In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
It’s back: The revelation that sophomore tailback sensation Stephen Carr is out of spring practice due to a herniated disc in his back should make every Trojan fan hold their collective breathes. Yeah, the rumors are that Stephen will be back in time for training camp in August, but if you know a back injury – especially a disc issue – you know that in a violent sport such as football a herniated disc is never a good thing.
Play ball: If you recall, the Dodgers’ pitching great Clayton Kershaw has been held out for extended periods of time in his recent career because he, too, suffers from a herniated disc. Think about it, Kershaw plays in a basically non-collision sport while the Trojans’ Stephen Carr plays in the brutal sport of football and performs as a running back, no less.
The backups: Although Stephen Carr is a special talent, don’t discount the proven worth of the other two Trojan tailbacks on scholarship, senior Aca-Cedric Ware and sophomore Vavae Malepeai (photo above). Both have special skills, and each brings a different style of running. No doubt, Carr’s presence will be missed in spring, but Ware and Malepeai will certainly compete to make the offense effective. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch that both players would be starters at a number of Pac-12 schools.
The update: So, ESPN’s draft guru thinks that quarterback Sam Darnold will go to Denver as the fifth selection in the first round. Yes, being the overall No. 1 pick is a real plum, but in the grand scheme of things playing for a John Elway organization in the West could be a real blessing.
Another No. 1: According to Mel Kiper, former Trojans standout tailback Ronald Jones ll is a first round draft pick and will be taken by Tennessee. Think about it, Clay Helton has to replace a potential NFL first-round backfield.
Open practice: There should be no surprise that Clay Helton is inviting the public to free open spring practices, which begin on Tuesday, March 6. A real surprise would be if he opened fall practices – like Pete Carroll – to the general public.
The big question: Would Clay Helton dare start spring practice without a running backs coach? Or might the vacancy be filled by somebody already on the coaching staff like current linebackers coach Johnny Nansen who had that responsibility earlier in his Trojans’ coaching career.
Welcome back: It appears that popular and former Trojans’ offensive lineman Lenny Vandermade is returning in an offensive quality control position. Knowing that Clay Helton likes to promote from within, I could see a scenario in which Lenny is promoted to offensive line coach should the day come when current O-line coach Neil Callaway decides to hang up his whistle.
No kidding: Before you get too carried away with the Trojans’ 2018 fall prognostications, can we all agree that the Men of Troy will go as far as their quarterback production takes them. In other words, the straw that stirs the drink.
The good news: Although it really isn’t saying much that currently neither quarterbacks Matt Fink or Jack Sears is the second coming of Sam Darnold, last season the concern was the inexperience of the wide receivers and how that would affect Darnold’s season. Quite the opposite is true coming into this spring with the Trojan wide receivers wondering whether either quarterback will be able to get them the ball on a consistent basis. The good news is that both Matt Fink and Jack Sears have been throwing to these now experienced receivers all last season, and it will continue through this spring.
The reality: When you get right down to it, the production of the Trojans offensive gets down to the consistency of whoever is the quarterback and their ability to get the ball to their receivers in a consistent and timely manner.
The verdict: IMHO, nobody knows how either quarterback will really perform in meaningful minutes of the real season. However, you had to like – at least running wise – what you saw in the limited appearances of Matt Fink.
From the press box…
The clinic: The USC Football Coaching Clinic, featuring USC head coach Clay Helton and his entire Trojan coaching staff and guest speakers, will be held March 30-31 in the John McKay Center on the Trojans’ campus.
The clinic – Part 2: The two-day clinic will feature presentations by Helton and his staff, as well as offensive and defensive staff roundtable discussions covering philosophy and scheme and in-depth position meetings led by each position coach. As an added bonus, Trojans’ strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis also will conduct a seminar on player development and the off-season/in-season training program.
Guest speakers: Part of the USC Football Coaching Clinic will feature guest speakers that will include Stanford head coach David Shaw, Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and Nevada head coach Jay Norvell.
A carrot: The USC Football Coaching Clinic will also comprise attendance at Troy’s spring football practice on March 31 on Howard Jones Field, allowing attendees to see the lecture presentations come to life.
Tuition: Cost of the two-day clinic is $90 ($70 for a single day). The clinic offers a staff discount of $20 off per person for groups of five or more who pre-register together for both days. Online registration is available at www.FIGHTONCAMPS.com. For more information, email [email protected].
The post-game show…
The return: For you enjoyment, here is a video by former Trojans wide receiver great JuJu Smith-Schuster upon his return to USC to continuing finishing his education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xaw-pqs6vA
Bean counters: I am always amused by the faith Trojan fans that take the scholarship numbers on a yearly basis so seriously, although I, too, wonder when LOT Day comes along and how many “rides” are still available.
The ground game: If you are still unsure what the overall identity of the Trojans offense is under Clay Helton, you’ll probably get your answer in 2018. With no Sam Darnold, the intriguing thing about spring is to see where the emphasis is placed – passing or running. And please, let’s not talk about a balanced offense very few teams are equally as powerful in both phases of passing and running.
The old saying: Intrigue come to light whether Clay Helton will consider rotating quarterbacks Matt Fink or Jack Sears in the fall. There’s the old saying that if you have two quarterbacks playing, you don’t have a quarterback. I don’t know if that is necessarily true, but I am sure that incoming freshman JT Daniels (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) doesn’t see it that way. The kid will want to win the competition outright, but it might take him some games to prove that point.
The transformation: One of legendary John McKay’s biggest coaching strengths was to take standout tight ends and turn them into high NFL draft pick offensive tackles.
All in the family: Trojans tight end recruit for the Class of 2019, Hudson Henry (Little Rock, Ark./Pulasky Academy), is the younger brother of L.A. Chargers TE Hunter Henry.
The last time: For those of you that know your Trojans history, you’ll be the first to remind others that the last player the Trojans signed out of Pulasky Academy was running back Broderick Green.
The last word: And you thought that Zack Banner (6-9, 360) was one enormous offensive out of high school. Well, Zack doesn’t look like such a monster lineman compared to one of Clay Helton’s newest recruits, or maybe you haven’t heard about Trevor Roberson of Wellington, Texas, who goes 6-11 and tips the scale at 360 pounds.