The injury-riddled USC football team took to the field for a limited-contact spring practice on Tuesday. The decision to practice without kneepads felt like a precautionary measure after last week, when the Trojans lost freshman safety Su’a Cravens for the summer and junior wide receiver George Farmer for the season.
Still, head coach Lane Kiffin insisted that despite limited contact, the emphasis of Tuesday’s practice remained on maintaining physicality.
“We really wanted to just stay up, and a lot of times when you [practice without kneepads] everyone has to stay up, but still, it was a physical practice,” Kiffin said.
Tuesday also marked the first time since the beginning of spring practices that junior wide receiver Marqise Lee participated in full. After being sidelined and limited for almost four weeks with a knee injury, Lee virtually had his way with the depleted Trojan secondary. Lee routinely got open and made difficult catches, including a beautiful leaping grab down the right sideline during coverage drills.
And Tuesday was also a strong outing for the offensive line, despite some early struggles.
The first two snaps of a goal-line stand resulted in losses in the backfield for freshman running back Justin Davis; in the latter of the two, a breakdown on the left side forced Davis to stretch his run toward the sideline, where junior defensive tackle George Uko and sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams were lying in wait for a tackle-for-loss.
The offensive line recovered from the missteps from the goal-line drill, however. After the shaky start, the offensive line parted the seas for two Davis touchdowns, both of which were vertical runs between the tackles.
With the loss of last season’s leader and center Khaled Holmes, the offensive line was a question mark going into spring practice. However, Kiffin is pleased with the offensive line’s progress thus far.
“I think they’re starting to mesh and do some good things,” Kiffin said. “Obviously, we have a long ways to go, but it’s good to see.”
The line also held the trenches for three more passing scores, including a connection between sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler and sophomore wide receiver Victor Blackwell on an in route. Kessler also tossed a perfectly placed lob into the arms of sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who had made his way to the left corner of the end zone.
Agholor built on his strong efforts in last Thursday’s practice and brought a high level of intensity to Tuesday’s practice as well. Agholor has been ushered into the No. 2 spot following the departure of former Trojan wideout Robert Woods to the NFL draft. Agholor wasn’t as highly touted a recruit as fellow wide receiver Farmer, but he has settled in as one of the team’s top wide receivers this spring by virtue of his tenacity and tendency to lead by example.
“Effort is something I can control,” Agholor said. “Sometimes you can’t catch every ball, but running hard and finishing after the catch or running to the play, that’s something you can control. I try to do that to show everyone else that they can do the same.”
Following Agholor’s example will be important if the Trojans wish to finish spring on a high note. The Trojans have their final official spring practice on Thursday and wrap up spring with an exhibition at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Coliseum.