.

DT DaJohn Harris

It looks like Harris is going to be taken fairly high, which is interesting, because the 6-4, 310-pounder never produced on a consistent basis until his senior season at USC -- and, even then, he wasn't all that consistent in 2011.

But he is exactly the type of player who could emerge into a starting-caliber defensive tackle in the league. And, based on what he did over the weekend in the East-West Shrine Game, it appears likely he'll be a third- or fourth-round selection in April's draft.

(Read full post)

Bringing back a tradition of old

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
2:10
PM PT

Pedro Moura/ESPNLA.com
Defensive tackle Christian Tupou wears his No. 44 jersey from Sacramento Grant High on his final day of padded practice at USC. He was one of four Trojans to take part in a long-standing school tradition.

Bringing back a tradition that has escaped the Trojans for quite some time now, four USC seniors wore their high-school jerseys to practice Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Christian Tupou, offensive lineman Martin Coleman and receiver Brandon Carswell sported their prep uniforms, and fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison took some scissors and tape to his current uniform to make it look like his old one.

"We're just trying to keep tradition alive at this school," said Tupou, adding that his blue-and-yellow No. 44 jersey from Sacramento Grant High fit him best 40 pounds ago. "It was kind of unusual, a little uncomfortable, just different.

"But if it's keeping tradition alive -- if that's what it means -- then I'm all for it."

Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu first brought the idea up to the players a while back, Tupou said, mentioning that it was all the rage in the 1980's, when he was in school. Then, Ellison got more information on it from his father, Riki Ellison, and told the rest of the seniors to participate.

There was some confusion as to whether it'd be done Wednesday, for the final padded practice, or Thursday, for the final practice overall. But Thursday has its own tradition as the seniors run off the practice field through a tunnel formed by their teammates, so the players decided to do it on its own.

"Rhett's been waiting for this a long time," said Carswell His dad told him about the tradition and he brought it to our attention. A lot of the seniors are kinda bummed out that they didn't get to wear theirs, but it was fun for today."

Ellison cut up an undershirt and taped up his helmet to create some similarities to the get-up he wore at St. Francis in the Bay Area. Coleman wore the green uniform he sported at Edison High in Orange County.

Carswell's jersey was a navy No. 1 jersey from Milpitas High, also in the Bay Area. He said he felt a lot tighter than he remembered it.

"I like the way it looks," Carswell said. "I felt fast out there today, felt young again, it was awesome."

USC coach Lane Kiffin said he supported the players' attempt to revive a bit of history.

"They mentioned it to me and I had no problem with that," Kiffin said. "That's got nothing to do with how we're preparing and how we're lining up and practicing.

"Anytime we have a chance to let the kids do something they like we usually favor that as long as we're still staying focused."

Injury updates

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
1:48
PM PT
USC freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson sat out of practice Tuesday because of a sprained left ankle originally suffered late in the fourth quarter of the Trojans' 38-17 win over Syracuse last week.

Dawson, the backup to Chris Galippo at middle linebacker, wore a walking boot to practice Tuesday, just as he did when leaving the Coliseum on Saturday. He said he planned to play Saturday against Arizona State and is calling himself day-to-day for the time being.

In other injury news, senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris sat out of practice because of an undisclosed ailment. He declined to tell reporters after practice what his injury was but said he'd be back shortly. Redshirt freshman receiver Kyle Prater also sat out of practice because of an undisclosed injury, and junior pass-catcher Brice Butler joined him on the sidelines late in the practice session as well.

Guard Martin Coleman, no longer wearing the shoulder sling that kept him out of practice last week, also sat out. Guard Abe Markowitz was limited -- he has not practiced fully since the week of the season opener.

Kiffin indicated that all six of the players could be ready to play by game-time Saturday. Harris has been a starter through three games and one of USC's most pleasant surprises thus far; Butler and Dawson are key reserves.

Of course, USC's injury list pales in comparison to that of Arizona State, who has lost four starters on its defense alone since spring practice. Coach Dennis Erickson announced Tuesday that talented defensive end Junior Onyeali has a torn meniscus and will miss the USC game and potentially the rest of the 2011 season. The Sun Devils will also be without end James Brooks, cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee.

Onyeali, listed at 5 feet 11, 245 pounds, was the Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year in 2010 after he posted 6.5 sacks in just five starts.

Four starters in four weeks at LG?

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
1:36
PM PT


In college football, it's not normal to have three starters at one position in three consecutive weeks.

