Pac-12: Jahleel Pinner

While the USC passing offense sputtered throughout a good portion of the team’s 30-13 victory over Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans showcased a ground game that was effective from the get-go -- even without the services of veteran ball carriers Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan. This success was in large part due to a couple of tailbacks who were making their collegiate debuts in the backfield -- redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis.

Keying a rushing attack that generated 192 yards against the Rainbow Warriors -- over 40 yards more than USC averaged a season ago -- both players ran with confidence and physicality, reflecting the mindset that the Trojans coaching staff worked hard to instill during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Madden and Davis drew praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin on his Sunday night media call.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore Tre Madden ran for 109 yards in his first in-game running back action since high school.
“I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before,” Kiffin said.

It was Madden -- who played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his knee -- who led the way, getting the nod as the starter and rushing 18 times for a game-high 109 yards. And despite the fact that he hadn’t seen action in a live game since Nov. 26, 2011, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout quickly settled into his role.

“After the first play I was back in the swing of things,” said Madden following the Trojans’ practice on Tuesday. “The nerves were building up before the game, and it was a long day leading up to it, but once I got on the field everything felt good. I felt comfortable with the game plan, the offensive line did well and [fullback] Jahleel [Pinner] did well in front of me. It definitely felt good to get that game out of the way and under my belt. Now I can look forward and just concentrate on getting better every week.”

Davis, who enrolled at USC this past January after starring at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, had the pregame jitters as well. But like his older counterpart, they were overcome once he took his first carry late in the first quarter.

“I was definitely nervous beforehand, but that’s just a normal part of the game,” Davis said. “Once you get into it and get a couple of snaps, it’s just like it is in high school.”

Amassing 74 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Davis’ rushing total would have possibly exceeded the century mark if not for a 15-yard loss that he took on a play where he recovered his own fumble. Still, as a whole, there’s more than a few positives that the young freshman can take away from his outing.

“I can definitely build off of my performance,” Davis said. “Experience is one of the best things you can have. The more experience that I get, the better I’m going to be.”

In Davis and Madden, as well as Javorius Allen -- who chipped in with 18 yards on four carries -- Kiffin and Co. found a rotation at tailback that could wind up being the ultimate formula for success ... at least as far as the USC run game is concerned.

“As a running back corps we all jelled together, and you could see that in the game,” Davis said.

Added Madden, “As a whole, I think the tailback unit did some good things. It was awesome having that three-running back rotation.”

Up next for the Trojans is a Washington State defense that, while fast and aggressive, did give up 297 yards on the ground last Saturday to Auburn.

Focused on taking the next step in their progression as a group, however, you can be certain that the USC tailbacks won’t be taking any opponent for granted.

“They fly around on defense,” said Madden on what he’s seen of the Cougars on film. “We just need to have physical practices -- like we did today -- to get ready. We need to get the game plan down and just get better every day.”

Five who emerged from USC fall camp

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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It has been an eventful month for a number of Trojans who shined during fall camp, particularly for those lesser-known and younger members of the team who took the opportunity to make a major statement with their play.

With that in mind, here are five players who made a big impression over the course of the last three weeks, providing evidence that they’re ready to make an impact on the field for USC this fall.

OL Chad Wheeler (6-foot-7, 290 pounds, RS Fr.)
Originally lining up at left tackle in the spring before going down with a knee injury, Wheeler came into fall camp in fantastic shape, with a bulked-up, 290-pound frame. Moved to right tackle to compete with veteran Kevin Graf, he switched back to the left side to run with the first-team offense early in August when Aundrey Walker went down with an injury, and he remained there throughout camp -- prompting Walker to move to guard. Drawing praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin, Wheeler provided stability at a position that struggled in that regard in 2012. A unique talent who plays with a nasty demeanor on the field, he appears to have won the starting job. It will be interesting to watch his development this season.

WR Darreus Rogers (6-2, 210, Fr.)
[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAfter enrolling last spring, Darreus Rogers appears to have nailed down the No. 3 receiver job.
A Class of 2012 recruit who didn't enroll until last January, Rogers flashed at times in spring ball, but it’s safe to say that Rogers took his game to a whole new level this month.

