USC's receivers step up in spring game

USC's receivers step up in spring game
Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith (9) cuts back across the field after a reception against safety Leon McQuay (22) during the annual spring gameSaturday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC Coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Cody Kessler could breathe sighs of relief after Saturday's spring practice finale at the Coliseum.

With Nelson Agholor and George Farmer having left to take their shots at the NFL, developing depth at receiver became a focus for the Trojans.


That was accomplished over 15 spring workouts, and answered at least one major question with the season opener against Arkansas State five months away.

"Guys really kind of filled in some holes," Kessler said after an 85-play modified scrimmage.

Sophomore Steven Mitchell had a breakout spring and appears to have regained the form that made him such a dynamic threat before he suffered a knee injury during the summer of 2013.

"This is the first time I've been 100%," said Mitchell, who caught seven passes last season, two for touchdowns. The spring opportunity, he said, "has given me a chance to just try to stand out and be more of a leader and show that I'm ready to play."

Adoree' Jackson spent extended time catching passes as well as defending them. And junior college transfer Isaac Whitney worked through a transition phase and caught on by the end of spring.

With JuJu Smith coming off a productive freshman season and Darreus Rogers poised to step up as a junior, a position group that also includes sophomore Ajene Harris showed it has the potential to help keep the offense moving.

"The receiving corps was a real positive," Sarkisian said.

Smith caught nine passes, Mitchell seven and Whitney five Saturday during an exhibition that mainly served as a showcase for backup quarterback Max Browne, who completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

Not that Browne or any other quarterback was under much pressure.

USC's defensive line was a major concern going into spring practice and it remains one heading into summer.

"That group, to solidify that, is going to be a big point of emphasis for us when we come back for fall camp," Sarkisian said.

The departure of All-American Leonard Williams left a gaping hole in the defensive line and injuries made the Trojans even thinner and short-handed.

Tackles Antwaun Woods and Kenny Bigelow and end Greg Townsend were sidelined all spring. End Claude Pelon could not participate Saturday because he dropped below the minimum number of units for the spring semester and was academically ineligible, Sarkisian said. Sarkisian said Pelon would return.

Delvon Simmons, Cody Temple and Malik Dorton persevered and improved, but the Trojans are hoping that incoming freshmen Jacob Daniel, Noah Jefferson, Christian Rector, Rasheem Green and Kevin Scott can develop quickly.


Some college football observers have projected the Trojans as a top-10 preseason team.

But linebacker Su'a Cravens referred to the Trojans' brief appearance in the top 10 before last season's loss at Boston College.

"We were a week into the top 10 and got bounced right out, so we've just got to learn how to be disciplined and learn how to finish and we'll be all right," he said.

Quick hits

Kessler completed eight of 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Jalen Greene completed three of five for 25 yards and Ricky Town's only attempt was intercepted… Matt Boermeester kicked 52- and 39-yard field goals. Alex Wood made attempts from 35 and 51 yards… Running back Tre Madden, left tackle Chad Wheeler and linebacker Anthony Sarao were among the injured players who were sidelined for all or most of the spring workouts. Safety John Plattenburg did not play Saturday because of an ankle sprain. … Ronnie Lott, Anthony Munoz, Willie McGinest, Tony Boselli, Williams and Silas Redd were among the former players who attended the game.

Twitter: @latimesklein