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Mailbag: Opening week of spring edition

by Garry Paskwietz

Our mailbag focus this week is primarily on the opening of USC spring ball practices with plenty of questions about how the Trojans look under new coach Clay Helton. 


How do you think Jordan Simmons has looked so far. Do you think he should move back to DL, or has he shown enough to stay at OG.

GP: The big thing for Jordan is that he’s healthy. That’s just not something we’ve seen from him too often in his USC career and I’m anxious to see if he can find a way to make an impact in his final season. Personally, I would like to see him stay on offense and I think that will happen. I was intrigued by the thought of him as an interior D-lineman but his more natural position is at offensive guard and it’s a situation with a new position coach where there are no pre-conceived notions. Through the first week we’ve seen him get a legit opportunity with plenty of reps with the first team at RG and he looked solid, hope it continues.


What are the main differences in coaching style between Ronnie Bradford and Keith Hayward that you have noticed so far?

GP: Bradford brings a lot of energy and is very animated on the field, much more so than Heyward. It’s hard to comment much beyond that after only one week but that’s a notable difference so far.


How has Ruffin looked,and do you think he will see more PT with Clancy?

GP: Jabari looks fine and he’s been part of the OLB group. Like Simmons, Jabari is a senior who has been injured a lot and hasn’t lived up to expectations but I think the Clancy connection could be interesting. Ruffin is one of the few players who was here when Clancy was at SC before so he comes in with more knowledge on what Jabari can do. That OLB spot has a lot of talent so my guess is that Jabari ends up being part of that rotation while contributing a lot on special teams as well. A big part of how much time he gets could come down to his ability to cut down on the penalties.


Wole has looked terrible while catching/corralling the ball in the LB Drills. He is obviously athletically gifted to go down hill fast and use his power. He might learn to use his hands to fight blockers faster than learning ball skills. How much does that impact his playing time?

GP: Sure it could impact his playing time. Kenechi commented the other day about the importance of using your hands as a defensive lineman “your hands, don’t leave home without them” and he talked a lot about consistency being a key factor that he’s looking for from his players. It’s also no surprise that the early enrollee freshman who has only been playing football for two years is a bit raw but I think Wole is one of the players who will benefit the most from a coach like Udeze in terms of his development in these kind of areas.


As it stands now, what is your 2-deep for the front seven on defense?

GP: OLB: Nwosu, Betiku DE: Green, Rector NT: Jefferson, Daniel DE: Bigelow, Dorton OLB: Gustin, Ruffin


General thoughts/projections on the following guys:

1. Christian Rector -GP: has added size, good potential for an interior d-line guy. Going with 2’s at DE behind Green the first week.

2. Malik Dorton -GP: it has taken time to get him big enough for move inside and I think he is now ready to be dependable guy in rotation.

3. Cole Smith -GP: what a technician. Not too many players are raised to be centers but Cole was. He has also added some bulk. Not sure if we need him this year with so many ahead of him but he may just get in the mix, and he sure looks like a good long-term option.

4. Clayton Johnston -GP: good height and size. Still in development stage.

5. Roy Hemsley -GP: same as Clayton. Roy getting snaps as #2 LT.


Also, Ross and Scott.

Ross -GP: One of the guys who I think can make a real move this spring. Athletic and can make plays.

Scott -GP: haven’t really seen him do much in first week


Can you characterize Tyson Helton as a coach? Is he a screamer or more of the cerebral type?

GP: I wouldn’t call him a screamer but he can be vocal. He also likes to hit his QB’s with bags during drills. As far as being cerebral, a big part of what he is supposed to bring to the table is input on new wrinkles for the offense, it’s supposed to be a strength of his.

The Lizard King

Are we going to have an actual Spring Game with live blocking/tackling, or will it be another chapter of Trojan Two-Hand Touch?

GP: Haven’t heard anything specific on that yet but Coach Helton did say it was going to be a very physical spring “especially when the pads are on” and you would assume the pads will be on for the spring game. We will post something as soon as we hear.


With Adoree out have Biggie took on the leader role for the secondary.

GP: The main thing I’ve noticed from Biggie this spring is the match-ups he’s had with JuJu Smith-Schuster. You see this a lot where the best WR and best CB make it a point to go against each other as much as possible, and you know these two have been doing it since the Poly days. I do think it sends a strong message to the other guys as to his leadership role when they see him taking on JuJu every day.


Lots of questions on new coaches – mine is for Clancy. Whats the immediate impact you see on our guys with his return? Whats been the emphasis so far and overall what are you seeing?

GP: I’ve been surprised to see how much time Clancy (photo above) has been spending with the linebackers. Helton said on Saturday that Clancy will work with the inside backers and the secondary, and he referenced the tackle numbers that NaVorro Bowman put up at linebacker last year with the 49’ers under Clancy. I think the two areas of emphasis so far are tackling drills, and the need to get more pressure in the backfield. Great to have him back.


As he’s a disciple of Ed O., how would you at this (ridiculously early, I understand) juncture compare & contrast he & BKU?

GP: The first thing that comes to mind is the similar intensity and focus. Kenechi is different from Orgeron in many ways (not as  vocal on the field, not many are) but when he talks about coaching the position the words sure sound like Coach O. I also like that Kenechi is talking right away about impacting the players in their development on and off the field because that’s something Orgeron did well, especially for Kenechi himself. It’s not just words he is talking, he has the background and results that bring a lot of credibility.


We’re playing a big, strong Alabama team week 1, how do our guys look size-wise at this point? And will they put on more size and muscle over the summer or have they already done that for the year?

GP: When I watched the national title game it was the size on the lines from Alabama that really stood out to me so I think you bring up one of the keys to the game in terms of how the Trojans measure up. I like what I see from guys like Chad Wheeler, Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson, and of course Zach Banner brings as much size as anyone, but the Tide will bring some big boys as well. There will be continued off-season training after spring ball is over and into the summer.


Garry what change on defense is going to make the biggest difference in 2016?

GP: I think it will be having a pair of bookend OLB’s to help get pressure. When you look at what happened when Clancy was here before, Devon Kennard had a big year and Morgan Breslin was off to a great start as well before his injury, and JR Tavai stepped in to pick up the slack nicely. Porter Gustin sure looks like he will fit well at one of those spots, and Uchenna Nwosu has been an early surprise on the other side. I’m looking forward to seeing Osa Masina get in there, and I think Oluwole Betiku and Connor Murphy are good options for the future.


Any truth to the rumor that Cam Smith has switched to #55?

GP: I don’t know, we haven’t heard any kind of word from the school yet. Smith was wearing #35 during the first week of practice while watching from the sideline so there haven’t been any hints on the field.


Who has made the biggest jump up the depth chart?

GP: Seeing Jordan Simmons working as the #2 RG was a big jump considering he was on the d-line last year. Tyler Petite could take over for McNamara as the starting tight end, he’s been working a lot there. Nwosu as a starting OLB is a nice move, and you have to throw in Christian Rector as a #2 DE, even more so than Malik Dorton, who is also running with the 2’s at a DE spot. But the biggest jumps, and most surprising, are probably at ILB as Michael Hutchings, John Houston and Quinton Powell have been the starters at various points.

Garry Paskwietz
Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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