In the midst of final preparations for game week, now is a tremendous time to take a look back at the most worrisome sights and sounds from Fall Camp. In order to best assess the Trojans chances this season, we take a look at some concerns and reasons for pause come the season opener on Thursday.
The Injury Bug
The injury bug circled around practice like wildfire as nearly 25 players were physically unable to perform in team activities at various points during camp.
Luckily for the team’s long-term sake most cases rested as precautionary moves. This caused the yellow non-contact pennies to become a fashionable main stake on Howard Jones Field, giving way for backups to get reps all across the board.
Marqise Lee, Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Silas Redd, Justin Davis, Morgan Breslin Tre Madden and Aundrey Walker were amongst the major names sidelined for multiple days with nagging injuries. For players like Redd and Bailey, their injuries could cost them playing time come week one and leave the Trojans in major limbo for game day.
The slew of injuries slowed down the pace and intensity of practice from very physical and intense to a slate loaded with non-contact practices. While mental reps are valuable and sometimes vital towards developing awareness on the field, live actions reps are critical.
What we have noticed about the USC offense during Fall Camp was that head coach Lane Kiffin is not afraid to dial up the blitz early and often. In part of a master plan to challenge the offensive line, the entire coaching staff implemented nearly daily blitz periods, which revealed some major concerns.
The Trojans offensive line is massively improved, featuring three starters from last season. That being said, the quarterbacks behind them have struggled to recognize the enhanced defensive schemes and relay proper adjustments to its offensive line. The last thing fans want is to witness a recurrence of the viscous Anthony Barr sack on Matt Barkley this season.
In the midst of the injury concerns surrounding the loaded wide receiving corps, De’Von Flournoy slipped down the depth chart as the weeks progressed. This along with the lack of contribution from the tight spot remains most alarming in the Trojans’ passing game.
Dropped passes will certainly not help your chances and for Flournoy, this season could be filled with a whole bunch of what if’s once the games start to matter. In terms of TE’s, losing all three playmakers–Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick–during camp for stretches certainly did not help the cause, yet when healthy, the spot was relatively quiet.
The offense did not shy away from featuring the WR position in quick and intermediate routes in camp however, allowing their best athletes to catch the football in space and make plays for major yards after catch. Tight ends Kevin Greene and Chris Willson showcased promising signs over the middle, hopefully garnering more looks and attention for the entire security blanket position.
Two of the three Fall Camp scrimmages revealed some rather staggering trends about the USC offense. Most recently, the first-team offense led by a combination of Cody Kessler and Max Wittek failed to score a touchdown in the first half against scout players.
Others times, the offense would looked overwhelmed and consumed by the free-flowing defense coming their way. While partially drawn up by design, long lapses of inconsistency could hinder aspirations of mistake-free football.
The confusion and lack of urgency on offense throws major warning flags in the air. The truest example came on a fourth-and-19-yard play where the Trojans had to call timeout, and then took a delay of game penalty following the meeting of the minds.
While certainly correctable, the Trojans will need to focus on coming out the gates hot in Hawaii and not fall victim to a trap scenario against a lesser club. This worrisome trend also extended over to running periods and 11-on-11 passing sessions during the early portion of Fall Camp, but looked much stronger in the middle portions.
Emergence of Top-Flight CB
The Trojans are blessed to possess depth across the board at the cornerback position. Ryan Henderson, Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown, Chris Hawkins, and Devian Shelton have received the reps on the outside, yet a major top-flight defender did not emerge from Fall Camp.
This, while battling some of the best wide receivers in the nation. For example, Anthony Brown and Chris Hawkins have vastly improved their game from the start of camp, garnering props from Lee for their excellent work in press coverage this past week.
The biggest reason for concern may lie against big and physical receivers, who have torched the defense in years past and throughout early practices. If any real weakness lies in the 5-2 scheme, it rests on 12-15 yard passes across the middle along with deep one-on-one situations. If the Trojans want to play at an elite level on defense this season, the cornerback position will need to play lights out against top-flight targets.