How to avoid hitting a wall

LOS ANGELES -- Everyone knows about the freshman wall.

It's just like the proverbial rookie wall -- at some point in your first-ever experience at a new level of sport, you stop improving and start fighting to avoid stagnation.

In college football, that wall can be quite close to the starting line, sometimes just a day or two into a freshman's first fall camp.

Many of USC's first-year players have hit it already this camp. Some hit it and then found a way through it, like defensive tackle Leonard Williams, and some hit it and are still stuck behind it.

And then there's left tackle Max Tuerk, who, according to his coaches, is still running unabated. The Orange County product has not hit yet a wall this fall, coach Lane Kiffin says, even as he has switched positions from right to left and stepped in for an injured Aundrey Walker with the first-team offense for a stretch.

Williams hit the wall during the Trojans' Sunday scrimmage, according to Kiffin. He missed more assignments than he had at any point in camp, and "the game got pretty big" for him.

Now, Kiffin said, "we go into this week, slow it back down, get back to practice and learn from it."

Williams' position coach, Ed Orgeron, said Williams has learned from it and made progress over the last two days of practice.

"He hasn't missed a practice, which is a good thing," Orgeron said. "He hasn't backed down, hasn't missed a rep.

"Now, after you go 100 plays in the Coliseum and you come back and practice full the next day, you may not be as fresh, but I think he's fine."

Williams, who might be USC's most important freshman, has been backing up George Uko at one tackle spot during camp and has played quite a bit due to an overall lack of defensive-line depth. With J.R. Tavai at end, Williams is the No. 3 tackle, meaning in some form or another he'll be counted on to play a few dozen snaps a game beginning next month.

He said he was made aware in advance how important he'd be to this team this year.

"I was told I was and so far I’ve been feeling like it," Williams said on Tuesday in his first session with the media since arriving at USC. "I’ve been put in a lot of situations that they really needed my help in a lot, like goal-line situations."

It won't be just goal-line situations. It'll be in a lot of normal first- and second-down situations, too, since Williams has proven adept at stopping the run and speedy enough to represent a threat to the quarterback. But there are some technique issues he still hasn't mastered, and they come out more when he's tired.

So there's still work to be done to avoid future freshman walls. Because they can come at any point.

“He will be really, really good, but he’s a long ways away," Kiffin said of Williams, noting the 11 days USC still has until its season opener on Sept. 1. "We have to remember that.

"If a guy can come this far ... he can come this far again.”