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Donte Williams and USC corners talk scheme fit, tackling and entertaining

Donte Williams was brought to USC in large part due to his recruiting prowess, but he’s proven himself a successful college position coach as well. It’s in that aspect where the Trojans will need him most this fall, as he inherits a group that has plenty of talent, but hasn’t quite been able to put it all together yet. If all goes to plan, USC fans will see something a bit different out of the cornerbacks this fall.

Williams, via defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s system, is going to ask plenty of his cornerbacks this season. Earlier this year, Chris Steele raved about the new system and what it asked of the corners. Williams echoed that on Wednesday when discussing Orlando’s defense.

“He’s allowing us to do what we do, and that’s put us out there on an island,” Williams said, adding that it’s up to the USC cornerbacks to “own that island.”

Head coach Clay Helton said earlier this week that Williams and his group are striving for perfection every time they step on the field. Williams said there’s good reason for that.

“That’s the life of a corner,” Williams said. “You can play 99 perfect plays and on play 100 you give up a pass, that’s all anyone remembers.”

Williams’ time with his cornerbacks has been short, as all but one spring ball practice has been taken away and this is just the second full week of fall camp. But so far, he likes what he sees, saying Steele, Olaijah Griffin, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Dorian Hewett and Jayden Williams have all shown degrees of improvement this fall.

“They’re extremely competitive as a group that they’re extremely prideful,” Williams said. “When you’re prideful, you never want to do anything wrong or make a mistake because you know everyone is looking at you…So you can tell the energy and these guys are starting to learn how to practice hard every day. Like we say, practice is a game for us. The biggest thing in our room is making sure we’re consistent and they’re starting to get the hang of that and be consistent.”

More notes and quotes from Williams, Chris Steele and Olaijah Griffin

Griffin and Steele were asked to name the toughest receivers to cover during practice. Griffin said Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown, and threw Bru McCoy in there as well. Steele said it was the same for him.

“All our receivers are pretty dominant,” Steele said. “Some people who have been really showing out to me have been Bru and before Gary Bryant got hurt, he was somebody you could tell had a lot of talent and he’s going to make some plays for us.”

Williams on the depth at cornerback: “I wish it was deep. It’s not as deep as people think. Numbers are a lot less just because guys are playing particular spots. The nickel is playing nickel. The safety is playing the safety. It’s not as much movement as I would say in the past, so guys are getting used to playing a particular spot for us right now. To be honest, all these guys are young. Olaijah is a true junior. Chris is still a true sophomore. As a whole, everyone is still young to me, top to bottom. I see the growth and pretty much a lot of the guys are standing out. Dorian is standing out. I see growth in Isaac Taylor-Stuart. It keeps going where I see guys are getting better as a group.”

Williams on cornerbacks playing Field and Boundary: “That’s what I prefer and it works good because with Todd he feels the same way in this system. I look at them as different people. The Field to me is the guy who has to adjust after the ball is snapped, pretty much be a playmaker because after the ball is in the air, he becomes a receiver. The things I ask him to do are a little different. The Boundary corner to me is going to be a little more press, playing a little tighter quarters, maybe playing against a bigger receiver, having to fit in the box and a lot of his adjustments happen before the ball is snapped, where the communication is almost like a safety. So it’s two kind of different body types and two kind of different people mentally. And I’m fortunate enough to step into a place that has those type of guys and has those type of bodies to where we can still do that.”

Griffin on playing Field corner: “It fits my skillset perfect because out there I’m on a whole island to myself and when I’m in that position, that’s when my confidence raised up and my talents go even higher.”

Steele on playing Boundary corner: “I definitely trust him on the back side and I know he trusts me on the boundary, so it’s definitely been working out.”

Williams on the tackling struggles across college football this year: “Tackling hasn’t been an issue for me, mainly because I feel like when guys break down in space, that’s pretty much where you get broke off. I’m kind of like a guy – I want guys to go 110 miles per hour and as long as you pretty much take the space away from guys after they have the ball, I think instead of letting the guy with the ball make the decision of how he’s going to cut or what he’s going to do, we’re going to force the action and we’re going to attack them. If we happen to ever do miss a tackle, we’re going to make sure we miss a tackle to our leverage to where the rest of the defense is coming.”

Williams on using his entire depth chart: “I definitely do rotate. I am a guy that rotates guys through just for the simple fact that guys are on special teams, and the list goes on and on. Every day’s a competition, so I never believed in first string, second string. It’s an organizational depth chart. It’s always evolving and that’s why practice is so competitive. If one of them stops practicing the way they need to practice for a day, they can get passed up. We have talented guys in that room. They have to step up on a daily.”

Williams on working in Todd Orlando’s defensive scheme: “Todd is great, first off, because he allows coaches to coach. He’s not a micromanager. He’s not a person who is going to say it’s only done this particular way. As long as you pretty much give an explanation of why you’re doing things, and you can coach that, he allows you to coach, he allows you to do your job. I think the guys mix well because I’m aggressive by nature, he’s aggressive by nature.”

Griffin and Steele raved about quarterback Kedon Slovis, who has been impressing everybody this camp.

Griffin on Slovis: “He’s really an NFL quarterback playing college football right now. There will be plays where I’ll make a good break on the ball and he just fits it in the spot where I just can’t reach, even though I’m doing everything correct. Kedon is going to play a big role this year.”

Steele on Slovis: “I would say that Kedon definitely going to be somebody to watch for this year. I think he’s going to be in the race for the Heisman. He’s that talented. He makes some throws that he probably wouldn’t have made last year, so that lets me know that he’s been working this offseason. Last year he was still a great quarterback, but this year he’s making those throws, putting the ball where only his receivers can get it. He’s making it happen with every receiver too, which is something different.”

Williams on working alongside safeties coach Craig Naivar: “With me and Craig it’s awesome. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, so we go together pretty well. It’s like we feed off each other’s energy. I’m so used to the guy who’s like the firecracker and everything else, but Craig is already that guy, so I’m more Dr. Phil right now. And it fits. We still do a lot of things together as a collective group. It’s not just the corners and it’s not just the safeties. It’s the DBs. We work together pretty much exclusively and right now it’s working in practice. You can see the growth.”

Steele on getting back to practice and expectations for a physical fall camp: “It’s definitely something that I would say we were expecting. With coach TO coming in, whole new staff coming in, they kind of brought that new mindset to where we want to run through somebody’s face every single play. Just the way they talked to us before we even got in pads, I knew it was going to be real physical throughout camp. I was expecting it.”

Steele on who changed the most physically during quarantine: “The person that I looked at like, dang, would probably be big Lich (Jacob Lichtenstein). He’s always been huge, but I don’t know what happened to that dude. He went home and he came back and was like ginormous. Drake (Jackson) came back looking like Aaron Donald. He kind of slimmed down.”

Williams on the personalities of Griffin and Steele: “For Olaijah, Olaijah definitely likes the show. He’s an entertainer, so if you like the show, nobody wants to go to the show and get booed. So he’s going to make sure that he puts a show on every week and he does it multiple ways, whether it’s returning, whether it’s playing corner. My biggest thing is making sure that he feels like when he goes in there he’s a gladiator stepping into Roman times in the arena. And Chris is definitely, definitely competitive. Chris is one of those guys that he wants to show everybody that there’s 22 people on the field at a time, playing 11-on-11, that he’s the baddest dude on the field. My biggest thing is making sure that those dudes are always mentally tough and know what’s going on inside and out of the team we’re playing against, that they can physically play that way.”

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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