USC: Tee Martin

Farmer healthy, looking to make impact

July, 25, 2013
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.”

Nelson Agholor trying to 'defy complacency'

November, 6, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC receiver Nelson Agholor had the best game of his college career Saturday, but by the time he went to bed that night, he wasn't even thinking about his 76-yard touchdown catch and 162-yard day.

He was thinking about the onside kick he should have come down with, he said Tuesday. When the Trojans finally attempted an onside kick with five minutes to go against Oregon, Agholor had a chance to recover it safely in bounds, but he took the wrong route to the ball. Nickell Robey then recovered it but was ruled out of bounds, and USC essentially conceded defeat.

"The opportunity came to where I had to make that play," Agholor said. "As I've been coached up to do, I tried to make that play.

"It's a discipline thing. That's something I can control. We've actually coached that up many times, and I let emotions take me away from my fundamentals."

That's the sort of perspective and reflection that has Agholor's position coach, Tee Martin, praising the true freshman from Florida.

"He cares," Martin said. "After each play, if it's not done correct, he'll re-do it, with the right technique.

"It's like Marqise Lee putting pressure on himself for not catching the Hail Mary pass against Arizona. They're both competitors."

Agholor did allow that he was pleased with his performance from the Oregon game. But, he said, a big game provides a new challenge for him this season.

"Since I've been out there with those guys, I've thought there was an opportunity to catch the football and make plays," he said. "I'm excited that I got to do that.

"Now, what it really comes down to is seeing if I can defy complacency this week and in the weeks to come."

Agholor's focus in practice on Tuesday was blocking, according to Martin. That was his deficiency on Saturday, so he wants to be better at it by this Saturday.

"He wants to be great, he wants to be perfect," Martin said. "And I certainly want him to be as well."

George Farmer, the sports car receiver

October, 23, 2012
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."

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No-huddle offense could be the answer

October, 21, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The records are nice and the score will look good in a couple of months, but if there's one thing to take away from the USC Trojans' 50-6 dismantling of Colorado at the Coliseum on Saturday, it's this: USC might be better equipped to take down Oregon than we realized.

More specifically, maybe the Trojans can make a no-huddle offense work for them, too. Oregon has done it to perfection in recent years. USC broke it in Saturday for the first time and looked pretty good doing it, albeit against the dismal Buffaloes.

Coach Lane Kiffin admitted Saturday that his team has been practicing the no-huddle all season. He just kept it under wraps until now to surprise the Trojans' next two opponents in Arizona and Oregon.

Now, the Wildcats and Ducks have to prepare for it. Even if USC doesn't break it out in either of the next two games, that's still one thing more to account for.

"That's why we do a lot of the stuff that we do," Kiffin said Sunday.

And if the Trojans do show more no-huddle, then, well, it'll be interesting.

"We didn't do the no-huddle wanting Arizona or whoever to see it," USC receivers coach Tee Martin said after Saturday's game. "We did the no-huddle because it gave us an advantage today."

So, does that mean they'll use it again?

"If Arizona and whoever gives us that advantage, then maybe so," Martin said. "If not, we'll do our normal stuff."

Center Khaled Holmes didn't say the Trojans were better in a no-huddle offense, but he did say they were about as good. Considering the newness of it, that's about the same thing.

"I think the whole offensive line, the whole offense, is successful and comfortable at that pace," Holmes said Saturday. "We were successful tonight, too, which always makes us seem more comfortable."

Kiffin has long said that quarterback Matt Barkley is comfortable adjusting plays at the line and calling audibles based on defensive schemes. Running a successful no-huddle doesn't require much more than that from the quarterback.

And, based on how USC's play-calling has routinely rotated between a select group of plays, it wouldn't limit Kiffin's creativity too much to narrow things down to a few options for Barkley to select from at the line.

Coincidence or not, USC also didn't commit a false-start or delay-of-game penalty against Colorado. The Trojans were called for nine of those over the previous two weeks.

Kiffin attributed most of that to playing on the road the previous two games, but also allowed that his team reacted well to the increased speed of the no-huddle offense.

Arizona coach, Rich Rodriguez, is a no-huddle pioneer, so it all lines up for another test this Saturday.

USC-Colorado postgame notes

October, 20, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Here are notes and quotes from the USC Trojans' 50-6 smashing of Colorado on Saturday at the Coliseum that won't make it into our other coverage from the day.

