24 min Read

IMHO Sunday: We learned from spring practice that…

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

We learned that the conclusion of spring practice brought just as many unanswered questions as foolproof answers.

 



We learned
that All-Pac-12 quarterback Kedon Slovis is still Kedon Slovis, but whether he really is a legit Heisman Trophy front-runner, and a serious No. 1 draft pick remains an unanswered question.

We learned that the physicality on defense has become even more intense, which sort of reaffirmed the answer to a question regarding toughness and aggressiveness.

The theme of this spring practice cycle was physicality (photo above), and it appears the Trojans – at least in spring – appeared to have made strides to that goal. (Photo above by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

 

We learned that there are still serious question marks regarding the offensive line and its physicality to move people off the line of scrimmage in short yardage – not to mention protecting the passer.

We learned that the Trojans receiving corps, which had some injury issues in the spring, will still be one of the nation’s best. Wide receiver Drake London is one of the premier players in the country, and any questions regarding the receiving position was answered, which wasn’t exactly a major revelation.

Junior wide receiver Drake London (photo above) lived up to the hype during spring ball. (Photo above by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

 

We learned that although the defense was thinned somewhat from injury and transfers, the situation is not as dire as it looks because the young players on hand appear to have ability, and then there is the soon-to-be arrival of talented newcomers like linemen Kory Foreman and Colin Mobley.

We learned that young offensive linemen Jonah Monheim and Andrew Milek and veteran Justin Dedich had the type of spring that may have thrusted all of them into the mix, especially Monheim and Dedich, who are challenging for starting spots at right tackle and a guard spot, respectively. We already knew about sophomore Courtland Ford and his presence at left tackle and unless something dramatic occurs, Ford will be the left tackle.   

Young offensive lineman Jonah Monheim (photo above No. 79) was impressive during spring and is starting right tackle possibility in 2021. (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

 

We learned that if you speak truth to power and power listens, you can accomplish a lot of things – especially before spring ball. The question of Clay Helton coming through with some of his routine declarations (ex. physicality) for the spring have been strongly supported and encouraged by his staff. Yes, there were injuries, but that is part of the game, and you can’t have it both ways. Either you hit or you don’t, especially in spring.    

We learned that true freshman wide receiver Michael Jackson lll could be the real find of the recruiting class of 2021, which answered the question why MJ3 was recruited in the first place.

Michael Jackson lll (photo above – No. 13) was a pleasant surprise throughout spring practice, and the best is yet to come. (Photo by Alex Verdugo/USC Football)

 

We learned that sophomore defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu could and probably should be the next USC All-Pac-12 D-line selection, and it’s not a question of if but when. This answers the question if Tuli was signed by the Trojans simply because he was the younger brother of Marlon.   

We learned that either Jaxson Dart or Miller Moss will be the 2021 Kedon Slovis backup, and that question was answered when returning grad transfer Mo Hasan was lost for the 2021 season to ACL surgery.  

We learned that University of Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram and Texas true freshman Brandon Campbell have upped the stock in running back quality of quantity, and it also answered why both were so hotly pursed by the Trojans’ coaching staff.

One of the pleasant surprises of spring ball was the emergence of true freshman running back Brandon Campbell (photo above), who showed great determination carrying the pigskin. (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

 

We learned because of the impressive additions of RBs Ingram and Campbell and the performances by returning veterans Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, it answered why running backs coach Mike Jinks, after saying he wanted one featured back and one good backup, now says he probably won’t be able to name a starter until the week of the first game against San Jose St.

We learned that at some point, massive young offensive lineman Casey Collier will make a big impact both literally and figuratively, thus answering why he, too, was another Texas signee.

We learned that there were a lot of positives to holding the Spring Showcase in the middle of spring, which allowed the coaching staff to teach off the game film for the final two weeks of spring ball.

We learned that offensive coordinator Graham Harrell – at least looking at the public Spring Showcase Game – has perhaps answered the question whether he plans to ever take a short yardage or goal line situation with his quarterback taking a snap under center. At this point, don’t hold your breath.   