But that's what the Trojans accomplished Saturday against Syracuse when they started true freshman Marcus Martin at left guard in his collegiate debut, making him the third player to try his hand at the spot in as many games this season. Juco transfer Jeremy Galten started Week 1 against Minnesota and was unseated the next week in practice; fifth-year senior Martin Coleman started Week 2 against Utah but got hurt early on and may not come back anytime soon.

And this might not be it. There might be a fourth.

Abe Markowitz, a redshirt junior, very well may get the nod at left guard this week after he was limited the first three weeks of the season by a foot injury. Before he got hurt, he was the No. 1 guy at the position. None of the other three have stood out so far, so it'd make sense for Markowitz to get his chance against Arizona State.

The problem with all of this: Where's the continuity?

An offensive line, more than any other unit on a football field, needs that continuity, that flow, that progression. And the Trojans haven't had it and may not have it for the foreseeable future, which, really, has stalled their progress as a five-man front and prevented them from jelling as a line.

The good news is there are only so many more changes Lane Kiffin and the Trojans can possibly make at that one position. Markowitz is the only other new player who could legitimately start there -- although Aundrey Walker could theoretically switch over from right guard in some kind of emergency or drastic situation.

Basically, after Markowitz gets his chance -- or before, if he doesn't get one -- someone's going to start their second game at the position. And the real progress, both from the specific player and the offensive line as a whole, should begin there.

That's this team's biggest weakness right now. The passing game is comfortably above-average and at times superb, depending on the play of the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers and the line; the running game is about average but with elite streaks. The defense has been consistently great defending the run and average with similar elite streaks defending the pass.

If the O-line can get it together, the passing game likely moves to regularly elite levels and the run game becomes a dependable option. In other words, if the O-line can get it together, this team could actually be pretty good.

Kiffin seemed to think after he had seen the film of Saturday's game against Syracuse that the line had played its best game yet, but the numbers don't overwhelmingly support that notion. Sure, there was more time in the pocket for Barkley to pass, but the Orange pass rush was probably the worst of the three teams the Trojans have played this year. The running backs had a total of 37 yards on the ground on 14 carries entering the fourth quarter.

That number should have been triple that against the Orange, if not more. But with no continuity on the line and a constant reshuffling of the starters, it's hard to reasonably expect much more.

Game-time updates: Syracuse

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
4:44
PM PT
We're just about set to go at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the Trojans' first game against Syracuse since 1990. Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before kickoff:
  • Running back Marc Tyler is officially getting the start, his first of the 2011 season. It had been expected all week after his 24-carry, 113-yard performance last week against Utah, but Trojans coach Lane Kiffin refused to say anything outright. Well, we know now. Expect Tyler to get the lion's share of the carries in the first half against the Orange and potentially after that too, with D.J. Morgan likely backing him up.
  • Not in uniform: left guard Martin Coleman, who started last week against Utah. He suffered a shoulder injury and didn't practice all week, so freshman Marcus Martin will start in his place in his first collegiate game. Abe Markowitz, another potential participant at left guard, is in uniform and could play despite a left foot injury.
  • Backup strongside linebacker Marquis Simmons will not play, still out with a neck injury that sidelined him all week. He's wearing a neck brace. In his place providing help for starter Dion Bailey will be true freshman Tre Madden, a Mission Viejo product who played on special teams in the first two games but nothing else.

Join us here on the USC Report on ESPNLA.com at 5 p.m. PT as Mark Saxon and I keep you updated throughout the game in Trojans Live!, a full-blown interactive chat.

Depth chart changes afoot

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
1:02
PM PT
Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff aren't happy with a few players' performances so far, and they're doing something about it.

Different players are getting opportunities to take over some of the problem positions in practice this week, starting with redshirt freshman cornerback Anthony Brown, who leaped two spots up to practice as the No. 2 corner Tuesday. Previous starter Torin Harris has been particularly shaky through two games and nickel back Tony Burnett has also had his not-so-great moments, so Brown will be given the chance to unseat both of them.

"We're giving Anthony a shot," Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice. "He's another one of the young guys in the first class that we signed that has done some good things, so it's his chance to get a turn.

"We may rotate him in in base, but it's looking like he'll play nickel for sure."

Harris has been responsible for big game-sealing plays each of the past two weeks, but, aside from those has been beaten badly. Burnett's tackling has been good, as Kiffin expected when he inserted him into the lineup, but his pass coverage has left something to be desired.

