Trojans fight through 'challenging day'

In two weeks the USC Trojans will be playing the Fresno State Bulldogs and Steve Sarkisian asked his team after a Saturday practice in the Coliseum if they were ready.

"When I gathered the team together I asked them two questions," Sarkisian said. "I told them to look in the mirror and ask themselves, 'Am I ready to play a game in two weeks?,' and, if not, what are the issues preventing you from being ready?"

If the Saturday session is any indication there is still plenty of work to be done, it was one of those grind-it-out days following a physical practice Friday night and the mood wasn't helped after three USC players left the practice due to ankle injuries.

"It was a challenging day," Sarkisian said. "It's just the sheer fact of being in the second week of camp, guys are mentally and physically sore and beat up. They are fatigued. But I liked the way our leaders responded today and as coaches we didn't need to back off to make it a light practice. It was a warm one today and guys fought through it, which is good because we don't have the luxury of holding guys out."

Sarkisian did say that he thinks his team is "really close but not there yet" and he referenced a good performance Friday night by the offense as an example of how things are coming together in a positive way. Cody Kessler had one of his best performances of camp by hitting long touchdown passes to George Farmer and JuJu Smith, and those weren't the only highlights of the night.

"We saw a lot of weapons last night," Sarkisian said. "It's not just putting multiple personnel groupings on the field, it's guys who can be real weapons. We've got guys who can establish the run game, which opens up one-on-one opportunities outside and if we execute there it softens up the defense for the run again. We've accomplished a lot in two weeks but there is more work to do, that's why camp is four weeks instead of two."

Su'a at SAM

One of the big questions in the offseason for the Trojans involved Su'a Cravens and the possibility of him moving to outside linebacker in a role similar to the one played by Shaq Thompson at Washington. With similar size and athletic ability the comparison between the two players seemed natural.

With the season-ending injury to Jabari Ruffin last week those questions came up again and Saturday was the first time that Cravens took reps at the strongside (SAM) linebacker spot. Up until this point Sarkisian had said the coaches planned to keep Cravens at safety while moving closer to the line in nickel situations, but now they might look at switching him from different positions depending on the opponent.

"Against teams that play four-wides, Su'a could be at SAM in our nickel and dime packages," Sarkisian said. "Against more traditional offensive teams like Stanford where we are playing man-to-man and blitzing, he could play back at safety. He likes to make plays and be around the ball and we're trying to find ways to do that."

Injury update

  • Three important players for the Trojans went down with ankle injuries during the team's helmets and shoulder pads practice Saturday -- tailback Justin Davis, offensive lineman Damien Mama and rush end J.R. Tavai. Davis suffered his injury during a kick-return drill, but Sarkisian noted that it is not a reoccurrence of the ankle injury that he suffered midway through last season. Mama, who has been taking reps with the No. 1 unit at right guard, went down during an 11-on-11 period. Tavai, who is in a battle with Scott Felix for the starting rush end job, hurt his ankle during a one-on-one session.

    And while Davis and Mama appeared to spend the majority of the day in the trainers' tent with ice on their ankles, Sarkisian said that, at least initially, it doesn't look like any of the players will be out for too long.

    "We had three guys roll ankles -- the first reports are none of which are serious, but we'll obviously re-evaluate just to make sure," Sarkisian said. "But we think that these guys will be back with us in no time."

  • The list of those who sat out practice included Antwaun Woods (elbow), Cody Temple (concussion), Lamar Dawson (knee), Ryan Dillard, Jordan Simmons (knee) and Anthony Brown (elbow).

  • Leonard Williams suited up for the first time in almost a week after injuring his shoulder, and while he only participated in early non-contact drills and warm-ups, Sarkisian believes he's on the verge of making a complete return.

    "We saw a lot of Leonard today compared to what he's been doing," Sarkisian said. "I think we'll see a lot more in the next two days."

  • Another player who has missed extensive time recently, Adoree' Jackson, was able to participate in the entirety of practice. Having lined up at both wide receiver and cornerback early on in camp, the talented freshman lined up solely on the defensive side of the ball Saturday as a precautionary measure.

    "He was a little rusty out there, but all in all his athleticism was great," Sarkisian said. "We saw him on a couple kickoff returns. He's exactly what we saw early on, but technique-wise, when you don't practice that long you can be a little rusty, so we've got to get him back going again."

  • Aundrey Walker (knee) also appeared to go through the whole practice session, although he still wore a yellow jersey. With Mama out, he saw time with the No. 2 unit at right guard. Chris Brown also took reps with the second unit at the same position.