- Here is today's injury report from head coach Clay Helton: QB Max Browne (rolled ankle - "[no] big deal"), S Chris Hawkins (hamstring tweak), TE Tyler Petite (shoulder - "fought through practice") and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (limited with a toe issue - x-rays were negative).
- Helton called it a "good day for the big men" because the coaches finally got to observe them in contact drills, which makes it easier to teach pad level, helmet placement and leverage.
- During the competitive portion of practice, the first team offensive line showed its muscle, "controlling the line of scrimmage," per Helton.
- For the second consecutive day, Helton praised WR Steven Mitchell, who is having a great first few days of Fall Camp. "I appreciate challenging him," said Helton about his conversations with Mitchell. "Let's make this your best year. You're the healthiest you've ever been. It's your time to shine."
- While Mitchell made a big play down the field, redshirt freshman S Ykili Ross thwarted one with an interception. He had a quiet first season at USC, dealing with an injury, but he is climbing the depth chart quickly. "Clancy has been very pleased with him," said Helton about Ross. "He's been lights out."
- With more depth and more talent, practices are returning to the competitive level that made the USC program dominant under Pete Carroll. "This practice field may be harder than Saturday," said Helton about the talent and the coaching schemes. "And that's what you want as a head coach. You want Saturdays to be easy."
- No player interviews tonight. Here is Helton's press conference:
(Photo via Getty Images)
- As the intensity starts to ramp up, bumps and bruises are a natural side effect. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is dealing with a sprained toe, but he made several impressive catches before putting his foot on ice. Other injuries mentioned by head coach Clay Helton: LB Quinton Powell (calf cramp), WR Jalen Greene (tight hamstring), CB Keyshawn Young (shoulder) and DL Noah Jefferson (back pain).
- On the positive side, LB Cam Smith and C Toa Lobendahn, who have been on a play count to monitor their recovery from knee surgeries, are doing more and more each day. Smith declared himself "100%".
- Smith is showing the same elite instincts that made him a Freshman All-American. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast noted that his inside linebacker has a "nose for the ball."
- Smith struggled to explain his innate ability, saying, "I don't know if I can describe that. It's something that feels comfortable to me. I see it and just react."
- While Smith is only a true sophomore, he has more starting experience than most of the Trojans in the front seven and he plays a natural leadership position, so he has not been hesitant to speak up. "I feel very comfortable leading, voicing my opinion and taking control," he said. "It's not something you give to yourself. It's something you earn and people feel comfortable listening to you. As fall goes on, we'll see who ends up taking that role."
- CB Adoree' Jackson has also been watched closely by the coaches as he assimilates back into football after spending his spring on the track. In his first real competitive work this camp, he picked off Max Browne and took it back for six. "I'm just focused on technique and doing everything right, so at the end of the day, interceptions are going to come," he said. "I had a whole bunch [of opportunities] freshman year and sophomore year, I just didn't take advantage of them. I would usually drop balls out there. But this time it's about me taking chances and taking care of my opportunities. As a DB, you really don't get many, so when it does come to you, you've got to take advantage of them."
- In his dream scenario, Jackson would have been walking with the rest of the Olympians in the Opening Ceremonies tonight. While he did not make the cut, he will be watching his fellow Americans in the long jump. "I'm cheering for everybody that made it out there, so I'm excited for those guys that are out there because I feel like they have the potential to all win gold, no matter who's out there," said Jackson who made the finals at the U.S. Olympic Trials. "I'm just excited for them to see what they're gonna do. Hopefully they go 1-2-3."
- Jackson is a star for the USC defense on the outside, and Helton feels equally comfortable with the perimeter of his linebacking corps. He expressed confidence in outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin.
- Gustin is a weight room warrior, so the next step is learning how to make that physicality count. "We know his 'want to' is there, we know his 'try' is there," said Pendergast about Gustin. "We challenged him to know what to do and really wanted him to get more flexible and so far, watching him in the drills and making him move around, he's improved in those areas."
- Behind Nwosu and Gustin, USC has a host of highly-touted freshmen who will push for playing time as they develop. Helton said that Oluwole Betiku, Connor Murphy and Jordan Iosefa all "look the part" coming off the edge.
- As always, Pendergast is looking for his defense to attack, which means the Trojans have to play without hesitation. "We'd like to have 11 guys out there that aren't thinking - that are just lining up and playing ball."
- The highlight of the day came courtesy of 15-year-old T.J. Vargas (pictured), who is a USC fan with cerebral palsy from Reno, Nevada. After being given a signed ball, Vargas flew down the field in his wheelchair and scored a touchdown as the Trojans raucously celebrated around him.