Enter Brown, a risk-taker type who looks like the typical Cover-2 corner -- small and quick, but unafraid to mix himself up in tackling matters. He had an outside shot at winning a top-three cornerback spot in fall camp but never got all that close to it. He'll get a chance to do that against tall Syracuse receivers Van Chew and Alec Lemon on Saturday.

Another position up for grabs: left guard, for the second straight week. Jeremy Galten and Martin Coleman have been unable to seal down the spot early on this year, so freshman Marcus Martin worked with the first-string offense Tuesday. It didn't seem like Aundrey Walker was far away from earning another chance too, either at left guard later on or at right guard, where John Martinez has been up and down.

"We're gonna give the young guys a shot again," Kiffin said of the guards. "We're into Week 3 now, so hopefully the true freshmen can help out in there and do some things. But that's up to them, not up to us."

Coach Speak: Week 3

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
8:18
PM PT
Notes and quotes from Lane Kiffin's Sunday evening conference call after the Trojans' 23-14 win over Utah:
  • Following up on the late-night fiasco that was the score change, Kiffin said he originally thought Torin Harris' field-goal-block return was ruled a touchdown on the field, then realized later that it wasn't. But he said he did not personally call for a change in the ruling or anything of that nature, although he said he was pleased to find out the official final score two hours after the game ended. "I’m sure it made a lot of Trojan fans happy to find that out two hours later," Kiffin said. "I hope they didn’t throw away their tickets." The coach did question what the officials would have done if the game was tied in the end-game situation and Utah went on to win it in overtime. He asked if the Pac-12 would reverse the outcome of the game after reviewing the final play in regulation in that hypothetical situation.
  • Marc Tyler ran the ball 24 times for 113 yards but did not win himself the starting job for Week 3, Kiffin said. He did, however, admit that the running back situation is going to cause issues going forward, with Dillon Baxter looking for more playing time and Curtis McNeal also deserving but Kiffin unable to provide them the snaps. "This is just one of those situations that everybody can’t be happy," Kiffin said. "You can’t share the ball amongst four guys." Still, the four players are all listed as co-starters on the Trojans' official depth chart for the Syracuse game.
  • The apparent miscommunication between Rhett Ellison and Matt Barkley on the Trojans' second-quarter interception may not have been a miscommunication after all. Kiffin took responsibility for the play and said he shouldn't have called it in that situation. "I kinda put it on myself," Kiffin said. "There was a little gray area there in the read. ... Put that one on me."
  • The USC coaches still plan to play more guys, even though only four more got in Saturday for a total of 47 players. "I know I've been saying it," Kiffin said. "But we need to do a better job of it. We need to get some more guys in." Freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson, who logged two series but appeared to be pretty badly beaten on one play in that period, made his debut. Kiffin said safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey each played 73 snaps in the game, which he called "too many."
  • Kiffin did not have an update on the status of left guard Martin Coleman, who started Saturday's game but injured his shoulder early on and came out to be attended to by team doctors. He returned, sporting a shoulder brace but came out later on and was replaced by Jeremy Galten. For what it's worth, Galten is listed as the starter on the official depth chart released Sunday by USC.
  • Final notes: Nothing more is known on defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who continues to wait to be medically cleared, a process that has taken six months now since he was originally hospitalized in March. ... Baxter did not meet privately with Kiffin on Sunday as he had the previous week, despite getting only one carry against the Utes.

Game-time updates: Utah

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
4:09
PM PT
We're just about set to go at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the Trojans' Pac-12 opener against Utah. Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before kickoff:
  • Running back Marc Tyler is in uniform for the Trojans for the first time this fall after being reinstated this week from his one-game suspension for inappropriate comments to TMZ.com. D.J. Morgan's still listed as the starter, but Tyler is expected to receive carries early on and his legs should probably be fresher than the other USC backs.
  • Also in uniform: left guard Abe Markowitz, who sat out of practice this week with a foot injury. It's not known whether or not he's been medically cleared, but he said Thursday he'd pushed to be cleared as late as Saturday morning, so it's possible he'll be allowed to play. Martin Coleman will start at left guard, having unseated Week One starter Jeremy Galten in practice this week. Also starting Saturday is Devon Kennard, who unseated Wes Horton. Both players will still play extensively.
  • Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is in the building as part of the conference's celebrations for the first-ever game between two Pac-12 squads. (Technically, Colorado and California were the first teams to match up earlier Saturday, but the USC-Utah contest is being billed as the real opener.) Scott will be presented with a Pac-12 football signed by all of the conference's coaches prior to kickoff, and the football will later be auctioned off to raise funds for the September 11 memorial in New York City.
  • More 9/11 commemoration activities: 50,000 American flags will be distributed to fans entering the Coliseum to display at a later time and there will be a moment of silence prior to the national anthem for the 10th anniversary of September 11. Iraq war veterans will also be on the field during the anthem and an Air Force flyover will occur at the conclusion. Former Olympian and military hero Louis Zamperini will be USC’s honorary game captain for the coin toss.

