In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Change and Adjustments: Change and adjustments are being made once USC football players pass through Goux Gate (cover photo above) onto Brian Kennedy and Howard Jones practice fields. For instance, budding star sophomore defensive lineman Drake Jackson is being given new duties in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s attacking scheme. Drake, who is now down to somewhere between 245 and 250 pounds from last season’s 275 pounds, has, according to Clay Helton, “been looking good.”
Change and Adjustments – Part 2: So, what is the major defensive change for Drake Jackson? Clay Helton said that Jackson is a “perfect fit” for Todd Orlando’s style of defense and added “you forget how athletic the guy is. He has the capability of being a defensive end in a four-down scheme but has the athletic ability of a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.”
Change and Adjustments– Part 3: Other changes and adjustments are there are now four training areas, no student managers, and everybody is getting trained equally in reps to prevent a depth chart catastrophe should COVID-19 or injuries rear their ugly heads. The four groups are divided by depth chart and according to Clay Helton, “we are using every inch of grass on campus.”
Change and Adjustments – Part 4: With kickoff time for the ASU opener at 9 a.m. PT in the Coliseum, Clay Helton said the Trojans will work on having earlier practices as the game gets closer. On Friday, the Trojans opened practice at 4:15 p.m. A key to remember is that school is already in session for USC, and players are participating in a schedule that was made months before the ASU kickoff time was announced. The good news for later in the season is that the first semester will be completed in time for the Trojans second half of the modified season to be uninterrupted by academic responsibilities.
Change and Adjustments – Part 5: A lot has been said about how much COVID-19 testing the Trojans team and staff will be doing in this most unusual training and mini-schedule saga. The Men of Troy are being administered two different tests, which add up to six to nine tests per week.
Change and Adjustments – Part 6: Clay Helton revealed on Friday that when the Trojans recruit offensive linemen, they recruit tackles out of high school. Once signed, it will be decided later during practice if the signees will move to other positions along the O-line. Helton – like all coaches – says he wants the best five offensive linemen to start. The coach said, “We sign a lot of tackle bodies and double-train guys.”
Change and Adjustments – Part 7: Since there will be no fans in the stands, Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis said, “Without a crowd, the snap count is a big deal and louder. We’ll work (quarterback and center) on getting some offside penalties.”
Change and Adjustments – Part 8: Three Trojans elected not to play this season. Defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein and offensive linemen Bernard Schirmer and Frank Martin will rejoin the team in 2021 and will not lose a season of eligibility per this season’s special NCAA rule. Of the three, Licktenstein was the biggest surprise in terms of need and potential playing time.
Change and Adjustments – Part 9: Part of the excitement of the new season is how defensive players have been adjusting to Todd Orlando’s system and personality. In reference to Orlando and the players reception of him and his driven personality, star Trojans junior safety Talanoa Hufanga said, “He’s been great!”
Change and Adjustments – Part 10: The first three days have been helmets with black shorts, so come Monday things get serious with the donning of added equipment. From a media standpoint, the thing that I miss by not being at practice is watching what happens when the true freshmen put on their full pads and the hitting starts. It begins the separation of those ready to play as true freshmen and those deemed as “projects.”
Change and Adjustments – Part 11: You know the old term “buzzards’ luck”? Well, that has to apply to linebacker Solomon “Solo” Tuliaupupu whose foot surgeries were in the rearview mirror until a recent knee injury, reported as occurring during a non-contract drill, made itself visible. It sure seems like excessive cruel and unusual punishment for the former National High School Butkus Linebacker of the Year. Clay Helton said he was “heartbroken” over the loss of Solo.
Change and Adjustments – Part 12: As far as linebacker depth, the Trojans still have enough quality in a shortened season to be successful on defense, although it also hurts that senior inside linebacker Jordan Iosefa, a potential starter, is also gone for the season due to a knee issue. However, one inside linebacker to keep an eye on during training camp is sophomore Ralen Goforth, who bundles of talent.
From the press box…
The scoff: Some fans take exception when hearing that junior offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker could possibly be a first round draft choice in 2021.Well, consider how surprised many were when junior Austin Jackson was not only taken in the first round last April but in the mid-first round (18th pick) by the Miami Dolphins. As a footnote, Jackson was recently placed on injured reserve and could be lost for the season after suffering a foot injury against the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.
The scoff – Part 2: To add further evidence to the case for Alijah Vera-Tucker becoming a first-round pick in 2021, it has been widely acknowledged that AVT was the best offensive lineman on the 2019 team, which included the highly-picked Austin Jackson.
Frontmen: On the cover of the 2020 USC Football Media Guide (photo below) are safeties Talanoa Hufanga (No. 15) and Isaiah Pola-Mao (No. 21), receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 8) and Tyler Vaughns (No. 21), inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (No. 1), outside linebacker Drake Jackson (No. 99), offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker (No. 75), and quarterback Kedon Slovis (No. 9).
A stable return: The Trojans return a stable of running backs for 2020, and they seem to be an afterthought after the Trojans perceived lack of a running game last season. However, it should be noted that in 2019, the backs did run for more than 1,500 rushing yards and a combined 16 touchdowns.
