WeAreSC staffers look back on the USC summer workouts.
One player who stood out (offense/defense)
Garry Paskwietz: Running back Buck Allen on offense. The first thing you notice about Allen is how much he has bulked up in the upper body over the offseason. Then you notice the leadership, the once quiet kid from Tallahassee has become a vocal team leader, and he has the kind of respect that comes when other players know you have a unique talent. Leonard Williams on defense. The All-American is at the peak of his game right now and the defense feeds off his energy, which always seems to be positive.
Johnny Curren: On offense, Nelson Agholor picked right up where he left off after an outstanding spring and shined throughout the summer. Leading the wide receivers through their drills each day, he was remarkably consistent, and he certainly appears poised to take his place as the next great USC pass-catcher. On defense, Williams looks better than ever after post-season shoulder surgery. With incredible physical tools to go along with outstanding technique, he was flat-out dominant at times during the 11-on-11 periods.
Greg Katz: Since there is virtually no real skill position contact in the summer, I would say Agholor stood out for me on offense. Not only was he running the routes of an experienced player, he was consistent in catching the ball and very explosive once he caught it. Like one should be shocked or surprised, but with renewed confidence following successful shoulder surgery, it appears Williams looks even quicker and more intense. His spin and swim moves and explosion past determined offensive linemen was at times breathtaking.
Most Improved (offense/defense)
GP: Max Browne on offense. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Cody Kessler’s football team, but Browne continues to make the kind of progress that you want to see from a talented backup. There is a lot of talk about the possibility USC is looking at more of a dual-threat quarterback for the future, but at some point you still need to throw the ball and Browne does that extremely well. On defense, I’ll go with Leon McQuay. There was plenty of focus on Su'a Cravens last season as a star freshman safety -- deservedly so -- and the Trojans could be looking at their next big-time pair of safeties with the way McQuay looked this summer. He is filling out on his long frame, yet he is so fluid with the way he moves, we really saw him emerge as a guy making plays on a lot of balls.
JC: Building off an excellent spring, Zach Banner continued to develop throughout the summer and I’m impressed with where he is these days. He is more flexible and noticeably quicker out of his stance, and he also emerged as a real leader. Defensively, I thought Claude Pelon really showed he is ready to take on a big role in the fall.
GK: Given his youth and inexperience, the offensive player that seemed to really make improvements was true freshman offensive tackle Chris Brown. Although he is young and inexperienced, he was very coachable and seemed to improve each time I saw him. The least heralded of the new offensive linemen, he really showed me something. It certainly wouldn’t be considered an insult to an experienced player to be called most improved, but I liked what I saw from senior J.R. Tavai on defense. In voluntary workouts, he seemed to know exactly where he should be, did what he was supposed to do, and looked extremely quick and agile. I was impressed with his overall improvement.
GP: How good Adoree' Jackson looked on offense. If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have said his main position would be in the cornerback rotation while getting spot duty on offense if possible. After seeing him in workouts, however, I think his role is going to be bigger on offense this season. The starting receivers will be Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers, but if you’re judging by what we saw on the field this summer, I would put Adoree' next on the list of receiver options, because he is just so dynamic with the ball in his hands.
JC: He wasn’t one of the highly publicized prizes of the Trojans’ most recent recruiting haul, but arguably no incoming freshman was more consistent throughout the summer than Ajene Harris. A high school quarterback and defensive back, he looked remarkably at home at wide receiver. Showcasing sure hands and a high level of athleticism, he provided reason to believe that he just might be able to earn some playing time right off the bat.
GK: The player that was the biggest surprise to me was true freshman Ajene Harris. A former quarterback at L.A. Crenshaw, his transition to wide receiver caught my eye immediately. His potential is very intriguing, and it would appear he has a very bright future. He could be the most overlooked freshman of this incoming class.
Keep an eye on ...
GP: The offensive guard spots. There was anticipation coming into the summer to gauge the health of Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee). Though both saw limited action in workouts, it wasn’t enough to know for sure what their status is going to be for fall camp. The other options might be inexperienced, but there is talent to choose from with Khaliel Rodgers, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. At some point, however, those 18 starts under Walker’s belt would be welcome for a young line, particularly with an opponent like Stanford waiting in Week 2.
JC: The USC tailback corps. With Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis all in the fold, the Trojans have a uniquely talented group. So long as they stay healthy, all three members have shown they are ready to put up some big numbers, especially with USC head coach Steve Sarkisian having expressed a desire to pound the ball. Allen, in particular, looks to be in phenomenal shape.
GK: This question could be best answered by the offensive line, namely its young group of very talented true freshmen. In Lobendahn, Talamaivao, Brown, and Mama, it was surprising to see how well they were able to hold their own against an experienced group of returning defensive linemen. The freshmen offensive linemen might be inexperienced, but they didn’t back down one bit to their older teammates.