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IMHO Sunday: Experimentations, reintroductions, and perspectives

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

The switch: One of the intriguing aspects of spring ball are position switches. One such “experimentation” could be a real boon where “former” junior outside linebacker Connor Murphy (photo above) has been switched to the defensive line. Murphy seems like a natural as a pass rusher, standing 6-foot-7 to go along with his long-armed frame.

The switch – Part 2: Asked about the switch to the D-line, this week Connor Murphy said, “So basically coach Helton called me into his office one day; I mean it’s no secret that I am considered an overgrown outside linebacker. Obviously, I was a little bit too stiff for that position and my lateral speed could have been a little bit greater, so with my big frame and my big body, I have room to grow. So, I figured stick me inside and see what I can do. So far, it’s going good, and I am considered one of the older guys in the program now. Technique wise and alignment wise, I know how do all that. Now, it’s a matter of learning all the offensive blocks and getting my way at this point.”

The switch – Part 3: Looking to accomplish specific goal this spring, Murphy said, “It’s a way different ball game being down there (in a three-point stance); it’s way more faster and way more hands-on. Things are really progressing in that area, and I am trying to put on weight in the six weeks of spring ball. That’s my goal. I was talking to coach Helton and he said 270 by the season, but I think I can do it by the end of spring ball.”

The process: The return of former Trojans’ offensive line coach Tim Drevno from Michigan to USC was really a coaching recruiting story. Drevno, whose father and sister graduated from Troy, revealed this week, “It all came about when I decided to leave Michigan. When that happened, there was some leakage, and I was fortunate that Clay called me up to give me the opportunity to come back to USC. I was very honored and privileged to come back and work for Clay and be a Trojan again. Being from Torrance (Calif.) and Clay reaching out, it gives me chills.”

The position transition: Asked about being known as an offensive line coach and now a running back coach, Drevno said, “I have coached running backs in my 25 years as a coach. A great coach is a great teacher, motivator, and with the blocking schemes and the protections and being a coordinator before, it’s about motivating the guys to do things. We have a great corps of running backs here, and I feel privileged.”

Learning curve: Questioned how much the Trojans’ offense has changed or evolved since his previous tour of cardinal and gold duty, Tim Drevno said, “It’s changed. Tee (Martin) has added on and put in some wrinkles here and there. You always evolve in different things in what your personnel gives you. There are some base fundamentals and core things to hang your hat on, some schemes and other philosophies, but it has changed. Yes, I will bring some new stuff, and we’ll all work together and collaborate. Everybody has some different ideas. Whatever works to be successful and that’s to win.”

Here’s the catch: When asked about now being an experienced wide receiver and also the new quarterback competition, sensational sophomore Tyler Vaughns said, “Nothing has changes because I am still hungry on the field. I am still working as if I am still a backup; that’s something that never stops. Our job with the new quarterbacks is just getting open. All they have to do is place the ball, and we just have to build a connection with them on and off the field. We need to go into the film room and talk with each other. We have to see how that goes.”

The loaded question: A big question in the hearts and minds of most Trojans is why the Trojans can’t be offensively physical. When we asked offensive coordinated Tee Martin about this issue, he politely grinned and said, “That’s a loaded question. Being bigger and stronger is kind of out of my control. In terms of play calling, we always want to be physical. That’s what we want to do. If we can’t run it, you find something else to move the ball and score points. It’s something we have look at as a staff and discuss it. We have talked as a staff how we can be bigger and stronger not only against those opponents (Ohio State and Notre Dame) but within our team. It’s a focal point for us to do that this spring.”

Let’s face it, for the past three seasons, we’ve heard Clay Helton say he wants a physical offense. And let’s face it, when the Trojans play a physical team – Stanford being the exception last season – they can’t seem to go man-to-man against physical defenses like Ohio State or Notre Dame for four quarters. So, what’s the root cause?

IMHO – Part 2: The lack of offensive physicality comes from either recruiting the wrong type of linemen, a weight training program that emphasizes physicality, or the scheme of the offense. There are former Trojan players that point to the offensive scheme as being the main reason for the lack of testosterone dominance.

From the press box…

Upfront: Clay Helton did himself and his team a big favor in saying prior to spring ball that he didn’t believe it was urgent that he name a quarterback starter by the end of the 15 days of practice. Obviously, the anticipated arrival of true freshman JT Daniels for August training camp played a part of that statement.

The comparison: Since they both went to the same high school (San Clemente), it’s only natural that there would be quarterback comparisons between Sam Darnold and redshirt freshman Jack Sears. One thing that drew our attention on Tuesday was when Jack threw a jump pass that was very reminiscent of the type of plays that Sam Darnold became famous in terms of his athletic improvisation.

The comparison – Part 2: When we asked Jack Sears how Sam Darnold had been helpful in his young Trojan career, Jack said, “I think Sam makes great plays when things are breaking down. I think it’s something that this generation of quarterbacks has to do. They’re expecting us to be athletes and make plays.”

The comparison – Part 3: As for Matt Fink, we asked him about the stereotype that he is considered more runner than passer and he replied, “I don’t care what people say about me, so you can take it how it is. As with any quarterback, you’d like to improve on your accuracy, speed obviously on the ground, your speed throwing the ball, just a combination of those attributes coming together.”

The eye test: One of the early enrollees that we wanted to see was Hawaiian linebacking stud Kana’i Mauga. Well, the kid passed the eyeball test (6-2, 220). He was also extremely quick and showed impressive football savvy in the opening week. He is thick and looks like there is still a lot of room for growth.

Back at you: This week, head coach Clay Helton said that sophomore tailback Stephen Carr had back surgery and was expected to take up to three months to heal if all things go well. If true, it means that Stephen would return to action sometime in June or July. Of course, as Helton cautioned, back surgery and recovery time is never a guarantee.

Jonestown: Because of lack of depth, sophomore receiver Velus Jones saw some action at tailback this past week. With no Stephen Carr and sophomore Vavae Malepeai hampered by a hamstring issue, Jones was pressed into service. FYI, in his senior season at Saraland HS in Alabama, Velus had 172 yards rushing with two TDs.

Red flag: One of the more important bits of information that Clay Helton officially discussed this week was the fact a number of potential frontline players would be held out of spring practice. The name that caught our attention was junior tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who is still struggling with a hip flexor strain that is a carryover from last season. Daniel’s presence on the field provides a real home run threat who can also block. Since Daniel’s injury is a continuing problem, one could only surmise this is not a good sign.

The post-game show…

Peters principle: Head coach Clay Helton said he will always have a fullback on the team. Well, that’s true, but the one recognizable fullback, senior Reuben Peters, was playing linebacker this week.

Hustle time: One of the noticeable difference in the first week of spring ball was the hustle the team did between drills and the extra sprints after practice.

The debate: The Trojans will take this week off for spring break, so the question is: Is it better to have just one week of spring practice, take a break, and return after a week, or does it make more sense to have the 15 days of spring practice run without a break?

The eyesore: From the Harbor Freeway, the new soccer stadium is an impressive structure. The bad news is that it blocks a view of the Coliseum. If there is an additional hotel is added, you won’t see the Coliseum at all. Sad, if it happens.

Going up: We’re told that there will be eight elevators for the massive Coliseum tower, which will house the high-rollers, VIPs, the media, and other dignitaries. The word is that those at the top of the project didn’t want any of those folks that will be using the high price facility to have to wait in line to go up to their specific level.

The last word: As a continuing public service, the IMHO Sunday presents the latest Coliseum website camera update: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

Greg Katz
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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