There was no public viewing to know if Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above) has any plans to have his quarterbacks take snaps from under center in short yardage or goal line situations.

 

We learned that in the somewhat limited time he was on the field for spring practice that outside linebacker Drake Jackson looked more at ease with his role on the field and answered – at least in a spring sample size due to injury – whether he could adjust to his hybrid position.   

We learned that the Trojans have a viable second-string placekicker in junior Alex Stadthaus, who flashed in the spring game, which answered what would happen if sophomore starter Parker Lewis went down for the count for any length of time..    

We learned that by hiring new offensive line coach Clay McGuire, an Air Raid disciple and friend of OC Graham Harrell, it will eventually answer whether having a full offensive staff of experienced Air Raid coaches – the exception being receiver coach Keary Colbert – can make a difference in the fall.

Trojans players and coaches gave first-year offensive line coach Clay McGuire (photo above) high marks during spring ball. McGuire completes a now almost all Air Raid coaching staff, which the Trojans hope brings dividends.

 

We learned during spring that the Trojans can still produce first-round NFL offensive linemen in successive years (Austin Jackson in 2020 and Alijah Vera-Tucker in 2021). What hasn’t been answered is why former offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who produced the aforementioned two first-rounders, was fired unless he gets the full blame for poor O-line recruiting and/or a 10th and last place finish in Pac-12 team rushing statistics in 2019 and 2020, respectively.  

We learned that because of the amount of injuries on both sides of the line of scrimmage due to a big emphasis on physicality, it was comforting to know that former Trojans wide receiver coach Keary Colbert and former defensive back and secondary coach Donte Williams still were able to don uniforms and still be competitive in spring practice.  

When the Trojans were down in receiving bodies due to injury and illness, former Trojans wide receiver great and current USC receivers coach Keary Colbert (photo above against Michigan in the Rose Bowl) stepped into practice and performed like he never left as a player.

 

We learned that COVID couldn’t stop the progress of the Trojans’ five-week spring practice sessions.  

We learned that junior S Chase Williams, the pride of Corona (Calif.) Roosevelt HS, could be the heir apparent to All-America safety Talanoa Hufanga. Chase left a real impression throughout the spring cycle.  

Junior safety Chase Williams (photo above) had a tremendous spring and has perhaps taken the lead to secure his spot as the replacement for former All-American Talanoa Hufanga, who was drafted Saturday by the San Francisco 49ers.

 

We learned that an unsung wildcard performer this spring who could play a big role in 2021 is senior linebacker Hunter Echols.     

From the press box…

 

Spring Week 5: Looking back at first-year O-line coach Clay McGuire and his impact this spring, running backs coach Mike Jinks said, “It’s just his familiarity of the (Air Raid) system as a whole and how the run and pass systemically marry up as a whole. Clay (McGuire) and Graham (Harrell) have a lot of history there. They’re very comfortable not only in conversations but schematically in what they want to do and how they want to do it. From top to bottom, there has been a commitment to the run game.”   

Spring Week 5 – Part 2: On finding a lead running back and a backup, Jinks said, “It has been extremely difficult, and I am happy of that. It’s difficult to get three or four backs and split the carries; it’s got to come down to two guys. We’re going to continue to compete and continue to evaluate and we’re going to work our tails off in the summer and in fall camp and when we come in that first week and before that first ballgame, we’ll release a depth chart and roster before the first game, and we’ll know who those guys are.”  

Trojans running back coach Mike Jinks (photo above) said he wanted to find a featured running back in the spring with a suitable backup, but the competition was so close in the spring that he will wait to first-game week to announce the USC starter.


Spring Week 5 – Part 3:
Regarding the impact that first-year O-line coach Clay McGuire has had on the line, running back Stephen Carr said, “I like him as a coach, he’s amazing. I can see a huge difference in what the O-line is doing. They have a better understanding of the blocking scheme, and I have a way more better understanding of the blocking scheme. That’s helping us out a whole lot more.”


