USC Coach Lane Kiffin watches as the Trojans go through drills on Thursday… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Much of the street that runs outside USC's campus practice fields is fenced off and closed to traffic and pedestrians.
No, it's not another part of NCAA sanctions.
But as USC players filed through the gate for their first training camp workout Thursday night, the surrounding construction provided an apt metaphor.
With the $72-million John McKay Center being built across the street, the Trojans began to lay the foundation for another season with seemingly no tangible reward.
For the second and final season, sanctions erase USC's hopes of winning a Pacific 12 Conference title or playing in a bowl game.
Nonetheless, stenciled onto the turf just inside the gate was "NO DISTRACTIONS."
And for three hours, the Trojans went through a mostly crisp no-pads workout, the first of 29 practices leading up to the opener.
"We look different than we did a year ago," second-year Coach Lane Kiffin said. "We look bigger, we look faster and we look stronger.
"For Day 1, I couldn't imagine them coming back in better shape. Now we've got to put all this talent and all this hard work they've done and put the pieces into place."
The arrival of 20 new scholarship players and the return of many veterans who sat out spring practice because of injuries provided welcome depth, quarterback Matt Barkley said.
"The tempo was better than we've ever had under this administration, this coaching staff," he said.
Among the most impressive newcomers, in size alone, was Aundrey Walker, a 6-foot-6, 365-pound offensive lineman from Cleveland. Walker worked mostly at right tackle and figures to get a long look as Kiffin and his staff work to address the Trojans' biggest question mark heading into the season: the offensive line.
Freshman receiver George Farmer also made an impression.
The 6-1, 205-pound Farmer hopes to follow in the footsteps of Robert Woods, who came out of Gardena Serra High in 2010 and became Barkley's favorite target.
In a sign that Kiffin is hoping to fast-track Farmer, he paired the freshman with Barkley as training camp roommates.
Kiffin said Farmer, "looked physically like everything that he's supposed to be."
Lamar Dawson, a freshman linebacker from Kentucky, stood out by wearing the coveted No. 55 jersey. Among the players who have worn the number are Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Chris Claiborne and Keith Rivers, the last player to don the jersey in 2007.
The competition at tailback began with Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan and Curtis McNeal all looking fleet and fit. But perhaps the most impressive on Day 1 was freshman Amir Carlisle, who broke off several long plays.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who sat out most of spring practice for undisclosed medical reasons, did limited work and said he was awaiting the results of a final test with hopes that he will be cleared to fully participate. Armstead said he did not have a heart condition. … Incoming freshman tailback Jovorious Allen is in Tallahassee, Fla., finishing academic work, Kiffin said. Tight end Junior Pomee from Moreno Valley Rancho Verde High is also finishing classes. … Sophomore receiver Markeith Ambles did not participate because he is concentrating on a finishing a summer-session class, Kiffin said. … USC administrators applauded the passage of California Senate Bill (SB) 238 that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week. The bill creates tougher penalties for athlete agents who are convicted of violating the Miller-Ayala Athlete Agents Act, including a mandatory suspension and the return of any profits earned. David Roberts, USC's vice president for Athletic Compliance, participated in public hearings on the legislation in May. In a statement released through Sen. Kevin de Leon, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Sports and Entertainment, Roberts said the penalties, "should provide additional teeth to the current law and help ensure compliance with the Act by sports agents in California."