USC Football Fall Camp Day 10

Defensive Youth Shines in First Scrimmage

On Pac 12 Media Day, head coach Steve Sarkisian made it known he wanted turnovers. More of them. Last year, the Trojans cobbled up 23 takeaways, but Sarkisian made it known he wanted 30 or more.

Ask and you shall receive, at least that was the case during Monday night’s first fall camp scrimmage where the defense had three interceptions as well as a blocked field goal that was returned all the way back for a touchdown.

“Defensively, we generated some pressure on the quarterback,” said Sark afterward. “Obviously we were able to create some turnovers, which is a positive thing.”

Surprisingly, those three interceptions came via the starting quarterback himself, Cody Kessler, who at times looked off and had a few passes he also under threw. Kessler, however, was not the only quarterback that struggled — neither Max Browne or Sam Darnold looked particularly sharp nor consistent, though Darnold did have a perfect 40-yard bomb to walk-on David Mellstrom who grabbed it over his shoulder.

“I thought the quarterbacks were a little off tonight,” Sark pointed out. “Our accuracy wasn’t exactly what I would prefer, and I think what they would prefer. I think we could be better than we were tonight.”

The offense was clearly emphasizing speed, and trying to maximize the up-tempo style that Sark craves for this team throughout the scrimmage. In that sense, he believes they did just fine.

“When we got into rhythm offensively, we showed some explosiveness. I believe that’s who we are.”

For the most part, the hurry-up was successful, as the quarterbacks were able to find guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steven Mitchell Jr., Isaac Whitney and even Christian Tober across the middle on wide-open routes. There was definitely a propensity to target those in-between the hashes throws to keep the ball rolling, while adding on the usual bubble screens as well.

When the offense did get going, the defense looked scrambled and a bit lost, especially in the red zone, as Sark dutifully noted. But overall, there were plenty more standouts on defense than on offense.

One of those standouts was cornerback Jonathan Lockett, who has been coming on these past few days of camp, showing great ability to disrupt passes and make plays. Lockett, who was also the ball-carrier of the post-field goal block TD return and had one of the three interceptions, is attributing his improvement to experience.

“It’s mainly knowing the defense more, last fall I was thinking too much,” he admitted. “This year, I know where to be at the right time and I feel like I’m playing faster.”

The safety position was another topic of discussion and focus, as Sark said he liked what he has been seeing from Chris Hawkins who has transitioned to the position from corner very well. Both freshmen Marvell Tell and Ykilli Ross have also been getting plenty of playing time, impressing both coaches and peers alike.

“They’re all going to help us out this year, and I feel like we’re going to have a big year,” said Lockett excitedly.

“Marvell Tell is just banging on the door to play,” admitted Sarkisian. “He shows great speed, he shows great aggression.”

The freshman safety had an impressive pick off of Kessler during practice and has repeatedly shown he has what it takes to earn playing time right away.

Not to be outdone, of course, Tell’s pick was followed by fellow freshman Iman “Biggie” Marshall, who had one of his own that could have turned into a ‘Pick 6' had he not fumbled the ball before entering the end zone.

“He was physical, he tackled well,” Sark said of the five-star recruit. “I thought he had a really strong scrimmage … He played really sound football.”

Fellow safety John Plattenburg is still nursing a hip pointer and limiting his reps, thus, the freshman Marshall has been blessed with plenty of playing time, even having to guard JuJu a few times. Given that corner Adoree’ Jackson is switching to offense on Wednesday, Sark reiterated that the door is open for him — and others — to show everyone why he should be getting plenty of playing time come kickoff.

“There’s a great opportunity for a Jonathan Lockett, an Iman Marshall, Isaiah Langley to get more reps and to improve.”

With the offense on the back burner — and not available to the media admittedly — USC’s first fall scrimmage had defensive youth and depth written all over it.

READ MORE: USC Fall Camp Day 8: An Improved Defensive Depth and Mindset

You can reach Sports Editor Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter@PaoloUggetti

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