A stable – Part 2: You know all about returning backs Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, Markese Stepp, Kenan Christon, Quincy Jountti, but were you aware of backs like Grant Jones, a converted inside linebacker, and Ben Easington, who has yet to carry the ball? If you were aware of Jones and Easington, I bet you might not be aware of new walk-on additions Samuel Oram-Jones, a grad transfer from Vanderbilt, and true freshman Matt Colombo from local Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco.
Center of attention: Returning starting junior center Bret Neilon is now listed on the updated roster as 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, up five pounds from last season.
I didn’t know that: Trojans true freshman offensive lineman Casey Collier (Baytown, Texas) has a sister, Charli, who is a junior center on the Texas Longhorns women’s basketball team.
I shall return: Yep, that was former Trojans All-American tailback Reggie Bush strolling around campus last week with his family and head coach Clay Helton. It’s been 10 years since Bush could walk freely through campus due to NCAA sanctions and not having to get a special exemption for his affiliation with FOX sports.
The post-game show…
Committed: Florida tight end Michael Trigg announced his college choice on Sunday afternoon for the Trojans over LSU and South Carolina. On his recruiting trip last weekend, he was accompanied by his parents, which indicated there was serious interest.
A Fiesta: CBS Sports has forecasted that the Trojans will play Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. CBS also predicts that Oregon will make the CFP semi-final and play Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Expansion: During last week’s Pac-12 Media Day, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was asked about the possibility that the College Football Playoffs would expand. Whittingham said, “It’s not a question of if but when.”
More Whittingham: Speaking to the media, Kyle Whittingham was wearing an Eddie Van Halen shirt in memory and honor of the legendary guitar player and his band. Considering himself sort of a Classic Rock aficionado, Kyle believes that Van Halen is among the top three guitar players of all-time. Whittingham’s top guitar player? Showing no hesitation, the Utah coach replied, “Jimi Hendrix.”
Must read: In one of the saddest stories I’ve read in some time, Sports Illustrated recently did a piece on the 1989 Trojans, which revolves around the passing of five linebackers who died before the age of 50-years-old.
In memory: Former USC offensive lineman Titus Tuiasosopo died last week from a reported stroke. Titus played offensive guard at USC from 1990-92 and attended Banning High School in Wilmington. Here’s wishing his family prayers and comfort during this difficult time.
Best of luck: We’d also like to take a moment to recognize a wonderful journalism friend. As announced on Friday by USCfootball.com, our professional colleague Dan Weber has left the area and returned to his roots in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati after covering 20 seasons of USC football. I never saw Dan as a competitor but as a friend, united by our love of baseball and age. I spent so many hours in press boxes with Danny and could fill a page of funny memories and anecdotes. Nobody could provide running commentary during a game like Mr. Weber. Best of everything to you, Danny, and remember, you’re now a Trojan for life!
Rocky top: Yeah, that was former Trojans wide receiver and kickoff return specialist Velus Jones returning kickoffs for the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at Georgia. The Vols lost, 44-21, to the Bulldogs.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Greg, what can you do when the media is not allowed on campus for USC practices?
Caller No. 1, the USC Sports Information Department has created a website that will allow media access to video interviews, Zoom press conferences and media releases, photos, and game-day information with post-game Zoom interviews. I think this is a very delicate situation and the sports information department is doing the best they can given the situation.
Caller No. 2: GK, were there any surprises for you from the first couple of days of practice?
Caller No. 2, I would say the number of times that Clay Helton mentioned players working through hamstring issues. It seems like this is always an issue heading into training camp. So far, Drake Jackson and Bru McCoy have been mentioned as hamstring victims.
Caller No. 3: Mr. K, do you hear anything regarding heralded 4-star tight end recruit Michael Triggs from Tampa, Florida?
(UPDATE) Caller No. 3, as mentioned above, Trigg committed to the Trojans, so the question or maybe its a statement that the Graham Harrell is serious about throwing to the tight ends.
Caller No. 4: G-Katz, what did you think of the recent flipping of national recruits Josh Moore (WR/Atlanta/Marist School) from Stanford and Philip Riley (DB/Valrico, Fla./Bloomingdale) from Notre Dame to the Trojans?
Caller No. 4, flipping recruits is always a good thing if you can do it. Flipping players headed to Stanford or Notre Dame is a notable feather in the caps of Clay Helton and his staff. That being said, I’d love it if they could flip some 5-star offensive lineman into the fold.
Caller No. 5: Sir, given your dinner choice of Chinese, Mexican, or Mediterranean menu items, what would you choose?
Caller No. 5, for me, there is nothing like good Chinese food as a change of pace. It’s probably not good for me because of the sodium, but I love sweet and sour chicken, lemon shrimp, BBQ ribs, fried rice and noodles, and teriyaki chicken. Until COVID arrived, I liked going to Panda Inn in Pasadena and didn’t mind takeout from Panda Express, which is part of the Panda Inn ownership. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PF Changs, as well. However, in the old days, it was great going to Chinatown in downtown LA with a big family party so we could order more items and share.
The final word: So off we go into the jaws of a most unusual college season for the Trojans. How unusual, nobody knows. One thing for sure, it figures to be interesting, controversial, entertaining, and perhaps even frustrating one way or another.