April 7, 2009

Practice Insider: USC's special plan

As players hit the field for the start of another football practice at USC's Howard Jones Field, they get slapped in the face with an almost immediate dose of intensity, instruction and competition.

The most visible change to the USC practice menu has been a slew of new special teams drills at the start of each day, and special teams coordinator Brian Schneider has already made an impact with the Trojans.

"He's a great drill instructor, and he's getting a ton out of this," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "The kids are really responding too. They're working they're butts off for him.

"That's huge."

Instead of doing live punt and kick-return drills, Schneider has implemented a fundamentally orientated approach to special teams periods at USC's practices.

For instance, Schneider has had players focus on the first 10 yards of coverage and the last 10 yards.

"I just want maximum effort, and I think you can lose that. Everything you do, you're covering 45 to 50 yards. If you're getting maximum effort that whole time, you might only get one rep in," Schneider said. "The way I lay it out them is I ask them to go full speed for 10 yards at the start and 10 yards at the end, I'll trust them in those other 30 yards once we get going that they'll be going full speed. I want more reps.

"That's the biggest thing for me."

Players have taken notice, and Garrett Green said the extra special teams work is maybe the most exciting new part of USC's practices.

"Last year we'd do maybe three or four live full reps. Now, we're doing up to 10 partial reps. We're really getting extra work, and I think it's going to pay some big dividends for us," Green said. "It's great. It's awesome. You can tell that it's not like we're staying out here any longer doing special teams work, but we're getting so much more done with so much more intensity. That comes from Coach Schneider. He's got us doing awesome stuff."

The shift in philosophy has allowed for Schneider to get more looks at more players in person and on film. If USC were just doing live reps, he said, only a few players might be involved.

"Some drills we do with just two guys running down," Schneider said. "When you do a full cover, there might be only one guy who gets a chance to make a tackle and the other nine run all the way down and do nothing.

"This way, I can instruct and put them on tape. We can get 30 reps instead of three."

Carroll said Schneider has more face time with the entire team than any other coach on staff, speaking to a huge group of players in special teams meetings. With so many contributors, spring practices have been a perfect opportunity to find out who goes where on the Trojan special teams.

"We have to just keep trying to find the right pieces for every team and put it together," Schneider said. "It's more about finding out who the players are, what they can do and what they can't do."

While the specialized, extremely technical work might not become a staple at Trojan practices throughout the 2009 schedule, Schneider said the groundwork is being put in place.

"The scheme part for me is pretty simple. What I want us to do is know our opponent and know what they do really well. Then, I want to know what we really do well. We'll be simple," he said. "We'll let our athletes go play. I want them to know what they're doing, put them through drills and get them focused on fundamentals. I guess I learned that from (organized team activities) in the NFL.

"I learned so much about the work it takes to get the technique down. Then, it becomes pretty simple to pull it all together."

Tuesday's throws

Seven-on-seven drills

Aaron Corp
- Complete to Damian Williams, bobbled then caught, touchdown.
- Complete to Cooper Stephenson.
- Incomplete to Travon Patterson in the end zone, nearly intercepted by Josh Pinkard.
- Complete to Scott Stephens.
- Complete to Brice Butler, touchdown.

Mitch Mustain
- Incomplete to D.J. Shoemate.
- Complete to Williams, touchdown.
- Complete to Patterson, nice gain.
- Incomplete to Stanley Havili in the flat.
- Complete to Stephenson, short gain.

Matt Barkley
- Incomplete, thrown away.
- Complete to Joe McKnight.
- Complete to Green.
- Complete to Jordan Cameron, touchdown.
- Incomplete, deflected by Brian Baucham.

- Incomplete to Butler, wide open, poor throw.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, checkdown.
- Complete to David Ausberry, short.
- Complete to Havili in the flat.

- Complete to Williams, touchdown.

11-on-11 drills (blitz period)

- Complete to Havili.
- Incomplete, thrown behind Butler.
- Complete to Green.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson.
- Complete to Havili.

- Incomplete to Ausberry, overthrown.
- Complete to Shoemate, short gain.
- Sacked by Derek Simmons.