The best of the records

Tee Martin, USC's first-year receivers coach, remembers it vividly.

It was Halloween 1998, Tennessee's national championship season, and his Volunteers were taking on South Carolina on the road.

As the quarterback, he completed his first 23 passes on the day in a 49-14 win, finishing 23-of-24 for a 95.8 completion percentage. The national championship win takes precedence in his pantheon of collegiate memories, he said Saturday, but that performance might well be second.

So it's not crazy to assume that Matt Barkley's completion percentage in Saturday's win was actually the best record he set on the day. In a magnificent performance against a horrific defense, Barkley completed 19 of his 20 attempts for 98 yards and six touchdowns. He tied his own record for scoring throws in a game and set a new school and conference record for them in a career, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 99.

And he did it all in about 35 minutes, coming out before the third quarter was even half over. And the only incompletion came on a dropped pass by Curtis McNeal, too -- on an on-the-money throw.

Barkley's 95 percent completion rate set a USC and Pac-12 record and came just short -- by .8 percent -- of Martin's all-time NCAA record set that day in Columbia. Martin knew what was going on in the second half and half-expected Trojans coach Lane Kiffin to send Barkley back in to challenge for the record.

Barkley used the word "special" at least five times discussing his record-setting day in the postgame press conference, but he used a different word talking about his accuracy.

"To have a nearly perfect game in that sense was something cool," Barkley said.

Similarly, Kiffin seemed to expect most of the records Barkley and receiver Robert Woods set against the Buffaloes. But he didn't expect his quarterback to complete 19 of 20 passes.

"I think we really felt that this was gonna happen," Kiffin said. "I don't know if I could have predicted a 95 percent completion percentage, but I really felt we were going to throw the ball really well."

The turnovers

Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling bowed their heads in shame recalling the incident.
Starling messed up a for-sure interception -- and likely pick six -- late in the second quarter when he overran a Jordan Webb pass intended for Tony Jones that was thrown more closely to him. Starling reacted violently to the mistake and still groaned when asked about it afterward.

He simply got too excited.

"I hate to admit it," Starling said, "but, yes."

Said Robey, who was nowhere near the play but saw it all happen: "Don't remind me. It made me mad. I told him, 'Bro, you just ran through the ball. You would've been gone.'"

Here's the crazy thing, though: That would have been the Trojans' seventh turnover of the night. The fact that they were lamenting that says a lot about the progress Monte Kiffin's unit has made over the past year-plus.

"We want more," said linebacker Tony Burnett, who had one of the three interceptions. "If we can get six turnovers against these teams coming up, it's gonna look really good for us."

First-time interceptions

Three Trojans made the first interceptions of their major-college careers Saturday -- well, two, but Drew McAllister's previous picks were so long ago that they barely count.

Burnett's and safety Gerald Bowman's were both legitimate, though. In a crafty third-quarter play, Burnett snatched the ball out of the hands of Colorado's Nelson Spruce and returned it 55 yards, with only the opposing quarterback preventing him from scoring. Bowman later picked off Webb just short of the end zone and returned it 19 yards.

"It fell right into my lap," Burnett said of his play. "While he was bringing his hands down, I slapped at it, the ball popped in the air and I grabbed it. Then I turned around and I was like, 'Whoa, I got the ball.'"

USC is now averaging almost three times as many interceptions this season as last, with 14 through seven games compared to nine in 12 games.

Still with the penalties

USC had set a goal to limit its penalties against the Buffs after leading the nation in flags per game midway through the 2012 season.

That didn't work too well. The Trojans finished with 10 penalties, including four of the personal-foul or unsportsmanlike-conduct variety.

"It was just really upsetting," Kiffin said. "That's not who we want to be and not the product we want to put out there."

The flags cost USC a total of 90 yards. Colorado, by contrast, had only four for 46 yards.

Williams' ejection

Freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams was ejected in the second quarter after he threw a punch at a Colorado offensive player's facemask.

Teammates said Williams was spit on in the bottom of the dogpile. Because he was ejected due to a flagrant foul, the play will be reviewed by the Pac-12 office to determine whether he'll be suspended for the Trojans' next game.

Williams could miss half or all of the Arizona game. Kiffin said he didn't get a good look at what Williams did but was going to pull him from the game even if the officials didn't.

Injury update

Left tackle Aundrey Walker went down with an apparent neck injury in the third quarter and was carted off the field and transported to the hospital.

