Coach Steve Sarkisian was eagerly pleased with the effort his players brought to the table during yet another upbeat practice from Howard Jones Field before switching gears to the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Coliseum.
"It's easy to be fired up on Tuesday coming off Spring Break to get ready for practice, and we know Saturday they will be fired up," Sarkisian said. "Wanted to make sure today we came out with a great deal of energy and intensity. It made today as important as Tuesday, and as much as Saturday will be."
The energy was on full display from the first play of practice, and the tempo was blistering fast (averaging about 2.5 plays per minute, according to Sarkisian) on both sides of the football. Spring football has been centered around the implementation of plays on offense, but that also helps prepare and better focus the defense as well.
While some of the major starters like Leonard Williams, Josh Shaw (who worked his way back into practice after having his protective boot removed), Randall Telfer and Steven Mitchell were limited, younger prospects continue to get opportunities to showcase their talents in these high-tempo but relatively quick sessions.
It all begins with the growth taken by Delvon Simmons (now 6-5, 300) and Kenny Bigelow, who continue to get first-team reps on the defensive line after redshirting last season. Add to the fact that Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin continue to shine at OLB and the Trojans front group could find the bodies to quickly reload alongside All-American Leonard Williams.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox talked about some of the biggest differences heading into this year. Besides some basic semantics in terminology, the Trojans will continue to create pressure from a variety of places just like last season. He also added that the OLB position will be more flexible and versatile (especially in pass coverage) right from the start.
He did stress that much of his coaching takes place off the field because the tempo is so rigorous that trying to implement coaching can only really take place in the film room. That said, he and Steve Sarkisian are doing an excellent job of retaining the information from film session, even implementing said advice towards the practice field.
Wilcox went on to say that this defense will go about 75 percent 3-4 this season and will also rotate some traditional looks similar to last season. With the athletes USC has at their disposal as Quinton Powell, Jabari Ruffin, J.R. Tavai and Scott Starr become better adjusted to OLB, Wilcox certainly has the firepower to work in multiple packages.
The depth has certainly been on full display in the first few days of practice, and the cornerback position will be very important towards USC's development this season. Facing a variety of looks in the Pac-12 this season from the TE-loaded Stanford Cardinal to the five-wide sets from Cal Berkeley, the secondary continues to ramp up their efforts.
"We are just adjusting to it every day," said Kevon Seymour, who talks about facing the high-tempo pace installed at practice under Sarkisian's watch. "When we face an offense like that, we'll be ready. It's not going to be new to us."
Along the likes of Seymour and Shaw, Chris Hawkins (the former four-star standout) has done an excellent job in one-on-one coverage this camp entering the conversation for some major playing time this Fall. Coach Heyward believes this group has done a fine job in pass coverage but wants them to be even more aggressive against quick-hitting passes.
The Trojans will now gear up for an exciting full pad installment of this high-tempo look as the offense and defense will battle it out from the Coliseum during a 10-15 minute open session. Expect the line to bang heads in the running game as Antwaun Woods will be playing the two-technique right in front of newly-converted center Max Tuerk.
Sarkisian wants to let guys like Su'a Cravens, Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao get after it during practice and feels this session will be a great test to see how far his defense has come. The one thing Sarkisian wanted to see more of was taking the ball away on the defense, and expect that to be a major point of emphasis for the fans on Saturday.