LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California opened fall camp with familiar expectations and plenty of new faces.
The Trojans were able to sign a full 25-man recruiting class in February after three years of NCAA sanctions. Add in four blueshirts – non-recruited walk-ons who can receive scholarships on the second day of fall camp – and even second-year coach Steve Sarkisian struggled to keep track of everyone.
”It was fun to see a lot of our new players. It was hard to see them all, there’s a lot of them going at one time,” Sarkisian said Saturday.
Many of those newcomers will be counted on to contribute immediately for a team that was picked to win the Pac-12 Conference in the preseason media poll.
The most glaring need is at tight end. Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara and freshman Tyler Petite are trying to bolster a position that returns just one scholarship player in junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who was held out of practice to focus on summer school after missing last season because of academics.
Freshmen could also be factors on the defensive line and in the secondary and at running back, where Ronald Jones, Aca’Cedric Ware, and Dominic Davis all caught the eye of senior quarterback Cody Kessler.
”Those guys are just so athletic,” Kessler said. ”I told Sark, `We got some weapons.’ For their first day, they did way above what they probably should have done as freshmen, which is really cool.”
But even at spots where USC has the necessary compliment of players, such as linebacker or on the offensive line, the benefits of added depth were obvious. The increase in talent across the roster resulted in a noticeably more competitive and energetic practice compared to those in Sarkisian’s first season under the yoke of sanctions. Players could go all out and then sub out.
Kessler said walk-on tight end Connor Spears didn’t know what to do with himself after seeing almost every rep in spring practice.
Sarkisian expects those benefits to carry over into the season, where USC will be more capable of handling injuries and better prepared by facing a more talented scout team in practice every day.
”It just feels so different,” Sarkisian said. ”The depth is great, but it’s the quality of the depth … We’re getting the right types of bodies, we’re getting the right types of competitors.”
”You could tell the difference in our legs,” linebacker Su’a Cravens said. ”There was a lot more movement on the field with all these guys running around out here.”
Cornerback Adoree Jackson will limit his running to the defensive side of the ball for the first 11 practices, Sarkisian said, allowing the multi-faceted sophomore to focus as the defense is installed before moving over to wide receiver.
”Once we get through that, those first two weeks, then he’s just going to have to do what he did last year where in practice he’s going to kind of flip back and forth,” Sarkisian said.
Jackson played on offense, defense, and special teams in eight games last season, tallying 49 tackles, three touchdown receptions, and two touchdowns on kick returns to earn Freshman All-America honors.
Jackson also hopes to add Olympian to his resume after winning the Pac-12 title in the long jump and earning All-America honors after finishing fifth at the NCAA Championships, already declaring his intentions to do everything possible to make the U.S. team for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
”If I put my mind to it, that’s a dream of mine and I feel like I can work my way into going to the qualifying and the trials and trying to make the team,” Jackson said.
That quest would almost certainly force Jackson to give up workouts and spring practice with the USC football team next year to focus on track and field, a subject he has yet to broach with Sarkisian after doing both this past spring.
”I got to talk to Sark about that one,” Jackson said. ”Hopefully the season goes great for us so Sark doesn’t have no decisions like this year.”