Top performers halfway through camp

So we're not quite halfway through the 27-session fall camp season just yet, but we're nearly there, and Monday's off day provided a chance to look back at the first 12 practices. Here are our five awards from the first half of fall camp, two going to players on each side of the ball and one to the team's biggest surprise so far:

Top offensive returner

It can't be Robert Woods, because he just hasn't been that great in camp. And even quarterback Matt Barkley has had his off days, especially in the first scrimmage at the Coliseum. Center Khaled Holmes, another candidate, has been solid but is still learning his new position.

So that leaves the battle between sophomore running back Dillon Baxter and junior left tackle Matt Kalil. Baxter could also qualify for the surprise award, but he really has been USC's highest-impact offensive player this camp. Take a look at the tape of Sunday's Coliseum scrimmage for examples, when he was hardly ever tackled before gaining at least a few yards on each of his 16 carries.

Top defensive returner

Cornerback Nickell Robey has quietly resumed his play from last season and, in the eyes of Lane Kiffin, even stepped it up a notch. Regardless, Robey hasn't missed any practice time with injuries and hasn't made any noticeable mistakes.

Other candidates for this honor include junior safety T.J. McDonald and defensive ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton. McDonald would be neck-and-neck with Robey if he hadn't been hurt, and Kennard and Horton have each looked great in the defensive-line rotation.

Top offensive newcomer

Amir Carlisle is the clear winner. The ex-Stanford commit who switched to USC late in the recruitment process has been a godsend in fall camp as the Trojans make do without suspended starter Marc Tyler. Kiffin has mentioned many times that Carlisle simply doesn't act like a freshman, on or off the field -- a great way to earn 'top newcomer' honors.

The other candidate would be receiver Marqise Lee, but he'll get another, more-fitting award later on.

Top defensive newcomer

A week into camp, this would go to juco corner Isiah Wiley, who has done everything expected of him so far. But now it has to go to freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson, who has stepped up in middle linebacker Chris Galippo's absence and looked like a future star at the position.

Dawson, a freshman from Kentucky who wears No. 55, has the size, smarts and athleticism for the spot. He could very well play as a true freshman.

Biggest surprise

Gardena Serra receiver George Farmer was supposed to be USC's top freshman this camp, supposed to come right in and follow in the footsteps of Woods, his high school teammate.

Instead, Farmer has struggled to perform at a consistent level and has fallen almost completely out of the spotlight. Taking his place has been fellow Serra receiver Lee, one of the afterthought members of the 2011 recruiting class who has impressed the coaching staff so much in the early part of camp that he could legitimately play this season and not redshirt, as many expected.

Lee has proved to be both athletic and dependable, a rare combination for a freshman.

Practice coverage resumes Tuesday night.