Freshman Max Tuerk, who replaced him Saturday and stands to take his place if Walker's out for an extended injury, said the injury looked "really bad."

"I really wish the best for him," Tuerk said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow."

Walker and Tuerk had been rotating in every other series in the first half.

In other injury news, receiver Marqise Lee had stitches in his hand, Woods said, which played a role in Barkley throwing the ball to him only six times Saturday.

Final notes: De'Von Flournoy's 21-yard second-quarter catch was the first of his career. Woods recalled a passing-league tournament from his junior season of high school football when he was playing safety and Flournoy tore him up as a receiver. Woods said that was one of the reasons he came to USC. ... Receiver George Farmer said he was "caught off guard" when Kiffin called him into the game late in the fourth quarter at running back. Farmer's one carry, which went for nine yards, was called back because of a penalty. ... One of the most famous members of Earth, Wind & Fire, falsetto Philip Bailey, was in attendance at the Coliseum, invited by Colorado coach Jon Embree. ... Said Embree of Barkley: "There's a reason why he's gonna go like that in the draft. I'm glad he's done and I don't have to see him in person anymore."

Record day helps Woods honor sister

October, 20, 2012

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."

Marqise Lee will be used much more

August, 23, 2012
Marqise LeeJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMarqise Lee figures to have the ball in his hands plenty this season if Lane Kiffin has anything to do with it.

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin doesn't take his own proclamations lightly, evidently.

Late last season, he said Marqise Lee had a chance to be the top receiver in school history, and he hasn't forgotten about it. So when he was asked after USC's Thursday practice about his plans to get Lee the ball this season, he quickly brought it up.

"If you're gonna make a statement that he may go down as the best receiver ever, you better make sure you put the ball in his hands," Kiffin said. "Ideally when we have really good players, we like them to touch the ball a lot.

He continued: "We're not a very good staff or a very good playcaller if he's not touching the ball."

Lee touched the ball a lot last season, with 73 catches, five rushes and 10 kick returns, but it's clear the Trojans have a lot more in store for him this season. Even with Robert Woods in the fold, he may end up being the focal point of the USC offense in 2012.

"I know it sounds pretty strong, but I think he was kinda dominating college football at the end of the year," Kiffin said. "You look at what he did against UCLA, he dominated the game, it was like a man playing amongst boys."

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Wednesday practice quick hits

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

Talking about tiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So we kinda change things up."

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George Farmer, ready to go

August, 14, 2012
Robert Woods went first and came up empty, sprinting 40 or 50 yards but missing out on a deep ball from coach Tee Martin by a foot or two.

Marqise Lee was next and missed by about the same amount, squawking loudly when he realized he wouldn't get to it.

Then George Farmer, the talented but injury-plagued sophomore, followed in the go-route drill the Trojans receivers were running after Tuesday's practice. He gave it an all-out sprint and actually outran Martin's throw before stopping and coming back to grab it in the end zone.

Still breathing heavily a couple of minutes later, Farmer pronounced himself 100 percent healthy from the hamstring injury that's bothered him the last five months.

"I feel good," Farmer said. "I feel like I'm ready to go."

The go route was the first time Farmer had successfully went all out in a drill since the first day of spring practice in March, he said. In that span, he's fallen way behind fourth-year man De'Von Flournoy for the third receiver spot, according to Trojans coach Lane Kiffin.

Farmer is fully aware.

"I have a lot of ground to make up," he said Tuesday. "It starts by staying in the training room, staying healthy, showing the coaches that I'm out here to play and I've been working hard for it."

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Agholor making very early strides

August, 8, 2012
If day-to-day improvement is any indication, freshman receiver Nelson Agholor stands to be a big part of this USC Trojans team in 2012.

The highly touted wideout made immediate -- albeit small -- strides from Day 1 to Day 2 in fall camp, earning praise from his position coach and consideration from his teammates.

"I am impressed," receivers coach Tee Martin said of Agholor on Tuesday. "The kid shows the initiative to want to be good -- and not just be a guy that's out there but a guy that means something to the team.

"He has a great skillset, he's very competitive and he has a high level of knowledge."

As a freshman, Agholor is not allowed to speak to the media until two weeks into fall camp, per USC policy. But he's been very active in practice so far, taking some first-team snaps on Tuesday.

Martin memorably scolded Agholor often during receiver-specific drills on Monday and a little less often on Tuesday. USC's first-year receivers coach said his pupil needed it.

