USC: Viane Talamaivao

Summer throwing session observations

June, 16, 2014
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The Trojans are under way with summer throwing sessions, and here are some thoughts based on what we’ve seen so far:

1. Organization: One of the first things to stand out when watching the workouts is noting how organized they are. In past years, a voluntary throwing session would usually be the players coming onto the field, throwing a few warmup routes and then getting right into 7-on-7 or full-team throwing. This year there is a walk-through, a stretching and agility warmup, rotating drill sessions that include medicine balls and tall bags, the actual throwing session, and then a series of post-workout sprints. This new structure is no accident, as USC coach Steve Sarkisian spent an entire spring ball practice going over the routine with the players.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesBuck Allen has been impressive in USC's early summer throwing sessions.
2. Standouts: It’s hard to read too much into these sessions since they are in shorts and T-shirts, but there are still players who can shine for various reasons. Buck Allen looks as good as anyone -- there is kind of an aura around him these days after the way he exploded over the second half of last season. Leon McQuay III appears ready to step in as a starter; he seems in control on the field and his frame is growing well. The duo of McQuay and Su'a Cravens could be special, and Cravens already has multiple interceptions this summer. Darreus Rogers looks more and more like the starter opposite Nelson Agholor, as he offers a physical presence that the Trojans haven’t had in recent years. And Leonard Williams deserves mention. It’s no surprise that he looks great, but you also don’t want to take him for granted.

3. Bulking up: One of the rites of the offseason is to judge which players have bulked up in the weight room. Allen’s upper body is noticeably bigger this year, and receivers such as Rogers and George Farmer stand out, as does walk-on tight end Chris Willson. On defense, Quinton Powell has filled out and cornerback Chris Hawkins is now thicker in the upper body to go along with his long arms. The Trojans have a new strength and conditioning coach in Ivan Lewis, and it will be interesting to watch how he balances building the strength of the players while also getting them ready for the conditioning demands of the up-tempo style of play.

4. Early impact: Several of the incoming freshmen have arrived to take part in these sessions. The biggest performance came in Adoree' Jackson’s initial appearance, as he wasted no time in making a highlight play with a break on the ball to tip a pass that was eventually intercepted by Cravens. It was the kind of instinctive and athletic play that not too many corners can make, and Jackson made it within 20 minutes of stepping on the USC practice field for the first time. This kid is going to be good. Offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao has also been impressive. Talamaivao has seen work at center and both guard spots, and he has shown versatility at all three spots. The thing that stands out about Talamaivao is his athleticism for his size. I’ve long thought he could make a good center, and nothing I’ve seen so far has changed that thinking. Ajene Harris deserves a mention here as well. He has been playing slot receiver and has consistently made plays when given a chance.

5. Injury updates: There was a lot of anticipation about Steven Mitchell, who is returning from a knee injury suffered last summer, and so far the results have been positive. Mitchell looks smooth and fluid while providing multiple long pass receptions. There was also an appearance last week from D.J. Morgan, another player who sat out last season with a knee injury. It’s too early to know if Morgan can make a dent in a crowded backfield, but it’s was a positive step to see him on the field again. Guards Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee) have not taken part in full drills yet, but Simmons has been able to do limited work.

Trojans organized in voluntary sessions

June, 4, 2014
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USC has started voluntary summer throwing sessions, and it's a great time to see where players are at in terms of physical shape and also to gauge the work ethic of the players when no coaches are around.

One of the things that has jumped out so far is just how organized the sessions are. Steve Sarkisian spent an entire practice during the last week of spring ball showing his players how to run a summer workout, the point being that he wanted to provide as much structure as possible so that the players could maximize those workouts.

The result has been sessions that feature a walk-through, a group stretch, various drill areas such as medicine balls and tall bags, a 7-on-7 period and a series of sprints at the end. As would be expected, the leaders of the sessions are players such as Cody Kessler, Hayes Pullard and Nelson Agholor. The veterans are also doing a lot of teaching to younger players, specifically the incoming freshmen who are taking part in USC workouts for the first time.

Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw are taking part in the workouts after sitting out spring ball as a precaution for lingering injuries. Another player back in action is Steven Mitchell, the shifty wide receiver who suffered a knee injury last year in the summer drills. It’s been clear in limited action that Mitchell is well on his way to a good recovery. He is looking very fluid.

[+] EnlargeTalamaivao
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comUSC signee Viane Talamaivao is working at center in summer workouts.
It will be interesting to watch the situation with Viane Talamaivao, who is getting a look at center. Talamaivao has never played the position before but there was a lot of speculation in the recruiting process that he could ultimately end up at center. He certainly has the athleticism to make the move, but it remains to be seen how he will adjust to snapping the ball, the various reads, etc.

Speaking of Talamaivao, his family is involved with the Prime Time Polynesian Kumite lineman camp, one of which will be held this weekend in Corona, California. Several of top linemen from the area are expected to be in attendance, including Rasheem Green, Keisean Lucier-South and Joseph Wicker.

