USC: Thearon Collier

Markeith Ambles back with the team; Thearon Collier leaves

January, 14, 2011
Much-maligned sophomore receiver Markeith Ambles is back with the USC football team, the school announced Friday.

Ambles spent several weeks at home in Georgia after leaving the team in November but reported back to Los Angeles on Thursday and is now on campus.

"After going home for the Christmas break and thinking things through, Markeith decided to return to our football program and continue his education at USC," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement.

Ambles caught one pass for three yards while appearing in four games for USC as a freshman. It was never made clear if it was his decision or the staff's when he left the team in November, but Ambles had been suspended the previous month and was on thin ice with Kiffin.

USC also officially announced that receiver Thearon Collier, who transferred from Miami in the fall and appeared in a stint of practices with the Trojans, has left the team.

5 questions for the New Year, No. 1

December, 27, 2010
There are five days left in 2010, so we figured now is as good a time as any to begin our Five Questions for the New Year series, which we’ll continue through Friday.

Every day, we’ll tackle one key question facing the USC football team in 2011 and attempt to answer it. Feel free to leave your answer in the comments section each day.

The first of our five questions: Will Lane Kiffin’s pro-style offense stay (relatively) the same next season, or will he switch to a more spread-based style? What’s the better option?

On the lone bye week of the 2010 season, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin threw a wrench into USC’s normal schedule by scheduling three 6 a.m. practices to prepare for high-flying No. 2 Oregon the next week.

Then he threw in an even bigger wrench, casually mentioning that he had entertained thoughts of switching to a spread-based offensive attack in the future because of a lack of depth at certain spots.

“Look at what we have,” Kiffin said on that Thursday morning in mid-October. “We have a bunch of really good receivers and backs and tight ends, and we don’t even have a fullback on our roster that’s on scholarship two months from now. We’ll have to make the best of whatever we’re dealt with.”

Was he serious, contemplating switching from an offense the Trojans have become nationally known for to a sometimes-stigmatized specialty scheme?

Was he joking, maybe with the half-hearted intention of making Oregon coach Chip Kelly think a little bit about how to defend a spread offense the next week?

Or was it a bit of both? We’ll never know what his thought process was at the time, but we can certainly assess the likelihood -- and the feasibility -- of a USC spread in 2011.

First of all, it’s important to note Kiffin was right about the lack of depth at fullback. In redshirt sophomore Simione Vehikite and freshman Soma Vainuku, USC’s only two scholarship players at that spot will be completely inexperienced.

Compare that to what USC can offer at receiver: Robert Woods, Brice Butler, Brandon Carswell, Kyle Prater, Thearon Collier and De’Von Flournoy. Even with Prater a redshirt in 2010, that makes five receivers who are more experienced than any Trojan fullbacks.

Given that information, the spread -- and by spread, I mean a true, shotgun-formation, four-receiver set spread -- starts to make some sense. But what about the playcalling, the offensive line assignments and the running backs -- how different are those in the spread as compared to the pro-style?

Pretty different. First of all, in a true spread quarterback Matt Barkley would have to develop the ability to make a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage -- something that, with all of his improvement from 2009 to 2010, he couldn’t do much of this season. Second, the emphasis on offensive line assignments would be placed on speedily getting to the outside, not holding long blocks on the interior to allow runners to get tough yards. And, third, the tailback spot at USC would lose a lot of its glamour, with guys like Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan spending time serving as flex players instead of lining up in the backfield.

In all, it’s something that would certainly take some time to perfect. And, as we learned this season with Monte Kiffin’s defense (we’ll go over this in tomorrow’s question), college players tend to take quite a while to pick up on new schemes -- especially schemes they don’t prefer.

Think about it: if a recruit wants to run the spread at the college level, they choose a school that runs the spread. If they want to run a pro-style offense, they choose a school that runs a pro-style offense.

It makes sense. But do you know what else makes sense?

Instead of switching to a true spread entirely, adding in bits and pieces of the offense -- I’m talking like 15 or 20 plays -- into USC’s current offense may be a much more realistic option for 2011.

Yes, those 15 or 20 plays would still take quite a while to install and could end up being a colossal waste of time, but it would likely be a good way to experiment with the spread with the current squad without adopting it completely.

They work well, and Jesse Scroggins could find himself spearheading a spread offense in 2012. (Never mind that he chose USC partly for its pro-style offense.)