Possessing a skill-set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC star receiver Mike Williams brought to the table, the Carson (Calif.) product showcases a perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and sure hands. Making strides throughout camp, he utilized some strong scrimmage performances -- including a 10-catch, 106-yard and 2-touchdown outing on Aug. 16 -- to nail down the role of No. 3 wide out.

With the Trojans paper-thin at receiver, he should get plenty of chances to produce this season as a complement to Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, and from what he’s shown, he’s ready to do just that.

S Su'a Cravens (6-1, 215, Fr.)
Arguably the most highly touted prospect in the Trojans’ recruiting class of 2013, Cravens was another mid-year enrollee who has more than lived up to expectations. One of those rare playmakers on the defensive side of the ball who always seems to be in the thick of the action, he looks and plays more like a seasoned veteran than a green freshman. His fall camp highlighted by an outstanding performance in the team’s second scrimmage -- one in which he compiled five tackles with two sacks -- he has been part of a highly competitive battle at strong safety. For the last week or so of fall camp, however, he was taking the majority of the reps with the first-team defense, and he figures to see the field early and often, whether he starts or not.

FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Declared by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member in his group during the spring, Pinner continued his progression throughout the summer, allowing him to hit the ground running in fall camp. With Soma Vainuku sidelined for most of the workouts with an injury, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout carried the bulk of the workload at fullback and excelled in the expanded role.

Always known as a tough-as-nails lead blocker, what was most impressive was the receiving skills he put on display -- something lacking from the position in 2012. Hauling in a number of passes in the team’s most recent scrimmage, there’s hope that he can bring a Stanley Havili-like presence back to the Trojans’ offense.

LB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Starting out at outside linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 defensive alignment, Powell made the switch inside to WILL linebacker midway through camp, and the energetic freshman began turning heads right from his first day there -- despite the fact he never lined up at the position in high school. An emotionally charged athlete who plays with aggression and a nonstop motor, Powell really came on over the last two weeks, collecting five tackles in the team’s Aug. 16 scrimmage. Receiving more and more snaps with the second unit as of late, and even with the first group when Hayes Pullard was limited recently, he obviously is someone who has caught the eye of the coaches.
Lane Kiffin and Co. have released their official post-spring two-deep depth chart. And not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of surprises.

One of the most watched quarterback competitions in the country lists Max Wittek OR Cody Kessler OR Max Browne. Leaving us with what we knew a month ago. It's going to be Wittek OR Kessler OR Browne.

Steve Bisheff of WeAreSC makes his case -- and a compelling one at that -- for Kessler, who clearly had the strongest spring of all three quarterbacks.
Despite Kessler's clear advantage coming into the (spring) game, Kiffin had Max Wittek starting with the first unit at the Coliseum on Saturday. And even after Kessler outplayed his main competitor, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions compared to Wittek's 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, Kiffin insisted that no quarterback had emerged as a front-runner for the position and that he won't name a starter until the fall.

Sticking with the offense, there was already an assumed pecking order at wide receiver, but it's more solidified now. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are behind Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor will start opposite Lee with De'Von Flournoy and George Katrib backing him up.

Some intrigue at running back with Silas Redd at the top, but the starting gig is listed as Redd or Justin Davis or Tre Madden. Same for the fullback, which lists Soma Vainuku or Jahleel Pinner as the starter.

So while the entire offensive backfield is a grab bag of "ors," there is at least some solidarity on the offensive line, where four of the five starters appear to be in place. Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk make up the left side with Marcus Martin at center and John Martinez at right guard. The only spot still in doubt is at right tackle between Kevin Graf or Chad Wheeler.

The new-look 52 defensive front has Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin at the outside linebacker spots (that's going to be a scary combination, by the way) with Leonard Williams and George Uko (also a darn good tandem) at the ends. Nose tackle is still up for grabs between Antwaun Woods or Cody Temple.

In the secondary, where there are almost as many holes as there are questions -- little has been determined. Three of the four starting spots have an "or" attached to them. Only Anthony Brown looks like the inked-in starter. Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour are battling for the other corner spot and Demetrius Wright or Leon McQuay III are battling for free safety. Josh Shaw and touted freshman Su'a Cravens -- who missed a significant portion of spring drills -- will head into fall battling for strong safety.

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