Leonard Williams saw the projections and heard the talk.
USC’s junior defensive lineman is regarded as a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. One way-too-early prognostication had him going No. 1 overall.
Williams said Wednesday he has put the NFL and the possibility of leaving USC after this season out of his mind. For now.
“That’s going to take care of itself,” he said during the first of two Pac-12 Conference media days at Paramount Pictures studios. “I’m just focused on getting ready for [training] camp.”
In a conference of high-caliber quarterbacks — Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley are Heisman Trophy discussion staples, and USC’s Cody Kessler is coming off record-setting bowl-game performance — much of the talk is about offense.
New USC Coach Steve Sarkisian has installed an up-tempo, no-huddle scheme that will be directed by Kessler.
But the Trojans’ season could spin on the defense, and the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Williams is a solid building block in what is regarded as a strong front seven.
The Florida native has spent the summer rehabilitating from off-season shoulder surgery for an injury that plagued him throughout USC’s tumultuous 2013 season.
Former coach Lane Kiffin was fired after the fifth game. Former defensive line coach Ed Orgeron steered the Trojans through the remainder of the regular season, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton guided them to a Las Vegas Bowl victory after Sarkisian was hired as coach. The Trojans finished 10-4.
Williams said he would be ready to practice when USC begins training camp Aug. 4 and that he would be near 100% when USC opens its season Aug. 30 against Fresno State at the Coliseum.
“We haven’t been the real SC for a few years,” he said. “So we’re trying to bring a dominance back.”
Kessler is feeling confident after passing for 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2013. He seamlessly learned Sarkisian’s offense during the spring and was impressive during the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana a few weeks ago.
Kessler said the opportunity to work with Peyton and Eli Manning and other top college quarterbacks gave him a boost entering his second season as USC’s starter.
“I know I can compete with the best,” he said.
Sarkisian eagerly awaits the start of training camp and the opportunity to work with returning players and freshmen such as two-way threats Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith.
NCAA sanctions that reduced USC’s roster the last three seasons ended in June. But Sarkisian said the Trojans would begin training camp with 67 healthy scholarship players, 18 below the NCAA maximum.
“I would be remiss not to acknowledge it,” he said, adding, “but I will never use it as a crutch.”
Sarkisian on USC’s 2016 game against Alabama: “We just felt like it was the right thing to do for our program in 2016. Would it have been right this year? Probably not, quite honestly, with the depth and where we’re at.” ... Anthony Brown, who has started six games at cornerback, will also get a look at running back during training camp, Sarkisian said. ... Sophomore receiver Darreus Rogers will wear jersey No. 1 this season. Kiffin had taken Nos. 1 and 43 out of rotation because he wanted players to prove they deserved to don numbers worn by former All-Americans Mike Williams and Troy Polamalu. Sarkisian said he was unaware of the moratorium. USC retired Nos. 3, 11, 12, 20, 32 and 33 because they were worn by Heisman Trophy winners. The No. 5 worn by Reggie Bush also has been off limits. But No. 1 is back in circulation. “We would have no numbers left,” Sarkisian said. ... Sarkisian on whether he was comfortable with his departure from Washington: “I don’t know if you guys have ever had girlfriends; when you break up with your girlfriend, it’s never easy. It’s always hard. You do it the best way you know how and you just try to be up-front and honest.”