Another attendee will be Sarkisian, who is scheduled to be one of many college coaches at the camp. The ability of coaches to take part in camps away from their campus has been in the news a lot lately, particularly with coaches from the SEC objecting to coaches from other schools holding camps in their area. It’s something that likely will be addressed in future NCAA rules, but for now it’s something that is perfectly legal and it will give Sarkisian a chance to watch some of the top USC prospects in action.

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.

Sarkisian: 'Lot of work' needed on line

May, 1, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Steve Sarkisian took his turn on the phone on Thursday during the Pac-12 football coaches teleconference, revealing that among his biggest concerns for the Trojans heading into the fall is finding the right combination along the offensive line.

“Solidifying that front five -- who’s going to be where, that depth and all of that -- I think, is one key component for us,” Sarkisian said.

That doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, this past spring the Trojans were without a 2013 starter in senior guard Aundrey Walker (ankle), as well as promising guard/tackle Jordan Simmons (knee) and tackle Nico Falah (back), all to injuries, making the lack of depth a glaring issue.

The Trojans featured a No. 1 offensive line unit throughout the majority of the March and April workouts that was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Toa Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk played center all spring and is almost certain to start somewhere on the line this fall.
But with Walker, Simmons and Falah all expected to return in time for fall camp, on top of the fact that the unit will add a trio of highly touted freshmen to the mix in Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, the starting group could potentially have a very different look when the Trojans open up against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

Sarkisian noted that Mama and Talamaivao will both begin their USC careers on the interior. He did not discuss Brown, but most consider him to have the ability to line up at guard or tackle.

How the players who are coming off injury, as well those freshman additions, adjust to the new uptempo system and how they perform in fall camp will play a major part in what kind of role they’re ultimately going to play.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sarkisian said. “So, that’s why the challenge is so big for us of how we’re handling that first week to get guys opportunities to show what they’re about, so we can start developing some cohesiveness amongst that offensive front as we move toward the season.”

Sarkisian spoke glowingly of Wheeler and also praised Tuerk, Lobendahn and Banner for their efforts this past spring. He also noted that Tuerk will continue to line up at center, where he played during the entirety of the spring, but he appeared to leave the door open for others to still compete at the position.

“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“

Response to SEC decision

One topic that was brought up throughout the call to all of the Pac-12 coaches was the Southeastern Conference’s recent decision to stick to an eight-game conference schedule.

With college football moving to a four-team playoff next season, the trend has been for conferences to adopt a nine-game conference schedule. Pac-12 and Big 12 teams already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten is scheduled to make the change in 2016.

When asked about the SEC’s decision, Sarkisian took the opportunity to praise the Pac-12 while also expressing his desire for a level playing field down the line.

“The Pac-12 has been on the forefront of the scheduling thing here for quite some time,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s encouraging to see that the majority of college football is moving their way towards nine. I think for college football to find the common ground, the more areas we can all be the same so that there’s a competitive and level playing field for everybody, I think should be the goal.”

Hawkins impresses

When asked if there were any redshirt freshmen who stood out to him this spring at USC, Sarkisian answered with cornerback Chris Hawkins.

“From all of the accounts of all of the people that were here on the previous staff, he has really matured mentally and physically,” Sarkisian said. “I thought his body has really changed. I thought he had a very good spring for us.”

Biggest flips: Pac-12 

February, 3, 2014
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Many of the biggest flips relating to Pac-12 teams came fairly early in the process, which means there might not be much chaos on signing day when it comes to recruits flipping commitments. However, as with every year, flips will help and hurt a number of conference programs come Wednesday, and we take a look at the five biggest in the Pac-12 during this recruiting cycle.

Trojans capitalize on big weekend 

January, 27, 2014
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ESPN 300 prospects Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) might have headlined the list of official visitors who spent the weekend at USC, but it was a pair of teammates from Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure who stole the spotlight.

Class of 2015 quarterback Ricky Town verbally committed to the Trojans on Saturday night, just hours after decommitting from Alabama, and No. 1-rated tight end Bryce Dixon re-affirmed his pledge on Sunday morning, capping a monstrous weekend that put USC in great shape with national signing day just over a week away.

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Notebook: ESPN 300 ATH Smith trims list 

January, 20, 2014
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TUSTIN, Calif. -- A decision might still be two weeks away, but the picture is getting clearer for ESPN 300 athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).


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USC builds momentum during dead period 

January, 16, 2014
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The month-long dead period was part fruitful and part complicated for USC recruiting, offering a prelude to what could be a wild finish for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

Four verbal commitments highlighted the period -- which ran from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15 -- but some members of the Trojans’ class were met with uncertainty as the coaches scrambled to find additional targets. A commitment from dual-threat quarterback Jalen Greene (Gardena, Calif./Serra) was the first domino to fall, as Sarkisian nabbed his top target at a position of need, and plenty of activity followed despite the prohibition of face-to-face contact.


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UCLA, USC have chance to seize the city 

November, 27, 2013
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Not all regular season games are created equal on the recruiting trail, and while one game won't make or break a recruiting class, this weekend's showdown between UCLA and USC could come awfully close.

USC has dominated its series of late -- winning 12 of the last 14 years -- but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately recruiting world, UCLA’s 38-28 win last season looms large. It caught the attention of recruits in the 2013, '14 and '15 classes and sent a message that the Jim Mora era with the Bruins was off and running.


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Recruits watching UCLA-USC 

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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It would probably be easier to come up with a list of 10 recruits who have no vested interest in watching UCLA travel across town to take on USC this weekend. Limiting this list to fewer than a dozen prospects doesn't do justice to just how many recruits in the 2014-2017 classes will have their eyes glued to the action at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.

UCLA and USC still have a number of spots left to fill in their 2014 recruiting classes and they are aiming for the fences with local prospects. The 2015 class will also be affected by the outcome, and again, the tug-of-war between the two programs starts right at the top of the West region rankings. Here are a look at five 2014 recruits and five 2015 recruits who will be watching this game intently.


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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

November, 20, 2013
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USC used a big win over Stanford to land an impact commitment earlier this week, which jumped the Trojans up to the No. 6 class in the Pac-12 in the updated class rankings. Arizona still sits atop the conference at No. 19 overall, while Stanford (No. 23) and Arizona State (No. 24) are just behind. Oregon rounds out the national rankings at No. 37 overall.

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A wild recruiting week out West 

November, 20, 2013
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It's only a Wednesday in late November, but this week has seen enough recruiting action out West to make you think signing day is just around the corner.

A flurry of commitments and decommitments began Monday night and affected six Pac-12 programs in less than three days. It began with USC's big victory on Monday, when it received a commitment from former Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), the nation's No. 5 offensive guard.


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USC lands Talamaivao, makes noise 

November, 19, 2013
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When USC picked up a surprise commitment from ESPN 300 offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) late Monday night, it gained more than just a four-star prospect.

The Trojans and interim head coach Ed Orgeron gained credibility, too.

Flipping three-star receiver Shay Fields Jr. (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) from Boise State and wrestling three-star athlete Ajene Harris (Los Angeles/Crenshaw) away from San Diego State might not have been viewed as major accomplishments. The same could be said of convincing under-the-radar prospects Uchenna Nwosu (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) and Olajuwon Tucker (Gardena, Calif./Serra) to accept scholarship offers.

But by plucking Talamaivao, who was less than two weeks removed from an official visit to Alabama, the school he was verbally committed to for nearly six months, Orgeron and his staff made perhaps the most resounding statement they could have made heading into the final 10 weeks of the 2014 recruiting cycle.


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Pac-12 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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This week's list offers a look through the Pac-12 at the potential best-case and worst-case scenarios that the 2014 recruiting cycle could bring for various programs. While a few of the best-case scenarios might be close to within reach for some programs, many of the worst-case scenarios would take a special brand of bad luck.

Arizona
Best-case scenario: Arizona doesn't hold onto all of its 24 verbal commits, but keeps all of its priority recruits in the fold. In exchange for some of the decommitments, the Wildcats are rewarded with a big splash from either ESPN 300 prospect John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) or Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure). A strong finish to the season also helps Arizona clean up in its home state, landing commitments from offensive linemen Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe), Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino), Layth Friekh (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial) and junior college defensive lineman Claudeson Pelon (Mesa, Ariz./Mesa College).

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USC has chance to right recruiting wrongs

September, 29, 2013
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It is a whole new ball game with recruits out West now that Lane Kiffin is out at USC.

The Trojans’ Class of 2014 recruiting efforts mirrored the product on the field. There were a few bright spots like highly regarded ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), ESPN 300 linebacker D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) and ESPN 300 offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), but it was also a class full of incompletions, fumbles and big misses.

[+] EnlargeTalamaivao
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comThe Trojans hope a new coaching staff will sway recruits like Viane Talamaivao (committed to Alabama) to USC.
The Trojans, in one of the deepest hotbeds of talent in the entire country and with one of the proudest football traditions around, were able to lure only seven commitments and watched conference rivals Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington blow past them on the recruiting trail. Recruits and high school coaches throughout the Southland also raised major concerns about the way Kiffin interacted with -- or some say flat-out ignored -- many top local prospects and coaches when they would come for unofficial visits or wanted to talk shop.

You have to win the recruiting wars in Los Angeles if you’re going to dominate at USC. It’s something that Pete Carroll figured out the second he stepped into Heritage Hall, but Kiffin was never able to fully embrace.

However, the Trojans now have a chance to reset things.

If USC makes the right hire, there’s still a real chance to lure a number of the West’s best prospects. Twenty-seven of the Top 100 and eight of the top 15 prospects in California have yet to make up their minds.

Plus, there will be kids who are committed to other schools that will take a long look at the Trojans again with a new coach in charge. You can bet that players like ESPN 300 offensive lineman and Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), ESPN 300 athlete and Arizona commit Marquis Ware (Los Angeles/Salesian), Elite 11 quarterback and Miami commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) and many other committed players in California will get calls from the new USC staff.

In recruiting, nothing can erase the errors of the old and give a school some new momentum like a coaching change.

USC now has the chance to right its recruiting wrongs. Coupled with the fact recruits and high school coaches still consider the Trojans Los Angeles’ football team, USC’s run to signing day in February could alter the Pac-12 for years to come.

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2