USC football: Break from spring practices, but it's no time to relax

USC football: Break from spring practices, but it's no time to relax
USC Coach Steve Sarkisian, shown against Notre Dame on Nov. 29, says he feels better after six practices this spring than he did a year ago. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC players exited the Coliseum on Saturday with the chance to rest more than a week before their next spring workout.

Linebacker Su'a Cravens advised against taking a vacation.


"You don't want to take this entire week off," he said, "and then come back and you're dog-tired on the first rep.

"Because that's how you get your spot taken."

USC won't open the season until Sept. 5, so the first six spring workouts were only a few steps in preparation for Coach Steve Sarkisian's second season.

"I feel better this year than I did last year after six practices," Sarkisian said.

Returning offensive players are familiar with the no-huddle system Sarkisian installed last spring and ran during the 2014 season.

Quarterback Cody Kessler has had some passes intercepted, but he said the offense was progressing.

"Spring is for learning and so sometimes it's going to be hit and miss and trial and error," he said. "But I think we're starting to go in the right direction."

The defense — a major question mark because of the departures of lineman Leonard Williams and linebacker Hayes Pullard — has played aggressively and forced more turnovers than it did in the initial weeks last spring.

Cravens, All-Pac-12 Conference last season, said he has improved his pass-coverage skills after working extensively with secondary coach Keith Heyward and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon.

Cravens also noted defensive backs were tackling well.

"Our corners are tackling on the perimeter, which is really good, especially in the Pac-12, where people like to attack the perimeter," Cravens said.

Sarkisian welcomes the break to evaluate and prepare for the final nine workouts, which resume March 24.

"It's almost like having two spring practices," he said.

Good impression


USC recruited Cameron Smith to a be a run-stopping middle linebacker.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound freshman, who enrolled in January, also has demonstrated quickness and anticipation as a pass defender.

"He's a better athlete than maybe we gave him credit for," Sarkisian said, adding, "It has not been too big for him at all."

Freshman quarterback Ricky Town is adjusting to the step up in speed of the college game and facing multiple defensive schemes.

"It's a process for any true freshman quarterback," Sarkisian said, "and Ricky's going through it."

Quick hits

Linebacker Quinton Powell and offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers were absent because they returned to their out-of-state homes for personal reasons, Sarkisian said…. Tight end Bryce Dixon remained absent for what Sarkisian has described as a student-conduct issue.

Twitter: @latimesklein