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IMHO Sunday: Competition integrity

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles

Focus on credibility: Trojans head football coach Clay Helton has announced that all positions are open as spring practice begins on Tuesday, March 4. If Gentleman Clay’s words are to be taken seriously without a perceived political agenda, look no further than the quarterback competition with incumbent JT Daniels. No conspiracy theories here, but  Daniels’ backups, sophomore Jack Sears (photo above – No. 10) and junior Matt Fink and their teammates on both sides of the ball, will be the first ones to know if they are really in the mix, especially under first-year quarterback coach Graham Harrell who will also be under scrutiny, as well, considering the quarterbacks are his position and it’s his offense. Call it integrity.

The sign:
Yes, make no mistake about it, the Trojans team, too, will also be looking over their shoulder at the quarterback competition and will form their own evaluations throughout the spring. While the rest of the team will be concerned about their own position competition, they will be asking themselves, “Will Clay Helton actually replace JT Daniels as the starter if either Jack Sears or Matt Fink outshine the former Mater Dei National Player of the Year?” It says here that for Sears or Fink to beat out Daniels, they will have to be more than equal in the spring scrimmages.    

The debate:
Not trying to stir the pot, butwhat happens at quarterback if Clay Helton and Graham Harrell disagree on the starting quarterback at the end of spring ball? It says here that as head coach, Helton gets the last word as it should be, and that’s not exactly shocking. However, let’s not forget that last season, there was a segment of the team that wanted to see more of Jack Sears, especially after his inspiring performance in the loss to ASU. But to be clear, it wasn’t JT’s fault that the offense was what it was. There is a reason that Helton has junked his own offense in favor of a version of the Air Raid and claims to have turned over the offense to Graham Harrell.

Don’t expect it:
We would be neither mildly surprised or shocked if the starting signal caller isn’t announced until the latter portions of training camp in August, and wouldn’t that be a summer rerun from the previous August?

Dominoes effect:
For the sake of argument, if JT Daniels is named the starter and the end of spring ball, what decisions – if any – will be made by Jack Sears and/or Matt Fink as to their future? You can probably read between the lines in terms of quarterback depth as to why – like last season – the Trojans might not name a starter until deep into August training camp.

Centers of attention:
As mentioned in last week’s roundtable, one of the areas we’ll be looking at will be the competition at center. It figures that either Brett Neilon or Justin Dedich will battle it out for the starting slot, and it make come down to the most consistent snapper in the shotgun, so help me Toa Lobendahn.

The Drevno factor:
Based on our observations and comments by past players, there seems to be a lot of trust and respect by returning offensive linemen for Tim Drevno as offensive line coach. What a year it was for Drevno last season when the longtime offensive line coach was assigned the Trojans’ running backs coach upon his return from Michigan, and later in the season pulling double duty between the running backs and offensive line after Neil Callaway was relieved of his command.

From the press box…

The big concern: Don’t know about you, but aside from the intriguing quarterback question and their adjustment to a new scheme, it says here that a major concern will be the Trojans’ secondary, which will have as much to say about Clancy Pendergast’s 2019 defense.

Unsolved mystery:
There seems to be a lot of concern over the lack of production (sacks) by the defensive line, which by all accounts is a talented group on paper. What is it that they say: Potential is unproven talent. So, what was last season’s problem in terms of sacking the quarterback and getting shoved around by aggressive running attacks. Was it (A) the talent was overrated (B) DC Clancy Pendergast’s defensive scheme and/or philosophy (C) previous poor D-line coaching (D) An offense that couldn’t keep the defense off the field (E) All of the above.

Gaining adult respect:
One potential issue either now or down the line will be how the veteran and older Trojan offensive coaches adjust to their young and relatively inexperienced offensive coordinator Graham Harrell who must teach and instructs the veteran offensive coaches and probably Clay Helton, as well. Other than Keary Colbert, who still has youth and inexperience as a coach, offensive line coach Tim Drevno, running backs Mike Jinks, and tight end coach John Baxter are all older than Harrell and have vast experience. At what point do the veteran offensive coaches become Harrell believers? 

Gauging interest:
One thing that will be interesting to monitor this spring will be the attendance at spring practice. It figures that most or all practices will be open to the public, and we’ll find out as spring practice progresses how much initial early interest there is in the 2019 USC Trojans.

The bluebloods:
One thing you can probably count on is that those longtime followers of USC football will be there during the spring to follow the progress and curious regarding the new offense. However, there may not be as many as in the past because of the obvious reasons. The skeptics are saying that there’s no energy or enthusiasm for spring ball and all that matters are those first 6 games of the season either sink or swim.

The post-game show…

Attention recruit-aholics: WeAreSC publisher and recruiting guru Erik McKinney is in the Las Vegas area (Mesquite) covering the heralded Pylon 7-on-7 tournament showcase. In case you missed Erik’s report, we strongly urge you to go the recruiting message board and read EM’s detailed report on Saturday’s results, which had some USC prospects amongst the talent.

Personal appearance: Your humble scribe. New WeAreSC publisher Erik McKinney, and former Trojans DB and WeAreSC staffer Darrell Rideaux will be part of a remembrance speaking presentation of late WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz at the Football Fanatics Luncheon this Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Shadowridge Country Club in Vista (Calif.). The festivities begin at 11.30 a.m.

Ten more years:
At the TAF Club of Orange County, Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann announced that he would like to be the USC AD for 10 more years. What’s the overs and unders on that happening? Was Swannie saying to all the naysayers out there he won’t be pushed out?

Happy birthday:
USC Athletic Hall of Fame writer and former contributing WeAreSC writer Steve Bisheff recently celebrated a birthday. No, we won’t give Steve’s age, but is it true it’s the same number on the jersey worn by former Hall of Fame USC tackle Ron Yary? Hope you had a Hall of Fame birthday party, Steve-o.

BTW: Have the Trojans hired a strength and conditioning coach yet? Maybe this is becoming a rhetorical question.

Just for kicks: Former USC kicker Joe Houston has surfaced at Alabama as a special teams quality control coach for Nick Saban’s “NFL” program. To our knowledge, that now makes two former Trojans, Houston and OC Steve Sarkisian, now on the staff of the Crimson Tide.

The last word: The rain continued this past week, and so did the Coliseum renovation. Here’s the latest real time camera view: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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