Fall Camp First Impressions

USC has been practicing for three days, but this was my first day at Fall Camp, and here are some first impressions of the Trojans including today's top performers.

There may be some discussion about who will be the No. 2 receiver for the USC Trojans football team this fall, but at least in my eyes there is a clear cut No. 1. Nelson Agholor came to USC as a defensive back and wide receiver from Florida, and he looks to be the clear cut go to guy for the Trojans this fall.

Aghlor has always been a gifted athlete; blessed with speed, quickness and agility. Now he's got the confidence, and for lack of a better word arrogance of a No 1. He plays like he knows he's the best receiver on the field. He attacks the ball in the air, and he attacks the defensive back. The Trojans with Cody Kessler at the helm looked to get him the ball in multiple ways from short stop routes to quick slants and deeper seam patterns. For the most part the result was the same, a catch by Agholor followed by excitement after the catch.

Kessler particularly took advantage of Agholor's ability in a hurry up offense drill. Kessler drove the first team offense down the field almost effortlessly, and the drive turned in to the Kessler to Agholor show. Agholor led the Trojans in receiving in 2013, but I think most would consider Marqise Lee to have been the top target when he was available. Agholor should lead the team in receiving as well as acclaim and accolades in 2014.

While the players were going through position drills, I kept a close eye on the quarterbacks. If one is simply watching the the quarterbacks throw drills, Max Browne would be an onlooker's first guess at who the quarterback is. Browne is bigger than Kessler; he has a stronger arm, and he is tremendously accurate. But when the defense goes live, so does Kessler. Granted, Kessler was working virtually the whole practice with the ones while Browne worked with the twos more often, but speaking plainly, Kessler was sharper.

That's not to take anything away from Browne, because I'd consider him one of my top performers as well. He looked fantastic at Wednesday's practice. Browne is capable of making throws in which he's the only quarterback on the field who can, but he also makes some throws he shouldn't. Regardless, there's not a huge drop off from Kessler to Browne, and I wasn't surprised to see them split reps almost equally at practice.

The drop off to No. 3 is a little more steep with incoming freshman Jalen Greene getting a lot of work. The negative on Greene today was his consistency. He'd make a good throw, and follow it up with a bad throw. But he's a freshman, and if we're grading freshmen, one has to be pleased with the tools that Greene is showing early in fall camp. He's got a live arm and quick feet. The ball is coming out of his hands crisper and with more velocity than I remember from just last season when he was a senior at Serra. I don't see him pushing Kessler and Browne this year for one and two, but he's not going to roll over and let '15 quarterback commitments Ricky Town or Sam Darnold just come in and pass him either.

On defense it's fairly easy to pick a top performer. Leonard Williams is as good as advertised. OK, he's big, he's quick, and he's strong, but he's also absolutely tenacious. The old saying goes to practice like you play, and Williams sets the tone out there for the defense. He's going full speed every play. He was getting a lot of second effort tackles during the 11 vs. 11 portions of the camp.

Having Williams line up across from you every day in fall practice is a tough challenge for any offensive tackle. That man can either rise to the challenge or be cowed by it. So far, right tackle Zach Banner looks like he's rising to the challenge. When I saw him in high school, I said that he's not a next year player; he's a three years down the line player. Well Banner is in his third year and he looked outstanding going against Williams.

Banner has massive size, listed a trim 6'9 and 350 pounds, Banner used his feet well to match William's initial burst off the line of scrimmage, and he's strong enough to hold his ground against the All-American. Williams still got his share of tackles, but usually they were laterally across the line of scrimmage as he'd chase the play, because Banner held his ground at the point of attack. If Williams is a first round draft pick, then Banner has a chance to have a long and productive NFL career.

At the linebacker position, sophomore Quentin Powell was my choice as top performer. Linebackers are through to be brutes, but Powell is a fluid athlete who kind of glides across the field. He made several open field tackles, none more impressive than corralling Justin Davis on a screen pass.

Using Davis in the passing game is something USC fans are probably going to get used to seeing this year. Davis only had one catch in 2013, but if today was any indication, he's got excellent hands. His one handed grab of a short pass during position drills was especially impressive.

Newcomers are interesting to a lot of fans, having been in charge of ranking these players, I have more than a passing interest as well. One of the most heralded of the 2014 Trojan Signing Class Adoree Jackson hasn't disappointed. Jackson earns a spot among my top performers for his good work on both sides of the ball. Jackson shut down fellow freshman Juju Smith on back to back one on ones, and then switched to the other side and caught a pass on offense.

Smith might be USC's strongest receiver already as a true freshman. Of course, he's built like an outside linebacker. He's never been stiff though. He made a ton of great plays from the receiver position at Long Beach Poly over his career, of course so did the player I compared him to most last year, USC safety Su'a Cravens. I like Smith as a receiver, but I love him as a safety or outside linebacker. 

Maybe one of the biggest surprises of fall camp among the newcomers is Crenshaw product Ajene Harris. I'll admit, when USC took him, I wondered if he was athletic enough to play another position at a program like USC. He was an athletic quarterback at Crenshaw, but was he athletic enough to be a wide receiver for the Trojans? The early returns look good so far. Harris caught everything near him today, and despite his lack of size, he still proved to be an effective outside receiver with his ability to elevate and use his body to shield a defender.

At one point during practice, the future, and maybe even a good portion of the present lined up as the entire interior offensive line. True freshmen Damien Mama, Toa Lobendahn, and Viane Talamaivao lined up at left guard, center, and right guard respectively, and for the most part all looked to justify their lofty recruiting rankings.

Mama is too heavy right now. He's pushing 400 pounds. And the fact that he can still be effective at that weight is a testament to how good an athlete he is. In short spaces, he was doing what he's done for years: moving people including 300 pound fourth year lineman Claude Pelon. In one on one pass protection drills, he wasn't just holding his own, he was winning his reps. Where he struggled was when he was asked to pull. His quickness isn't where it will be when he finishes his career. But can he help now? Absolutely.

Lobendahn rotated at center and guard through the practice, and he did a solid job of snapping the ball. I mention that, because there was more than the occasional problem getting the snap from center today. Lobendahn showed good quickness, and even the man in front of him got off the ball first, he's strong enough to absorb the first attack. Impressive for a true freshman.

George Farmer was returning kickoffs today, and that's a round peg in a round hole. Farmer's size and speed combination at 6'1 and 220 pounds will be a scary proposition for a small skill player who is first down the field on kickoff return. Farmer has always been faster than quick, and letting him get a full head of steam from the kickoff return spot at his size should bode well for the Trojan return game.

Steven Mitchell missed last year with a knee injury, but he doesn't show any lingering physical issues. He looked quick and fluid and should be ready to add depth to the receiving corp. this year.

At 6'4 and 240 pounds, tight end Bryce Dixon also looks physically read to contribute this year. With Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick not being available this year, Dixon was going to be thrust into the limelight regardless, but he looks ready to accept the challenge.

Two of the best pops of the pads today both came from defensive back D.J. Morgan. The redshirt senior had a fairly undistinguished career on offense from the Trojans, but he looks to be leading by example on defense. Even if he doesn't play a down, his physical play has already set the tone for his teammates.

Finally, there were a lot of birds in attendance at practice. The Eagles, Ravens, and Seahawks all had scouts at USC on Wednesday as well as the Rams.

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