"I'm pretty sure that when all of them were true freshmen that's how it felt and what it sounded like," Martin said. " He's a very talented guy, and I want to make sure we get all that talent out of him."

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Farmer's health becoming an issue

August, 8, 2012
Sophomore receiver George Farmer again sat out of the Trojans' practice Tuesday after missing much of Monday's session with a hamstring injury, and it's starting to cause some concern around the program.

Farmer essentially missed all of the spring for the same reason and missed considerable time last fall. Unless things change, it might not be long before the dreaded injury-prone label is dropped on him.

USC coach Lane Kiffin admitted that continuing to sit out of practice could hurt Farmer's standing on the depth chart as he tries to compete for the No. 3 receiver slot during camp.

"With anybody, it's hard to figure out how they fit in like that," Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice, which Farmer sat out of to receive treatment. "We've seen some great flashes when he's been healthy; unfortunately, that hasn't been that often."

Kiffin then added: "And it's not his fault. He's trained very hard."

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Five questions for the spring

March, 5, 2012
Lane Kiffin and Matt BarkleyKirby Lee/US PresswireCoach Lane Kiffin has challenged Matt Barkley in previous seasons, but what more can Barkley do?
Since last season ended, we've looked at the top 10 performers from last year, the top 10 moments and the top five questions for the new year.

And, lately, we've done previews for every position group at USC: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties and special teams.

Now, with spring practice officially beginning for the Trojans on Tuesday at 4 p.m., let's take a look at five remaining questions for the month-long spring session.

1. Can Matt Barkley keep improving?

After his first two seasons at USC, there were clear areas where quarterback Matt Barkley could improve his game.

At the end of his freshman year, he had to cut down on his interceptions, among other things. At the end of his sophomore year, he had to develop a more consistent throw downfield -- again, among other things.

But this year? Barkley's stats were flat-out fantastic in 2011, easily reaching two of the three goals coach Lane Kiffin set for him and coming very close to the other.

The three: connect on 30 or more touchdowns, throw 10 or fewer interceptions and achieve a 70 percent completion percentage. He threw for 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a completion percentage of 69.1.

Sure, the one he didn't meet is a good carry-over goal for 2012. But what else can he even do?

We should find out this spring.

2. Will alternative ball-carrying sources emerge?

It's not as if this topic hasn't yet been broached -- on this blog and others. But it's still worthy of examination. Who is the Trojans' No. 3 ball carrier going to be behind Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan?

Amir Carlisle's transfer in January made this an issue. But fullback Soma Vainuku might be an option for a couple of carries a game, and so might Jahleel Pinner when he gets to USC in the summer.

One last possibility: A player from another position could always be moved -- temporarily or for good. The Trojans just fixed some depth issues at defensive tackle by moving Cody Temple there from the offensive line.

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One-on-one with Marvin Sanders

February, 28, 2012
New USC defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders was just getting used to his new job at Florida Atlantic when the Trojans came calling earlier this month, but he found he couldn't resist Lane Kiffin's recruiting efforts. Kiffin had initially looked at the former Nebraska assistant for the DBs vacancy when Willie Mack Garza resigned last September, since Sanders had left the Huskers in February.

After taking the full 2011 season off, Sanders then signed on to be the defensive coordinator at FAU under Carl Pelini in December, but he quickly scrapped those plans and will now coach Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald and the USC secondary.

Here's an interview with the 44-year-old coach following a Trojan throwing session last week.

Question: So you're probably an expert in getting acclimated to new jobs by now, right?

Answer: I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's a little bit of both, I think. You have to understand that's part of the profession. Any time you have an opportunity like USC, whatever it takes to get here is easy.

Q: New receivers coach Tee Martin told me he turned down Lane's offer at first and then eventually changed his mind. What was your thought process like?

A: You get a chance to talk to Lane and you realize why he's the head coach at 'SC at such a young age. He just has so much -- I don't know if talent's the right word -- but there's something about him that you know he's going to be successful. He can really sell USC football.

Q: Had you ever talked to him before?

A: Briefly. And I had a good relationship with his dad, who's a Nebraska guy as well. It was just kind of a good fit for us.

Q: When you take a new job, how much of the decision whether or not to take it depends on the coaches and infrastructure in place and how much depends on the players currently there? Which one's more important?