- Sacked by Michael Morgan.
- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson, dropped.


- Flag, false start.
- Complete to Ausberry on quick throw.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson, nice gain, great burst.
- Sacked by Armond Armstead.
- Complete to C.J. Gable on screen.

- Flag, false start.
- Intercepted by Will Harris, great play.

- Complete to Shoemate.
- Incomplete to Brandon Carswell, thrown behind.
- Complete to Butler on quick throw.

- Complete to Butler, nice throw and catch.
- Pitch to Stafon Johnson.
- Sacked by Jurrell Casey.
- Complete to Gable, screen.
- Handoff to Gable.

- Pitch to Marc Tyler.
- Complete to Carswell on rollout.
- Scramble.
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson, medium gain.

- Fumbled snap.
- Complete to Gable, screen.
- Sacked by Everson Griffen.
- Handoff to Gable.
- Incomplete to Patterson on deep ball.
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Sacked by DaJohn Harris.
- Complete to Butler.
- Sacked by Nick Garratt.
- Incomplete to Williams, deep.

Scrimmage Thoughts

Carroll watched the film on Sunday's scrimmage, and it opened up some wounds suffered when the USC offense failed to hold on to the football.

"It was really good solid work offensively with the exception of the turnovers. They'll wreck any day; we had three and they wrecked the day," Carroll said. "The line of scrimmage was good. Guys ran hard. A couple of drops got in the way of some third-down conversions, but other than that everyone did some good stuff."

Carroll singled out running back Curtis McNeal, praising the redshirt freshman's big day.

Defensively, Carroll said Malcolm Smith has stepped his game up.

"Malcolm Smith jumped out. He had a great day," Carroll said. "He made a bunch of plays, big plays, a bunch of one-on-one tackles where he defeated blockers. He's really doing some exciting things for us."

Extra Points

• Carroll said the transition in leadership at the quarterback position could occur even if the personalities aren't similar.

Take last season for instance when the boisterous Mark Sanchez took over for a calm John David Booty.

Still, it's too early for any of the current USC quarterbacks to fully establish themselves as leaders.

"It's really hard for these guys to assert themselves until it's their job. They can try, but it just doesn't fit," Carroll said. "They're just working hard and staying tuned in. No one has gone out of their way to make some big impression with their personality at this point.

"That's the right thing to do right now."

• McKnight got more work during Tuesday's pads-free practice, and Carroll said he expects the running back to return full speed on Thursday. McKnight has been bothered by four dislocated toes he suffered during the Rose Bowl.

Anthony McCoy and Alex Parsons could also return Thursday, but Carroll said safety Drew McAllister is "a ways away" from coming back after injuring his hamstring Sunday.

• The experiment of moving Armstead from tackle to defensive end has apparently ended with the big sophomore not moving back inside.

"He's too good at what he's doing; he's just learning. He's a real factor. This is a very special body type to have, and you haven't seen us have a guy who is 290 pounds," Carroll said. "He's 30 or 40 pounds heavier than Lawrence Jackson and Kyle Moore. He's a different style. I really like the way he's doing his stuff.

"He's physical, he can rush the passer and he'll chase the ball really well. This is a great move for him. "

• McNeal missed Tuesday's practice for academic reasons, Carroll said.

• Barkley got the last 10 reps of Tuesday's practice, and Carroll said he got a good look at the quarterback.

• Schneider hesitated to single out any future stars on special teams, but two players have managed to impress the USC special teams coordinator.

"There is a guy like Rhett Ellison who is so dependable. He does everything hard, and he does everything good. You coach him on one thing, and he has it. Michael Morgan has just been unbelievable. He's got unbelievable speed. He works so hard.

"Those are two that just jump out, and I don't want to exclude anybody because I've been happy with the whole group."

• Green effectively is out of the quarterback competition. Carroll said he wants the versatile senior to continue working with the wide receivers and serve as the team's No. 4 quarterback.

• Look for the USC offense to open up more in the next two weeks of practice, as Carroll said he wants to see if the offense can push the ball down the field.

• At the end of practice, the team and coaches visited with Marines from the Wounded Warrior Battalion out of Camp Pendleton.

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