Spring Week 5 – Part 4:
Regarding general areas of improvement this spring for running backs, senior back Vavae Malepeai added, “A lot of it comes down to mindset and making sure we’re executing our assignments and communication. We have to be on the same page with the O-line whether it’s run or pass, knowing where the blocks are coming, and everything is flowing.”   

Senior running back Vavae Malepeai (photo above) says he spent this spring working on fundamentals like a positive mindset and interpersonal relationships on the team.

  
Spring Week 5 – Part 5:
In looking back on special teams and commenting on the lack of big plays on kickoff and punt returns, special teams coach Sean Snyder said, “The (kickoff return) production wasn’t what we wanted. Obviously as the season went on, we started getting a little better and they started figuring out the return stuff, what we’re trying to do and how to read it, read opponents’ kickoffs.

Spring Week 5 – Part 6: Snyder added, “The punt return obviously is the one that really needs to improve an awful lot on. Field position wise, it held its own. We tried to be a little disruptive with punters and try to get them off their game a little bit with rushes and stuff like that. I think we’ve got improvement in every area that we need, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. We just keep plugging along and see what happens.”

Special teams coach Sean Snyder (photo above) said the Trojans have a lot of work to do to increase both punt and kickoff return yardage.

 

Spring Week 5 – Part 7: Evaluating his personal and team goals, snapper Damon Johnson said, “The biggest thing with me is operation and Ben (Griffiths -punter) and punt. With my technique, I have kind of knocked it down to where I need to work with myself. I have been able to perfect that with myself. The biggest thing I do is to help the whole team out, so if I can get my operation down with Ben, we don’ have a blocked punt. We can also have a better opt time with field goals, two things I have worked on the most this spring and also blocking for punt protection on the next level. I know with snapper if you do your job, you’re not going to be talked about, and I am good with that.”   

Spring Week 5 – Part 8: In his final presser for who knows how long, Clay Helton on Friday morning before the final afternoon practice, reviewed what stood out to him this spring. Gentleman Clay said there were several young, big men he believes are going contribute next season and named young defensive linemen Jamar Sekona, Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, Jay Toia, and Jake Lichtenstein.

True freshman defensive lineman Jay Toia (photo above – No. 93) was one newcomer that left a very positive spring practice impression. (Photo by Alex Verdugo/USC Football)

 

Spring Week 5 – Part 9: Turning to the offensive line, Helton said that offensive lineman Jonah Monheim, who might have had the best spring regardless of position, Courtland Ford, Justin Dedich and Casey Collier all showed promise.

Spring Week 5 – Part 10: Helton said he was pleased with the progress of young quarterbacks Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss, and they still have much to learn in the upcoming August training camp practices. Of course, it didn’t hurt either frosh thrower that preseason All-America receiving candidate Drake London was basically unstoppable, a quarterback’s dream.

True freshmen quarterbacks Miller Moss (photo above) and Jaxson Dart will continue their competition to be the backup for All-Pac-12 starter when the Trojans return for training camp in early August. (Photo by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Spring Week 5 – Part 11: Helton continued heaping high praise on defensive back Chase Williams, who apparently is the front runner to replace All-America safety Talanoa Hufanga.
The post-game show…

 

Congrats to: Trojans that were drafted into the NFL. That would include first-round selection OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (NY Jets), fourth-round selections DL Jay Tufele (Jacksonville Jaguars) and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (Detroit Lions), fifth-round selection S Talanoa Hufanga (San Francisco 49ers), and sixth-round selection DL Marlon Tuipulotu (Philadelphia Eagles). Not drafted but signing as undrafted free agents were WR Tyler Vaughns (Indianapolis Colts) and CB Olaijah Griffin (Buffalo Bills).

Congrats – Part 2: Before he was even drafted in the fourth round by Detroit, former Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown signed a deal with Adidas. Amon-Ra is part German and speaks the language, and Adidas is a German company. Now that sounds like another “favorite target” for both player and company. Herzlichen Gluckwunsch (Congratulations)!

