Wednesday was move in day at USC and the campus was buzzing with students returning school from their summer vacations. The practice field was buzzing as well with the team running various special teams drills and situational scrimmage situations for the offense and defense.
One of the most heated battles this fall has been at the middle linebacker position. Several players have worked out with the first team at the position and lately the coaches have settled on Oscar Lua as the leader.
"I have a lot of confidence and the guys are responding well to me," Lua said after practice. "Stopping the 'O' was a little shaky at the beginning of camp but now we seem to have it locked down so we are doing good."
In fact the first string defense had one of their best days of camp stopping the first string offense on Wednesday.
"We were doing good, just following Coach Carroll's plan," Lua said. "Everybody seems to be doing well on the defense and tightening down the screws."
Following the depth chart of the linebackers has been a rollercoaster during the first two weeks of camp.
"We have a lot of bodies there but Coach Carroll likes to keep tight competition," he said. "We have been rotating four guys in at middle linebacker, three at SAM and about four at WIL. It is competition and the best three people are going to play."
The internal competition has been intense but Lua and the guys are ready to start hitting someone wearing a different colored jersey.
"It is about that time," he said. "Everybody is feeling a few aches and pains so most definitely we are looking forward to getting out there and beating on Hawaii."
One of the reasons the linebackers get so fired up is Ken Norton Jr.. He is always one of the loudest voices on the field and isn't afraid to mix it up with the players.
"That is just the way he is," Lua said. "He is out here for the fact that he misses the game so much. He still has a lot of player in him and he likes to do player activities."
Aiding the great competition has been the influx of excellent freshmen linebackers coming into camp.
"They are all real solid," Lua said. "They are all picking up the defense really well, but it is just a little different X's and O's compared to the real deal. I think once they get on the playing field they will be just fine."
Wednesday the team spent extra time working on different aspects of special teams. Punter Tom Malone is the star of the unit, but he is still being held out. He should be ready to go by the Hawaii game, but for now he is helping out some of the younger guys and their games.
Malone was tutoring kicker Troy Van Blarcom not with his kickoffs but with his punting. Troy was showing how live his leg was in practice punting some balls that were sky high but not very deep. Malone gave him a few pointers and his punting was getting notably better. Van Blarcom has raw power and if he gets more consistent he might fight for a spot to backup Malone.
The team also ran several punts, kickoffs, safety kicks and onsides kicks on Wednesday. They practiced kick coverage, kick blocking and protection. Most every aspect of special teams was being worked on to get ready for the season.
Whitney Lewis and Brian Cushing were on the sidelines today.
Norton was in rare form during warm-ups. He was all over Fred Matua yelling out as if introducing him, "375 pounds, 5 foot 10 from Tijuana, its Fred Matua!"
The QBs did a few strange drills including practicing diving and sliding after a scramble.
The team did a lot of situational drills in their 11-on-11. One was that the offense had to try and run out the clock and the defense had to get the ball back. The first team offense got a couple of first downs and then kneeled on the ball. The second string offense got one first down and ran enough clock to kneel on the ball as well.
The one mistake by the offense was when Desmond Reed ran out of bounds. Coach Sark was all over him for that.
Dallas Sartz dressed but wasn't taking part in contact drills. That left Rivers, Lua and Clay Matthews as the starters and Williams, Maualuga and Ashton as the backups.
Dominique Byrd continued to show some great hands. He had a long catch from Leinart down the middle and reached high in the air in traffic to pull the pass down.
The defensive ends had another good day getting some great pressure on the quarterback. Jackson and Barrett had a sack and freshman Kyle Moore had one as well.
The band was practicing again and as the offense broke the huddle Deuce Lutui was giving the victory sign as they played "Conquest."
Another highlight by John Walker at corner. He was one-on-one with Bush and had great coverage all the way down the sideline.
One of the biggest hits came from Thomas Williams on Steve Smith. Williams just leveled Smith and Norton started yelling, "That's the hit man!"
Mario Danelo hit a 42-yard field goal in a game situation. The kick was fairly deep and looked solid.
Turner had a few catches but also a few drops. It wasn't his best day out there.
Sam Baker did a nice job on a corner blitz. He switched off and got his body on Terrell Thomas to save a sack.
The final drills were with the offense in the shadow of their own goal line. The defense got a break when the offense was called for pass interference. Then Reggie Bush took over and went the length of the field for a superb touchdown run.
Not to be topped Dwayne Jarrett made a Willie Mays-type catch that wowed the crowd and was the catch of the day. Two defenders on him Booty put the pass right in his arms and Jarrett took it for about an 80-yard gain.