LOS ANGELES -- After practicing on Dedeaux Field Wednesday morning, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field Wednesday evening for a spirited session in full pads that was marked by some aggressive play according to USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
“I think the guys, for two practices today, really were extremely physical,” Kiffin said. “They had great energy, which is not that easy to do at Practice 15 at this time of training camp. So, I like where that’s at right now. I like their attitude and their approach to it. They just keep working. It’s about work and it’s about sweat, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Lee making progress
Kiffin said 23 players were unable to participate in contact drills on Wednesday due to various injuries, none more notable than the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, Marqise Lee, who went down Friday with a bone bruise in his shoulder.
But after fielding some punts and running some half-speed routes in the morning, Lee appeared to continue to make strides during the night session as he gets closer to returning. Coming out in full pads, Lee participated in full-speed individual drills and made some impressive receptions during a route-running period before heading to the sideline when the team got into the contact portion of practice.
And while Kiffin isn’t about to rush his star receiver back into action, he admitted that his presence gives the team a boost, even if it is in a limited capacity.
“I think that anytime he’s out here – not just because he’s a great player and he makes the dynamic plays – but he’s an extremely energetic practice player,” Kiffin said. “He practices like he plays, and so I think he brings the level of competition up.”
With Chad Wheeler continuing to impress Kiffin as the team’s starting left tackle, Aundrey Walker -- who was the team’s primary starter at the position last year as well as this past spring -- was moved to right guard earlier this week, and he appears to have made a big impression at the spot.
On Wednesday, in fact, he spent the entirety of both practices with the first unit for the first time. It was a bit of a surprise development considering that it meant that John Martinez -- a senior who has started 25 consecutive games at the position -- ran with the second team.
And while the move certainly isn’t considered permanent just yet, it’s safe to say that Martinez does have a battle on his hands.
“We’re always trying to create competition, and we’ve had a lot of that this camp in different spots -- for instance the safety spot,” Kiffin said. “And now we’ve got one at guard there, and so John and Aundrey are going to have a really good competition there right now.”
The Trojans began with a short 11-on-11 period that had Cody Kessler running with the first-team offense from the outset, and Max Wittek lining up with the twos. Kessler started things off on the right foot, connecting with Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy for nice pick-ups, but he was also picked off when George Uko tipped one of his passes up into the air, allowing Lamar Dawson to run under it for the interception. Nelson Agholor -- who returned on Wednesday after sitting out a number of recent practices with an undisclosed injury -- made his presence felt during this session, hauling in a screen pass and picking up seven or eight yards after putting a juke move on Anthony Brown at the line.
Tre Madden -- still wearing a non-contact jersey -- stood out during a 7-on-7 red zone period, catching passes from Kessler, Wittek and Max Browne. Kessler and Wittek looked sharp during an extended 11-on-11 session a little later, with Kessler connecting on a big play to Madden to the outside, and Agholor over the middle. Wittek capped everything off with completions to Flournoy and Blackwell.
The team finished the day with an energetic goal line period. With the majority of the running back corps kept out of contact drills, Javorius “Buck” Allen and walk-on John Akiba shared the carries, with Allen reaching the end zone on a number of occasions, and drawing praise from Kiffin as a result.
With Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple and J.R. Tavai all sitting out the practice, the Trojans had a starting defensive line group comprised of Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Delvon Simmons at defensive end, and Kenny Bigelow at nose tackle.
After seeing extended time with the first-team defense during the last two days due to the injury to Josh Shaw, Su’a Cravens sat out Wednesday night’s practice, allowing Gerald Bowman to start at strong safety.
Free safety Dion Bailey went out with an undisclosed injury late in practice.