They work poorly, and, well, who knows?

Tomorrow's question for the new year: Will Monte Kiffin stay on staff as the assistant head coach and de facto defensive coordinator? Will his defense improve in 2011?

Thursday scrimmage report: Breakdown

August, 26, 2010
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's scrimmage at the Coliseum, the Trojans' last before the regular season begins a week from today in Hawaii:
  • Again, the Trojans were mediocre -- despite the new surroundings. The nearly empty Coliseum provided for an interesting backdrop, but the lack of energy Lane Kiffin lamented earlier in the week held true.
  • Perhaps the most telling statistic of the starters' struggles Thursday is this one: the scout-team defense -- going against Barkley and the first teamers -- forced two turnovers. The first-team defense -- going against walk-on John Manoogian and the scout-team offense -- failed to force any. High-profile talents Dillon Baxter and Miami transfer Thearon Collier were on the scout team, though.
  • In a bit of good news, freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins has been officially cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center to resume practicing with the Trojans. USC is still waiting on defensive back Demetrius Wright's case with the NCAA. Kiffin said Thursday that the Trojans had initially expected Wright's situation to be resolved prior to Scroggins'.
  • Injury updates: both projected starting offensive guards -- Butch Lewis and Khaled Holmes -- remain limited, although Lewis appears on track to start next Thursday's game. Holmes' situation is a bit more fluid, although Kiffin said he would "hopefully" be back in practice Saturday. He's missed much of the last week with a neck stinger. Defensive end Nick Perry (ankle) is still out and getting close to the time he would need to return to adequately prepare to play against Hawaii.
  • On-field highlights: redshirt sophomore receiver Brice Butler made an impressive grab of a 29-yard touchdown throw from Barkley, reaching up and over two defenders in the right corner of the end zone and making good use of his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. Walk-on linebacker Will Andrew jumped what looked to be an out-route throw from Barkley, picked it off and took it back for a 25-yard score -- creating quite a bit of noise from the scout-team sideline at the Coliseum. Left tackle Matt Kalil blocked a field-goal attempt from walk-on kicker Craig McMahon.
  • A witty Kiffin, on a 2017-2018 home-and-home series with Texas, announced today by USC: "I'd be real excited if I was still here. We'll worry about that seven years from now. I hope I'm here, but I'm not really worried about the schedule seven years from now. We're worried abou the game seven days from now."
  • The kick and punt return positions appear to be decided, judging by the allocation of reps Thursday: senior receiver Ronald Johnson will likely return punts; freshman receiver Robert Woods will be the primary kick returner. Both players could see time at both spots.
  • Final notes: The Trojans are off Friday before returning to Howard Jones Field for 10:30 a.m. practices on Saturday and Sunday....A depth chart for the Hawaii game is expected to be released Friday afternoon. The position battles at running back, middle linebacker, split end and returner have been publicized throughout the fall, but Hebron Fangupo has put on a late rush to challenge for what was expected to be DaJohn Harris' job at nose tackle. The starter at that spot could be a surprise.


Scrimmage stats:

Matt Barkley 15-24 255 yards 3 TDs 2 INT
John Manoogian 13-21 104 yards

Marc Tyler 5-5, 1 TD
Allen Bradford
C.J. Gable 3-33

Dillon Baxter 6-70
Ronald Johnson 3-38
Robert Woods 3-24, 1 TD
Jordan Cameron 2-75, 1 TD

Will Andrew 5 tackles, 25-yard INT returned for a TD
Cody Romness 4 tackles, 1 INT
Jurrell Casey 4 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks
James Boyd 4 tackles, 2 TFL
Simione Vehikite 4 tackles, 2 TFL
Hebron Fangupo 3 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks


Devon Kennard has not been officially named as the Trojans' starter at middle linebacker -- but it's getting close. Chris Galippo spent essentially all of Thursday's scrimmage backing up Kennard at Mike.

After the scrimmage, Kennard talked about Galippo's ability to switch freely between the three linebacker spots, his own ability to cover slot receivers against a team like Hawaii and more.

Hear what he had to say:

Joe Houston, Ross Cumming earn it

August, 24, 2010
The NCAA allows FBS teams 85 scholarship players.

USC had just 70 at the start of camp, leaving 15 spots to be allocated, or saved, to make the assembling of future classes easier.

Miami transfer Thearon Collier got one and former walk-on offensive lineman Abe Markowitz got one, but that still left a hefty 13 available scholarships.