Congrats – Part 3: It isn’t the same as getting drafted into the NFL, but heralded Trojans linebacker signee Raesjon Davis of Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei High was named MVP of the prestigious Trinity League, arguably the nation’s premier high school league, which makes Raesjon’s award such a big deal.

Incoming true freshman linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above) was the powerful Trinity League’s Most Valuable Player.

 

Transfer epilogue: In case you were wondering, former Trojans defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay is headed for Tennessee, according to his Twitter site. Caleb will join former USC placekicker Chase McGrath as a Vol. FYI, the defensive line coach at Tennessee is Rodney Garner, a veteran SEC D-line coach.  

Here come the Irish: Kickoff time for the USC at Notre Dame game on Saturday, Oct. 23, has been set for 7:30 p.m. South Bend time. Those watching from SoCal and the West Coast, the kickoff is 4:30 p.m. PT.

Kickoff time for the Trojans’ Oct. 23 visit to Notre Dame (photo above) has been set for 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT.

 

Here come the Irish – Part 2: For the record – as painful as it is – Notre Dame has won the past three contests against the Trojans, including a 30-27 victory during the Troy’s last trip to South Bend in 2019.

Come again: Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Clay Helton say that his football players would be strongly encouraged but it was not mandatory they get themselves a COVID vaccination?

Come again – Part 2:
When USC president Carol Folt gave her state of the university speech last week, she said that it was “our intent to require vaccination” for students in the fall. Wouldn’t that then include athletes – like football players?

No shock: While USC fans aren’t sure what the Coliseum capacity will be next September, LSU announced last week that they are doing away with attendance limitations (102,321 capacity) along with announcing that there will be no mask mandates.

The Celebration: Sunday night is the long-awaited virtual celebration for legendary retiring USC band director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner. Among those expected to express their gratitude are former Trojans’ head football coach Pete Carroll, Stars Wars actor Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), and Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie.

On Sunday night, the Trojans will celebrate virtually the legacy of legendary USC Marching Band director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner (photo above).

 
The call-in show…

 

Caller No. 1: Greg, are you concerned with the amount of injuries suffered during spring?

Caller No. 1, no, not really because it’s all part of the game. I think that many of the injured will be healed by the time training camp starts in early August.

Caller No. 2: Katz, do you think the tight ends will be used this season more than in past?  

Caller No. 2, I think that question can only be answered by OC Graham and the defenses that Kedon Slovis sees. One thing I can say, the Trojans have enough tight ends unless they take their most athletic tight ends and move them to wide receiver.  

Will the 2021 Trojans throw to its tight ends like senior Erik Krommenhoek? (Photo above by John McGillen/USC Athletics)

 

Caller No. 3: G-Kat, are you concerned that season ticket sales are reportedly down?

Caller No. 3, when you keep extending the season ticket deadline there has to be concern about fans renewing their seats. Given the constant Clay Helton situation, the negative responses of the Trojans’ fan base the past several seasons, there should be no surprise when it comes to season ticket renewals.  

Caller No. 4: Katzman, any surprises in the NFL draft in terms of our Trojans?

Caller No. 4, no, not really. I was very happy for Alijah Vera-Tucker going in the first round. Now all the Trojans need is five Alijah Vera-Tuckers in the future, and maybe we’ll see a potent ground game. Then again…

In the past two consecutive NFL drafts, the Trojans have had first-round draft selections in offensive linemen Austin Jackson (2020) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (photo above – No. 75) on Thursday night. (Photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

 

Caller No. 5: Grego, air conditioning or open windows?

Caller No. 5, dude, air conditioning is life! I still remember the days growing up in Monterey Park with no air conditioning. I thought I was going to die. I promised myself no matter where I lived, the place would have air conditioning. I still don’t understand why people buy or rent places that have air conditioning and don’t use it. They tell me it’s too expensive to run it. Well, I respond by saying, “Then you paid for something you don’t use. Isn’t that a waste of money?”

The last word: So, what are you going to be doing from now until the Trojans’ first game on Sept. 4 in the Coliseum against San Jose State?  



Author
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.


More Articles By Greg