After five long practices on Howard Jones Field, USC has taken the day off to relax both the body and mind. Coaches are home with their families, mentally breaking down which players stand out on the depth chart while always keeping an open eye to the recruiting trail.
Players, meanwhile, are hanging out with teammates at the movies this afternoon before returning to the practice grind. This short break in the action, one of four scheduled rest days, will conclude late Sunday night when everyone returns to the John McKay Center for some crucial meetings to set the tone for the second week. But the crucial downtime on the field could help keep the energy lively for Sundays two-a-day practice slate.
"Research keeps telling us how important recovery is for longevity," Coach Steve Sarkisian said Friday, "it seems like that's the model, the trend." While the squad settles down from the constant fast-past practices, here are some key observations that have caught my eye from the opening five practices of USC Fall Camp.
1. Tight End May Be Just Fine After All
Fall Camp started off with troubling news that Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick would be academically ineligible for the season, leaving the Trojans with just two scholarship tight ends at their disposal in Randall Telfer and Bryce Dixon.
Telfer has been healthy and extremely active on the field, capping off a strong week as the first-string tight end by making a sensational one-handed diving catch. Then comes along Bryce Dixon, a physical specimen that has has made tremendous catches all week long and his name keeps being discussed by players as a guy that could contribute right away in this tight end friendly attack.
He still has some work to accomplish in the pass blocking department, but coach Sarkisian has been encouraged by his ability to listen and then quickly adapt his game. The unit has been challenged but have responded quite nicely since losing Cope-Fitzpatrick, showcasing an ability to stretch the field in team 11-on-11 activities.
Let's not forget walk-on Chris Willson, who slimmed down to 258 pounds this offseason and looks faster than ever. While not the best vertical threat, Willson has been tough to bring down in coverage and possess a physical frame that could make him a solid red zone option. All in all, USC have some nice options if everyone stays healthy.
2. Adoree' Jackson Has Been Special To Watch
If it hasn't been made clear enough already, the Trojans could really have a game changer in Adoree' Jackson. The coaching staff famously jumped for joy in the recruiting office when they landed Jackson, and his immediate presence on the field has proven not only how quick this young man is but how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands.
Jackson's been utilized to catch passes out of the backfield, from slot wideout, and even as a motioning threat that can explode in space. His mere presence anywhere on the offensive side of the ball (including read-option tailback) demand serious attention from the opposing defense, and his quickness makes open-field tackling quite the challenge.
The staff will have to answer some tough questions about whether to give Jackson more reps on defense these next few weeks, but the proof is in the offing that this freshman will be on the field a lot. He's even gotten some reps at cornerback the first five days and gave Darreus Rogers, JuJu Smith and especially Nelson Agholor all they could handle.
3. Cody Kessler Keeping Things Short and Sweet
Emerging into a true leader of men, Cody Kessler has flown under the radar for his ability to keep HIS team on course for success during some practices with lots of instillation. Disturbing the football like a point guard on a fast break, Kessler has done an excellent job feeding his large variety of weapons the rock early and often.
Sark has implemented a large amount of plays over the last five days but that has not slowed down this offense; largely due to the quarterback leading things along. Kessler has taken on the duties of motioning his players into position yelling motivational words of encouragement and even controlling tempo in this fast-paced attack.
4. Buyer Beware, USC's DL is Tough-Minded
Despite the loss of Kenny Bigelow during summer conditioning, USC's defensive line remains a physical force. Led by All-American Leonard Williams and vital starter Antwaun Woods, this group has both pressured the quarterback rather well and have made running the football nearly impossible during team sessions.
Those two stalwarts are joined by Claude Pelon, who has been one of the breakout stars no one is really talking about, along with Cody Temple as fortified options ready to make an immediate impact. The Trojans base 3-4 defense allows for some added versatility opening the door for strong performer Greg Townsend Jr.
Townsend has looked solid at the position giving both Chad Wheeler and Nathan Guertler some trouble in pass-rushing situations. Another option USC has fiddled with was sliding J.R. Tavai back down to defensive end with his hand in the ground, though he's mostly played second-string outside linebacker through five practices.
5. Chris Hawkins Could Be a Major Difference Maker
The redshirt freshman has been slotted as the Trojans top cover corner as Kevon Seymour remains limited in practice recovering from his stomach virus. Hawkins, the former four-star corner, has battled all week long going against Darreus Rogers and George Farmer on a consistent basis winning his fair share of battles.
Rogers told me Friday after practice that Chris Hawkins is the one cornerback that gives him the most trouble because he plays the game with great physicality and does an excellent job playing the football in the air. Given the lack of depth, the coaching staff has placed more onus on Hawkins to be a major force in the secondary along with veteran Josh Shaw, who remains an untapped wild card in Justin Wilcox's defense.
While guys like Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg have gone through some freshman growing pains, Hawkins has been one of the steadiest contributors in the secondary. USC needs Hawkins and Seymour to be at their best, especially against some of these quick-strike pass happy offenses that now ran rampant in the Pac-12.