Join us here on the USC Report on ESPNLA.com at 4:30 p.m. PT as Arash Markazi and I will keep you updated throughout the game in Trojans Live!, a full-blown interactive chat.

Martin Coleman, the big unknown

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
6:42
PM PT


USC has 13 seniors on scholarship.

Ten of them have started at least one game as a Trojan. Two of other three -- T.J. Bryant and Ross Cumming -- have played meaningful snaps at some point in their college careers. And then there's Martin Coleman, the 6-5, 335-pound offensive lineman who was as much of an afterthought as they get at USC.

Except now it's Week 2 of the 2011 season and Coleman looks like he'll get the start at left guard in place of the injured Abe Markowitz and ineffective Jeremy Galten. It's been a long road for the 24-year-old Coleman, who actually enrolled at USC a semester early in January 2007 and is now in his 10th semester at the school.

And, in an interesting twist, it's not as if Coleman has done a particularly good job this week in practice or this camp in general. It's more of an availability deal, where he's (1) healthy, (2) knows the offense and (3) would presumably be able to handle himself in a game without imploding, even though he's never played more than a few snaps. The coaches aren't praising him like you'd normally hear about a player unseating another. They're simply saying he's doing OK, which very might be enough for the Trojans' offensive line.

"He's done alright," head coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "He's kinda plugged away in there. Martin's someone who's been here for five years and really hasn't played, so hopefully if he gets a chance he'll play well."

Coleman spent some time as the No. 1 left guard during camp but didn't win the job outright. He went into the season opener as the backup at that spot behind Galten and didn't play at all, then took over as the No. 1 guy again on Tuesday. He took all the snaps there in practice this week.

"Right now I'm just taking my opportunities," Coleman said Thursday. "[This week] went great.

"My first starting position, if that's the deal -- I'll be blessed. I'll give it 100% and try to make the coaches proud."

Tuesday practice quick hits

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
5:39
PM PT
More notes and quotes from Tuesday's practice at USC:
  • Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin announced that safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight and assistant coach Monte Kiffin will officially be splitting the secondary coach duties for the rest of the season, just as they did last week after Willie Mack Garza resigned Thursday citing personal reasons. Knight, a former USC safety and NFL Pro-Bowler, is in his second season as a USC staffer but has never been a full-time coach. The elder Kiffin will help him out with different, unexpected situations, but it sounds like it'll mostly be Knight's job for the rest of the year. "We have a lot of confidence in Sammy," Lane Kiffin said. "He's been with us now two years and he's done a real good job. He's never really coached before as far as running a room, so my dad will help him with that and I think together they'll do well back there. I know the players like Sammy a lot."
  • Practicing with the first team at left guard for much of practice was senior Martin Coleman, who could unseat Jeremy Galten if it turns out Abe Markowitz isn't ready to start Saturday against Utah. Coleman had an opportunity to win the starting job during camp but couldn't beat out Galten, but the coaches clearly weren't overly pleased with how the juco transfer's debut went. Of course, Kiffin has repeatedly referred to Markowitz as the starter, so when he does get back from his foot injury, it's safe to assume he'll be the No. 1 guy.
  • Tallahassee, Fla. running back Javorious "Buck" Allen practiced for the first time with the Trojans on Tuesday after arriving on campus late last Thursday and then beginning classes Friday, just one week before the school-wide deadline to enroll. Allen was on the sidelines for Saturday's game against Minnesota but is considered a sure bet to redshirt.
  • USC dropped out of the AP Top 25 poll released Tuesday as one of two teams to fall out of the rankings despite winning their opener. The other team? Reigning national champion Auburn, who started at No. 23 but struggled to beat Utah State at home, 42-38. The Trojans had started at No. 25 and fell to what equates to 28th, as the team with the third-most votes not in the Top 25. Pac-12 South rival Arizona State, who USC faces in less than three weeks in Tempe, has the most votes of any team not in the Top 25.
  • The powder-blue and gold jerseys USC scout-team members wore during Thursday's practice were back Tuesday, but they weren't used. Instead they simply stayed out on the Howard Jones Field grass for the duration of the session and were picked up by the team managers following the end of practice.