Two of those were filled Tuesday when USC coach Lane Kiffin announced during a team meeting that starting kicker Joe Houston and linebacker Ross Cumming would be awarded scholarships for the upcoming school year.

"Maybe the one positive thing about the sanctions is that we have plenty of spots right now," Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice. "It's great for those guys and for their families."

The news was first reported by USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who has evidently taken a liking to announcing the awarding of scholarships. He did the same when Markowitz earned his two days into camp.

Listed at 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, Houston transferred from a local junior college following his freshman season and spent three years as a walk-on at USC, backing up David Buehler and Jordan Congdon. This fall, he was in competition with scholarship punter Jacob Harfman for the placekicking job and beat him out with a solid camp performance.


Houston called Tuesday's news "a dream come true." Hear what else the 23-year-old had to say in a one-on-one video interview taken Tuesday:

Practice report: the breakdown

August, 24, 2010
Notes, quotes and video from Monday's practice:
  • Though coach Lane Kiffin refused to name a starter at any of the three positions, middle linebacker Devon Kennard, running back Marc Tyler and split end Robert Woods have emerged as the leaders at their respective positions, judging by Kiffin's allocation of reps during Monday's practice. At middle linebacker, Kiffin said Kennard and Galippo will no longer alternate regularly between first and second team -- as they had done all throughout spring and fall -- but added Galippo still will receive occasional opportunities at the No. 1 spot. The official depth chart for the opening week is expected to be released Saturday.
  • Allen Bradford returned to practice Monday after bruising his left knee during Friday's afternoon practice. He missed only one practice -- Saturday's scrimmage -- and used the off day to continue the recovery process. Said Bradford on the battle at running back, with Tyler challenging him for the job he was handed at the end of spring practice: "I'm just trying to come back from my injury. Marc's the next guy up -- him and C.J. (Gable) -- so I'm just fighting, trying to get back and making sure that my knee is right. ... I just gotta keep fighting, keep pushing and know that nothing is given to me at all. I gotta work for it. That's what I've been doing my whole career, fighting, so that's what I'm about to do."
  • At receiver, Woods' play has clearly exceeded that of fellow freshmen Kyle Prater and Markeith Ambles during fall camp, and he has also surpassed third-year player Brice Butler on his climb up to the starting spot at split end. Woods was originally thought of as a flanker for the Trojans -- where he would work alongside De'Von Flournoy and Ambles to back up starter Ronald Johnson -- but he has evidently convinced the coaching staff that a Woods-Johnson tandem can be effective. It's also important to note the Trojans will frequently use three- and four-receiver sets, meaning the battle for the second receiver spot isn't as meaningful as it may seem. The top four or so receivers will play regardless.
  • Monday's practice coincided with the first day of school, meaning a number of players had class conflicts that forced them to miss some of the 2 1/2-hour practice. Because the Trojans will not practice Mondays -- they'll instead practice Sundays -- beginning in two weeks, a number of players have registered for semester-long classes on Monday nights. Those include quarterback Matt Barkley, who gave way to Mitch Mustain midway through practice and exited the field.
  • Injury report: right guard Khaled Holmes' neck injury may be more severe than initially believed, as Kiffin indicated a fairly dire situation when speaking about the injury after practice. But Holmes underwent an MRI exam after practice and reported "very encouraging" details." He told reporters earlier Monday that he was only day-to-day. Left guard Butch Lewis (hip/groin) was back on a limited basis Monday after missing a week-plus because of injury. After practice, Lewis said he felt normal. Receivers David Ausberry and Brandon Carswell returned to the practice field.
  • Miami transfer Thearon Collier made his practice debut with the Trojans, wearing No. 81 and displaying impressive speed that made him a quality kick returner for the Hurricanes. Collier will play on the scout team this season while sitting out the year per NCAA transfer rules.
  • Final notes: Speaking of the scout team, freshman running back Dillon Baxter has also been relegated to it -- at least until the Hawaii game. Kiffin said Monday that the move was made because of his suspension that will keep him out of that game. ... The Trojans will practice at 4 p.m. for the next three days until taking the day off Friday -- the final day of rest before the season opener next Thursday -- Sept. 2 -- at Hawaii.


Kiffin spoke to the media after Monday's practice and discussed injuries, the decision-making process for position battles and more.

Hear what he had to say:



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