By Johnny Curren
After having shown signs of improvement as of late, and with an Arizona team coming up that features the Pac-12’s No. 2 ranked offense in terms of total yardage (512.2 per game) and rushing yardage (265 per game), the Trojans defense put on a strong performance during the team’s shorts-and-shoulder pads practice session on Wednesday.
Spending most of his day at cornerback, Adoree’ Jackson came up with an interception on a pass over the middle by Cody Kessler, while freshman Iman Marshall caught everyone’s attention with a pair of jarring hits.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was the effort of the front seven, led by defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. who came up with at least two sacks during 11-on-11 drills, as well as linebacker Osa Masina, who was in on a couple as well.
“I think back to last game, how important those two interceptions were, as far as the pass-rush – getting to the quarterback – and how they affected it, and I think the defense is really feeling that – the importance of getting to the quarterback,” said USC interim head coach Clay Helton. I love the effort that these kids are playing with right now. The defensive unit is really coming together. It’s really neat to watch them right now practice and perform.”
Smith-Schuster makes appearance
Two days following surgery on his right hand, USC sophomore star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster arrived at practice suited up, but with his right hand in a hard cast, he wound up spending the day as a spectator. And while it would appear somewhat unlikely that he will be able to make it back in time to play against Arizona on Saturday, according to Helton, you never know.
“His mindset always is to play,” Helton said. “He’s got this cast on, I think, for another 24 hours, and then he goes to a soft cast. Then it’s just going to be a pain tolerance thing. If he was a D-Lineman or offensive lineman you could probably club it up and he could go, but [not] a wide receiver. You’ve got to plan for him not to be there, but he is Superman, so it wouldn’t shock me if Thursday or Friday he says, ‘Coach, I’m ready.’
Still, Helton is determined to ensure is that they don’t rush him back too soon.
“We want to lean on the doctors and training staff, and how he’s feeling,” Helton said. “We’re not going to put a kid out there who’s not ready. If he’s ready, he’s ready. If not, we’ll save him for the next game.”
News and notes
– Cornerback Jonathan Lockett (groin) and safety Leon McQuay III did not participate in practice. McQuay came up hobbling after blocking a punt during practice on Tuesday.
– Both wide receiver Darreus Rogers (hamstring) and linebacker Cameron Smith (hamstring) had lighter days for precautionary reasons. Lamar Dawson took a majority of the snaps with the No. 1 defense at ‘mike’ linebacker in place of Smith.
– For the second consecutive day defensive linemen Claude Pelon (knee) and Jordan Simmons (knee) were able to get limited work in, with both taking part in early individual drills, and Pelon taking some snaps during a service team period.
– Running back Tre Madden (knee) had another light day of work.
– Starting right tackle Zach Banner was not in attendance because he was with his family following the death of his grandfather. He is expected to rejoin the team Wednesday night. Freshman Chuma Edoga ran with the No. 1 offense in his place.
– Wide receivers Deontay Burnett and Jalen Greene both had a very productive day, making a number of catches all over the field. Greene made a really impressive, leaping grab along the sideline over Marshall during one 11-on-11 period.
– Among those in attendance were NFL scouts from the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs.
– Cody Kessler hit De’Quan Hampton outside, but Su’a Cravens stopped him after a short gain.
– Kessler connected with Greene over the middle for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Townsend sacked Kessler.
– Jackson intercepted the Kessler pass over the middle.
– Max Browne hit Rogers over the middle for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Michael Hutchings stopped Dominic Davis after a short gain.
– Aca’Cedric Ware ran inside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Kessler tried to connect with Justin Davis outside, but Marshall put a big pop on him and the pass fell incomplete.
– Townsend sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Burnett outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne hit Burnett over the middle for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Kessler went deep to Steven Mitchell Jr. along the sideline, but Isaiah Langley broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Greene over the middle for a gain of 10 yards with Jackson in coverage.
– Kessler tried to connect with Ronald Jones II outside, but Marshall broke up the play.
– Osa Masina sacked Browne.
– Browne tried to hit Burnett over the middle, but Quinton Powell broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Burnett over the middle for a gain of close to 15yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– Kessler connected with Hampton outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit Ware over the middle, but Masina was there to break up the play.
– Kessler connected with Connor Spears before Marshall leveled him near the sideline, but the big tight end held onto the ball.
– Kessler hit Mitchell outside for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit Hampton over the middle, but Jackson and Langley broke up the play.
– Kenny Bigelow sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Greene over the middle for a gain of 10 yards.
– Jones picked up 5 yards before Dawson and others make the stop.
– Dawson and Masina combine for the sack.
– Burnett made a tip-toe catch along the sideline for a gain of 10 yards.