With the Trojans mimicking their typical game-week practice schedule as they gear up for their Jan. 2 Rose Bowl clash with Penn State, the team was in shorts and helmets on Thursday, taking part in light workout that lasted a little over an hour.
With a total of seven bowl practice sessions under their belt now, USC head coach Clay Helton said that he is pleased with where his team sits today in terms of their preparation.
“I really feel like if we needed to play this Saturday that we would be ready to go,” Helton said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and do some situational football, just to be situational masters with two-minute, four-minute situations, last plays of the game and some special teams situations, and then go through our opening series. And then go ahead and give the kids a couple of days off, come back Monday and restart another week.”
Helton discusses Browne transfer
Former Trojans quarterback Max Browne announced on Thursday that he will transfer to Pittsburgh. He will arrive on campus in January and participate in spring drills, and as a graduate-transfer, he will be eligible to play immediately next season.
“Like I’ve said, what a class act,” said Helton. “I want nothing but the best for him. He’s a special talent, a special kid, and I know he’ll have a really bright future.”
Helton said that Browne had previously revealed to him that Pitt was a potential landing spot.
“I asked him, ‘what were some of the options that were out there?’ Pitt was one of those,” Helton said. “He was excited about it. I think they were excited about him, and he really didn’t need to do anything further from there. I know he took a visit there, and it must have clicked. I’m happy for him.”
Looking ahead on the offensive line
With both starting offensive tackles in Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler set to depart following the Rose Bowl, Helton discussed the future of the position heading into the offseason.
“It’s time for a Chuma Edoga to jump up,” Helton said. “It’s time for a Clayton Johnston to come into the fold, a Nate Smith to come in the fold, as well as the next recruiting class that’s coming in. We’ve been very fortunate for Zach and Chad to play a lot of games and a lot of snaps, and now it’s another man’s turn, and it ought to make for great competition in the spring. I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got some talented young kids that will be ready to go.”
But not helping matters is the fact that Smith went down on Tuesday with a torn ACL, and he is likely out until the start of next season at the earliest.
Center will be another interesting position to watch. Toa Lobendahn is generally considered to be one of the most talented performers along the line, but since going down with a torn ACL of his own, Nico Falah has performed solidly is his place at center this season.
Given Lobedahn’s versatility, however, Helton intimated that he could wind up at another spot next season.
“I really think Toa is a major asset because you look at him and he kind of reminds me of Max Tuerk,” Helton said. “He’s played all three positions. He’s played tackle, he’s played guard, he’s played center. And with Nico really playing the center position very well, that’s another added piece of the puzzle as we try to fit everything together.”
Guard/tackle Jordan Simmons also recently applied for a sixth year of eligibility, and if that is granted, his return would certainly provide some much-needed depth for the offensive line unit as a whole.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” Helton said. “They always review those things and we’ll see how it is.. I’m hoping it’s sooner than later for all of our sakes.”
News and notes
– While it was overcast and cloudy, there was only a light drizzle at brief moments during practice.
– Both Khaliel Rodgers and Keyshwn Young remained sidelined due to concussion protocol. Young spent a portion of practice working on the side with a trainer.
– With Rodgers sidelined, Cole Smith ran with the No. 2 offense at center. Chris Brown also took some brief reps at the position.
– The bowl practices have given some of the younger members of the team an opportunity to get extended work in. When asked if there was a particular position group that has been standing out so far, Helton said without hesitation that the freshman receivers have been catching his eye.
“A Josh Imatorbhebhe, a Tyler Vaughns, a Trevon Sidney and a Velus Jones have really come on and improved. They got to compete the other day, and you could see the amount of improvement they made from Day 1. That group has jumped out.”
– Jalen Greene took a greater number of reps at quarterback on Thursday than he did one day previously. He still spent a good portion of the workout with the wide receivers as well.
– Greene also stayed after practice with some of the younger members of the offense to run some routes for quarterbacks Matt Fink, Holden Thomas and Thomas Fitts. Some of the other receivers who participated were Vaughns, Sidney and Imatorbhebhe, as well as cornerback Isaiah Langley.
– During a punt return period, both Adoree’ Jackson and Jack Jones showed off their explosiveness, with each player coming up with a nice return.
– With the offense and defense spending much of the day in service team periods, there was only one 11-on-11 team period. Sam Darnold connected on two deep touchdown passes during that portion of practice – first to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and later on to Darreus Rogers. Porter Gustin closed practice out with a sack on Fink.