By Johnny Curren
The Trojans were out on Cromwell Field for Holiday Bowl practice No. 2 on Sunday, taking part in a two-hour workout in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets that was marked by plenty of energy and physical play.
With the Dec. 30 matchup with Wisconsin fast approaching, it’s apparent that USC head coach Clay Helton likes the mindset that his team has brought to the table over the course of the past two days, and it’s something that he credits the veteran seniors on the team for.
“It was a really a good practice today – second straight day with tremendous energy, and I really commended our seniors,” Helton said. “I brought them over and told them that the way they have approached this bowl practice early here, it’s rubbed off on the other guys, and I thought that’s what happened last year. We had a bunch of seniors that really took a lot of pride in the Holiday Bowl, and going down there and getting a great win vs. Nebraska, and it seems to be the MO right now.”
Trojans still without Wheeler
After reportedly having been involved in an altercation on Saturday morning that led to him being held for evaluation, USC starting left tackle Chad Wheeler was not at practice for the second consecutive day.
When asked, Helton declined to comment on any specifics regarding the situation, calling it a “personal and private issue.”
“At the end of the day my primary concern has always been with our kids and their well-being, and that’s what will be my primary focus here,” Helton said. “And that’s why I say I’m not going to have any comment about Chad. I just want the best for him.”
Helton, who has not spoken to Wheeler since the incident took place, also said that he didn’t know if there was any chance that Wheeler might be able to return to the team in time to participate in the Holiday Bowl, and that they are preparing to go without him. In Wheeler’s absence, Zach Banner continued to line up with the No. 1 offense at left tackle, with Chuma Edoga sliding into the starting lineup at Banner’s normal right tackle spot.
Jackson gets OK to focus on track in spring
USC three-way star sophomore Adoree’ Jackson was just recently honored as the Trojans’ team MVP, but he also happens to be the reigning Pac-12 champion in the long jump, and on Sunday Helton revealed that he has given Jackson the green light to focus solely on track and field this spring.
Jackson has national title aspirations in the long jump, and he also hopes to compete in the Rio Olympics, which take place this summer, Aug. 5 to Aug. 21.
“When we were recruiting him we said, ‘When you get the opportunity to go work for the Olympics, you need to go work at that,’” Helton said. “He’s so valuable to our track team. We love having two-sport guys, so he’s really going to concentrate this spring on going to be the best long jump champion he can be – helping our track team, being able to come back with us for a meeting or two, but really focus his energy on hopefully winning a gold medal. That was something that we promised him in recruiting, and we want for him.”
Cravens talks decision
Having announced his plans to leave USC early for the NFL draft last Wednesday, junior linebacker Su’a Cravens discussed the primary factors that led to his decision following practice on Sunday.
“I mean, it was hard, especially with Coach Helton coming back and the schedule I saw, I like a challenge,” Cravens said. “But from the rumors I heard, the talks I had with my family, different evaluations, I think it was time to go.”
Cravens said that information that he picked up leads him to believe that he’s a likely mid-to-late first-round pick.
News and notes
– Starting center Khaliel Rodgers went down late in practice with what appeared to be a lower leg/ankle injury. He eventually walked off the field with a slight limp and took the rest of the day off. Nico Falah took his place with the No. 1 offense.
– Following a play where Isaiah Langley leveled Dominic Davis after a short reception, words were exchanged between the two players before a scuffle broke out that involved around 10 to 15 players. It was broken up quickly, however, and tempers didn’t flare again.
– In addition to Wheeler, others who did not practice included John Houston Jr. (back), Matt lopes (foot) and Ykili Ross.
– Wide receiver Ajene Harris took part in the entire practice session, even taking reps with the No. 2 offense during a late 11-on-11 period.
– Cody Kessler hit Aca’Cedric Ware outside for a short gain before Marvell Tell made the stop.
– Kessler tried to hit Tyler Petite over the middle, but Cravens broke up the pass.
– Kessler went deep to JuJu Smith-Schuster along the sideline, but Jackson deflected the pass away.
– Max Browne connected with Deontay Burnett over the middle for a 10-yard gain.
– Malik Dorton sacked Kessler
– Uchenna Nwosu stopped Justin Davis after a short gain.
– Kessler hit Darreus Rogers outside for a 40-yard TD.
– Ronald Jones II darted outside and picked up close to 20 yards before pushed out-of-bounds by Leon McQuay III.
– Kessler hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a 10-yard gain.
– Cravens stopped James Toland IV after a short gain.
– Noah Jefferson and Co. stopped Toland for no gain.
– Greg Townsend Jr. and Scott Felix combined for a sack on Browne.
– Cravens sacked Browne.
– Kessler hit Taylor McNamara for a gain of 20 yards near the sideline.
– Michael Hutchings stopped Jones after a five-yard gain.
– Don Hill sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Isaac Whitney over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Rasheem Green stopped Toland for no gain.