- Here is Helton's entire press conference, starting with a shout out to the Trojan Olympians:
DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (6-foot-1 and 341 pounds)
Adding depth to the Trojans' front seven will be senior DT Stevie
Tu'ikolovatu, a graduate transfer from Utah who is immediately eligible
to play. The Salt Lake City native had 28 tackles, 6 tackles for
loss, 2 sacks and 4 fumble recoveries -- the most in the Pac-12 -- for the
Utes in 2015.
PK Michael Brown (6-foot and 191 pounds)
Here is all the Rapid Reaction from Thursday night:
Name: Vladimir Morozov
Events: Men's Swimming 50m and 100m Free, 4x100m Freestyle Relay, 4x100m Medley Relay
Vladimir Morozov has had his "Fight On" spirit tested in the last few weeks. The Russian sprinter qualified to swim four events in Rio, but he was then banned by the International Swimming Federation for being included in the World Anti-Doping Agency's report on state-sponsored doping in Russia.
He appealed both on social media and to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which upheld his claim and cleared him to participate in the Olympic Games. Morozov will look to add to his accomplishments from London 2012, where he helped Russia win bronze in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Morozov is USC's top sprinter ever, owning the school records in the 50y and 100y freestyle. He won three NCAA titles as a Trojan in 2013 (50y free, 100y free and 4x100y free relay).
- For anyone that has been around this program the last few years, the most notable difference in tonight's practice was all the bodies. The Trojans have boosted their numbers back up to the level of all their opponents and are now two- and three-deep with talented players at every position.
- USC has depth at quarterback, but it is a two horse race at the top between Max Browne (pictured) and Sam Darnold. Head coach Clay Helton will choose a starter on August 19.
- Darnold is the underdog, coming in with less experience than Browne, but he has shown flashes of brilliance to close the gap. To win the job, he needs to improve his mechanics and study his playbook, according to the redshirt freshman.
- Browne has sharpened his tools over time and simply needs to prove it day after day. "It's kind of been the same story, different camp, but that I can execute, that I'm going to the right place with the ball -- I think that's huge -- and protecting the ball," said Browne. "I think those are three critical elements that are crucial for any quarterback, but especially one that's in a competition that's neck-and-neck."
- Both quarterbacks are well aware that the starter's debut will come against No. 1 Alabama in AT&T Stadium. "There's a different feel because we have Bama first game," said Darnold. "That'll be a crazy first start for both me and Max. I can't wait for what's to come."
- With that said, the USC quarterbacks have to focus on the short term and the long term. "A good amount," said Browne on how much he has studied up on Alabama, "but maybe not as much as you'd think, because I've got to go out and beat Clancy Pendergast's defense first before I worry about Nick Saban."
- Both quarterbacks are boosted by their new position coach, Tyson Helton. Browne said that he commands the room, while Darnold explained that he is good at "getting us up when we're down." And, "He's also brought a lot of concepts offensively that we didn't have before that are instrumental to our offense now."
- Clay Helton has ceded the QB room to his brother, so he can spread himself across the team as a true head coach. He wants the Trojans to "focus on fundamentals and technique" to build winning habits.
- To that end, Helton was happy with the defense being mentally sound for the first practice with "not a lot of assignment busts." The offense generated some big plays, especially RB Justin Davis, but they were sloppy with the football which is typical of a first practice.
- Helton praised Ivan Lewis, the head strength and conditioning coach, multiple times for delivering a physically impressive football team after offseason workouts. In particular, Helton is amazed by the change in physique from freshman year to sophomore year. He used WR Deontay Burnett as an example of a player that added 10-12 pounds of muscle.
- RB Ronald Jones trimmed his body fat from year-to-year, but the most noticeable evolution is under his helmet. "It was time for a change," Jones said about cutting off his dreadlocks. "I feel like I've gotten stronger this offseason, and a little bit faster too without the hair. I feel lighter."
- For players like C Toa Lobendahn and LB Cam Smith, who are both returning from knee surgery, the coaches depend on the sports science team to create individual plans for each rehabbing player and monitor every snap in practice. Any temptation that a coach might have of pushing a player too hard is now in the hands of the doctors.
- With increased depth comes more competition but also more players that will need to make the most out of limited opportunities. To that end, Helton preaches "star in your role," using Cleveland Cavs big man Tristan Thompson, a rebounding machine, as an example of a player who focused on being the best at his role.
- While Alabama is still 30 days away, the Tide live in the back, and sometimes front, of Helton's mind. He confessed to watching tape "every night until about midnight" in his office of USC's opening opponent.
- Here is Helton's entire press conference: