By Johnny Curren
One day after a weary looking Steve Sarkisian met with a throng of reporters to address his admitted “irresponsible” behavior at this past weekend’s “Tribute to Troy” event, the Trojans head coach was back out with his team for their Wednesday morning practice session.
Without the overflowing media presence on hand, and the spotlight having been dimmed at least to a certain extent, Sarkisian was in noticeably improved spirits.
“It was great to get back on the field today,” Sarkisian said. “I felt like I was back at home again, coaching football. So, all in all, just moving forward. Moving forward with our team, moving forward with myself. Trying to take all the right and necessary steps to be positive, and to go out and have a really good season.”
Perhaps taking the lead of their coach, the entire team seemed to practice with a higher level of enthusiasm and energy than they did one day prior, and in general, there was much more of an upbeat tone to the two-and-a-half hour, full-pads workout.
“We had a really good practice,” Sarkisian said. “I was proud of our guys. They came out today, it was a little warm, and they worked, they battled, they competed, we did some game-plan stuff looking forward for Arkansas State. We also did some competition things, where they got to compete – offense vs. defense. And I thought both sides of the ball really competed well, they were upbeat and energetic. I was proud of the way they just embraced the day.”
Wheeler returns to action
Limited for much of fall camp due to the knee injury that he suffered in 2014, and then held out of drills completely in recent days because of a concussion he sustained after being hit in the head with a medicine ball, left tackle Chad Wheeler returned to full-time duty on Wednesday.
His knee officially cleared by team doctors one day earlier, Wheeler jumped right in and spent time with the No. 2 and No. 1 offensive units, looking surprisingly sharp for the most part.
“I felt good,” Wheeler said. “I’ve just got to get in better shape. It was Day 1, so I’ll take it one day at a time and be ready for Arkansas State.”
With Wheeler officially back in the fold, it will be interesting to what combination of offensive linemen Sarkisian and Offensive Line Coach Bob Connelly put on the field when USC opens against Arkansas State on Sept. 5.
The Trojans began the day with a No. 1 unit that featured Toa Lobendahn at left tackle, Damien Mama at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Viane Talamaivao at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. Connelly has been mixing and matching throughout camp, however, and on Wednesday he had Wheeler line up with the ones at left tackle at times, with Lobendahn sliding over to right tackle in place of Banner.
“We’ll have that all figured out by next Monday,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got a little time here over the next couple of days to kind of sort through it. But it’s obviously a nice luxury to have Chad back.”
– Tight end Taylor McNamara went to the sideline with what appeared to be an ankle/foot injury and did not return to action. Connor Spears and Tyler Petite took all of the reps with the No. 1 offense at tight end.
– Among those who did not participate in practice were Lamar Dawson (ribs), Justin Davis (ribs), Ronald Jones II, Claude Pelon (knee), Jordan Simmons (knee), Ykili Ross, and Antwaun Woods (shoulder).
– Sarkisian said that Jones hasn’t practiced in recent days because he isn’t feeling well.
– Ross had his right arm in a sling.
– Sarkisian said that Woods’ shoulder injury is not serious and that he is expected to return shortly.
– Defensive lineman Rasheem Green (knee), who has been limited throughout the month, took part in individual drills, and he also got some work in against the scout team offense during one 11-on-11 service team period.
– After going out with an undisclosed injury on Tuesday, freshman defensive end Christian Rector returned to action on Wednesday.
News and notes
– Sophomore Adoree’ Jackson spent the vast majority of the day on defense, except for one 11-on-11 service team period, when he took reps with the No. 1 offense and hauled in at least four passes. He also returned kicks and punts on Wednesday.
– Dominic Davis and Christian Tober also returned kickoffs.
– With both Pelon and Woods sidelined, the Trojans’ No. 1 defensive line unit featured Cody Temple at NT, with Delvon Simmons and Greg Townsend Jr. at the two DE spots. Running with the No. 2 defense was Jacob Daniel at NT, with Kenny Bigelow and Noah Jefferson at the two DE spots. Jefferson and Daniel have been getting a lot of reps in over the last few workouts, and they certainly look capable of contributing this year.
– Jefferson and Soma Vainuku came up with blocks during a brief placekicking defensive period.
– Sarkisian praised the running backs for their performance on Wednesday. Tre Madden, Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware all got plenty of work in.
– The initial No.1 defensive backs group to start the day had Kevon Seymour at LCB, Jackson at RCB, with Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III at the two safety spots.
– Among those in attendance was former Trojans wide receiver Curtis Conway along with the rest of a very large Pac-12 Networks crew.
– Tre Madden ran inside for six yards.
– Madden ran outside for 4 yards before Michael Hutchings made the stop.
– Cody Kessler hit D. Davis outside for seven or eight yards before Jackson made the stop.
– Ware ran behind Lobendahn for a gain of five or six yards before Bigelow made the stop.
– Kessler hit a wide-open De’Quan Hampton in the end zone for a 25-yard TD.
– Jefferson tackled D. Davis for a loss.
– Max Browne connected with Robby Kolanz for a gain of 10 yards.
– Townsend and Co. stopped Madden for a loss.
– Kessler hit Steven Mitchell outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Kessler hit Mitchell with a quick pass outside, he made McQuay miss with a nice juke, and then picked up around 10 yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– Browne connected with Petite over the middle for eight yards before Marvell Tell made the stop.
– Uchenna Nwosu stopped D. Davis for no gain.
– Temple stopped Vainuku after a short gain.
– Kessler went deep to JuJu Smith-Schuster along the sideline, but Iman Marshall broke up the play.
– Ware ran outside for six or seven yards.
– Vainuku with a tough eight yard run up the middle.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of almost 10 yards.
– Kessler hit Darreus Rogers over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Browne hit Hampton over the middle for a gain of almost 10 yards before Osa Masina made the stop.
– Kessler hit Rogers along the sideline for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Kessler hit Rogers again along the sideline for 20 yards.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 10 yards with Seymour in coverage.
– Kessler hit Tober over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of six or seven yards.
– Kessler hit Mitchell over the middle for almost 20 yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of 10 yards before Isaiah Langley made the stop.
– D. Davis ran outside and then cut back inside and broke loose for a 20-yard-plus gain.
– Browne dumped a short pass out to Whitney, but then Jabari Ruffin came over and leveled him – limiting the play to no gain.