A: It's a combination of a whole lot of things. It's a combination of being the right fit for your family, No. 1, and the right fit for coaching staffs both ways -- me to them and them to me. And talent plays a factor in it, too. You want to be in a situation where you can win a lot of games and compete at the highest level. At USC, you have that every time you step on the field.

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One-on-one with Tee Martin

February, 23, 2012
USC's new receivers coach Tee Martin brings some interesting perspective with him to Los Angeles, having been the quarterback of a national-championship team at Tennessee in 1998 and, since, an assistant coach at New Mexico and Kentucky. His recruiting expertise is well-publicized, but what else can the 33-year-old assistant bring to the Trojans? Here's a wide-reaching with interview, conducted by after a USC conditioning session this week.

Q: How is everything going? You were hired only eight days ago now. Does it feel like things have been moving in warp-speed?

A: It's been going fast, very fast, from being offered the jump to getting out here and working, getting everything taken care of to where I can get on the field and coach and recruit. It has been fast, but I've been blessed to find a place to live and my family will be coming out in a couple weeks.

Q: You've been quoted as saying that you said no to Lane Kiffin's overtures at first. Why?

A: I just didn't know that much about what I was going into and what makes Lane a great recruiter, which is making you comfortable about the situation. That's what happened with me -- I had a lot of questions. I knew about USC, knew about all the traditions and the football side of it, but I didn't know about the organization. Pat Haden was great, the rest of the coaching staff, Layla Kiffin talking to my wife. ... It was big to make my family feel comfortable moving out.

Q: How long did it take you to say no at first?

A: That's just me being loyal to where I was at. I'll be the same way for Coach Kiffin. It's tough. Kentucky did a great job, treated me and my family well. We were doing great things in the community, my son was playing little-league basketball. It's hard to leave. But Coach Kiffin made me believe in where we're headed as a program here at 'SC.

Q: When you're considering a lateral move, how much of the decision is based on whether or not the new school currently has a lot of talent at your particular position?

A: It's a blessing to have talent there, but part of the decision of making a lateral move is: Are you going to a school where you can recruit the talent that you need? I feel like 'SC can and has done that in the past, having a tradition of great receivers and great players. Coming into that situation, even if we didn't have what we are blessed to have right now, I feel like I could've got in here and got those type of guys in trying to take this program to where we want to take it. That was part of it, the tradition of USC. How do you deny that?

Q: You talk about extending the tradition. To me, that means recruiting, and you've picked up praise for your recruiting skills early on in your career. How big of a role did that play in Lane and USC's coming after you and how much do you think they expect from you there?

A: I'll be doing the Southeast. Coach Kiffin wanted me to be in areas where I was comfortable and I had relationships. And that's part of being able to recruit well -- your relationships that you build with high-school coaches in the communities where the kids come from. The Southeast is somewhere where I have a lot of those good relationships. Coach (Ed) Orgeron has had a lot of success bringing kids here from Florida, too.

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USC announces Sanders, Hazelton hirings

February, 16, 2012
USC head coach Lane Kiffin has officially filled two of three assistant coaching vacancies, hiring former Nebraska assistant Marvin Sanders to coach defensive backs and ex-North Dakota State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to coach linebackers.

Sanders was hired as Florida Atlantic's defensive coordinator in December after three seasons as Nebraska's defensive backs coach. Hazelton has never coached at the FBS level but won the FCS championship at NDSU in 2011.

“We are delighted to add Marvin and Scottie to the Trojan Family,” Kiffin said in a statement released Thursday. “Both not only have made their marks while coaching their respective positions, but both have been collegiate defensive coordinators and that should help us tremendously.

“Marvin had great success coaching the defensive backs at Nebraska and we believe that will translate well to our secondary, which is the most critical area we need to improve upon in 2012. Scottie is coming to us after helping North Dakota State win the NCAA FCS championship and coordinating a defense that led the nation in scoring defense in 2011, after it was 90th in that category before he took it over just two years ago.”

Kiffin initially announced the hirings at USC's annual Junior Day on Sunday, telling recruits both Sanders and Hazelton were coming aboard to be new position coaches.

Sanders replaces Willie Mack Garza, who resigned on the eve of the regular season last September. Hazelton takes over for Joe Barry, who left for the NFL's San Diego Chargers earlier this month.

Kiffin also convinced Kentucky assistant Tee Martin to become the Trojans' new receivers coach on Wednesday night; that hiring has yet to become official.



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J. Allen1516410.91