By Johnny Curren
The Trojans opened up fall camp on Saturday, taking part in a shorts-and-helmets practice on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field that was noticeably crisp for a Day 1 workout, and thanks in part to the Trojans recent recruiting haul – the first full signing class at USC since 2011 – also extremely competitive.
“The depth is great, but it’s the quality of the depth, in my opinion,” Sarkisian said. “The energy on the field today, the competitiveness was probably the best that we’ve had since we’ve been here. There’s a little different feel when you realize that the guy behind you, if you don’t perform, might be better than you, and that’s the best thing you can have for a program.”
Noting the play of freshmen like tight end Tyler Petite, quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive lineman Jacob Daniel as well as the newcomers at running back and linebacker, Sarkisian was also quick to point out the impact that a number of veterans returning from injury had on Day 1, singling out rush end Jabari Ruffin, defensive linemen Kenny Bigelow and Antwaun Woods, and offensive lineman Chad Wheeler.
“There was a lot of stuff happening when you look at our new players, and then you look at the injured guys that are coming back, there was a lot of guys to look at and watch,” Sarkisian said. “It was hard to get it done all at once, so I was trying to look at the big picture of it all. But you do notice some of the individuals, and now I get a chance to go watch the film.”
Sarkisian was especially pleased with the performance of the defense on Saturday, and in particular, the fact that Justin Wilcox’s group forced a number of turnovers. Freshmen Porter Gustin and Ykili Ross both came up with interceptions, as did junior safety Chris Hawkins.
“I thought all in all, there was a lot of positives – the defense, to be able to create some turnovers, which has been a huge emphasis of ours coming into this season,” Sarkisian said. “Our offense was really good a year ago. We only turned the ball over twelve times offensively, but we only created 23 turnovers. We want to get into the 30s.”
Cope-Fitzpatrick’s status still up in the air
Fourth-year junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who was academically ineligible last season, was not in attendance at practice on Saturday, with Sarkisian revealing that his academic situation is still to be determined.
“He doesn’t finish school until Tuesday,” Sarkisian said. “So, we’re still in summer school [and] we don’t know if he’ll be eligible.”
In Cope-Fitzpatrick’s absence, Connor Spears took the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 offense, with Petite also getting some first-team reps, and Cyrus Hobbi, Oklahoma-transfer Taylor McNamara and freshman Caleb Wilson also providing depth. Florida-transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe also took part in drills, but he will not be eligible to play this season due to transfer rules.
News and notes
– Two-way sophomore sensation Adoree’ Jackson spent the entirety of the practice session on the defensive side of the ball at cornerback, and Sarkisian revealed that he will continue to do so through the first 11 practices
“We’re going to get all of the defense installed with him, and then we’re going to flip him to offense for about the next six practices,” Sarkisian said. “And then once we get through that, those first two weeks, then he’s just going to have to do what he did last year, where in practice he’s going to kind of flip back-and-forth.”
– During the first 11-on-11 period the Trojans went with a No. 1 offensive line unit that featured Toa Lobendahn at left tackle, Chris Brown at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Viane Talamaivao at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. Damien Mama wound up taking the majority of the reps with the No. 1 group at left guard throughout the rest of the day, however, and there was quite a bit of flip-flopping, in general, as Chad Wheeler also took some reps with the first unit at left tackle, and Chuma Edoga saw some brief time with the No. 1 group at right tackle.
– The No. 1 interior defensive line group featured Antwaun Woods at nose tackle, flanked by Delvon Simmons and Cody Temple, and it remained that way throughout the entire practice. Kenny Bigelow was the No. 2 nose tackle, with Claude Pelon and Greg Townsend Jr. lining up alongside him.
– At tailback, veterans Justin Davis and Tre Madden took the bulk of the carries, and as Sarkisian noted, freshmen Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware also took some reps and performed solidly.
– Jordan Simmons, formerly an offensive guard, spent the entire practice session at nose tackle. Jalen Greene, formerly a quarterback, worked out exclusively at wide receiver and had a very solid day at the position.
– Freshman defensive tackle Kevin Scott, who hadn’t been spotted on campus this summer, was suited up and participated in practice.
– Prior to the start of practice it was learned that JuJu Smith has legally changed his name to JuJu Smith-Schuster in honor of his stepfather, while Steven Mitchell Jr. has added the ‘Jr.’ to the end of his name.
– The defense beat the offense on the final five-play challenge 3-1. The offense’s lone score came on a highlight-reel 25-yard touchdown pass from Kessler to Smith-Schuster.
– Among the recruits in attendance from the Class of 2016 was wide receiver target Tyler Vaughns, as well as USC commits Frank Martin and Trevon Sidney. From the Class of 2017, wide receiver target Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was on hand.
– Scouts from the New York Jets and the St. Louis Rams were also in attendance.
– Su’a Cravens sacked Cody Kessler
– Woods stopped Madden for no gain.
– Kessler hit a wide-open Isaac Whitney for a 20-yard touchdown.
– Max Browne hit Christian Tober for a 35-yard pickup with Jonathan Lockett in coverage.
– Freshman linebacker Osa Masina came up and put a nice pop on Jones to limit the play to a two or three yard gain.
– Browne connected with Greene outside for a 12-yard gain.
– Ricky Town tried to connect with Wilson over the middle, but Marvell Tell broke the pass up.
– Kessler threw deep over the middle, but Hawkins was there to pick it off.
– Browne hit Robby Kolanz for a big gain over the middle.
– Kessler hit Darreus Rogers outside for a big gain.
– Pelon stopped Madden for no gain.
– Kessler connected deep with Darreus Rogers for a 60-yard-plus touchdown.
– Jones had a nifty run for a gain of 10 that showed off some of his explosiveness.
– Browne hit Greene deep with Tell in coverage.
– Darnold connected with De’Quan Hampton along the sideline for 10 yards.
– Browne hit Dominic Davis outside for 10 yards.
– Browne went deep to Tober, but Ross broke up the pass.
– Browne connected with Whitney over the middle for around 15 yards.
– Kessler hit Steven Mitchell over the middle for a 40-yard touchdown.
– Browne’s pass was tipped at the line, and Ross brought in the interception.
– Madden weaved his way for a gain of seven or eight yards.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Darnold’s pass was tipped at the line, and this time Gustin makes the pick.
– On the first play of the final challenge, Kessler tries to hit Rogers outside, but Jackson is there in coverage and the pass is incomplete.
– Kessler threw another incomplete pass.
– Kessler connected with Smith-Schuster for a 25-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
– Kessler was sacked by a host of defenders.