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USC class of '15 reports for duty

USC class of '15 reports for duty
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian yells out instructions to players. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As USC got ready for the start of practice Saturday night, freshmen linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin waited their turn as veterans made their way through a review.

Masina and Gustin looked on and listened.

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Not long after, they were performing their reps at full speed.

Masina and Gustin are part of USC's celebrated post-NCAA-sanctions 2015 recruiting class, its first full class since 2011.

On Saturday, Trojans Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff finally got the opportunity to evaluate the majority of new players on the field as the Trojans opened training camp at Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.

Like last season, the Trojans have 105 players participating in camp. However, “It feels different,” Sarkisian said after the two-hour practice.

“The depth is great, but it's the quality of the depth,” he said.

USC returns veteran offensive stalwarts such as quarterback Cody Kessler, defensive standouts such as linebacker Su'a Cravens and multipurpose star Adoree' Jackson.

The Trojans have 30 players who have started at least one game.

But several players in the 2015 class are expected to play significant roles for a USC team that is ranked 10th in the national coaches poll and opens its season Sept. 5 against Arkansas State.

Trojans receiver Isaac Whitney, a junior college transfer, and linebacker Cameron Smith were among five players who enrolled in January and made positive impressions during spring practice.

The majority of the class was on the field with coaches for the first time Saturday.

“The first day is always rough for freshmen just because they're getting into their playbook,” Cravens said. “But I mean, overall, everyone did pretty good.”

Kessler, preparing for his third season as the starter, looked confident and comfortable throughout the workout.

The improved depth was noticeable, he said.

“It's really cool because so many guys got reps,” he said. “That's why I think there was so much energy. Guys got a breather.”

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The Trojans also benefited from the return of several players who were sidelined for all or much of last season while recovering from injuries.

Tailback Tre Madden and offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, linebackers Jabari Ruffin and Lamar Dawson, defensive linemen Kenny Bigelow and Jordan Simmons participated.

Jackson, a starting cornerback and kick returner who is expected to have an expanded role as a receiver, will spend 11 practices on defense, the next six on offense and then rotate between units as he did during spring practice.

“Just working on my technique and everything to get ready for the season and give me a great start so when I do have to go over to offense when I'm on defense, I still have that base,” Jackson said.

USC's tight end situation remains in flux.

Junior Jalen-Cope Fitzpatrick, who was academically ineligible in 2014, is listed atop the preseason depth chart but he was absent Saturday and his status remains uncertain, Sarkisian said. Summer session classes end Tuesday, Sarkisian said.

Freshman Tyler Petite was the only scholarship tight end to practice Saturday.

Walk-on Connor Spears and Taylor McNamara, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, also practiced.

Kessler said the Trojans performed well in their first workout.

"I thought it was awesome," he said. "Our next challenge is to keep it consistent."

Quick hits

Receiver JuJu Smith officially changed his name to JuJu Smith-Schuster in honor of his stepfather, Lawrence. Smith told The Times in December that he planned to make the change. ... McNamara was added to the roster along with tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, a transfer from Florida who must sit out a year, freshman tight end Caleb Wilson and receiver Deontay Burnett from Gardena Serra High, and offensive lineman Clayton Johnston from Anaheim Servite. Former offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi also rejoined the team as a tight end. ... Sarkisian said freshman quarterback Sam Darnold was “very effective” in his first college practice.

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