By Johnny Curren
There certainly was no shortage of physical play on Day 5 of fall camp on Monday, as the Trojans were dressed in full-pads for the first time.
With the team practicing inside the Coliseum, USC head coach Clay Helton and Co. kicked things off with a competitive angle tackling drill that certainly caught everyone’s attention, but there was also plenty of one-on-one, 7-on-7, and perhaps most thrilling of all, 11-on-11 work that took place – and it was all marked by an abundance of physical play.
“It was great to get the pads back on,” Helton said. “It was really important for us to be able to teach the physicality of the game, whether it was starting with our angle tackling drill, going to a physical team-run period, and then doing a little bit of scrimmaging in some situational football there at the end. Whether it was moving the ball, bringing guys to the ground for ball security tackling purposes, and then tight-red zone. Very important lessons learned I thought.”
The offense shined early, with Helton praising the play of centers Toa Lobendahn and Nico Falah, as well as tailbacks Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware. With Justin Davis sidelined with minor knee and hip issues, both of the talented youngsters carried the bulk of the load coming out of the backfield, and they made the most of the opportunity. Ware opened some eyes as he ran with aggression, while Jones showed off his explosiveness, coming up with one of the plays of the day as he found a hole on the left side of the line and ran off for what would have been a 70-yard touchdown.
Helton also lauded the efforts of the two quarterbacks entrenched in a heated position battle right now, Max Browne and Sam Darnold, for the way that they spread the ball around to all of the weapons at their disposal.
“What stood out to me is the playmakers that are around, and really teaching the quarterbacks that between the wide outs, the tight ends and the running backs, you have plenty of weapons around you,” Helton said. “Get it to your playmakers. Don’t make the critical errors. And that’s one of the things you saw, that as they drove it down, there were no critical errors. They found the open man, and they got it to him. I was proud of both quarterbacks.”
After somewhat of a slow start, the defense showed some nice resolve and finished the day strong, with Helton highlighting the way that the unit performed in the late tight-red zone period. With the offense getting three plays to score from the 10-yard line, the defense came up with stops on three of the four possessions that the offense had, with Adoree’ Jackson, Quinton Powell, Jabari Ruffin and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu standing out as some of the players who made key stops.
“In the spring, when we put it down and we challenged them, and we ran power three times, we would make the 10 yards offensively,” Helton said. “They turned it back today, and you could see the confidence building in them, so it was a major statement by them to be able to do that. I was very proud of that.”
News and notes
– JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) returned to full-go action on Sunday, but he went to the sideline late in the day due to a dislocated pinky finger. Helton said that he wanted to come back in, but they held him out as a precautionary measure.
– In addition to Davis, the list of those who did not participate in practice included Jamel Cook (ankle), Jalen Greene (hamstring), Chris Hawkins (hamstring), Noah Jefferson (back), Khaliel Rodgers (concussion), Chad Wheeler (plantar fasciitis) and Keyshawn Young (shoulder).
– Helton said that Wheeler’s plantar fasciitis will not require surgery – only rest. With Wheeler out, Zach Banner moved over to left tackle with the No. 1 group, and Chuma Edoga came in at right tackle.
– Following practice, Helton said that Jefferson underwent an MRI on his back on Monday, and that they are awaiting results. He hopes to have him back in action in a week.
– Rasheem Green (elbow/tricep), Vavae Malepeai (shoulder stinger) and John Plattenburg (concussion-like symptoms) went to the sideline during practice and did not return.
– The primary No. 1 offense consisted of Banner at LT, Damien Mama at LG, Toa Lobendahn at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG, Edoga at RT, JuJu Smith-Schuster at WR, Steven Mitchell at WR, Darreus Rogers at WR, Taylor McNamara at TE, Ronald Jones II at TB and Max Browne at QB.
– The primary No. 1 defense consisted of Porter Gustin at predator OLB, Uchenna Nwosu at SAM OLB, Rasheem Green at DT, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu at N, Malik Dorton at DT, Michael Hutchings at MIKE LB, Quinton Powell at WILL LB, Iman Marshall at CB, Adoree’ Jackson at CB, Marvell Tell at S and Leon McQuay II at S.
– When Green went to the sideline, Christian Rector came in at his DT spot.
– The defense also, once again, spent a good portion of time in a nickel set, which brought one of the defensive linemen out, with Ykili Ross coming in at safety, and McQuay covering the slot.
– Ajene Harris also took some reps with the No. 1 unit in place of Jackson, whom they appeared to rest at one point.
– During the early angle tackling period, Velus Jones, Iman Marshall and Adoree’ Jackson were some of the players who stood out.
– Smith-Schuster had the arguable play of the early one-on-one period, using a great double-move on his route to lose Marshall and break free to haul in a deep bomb down the sideline.
– During the linemen one-on-ones, Viane Talamaivao, Chris Brown, Porter Gustin and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu were some of the players who stood out.
– Marshall started things off in the early red zone 7-on-7 period by picking off a Max Browne pass intended for De’Quan Hampton. To Browne’s credit, he recovered nicely, immediately hitting Mitchell and Daniel Imotorbhebhe for touchdowns.
– During a field goal period both Matt Boermeester and Michael Brown both went 4-for-4, each with a long of 38 yards.
– USC athletic director Lynn Swann and former Trojans head coach John Robinson were in attendance, as was former Trojans player Chauncey Washington.
– Scouts from the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns were also on hand.
– Jones runs outside for a big gain.
– Nwosu stuffed Ware for no gain.
– Ware ran left for a gain of 9 or 10 yards.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne tried to hit Mitchell outside, but Harris broke up the pass.
– McQuay stopped Ware after a short gain.
– Ware ran outside for a big gain.
– James Toland ran outside for a gain of 10 or 11 yards. Smith-Schuster had a key block on Jack Jones on the play.
– Nwosu dropped Jones for a loss.
– Browne hit Jones outside, but Powell came up and made a nice stop to keep it to a short gain.
– Josh Fatu dropped Ware for a loss.
– Darnold hit Isaac Whitney over the middle for a gain of 20 yards.
– Darnold hit Burnett outside for 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schsuter for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Jones ran right for a gain of 11 or 12 yards before Tell and others stopped him.
– Jones broke a tackle and picked up close to 10 yards.
– Darnold kept it and picked up 7 or 8 yards.
– Browne hit Whitney for a gain of 20 yards.
– Browne hit Hampton outside for a gain of 20 yards.
– Browne hit D. Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a 30-yard TD.
– Tu’ikolovatu stopped Ware for no gain.
– Powell stopped Ware for no gain.
– Jackson stopped Jones for no gain.
– Jackson again stopped Jones, this time after a short gain.
– Ruffin stopped Ware for a loss.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of 6 or 7.
– Darnold hit Toland outside in the open field, but Jones made a nice one-on-one tackle.
– Darnold hit Rogers over the middle for a one-yard TD.
– Jones ran to the left for a 70-yard TD.
– Dominic Davis ran outside for a big gain.
– Dorton and Gustin sacked Matt Fink.