Offensive line still struggling

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
6:00
PM PT
Lane Kiffin thought he was starting to get his offensive line figured out when he penciled in Kevin Graf at right tackle to join Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes and moved mammoth freshman Aundrey Walker over to right guard last week.

Not so fast, coach.

The Trojans' offensive line, the team's biggest weakness, struggled mightily in Sunday's three-hour scrimmage at the Coliseum -- even Graf, who Kiffin had previously complimented earlier in camp. They allowed sacks, they failed to create significant room for running backs to roam and altogether hardly ever dominated, even when going as a first-string unit head-to-head against second-stringers.

“Same story,” Kiffin said when asked about his line. ”The center and left tackle are playing well. The right tackle was a little shaky today, as you saw out there. He gave up a sack and one or two false starts.”

The guards were the weakest link, Kiffin said. Walker started at right guard and didn't do particularly well, and the next player to earn a shot at left guard, Abe Markowitz, didn't either. And backups John Martinez and Martin Coleman also weren't on top of their games.

“It didn’t feel or look like anybody played well at guard,” Kiffin said. "They’re just not performing consistent. It’s kind of expected from Aundrey (Walker) for a guy that’s not only a true freshman but just moved positions five days ago.

"We just have to continue to improve.”

This isn't a surprise, of course. Kiffin has long known picking his guards would be an issue, especially when Michael Reardon retired early this offseason and Tyron Smith left early for the draft, forcing Graf to play right tackle. But did he anticipate it being this difficult?

We don't know, but we do know this: the Trojans have fewer than 20 days left before their season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3. At this point, it appears like it will be two of four players who win those spots -- the same four, Markowitz, Walker, Coleman and Martinez, who played extensively in Sunday's scrimmage.

Juco transfer Jeremy Galten may also still have a shot, but that's about it. Freshmen Cyrus Hobbi, Marcus Martin and Cody Temple, who's been out with a back injury, never got any sort of look in camp at the guard spots, and neither did David Garness, the other juco lineman.

Position battles galore for Trojans

August, 13, 2011
8/13/11
9:54
PM PT


What specific positions will coach Lane Kiffin be focusing on in Sunday's scrimmage at the Coliseum, the Trojans' second of the fall?

Better question: Which positions won't he be focusing on?

Asked the first of those questions after Saturday's two-hour no-pads practice, Kiffin put together a long list's worth of position battles he's going to keep his eye on Sunday.

“The receivers after Robert [Woods]," he began, bracing himself. "The young tight ends, both guard spots, all tailbacks, linebackers, the other safety and the other corner."

The receivers include at least three guys seriously contending for the job in Brandon Carswell, Brice Butler and George Farmer, and maybe more. The young tight ends are three more: Xavier Grimble, Christian Thomas and Randall Telfer. Four or five players are competing for the guard spots, including Martin Coleman and Aundrey Walker.

All tailbacks and linebackers include roughly 10 guys, four runners and six tacklers, if not more tacklers. At least three healthy players are competing for the other safety spot -- Jawanza Starling, Drew McAllister and Marshall Jones -- and two more players are fighting to start across from Nickell Robey.

In total, that's about 25 players -- at a conservative estimate -- that Kiffin is going to be paying specific attention to on Sunday. So, yes, he'll have his hands full -- as will his assistants.

And what does Kiffin want at each spot?

He spoke on a few of them Saturday. At receiver he wants dependability more than anything, it seems. That's why Carswell leads over the inconsistent Prater and Butler, who missed the spring. At corner, he wants a player who can tackle more than anything else, as evidenced by, he said, Tony Burnett's finishing spring as the No. 2 guy. He's not great in coverage, partially because of his size, but he can bring down players, Kiffin said. And the same for safety, where Starling is leading the other two healthy players because of his improved tackling this fall.

"We're early still," Kiffin said Saturday, when told his initial list was quite long. "I think we still have 21 or 22 more practices."

Only 16 are on the docket distributed to the media, actually. But the point stands. The Trojans still have some time before the tough decisions need to be made.

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."

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler373260313330
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen23112445.49
J. Davis1064694.43
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N. Agholor85110313.010
J. Smith4661013.35
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense153.9287.5441.5
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring33.824.69.2