The second Fall Camp scrimmage has come and gone in Southern California, and many of the key position battles are starting to become more clear as they play themselves out on the gridiron. The two-horse race between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek takes center stage, but many other exciting developments have unfolded on the USC campus. Now sitting a full two weeks into Fall Camp, the ups and downs of both sides of the ball have been filled with plenty of intrigue and excitement.
Here are the best and most interesting headlines to follow.
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TWO-HORSE QUARTERBACK RACE:
In the past week, Max Wittek has taken a bulk of the starting snaps working with the first-team offense, while battling the quite formidable Trojan defensive front.
Cody Kessler has played second fiddle during practice, but continues to showcase accuracy and touch in the pocket. In an impressive outing, Kessler attacked the second-string defense by picking apart coverage with precise throws to Darreus Rogers during Friday’s team scrimmage.
Kessler continues to play into his rhetoric: the efficient, safety-first quarterback who will avoid pressing throws with arm strength. He instead relies on his first and second options to make or break plays.
Wittek on the other hand will look to overcome what he described as a “disappointing performance” after not recording a first down against the first-team defense. Facing relentless pressure and strong pursuit of the ball from all angles, the running game was stuffed early and the check down options were nowhere to be found in the passing game.
Long story short, a compounding list of factors made life miserable for the big-armed quarterback. While head coach Lane Kiffin maintains no real leader has emerged, each player continues to make strides while also developing their own unique style of play.
OFFENSIVE LINE CHRONICLES:
The biggest news coming from the offensive line is the sudden emergence of Chad Wheeler at the highly esteemed left tackle position. Lauded by his peers, Wheeler has emerged as more than just a “moveable piece with potential” as Lane Kiffin described, now looking like a legitimate starter.
The biggest question lies in the future development of Aundrey Walker at the right guard position. Working rather well in run fits during his transition to guard, Walker has embraced the position change and seems fit to stay on the inside moving forward. Meanwhile, two-year starter John Martinez has bounced up and down the depth chart, awaiting his chance to rectify himself into the position, but has struggled in team drills against the Trojans’ physical defensive line.
Heralded sophomore Max Tuerk has transitioned quite nicely to the inside guard position, one that “more naturally fits his skill set and comfort,” according to line coach Mike Summers. The soft-spoken giant has gained 15 pounds since last season, looking physically impressive against the likes of George Uko andAntwaun Woods inside the trenches.
As the leader of it all, Marcus Martin has worked rigorously to adjust with life under center. “Everything is just starting to role into place,” Martin said. “We are starting to understand our fits and relationships, so it’s a lot of fun going out there and playing with these guys.”
DEEPEST POSITION ON THE ROSTER:
Throughout the early portion of Fall Camp, the safety and running back positions have highlighted a surprisingly-deep Trojans roster. The defense will rely on a rotation of six up-and-coming stars Demetrius Wright, Josh Shaw, Su’a Cravens, Dion Bailey, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman to fill two new starting spots on the roster.
Cravens possesses the biggest upside at the position with five-star speed and strength. That being said, the freshmen has admitted some major areas for improvement this Fall Camp. “I need to keep my eyes on the backfield, work on his pursuit and hustle to the ball,” Cravens said.
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Bailey is working rigorously to adjust to life in the secondary, but says he needs to improve “dropping his hips and reading the play from the start” for a total transformation from linebacker to take place. Despite the early aches and pains, Bailey looks to be the starting nickel safety this season once healthy and back on the field.
Shaw has emerged as the Trojans’ most physical player in the back-four thanks to a dedication in the locker room, and position change better suiting his heavy-hitting skills. Not being able to showcase them consistently due to injury, Shaw looked rather improved during the first week of camp and is slowly working his way back into full-contact activities.
Among the super-seven enrollees in Southern California, Leon McQuay is a raw prospect with plenty of athleticism, especially at the highest point, but needs to make improvements in coverage. After getting beat deep on numerous occasions, Kiffin continues to preach playing deeper than the deepest receiver, something that is vital for McQuay’s growth.
BEVY OF BACKS TO FEED:
Along with the safety position, running back has been one of depth and flexibility early in Fall Camp. The Trojans return their leading rusher from last season in Silas Redd, who has battled minor injuries while being held out of full team activities for the past week.
With D.J. Morgan battling injury concerns for what seems to be every year in his career, left-for-dead back Buck Allen has been granted his first real opportunity to run with the first team. Salvaging every carry as if it where his last, Allen continues to run with great vision, patience and trust in his offensive lineman to create alley ways to pop open the big run.
While only recording three rushes in the Fall Scrimmage, Tre Madden figures to play a unique role in the backfield with his elusive running. The former high school quarterback at Mission Viejo has shown an ability to run the Wildcat in practice, even throwing a few passes of his own from the pocket. The best part of his game however, may be working with Cody Kessler in the shotgun read-option offense, one that fits his skills exceptionally well throughout camp.
Do not underestimate the contributions of Freshman Ty Isaac and Justin Daviseither; they each possess uncanny talents in the Trojans backfield. Both working through the slew of injuries that continue to slow down the Trojans’ prospects this camp, Isaac provides the pop and Davis the burst to earn the name “Thunder and Lightning” from junior middle linebacker Hayes Pullard.
The Trojans enter their third week of Camp on Saturday, the final week to really hammer things out before game prep for Hawaii starts next week.