Practicing in the rain
The Trojans practiced under a steady flow of rain on Friday morning on Cromwell Field, but it sure didn’t dampen their spirits. On the contrary, the team seemed to feed off the unfamiliar conditions.
"It was fun," said quarterback Cody Kessler. "You could see, it was early in the morning, and everyone’s attitude could have been down or they could have been pouting about the rain, but they loved it. Guys were out here belly sliding around, and JuJu [Smith] was the first one out here dancing in the middle in the pouring rain, and that’s really cool -- seeing these guys enjoy it. It’s something different."
The team’s upbeat demeanor certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was encouraged by what his team was able to take away from the full-pads practice session, especially considering that they are in the midst of finals.
"You can always find teachable moments within a lot of things you do, and this was a great chance for us," Sarkisian said. "We haven’t been faced with a whole lot of adverse weather conditions in the year that I’ve been here, and I thought the guys came out with a great attitude today -- energized, working hard, and that’s exactly how it should be. These guys were great, and a bunch of them are going and taking finals here at 11 o’clock this morning, so they’ve got a lot going on in their world. To give us their focus for a little over an hour today, I thought was very impressive."
The practice itself didn’t feature any game-plan installation for USC’s upcoming matchup with Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sarkisian said that process would begin Wednesday, but he seemed to know exactly what the Trojans are up against in a Huskers team that, with the recent firing of coach Bo Pelini, could be out to prove something.
"That is something that guys can rally behind, so we know that we’re going to get a great shot from them," Sarkisian said. "It’s going to take a really good couple of weeks of preparation, because they’re very talented. The running back, [Ameer] Abdullah, is about as good as there is in the country. The quarterback is dangerous -- [Tommy] Armstrong. Kenny Bell, the wide receiver, is a deep-play threat. And then defensively they’re very well coached. Coach Pelini -- that was his strength -- coaching the defense. They’re excellent up front."
Smith draws praise
Smith’s practice-opening dance reflects the kind of positive attitude that the young freshman has brought to each and every workout this season. That, in addition to his work ethic, as well as his performance on the field, has allowed him to quickly win over not only Sarkisian and his staff, but his teammates as well. The Trojans head coach didn’t hold back following practice when asked to discuss Smith’s unique mindset and leadership qualities.
"He’s so mature in every facet of life that it just carries over to the field," Sarkisian said of Smith, who has caught 51 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns this season. "He loves playing [and] he loves playing with his teammates. If you watch any touchdown, the first guy there just about every time to celebrate with his teammates is No. 9, and I think that his teammates respect him for it. I think initially they couldn’t believe it, 'How could this happen every day and continue to go on?' He just hasn’t wavered. If anything, he’s become more active in a leadership role."
News and notes
The Trojans spent most of the day in 11-on-11 periods, with the starters going up against the starters, the twos vs. the twos, etc... Some of the younger, less experienced players continued to take a number of reps.
Safety Leon McQuay III wore a yellow no-contact jersey, but he appeared to take part in the entire practice.
Placekicker Andre Heidari went 3 for 3 on his field goal attempts -- all in the rain.
It did not look like tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo was in attendance. He was likely on the recruiting trail.
Sarkisian on junior defensive end Leonard Williams -- who some project as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft -- being named to the Walter Camp All-American second team.
"In this day and age of college football I think so many times people get caught looking at numbers, and there were a lot of guys this year that had a bunch of sacks," Sarkisian said. "But I think playing defensive line, especially on the interior like Leonard does, is more than just about sheer numbers. But for what that guy did, to have as many tackles as he had for us, TFLs and sacks, I though he had a great season, especially because he wasn’t 100 percent. He fought through an ankle injury, fought through a shoulder thing. I thought he had a fantastic season, but not everybody has to agree with me. So, there are more teams to come out and we’ll see how it plays out."