No hype, all work at USC training camp
LOS ANGELES -- A season ago it was "Prep not hype" that prominently lined the USC practice fields; trying -- and failing -- to keep the Trojans grounded amid tremendous expectations from the outside.
The slogan is buried deep in the roots of the grass at Howard Jones Field, but its mantra lives on in the 2013 team: there's no hype, only prep.
There's no massive media contingent this year, aside from the Pac-12 Networks cameras, tracking every player and trying to see who might steal the show at that day's practice. National writers have and will continue to stop by, but not in the bunches they used to. There's little-to-no excitement beyond the USC fan base as a fringe preseason top 25 team. A few NFL scouts are around, but not in the numbers they once were.
Maybe it's early in fall camp, but the fact that there wasn't much pizazz around the area was a remarkable contrast to 2012. While there was plenty of hitting, 7-on-7 drills and more at USC on the first leg of the Pac-12 Networks' Football Training Camp tour, the brisk, business-like attitude was likely a welcome one for head coach Lane Kiffin after what the last 12 months were like in Los Angeles.
In fact, the most notable thing about USC's practice Tuesday afternoon may have been the Miami Vice-esque look of athletic director Pat Haden.
[Related: USC football training camp photo gallery]
Were it not for some news made regarding star receiver Marqise Lee, it was a pretty standard fall camp practice for a team that rarely has one. For this 2013 group, that's a positive. The Trojans have to get back to being cohesive at every position group. They have to limit mistakes. They have to rely on great athletes making plays at the right moment.
Who knows how the season will play out for what most consider the Pac-12's most talented team? If Tuesday was any indication, though, the foundation is being laid for a bounce-back campaign in 2013.
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1. It's early, but the quarterback battle is still very much a battle.
None of the USC coaches will tip their hand, but it seems unlikely that one guy really jumps out and seizes the starting job under center. While some may consider it Max Wittek's job to lose given his game experience, several folks had Cody Kessler as the guy to be given the nod at this point. Wittek had an off day Tuesday, but Kessler didn't do much to create separation. Freshman Max Browne showed flashes but it seemed like he still has the training wheels on and won't be able to follow in the footsteps of Barkley as a young pup. More and more it seems like it will be similar to past USC starter battles under center, and more and more it feels like the Trojans will come out OK when the season starts.
2. Don't mess with the defensive front.
Under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the Trojans will be shifting to a much-publicized 5-2 alignment. It's still a bit of an adjustment for some, but with the likes of Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin and others, the heart of the defense should once again be a strength for USC. Guys are not only bigger but playing faster. If Ed Orgeron can figure out the rotation at defensive tackle, the group should return to the upper echelon of the conference in defense. It's also a good sign that the group is able to apply constant pressure to the offense with a secondary that could best be described as a high risk/high reward group.
3. USC is going to get back to running the ball and stopping the run.
If there's one thing that stood out from visiting with anybody around the program, it's clear that Marqise Lee is an offensive stud. That will only get you so far in college football, so Kiffin is wisely making sure the running game (thanks to an improving but still unsettled offensive line) is going to be a focal point. On top of that, the defense is really making sure gaps are filled and running backs don't have much room to cut through for big gains. All this seems to suggest that the Cardinal and Gold will look much more like past squads that have had success in and out of conference.
Possible fall surprise
Wide receiver Darreus Rogers
Neuheisel thinks USC will be improved because Matt Barkley is out of the picture on offense. It may seem outlandish, but he believes the offense will get back to its roots and not rely on one great quarterback -- Barkley -- to make everything work.
Quote of the day
"We've got SPF 50 so we're as safe as can be." - Pac-12 Networks host Mike Yam while applying sunscreen on his first camp tour stop
878 miles through the air
There wasn't much to say about some of the eats on Tuesday with so much going on. People were on their own for a good chunk of the day so the highlight may have been a stop at one of the rare California locations of Chick-fil-A.
On to the next one
Utah on Wednesday morning and then Colorado on Thursday
Thursday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. PT across all seven Pac-12 Networks