On day five of fall camp, the Trojans finally dressed out in full pads. But it wasn't a day of reckless abandonment. The coaches still had players refrain from going full force. They only tackled in a few, specific situations.
"It's always fun the first day you get to put full pads on and the guys get to compete," Sarkisian said. "We had a pride tackle drill we did there. Guys got a lot of reps to work on one-on-one tackling. That's to minimize the amount of bodies that could potentially get rolled into. We talked about how much we are going to tackle and it's one example of a way we can work on tackling. It's not full speed collisions where guys are running. It's in short spaces. The defenders can work on their form tackling and the offensive players can work on the impact of getting tackled. So that was one way (we tackled). Then we had a period there where we let the guys go 25 plays, which was great."
Despite limiting contact at practice, the first camp with full pads was very competitive. And Sarkisian was impressed by a few key players.
"I thought again that the practice was competitive," Sarkisian said. "I thought there was a nice interception early on in practice by Quinton Powell that was very impressive. I thought it was good to see Randall Telfer make a couple big plays for us early on in a team setting."
And when he was asked about his big right tackle, Sarkisian mentioned that he too was a force on the team.
"I've been impressed with Zach (Banner) and his work ethic," Sarkisian said. "I think the surgeries on the hip impingements at the end of last season helped him from a flexibility standpoint. He has a really good repertoire with coach (Tim) Drevno. Coach Drevno pushes Zach and Zach responds. He's very bright and he gets the game. And the best thing for Zach is to go against Leonard Williams every single day. He's not going to face a better player in any game this season. For him to go against Leonard every single day, it pushes Zach every day that we go out. He doesn't whine or complain about it. He comes to work and it's hard to block 94 (Leonard Williams). But the end result is that Zach is a better player."
But despite his and the offensive line's best efforts, the defensive front had a strong performance again. The offense was able to keep pace by taking advantage of the secondary at times. But the defensive front is still standing out.
"I thought the offense again created a couple of big plays," Sarkisian said. "But the defense is making it very difficult on the offense to run the football. I think we have really talented players that are strong, tough and physical. I think we have a really good scheme that's conducive to our players right now. They make it difficult to run the ball. That part for us is great defensively. Offensively we have to continue to hunt and peck and get better there.
Although coach Sarkisian would like the offense to improve a bit, he still thinks it's time for the Trojans to take a quick break.
"It was a good first day in pads," Sarkisian said. "Obviously we get the day off tomorrow. I think it's needed. To go five straight days the way we have, at the tempo, pace and intensity we have, I think a day off physically and mentally for the guys is much needed. I think you can get a little mentally and physically fatigued five days into this thing. The day off tomorrow seems right to let them get their legs back a little bit and clear their heads a little bit. They'll come back sunday morning and have a really hard practice."
The team won't have much to do on saturday but the coaches will still be busy. They have plenty to discuss about the team and recruiting.
"We'll have some short meetings tomorrow night," Sarkisian said. "I know they're going to the movies tomorrow afternoon just to keep them off their feet. It's a day for them to get away and a way for our coaches to go hug their families tomorrow morning for a little bit. Then it's time for us to really do some hard evaluation obviously on the personnel but also on our schemes to make sure what we're doing is fitting our personnel and vis-versa. Then where are we headed from there as we continue to grow on offense, defense and special teams. And then we have to continue to recruit. Recruiting will be a big emphasis on the meeting for the staff tomorrow as well."
Saturday won't be the only day that the team takes a break and the coaches can shift their focus. They have four days like that planned total. Off days are just something that Sarkisian has become more comfortable with throughout his career.
"It's evolved in our time at Washington," Sarkisian said. "It went from one off day, to two, to three. This training camp is the first time we'll have four off days but the more research keeps telling us how important recovery is for longevity. I just try to stay in tune with that stuff. In meeting with a lot of different people, teams and from what people are doing in the NFL, it seems like thats the model or trend of where we're heading."
Not only is it about trend in football but it's also what's best for this roster.
"The mandates are one thing but then there's the next part of what's right for your team," Sarkisian said. "We want to practice hard, be physical, fast and make it intense. But I also have to be aware of our numbers. I can't be naive to that. We're just trying to be smart, aware and give the guys the best chance every time they take the field."
Today's practice showed that any type of contact can lead to an injury.
"Antwaun (Woods) injured his elbow in an OL, DL drill," Sarkisian said. "X-Rays are negative, which is very positive," Sarkisian said. "I'd imagine it's going to be one, two weeks, maybe ten days. I don't know exactly what it is but there's nothing structurally wrong which is positive. Outside of that, some guys are obviously still limited. Jordan Simmons. Steven Mitchell did about half the practice and then we held him back some. Aundrey Walker and Lamar Dawson were very limited. Nothing new there. All good with Antwuan, nothing wrong structurally which is great."
Woods' health and how he avoided an awful injury wasn't the only good news. Two of USC's top defensive backs are slowly working their way back to the field.
"It's good to have Kevon Seymour doing more today," Sarkisian said. "He made some plays and had a big pass break up on a third down. That was positive and I think we're seeing Su'a (Cravens) get more healthy. He was flying around pretty actively today as well.
Leonard Williams is another guy that's always active, despite not being a 100-percent. Coach Sarkisian can't even tell that there's anything wrong with his big defensive linemen.
"I wouldn't know," Sarkisian said. "Leonard makes it really hard to run the ball and he gets after the quarterback. He's a bad match up when one guy is blocking him. But fortunately, as I reminded coach Drevno last night when we were watching film, as hard as it is to face Leonard everyday in practice, we don't have to face him every saturday during the season. He's a tough match up, he really is. He plays the game really hard and with an amazing effort. He enjoys being out here. As big of he is, he has a bundle of energy and I would never know (that he isn't 100-percent). Maybe he's saving a couple of things for the first scrimmage or something."
Sarkisian wants to avoid having multiple stars, like Williams, with nagging injuries. That's why on the first day of full pads, he limited Buck Allen and Tre Madden.
"It just felt like they've been working hard," Sarkisian said. "They've been going hard for the first four days. You'll see that periodically out of me. You'll see days where guys are getting a lighter day or a lighter load. For Buck and Tre they obviously had a lighter day today. They'll have an off day tomorrow and they should be fresh and ready to go on Sunday. And also Justin Davis hasn't played in quite some time. He didn't have the end of last season, he didn't spring practice. We wanted to give him more of a tough day today. We wanted to give him more of tough day today. We wanted him to run when he was a little fatigued and a little banged up. That was obviously intentional as well."
USC's head coach is taking a mellow approach to his players that are either injured or just not 100-percent. But that attitude will change soon. He'll have to asses the injuries soon and figure out who can play in the coming weeks.
"I think at the end of next week we really have to assess where they're at, how much they've contributed in two weeks and how critical the third week of training camp is to really getting them prepared for the early portion of the season," Sarkisian said.