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USC Fall Camp, Day 13: A Different Max Wittek

Mike Piellucci |
August 16, 2013 | 8:07 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Max Wittek hopes to improve his play this season after a disastrous performance in the Sun Bowl. (Neon Tommy)
Max Wittek hopes to improve his play this season after a disastrous performance in the Sun Bowl. (Neon Tommy)
Max Wittek couldn’t have made the play a year ago.

It was a thing of twisting, meandering beauty and came late in Thursday’s practice session at Howard Jones Field. Wittek took the snap under center and started to his right, but quickly turned back to his left. He surveyed the field, pump faked, looked off one read and only at the last possible moment, with the defense closing in, did he let the ball go, finding an in stride Nelson Agholor in the left corner of the end zone.

That play is the difference between the Wittek who enters Friday’s scrimmage in a dead heat for the open quarterback position and the one who was thrown to the wolves late last season when Matt Barkley was injured. It’s the difference between a quarterback who is reacting and one who sees the entire field.

“I think it's just maturing in the system and being around these guys more,” he said of his improvement. “It’s being able to see where these guys' minds are at on certain plays and really just growing with them is something that came along with being here for a while.”

Head coach Lane Kiffin indicated after last week’s scrimmage in the Coliseum that Wittek will likely take the bulk of the reps with the first team tomorrow after fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler had the opportunity in the first exhibition. It couldn’t come at a better time for the Mater Dei product, who has been sharp for several practices in a row and feels that he’s playing his best football of camp.

“It's about understanding the system inside and out,” he said. “I'm able to get up to the line now and move guys in and out, telling them what they've got, run different packages, so I feel very comfortable within the system. Preparation eliminates hesitation.”

Maybe it is because of that preparation, then, that Wittek seemed nonchalant about Friday’s session, approaching it as if it were just “another practice.” Yet with both quarterbacks enjoying a solid day of practice as well as strong performances in the first scrimmage, the stakes are likely higher than that.

Both players could benefit from a fuller arsenal of targets than what they’ve seen in previous days, as Agholor and Marqise Lee each participated in 11-on-11 drills (with Lee in a yellow non-contact shirt), while Ty Isaac rejoined the running back corps. Kiffin sounded pessimistic about the current state of the team’s depth after practice – “our health right now is not in a position to win many games if we had to play tomorrow” – but confirmed that the team will tackle in order to add further physicality to the preseason slate. It will be a complete test, then, for two quarterbacks who have adopted the same mindset with one job up for grabs.

“Both Cody and I prepare as if we’re the starter,” Wittek said.

Friday could play a key role in determining which one will enjoy that burden against Hawaii. 

READ MORE: USC Fall Camp, Day 12: Shifting On The Offensive Line


*Aundrey Walker took the first team reps at right guard over John Martinez for the second day in a row. It wasn’t the only spot on the second team offensive line in flux, however, as Cyrus Hobbi split reps with Abe Markowitz at center. Jordan Simmons practiced for the first time since being carted off several days ago, but did not get any reps with the first two units.

*One day after having to leave the field midway through 7-on-7 drills, Dion Bailey was in sweats today and walking gingerly with the aid of crutches. Despite that, Kiffin said that Bailey is only day-to-day with a hip injury. “It looks worse than it is,” he added.

*Kiffin was full of praise for Devon Kennard and George Uko, whom he highlighted within an overall strong day for the defensive line. “Once again, 90 and 42 really brought it today,” he said. “I think that’s really been a big theme for this camp – those two guys, every practice, every day, every drill, regardless of what it is, bringing a championship effort. It’s obvious on film. We talk to our players, ‘you want to see how to practice like a champion, go watch those two guys because they’re doing it right now.’”

*While many players remained out, several returned to action Thursday. Agholor, JR Tavai, Josh Shaw, Torin Harris and Antwaun Woods were all full participants, while Lee, Isaac, Simmons and Darreus Rogers each participated on a limited basis. Victor Blackwell was out after being one consistently healthy receiver throughout camp to date.

Contact Staff Writer Mike Piellucci here. Follow him on Twitter here.




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