By Johnny Curren
The Trojans were back on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field for the second day of spring practice on Thursday, and while they were, once again, only in shorts and helmets, there was still plenty of physical play – In fact, maybe even a little too much so.
That fact became clear late in the day during a 7-on-7 period when things got chippy, first between inside linebacker Quinton Powell and tailback Aca’Cedric Ware following one play, and then between Powell and wide receiver De’Quan Hampton after another. Not long after that, Clay Helton pulled the entire team together before having them do “up-downs” as punishment.
Still, the Trojans head coach wasn’t entirely upset with what he saw from his team.
“Was that not awesome?” Helton said. “You want a very chippy, very mad football team that wants to compete. The one thing that you have to be able to stress is the discipline of it also. You want a mad football team. You want a team that wants to compete every down – remember what this field is. It’s about competition. But one of the things that I stressed to them, at the end of the day when you’re a young person, you have to learn that when you make a decision in a game that can hurt you, you have to have the discipline to back off.”
The aggressive tone of practice likely had something to do with the way that Clancy Pendergast’s defense has come out and performed through the first two days of practice, showcasing the attacking mentality that was a trademark of his system during his stint a USC in 2013 as well.
“He’s one of those guys that is extremely ‘Simple Simon,’” Helton said. “He’s going to put one defense in, he’s going to get really good at it, and he’s going to do it until he feels comfortable that the kids have got it. Then he moves on. He’s not a guy that is going to put in a ton of defenses and put pressure on the kids. He’s really a guy that wants to have his players play fast, and that’s one of the things that I’ve seen from the first two days. I’m not seeing a lot of busts out there. You’re seeing a lot of guys come out and play fast because it’s extremely simple.”
Quarterback competition picks back up
With the position completely up for grabs, all eyes were, once again, on the quarterbacks on Thursday. Helton noted that he was not only impressed with the way that redshirt-junior Max Browne performed on Day 2, but also Sam Darnold, Jalen Greene and Matt Fink.
“Max looked sharp again to me today, and then I thought the young kids got some jitters out,” Helton said. “I saw Sam really step forward and make some nice throws out there today. I just like how each one of them is competing, and really picking up the offense faster than I thought they would.”
When it comes to the factors that he’s looking at in choosing a quarterback, Helton has made no secret of the fact that he wants a passer who can consistently guide the offense down the field, while also making the plays when they count most. Browne did just that on Thursday when he directed the offense to victory over the defense in the final five-play challenge, connecting with wide receiver Deontay Burnett on the last play for a big gain over the middle of the field.
“To be able to see a kid throw in one-on-one drills, and individual drills, that’s great,” Helton said. “But when the bullets fly, and we’re in team blitz, and we’re in that team competition at the end, and you make the throw when it counts, I was very pleased on the last throw – dead on the money for the win. Those are the things you want to see from a quarterback.”
News and notes
– Among those who missed practice on Tuesday included Chris Hawkins (ankle surgery), Toa Lobendahn (knee), Osa Masina (hamstring) and Khalil Rodgers.
– Taylor McNamara (strep throat), Leon McQuay III (class) and Powell (strep throat) all returned to practice on Thursday after missing Tuesday’s workout.
– The No.1 offense to start practice on Thursday consisted of Max Browne at QB, Justin Davis at TB, JuJu Smith-Schuster at WR, Darreus Rogers at WR, Steven Mitchell at WR, McNamara at TE, Chad Wheeler at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Nico Falah at C, Jordan Simmons at RG and Zach Banner at RT.
– Ronald Jones II also took carries with the No. 1 group at tailback. Guards Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama spent the day with the No. 2 offense.
– The No. 1 defense consisted of Uchenna Nwosu at Sam OLB, Rasheem Green at DE, Noah Jefferson at N, Kenny Bigelow at DE, Porter Gustin at Predator OLB, Michael Hutchings at ILB, John Houston Jr. at ILB, Isaiah Langley at CB, Iman Marshall at CB, McQuay at S, and Marvell Tell at S.
– Olajuwon Tucker and Powell were the primary inside linebackers with the No. 2 unit. Powell was very active on the day.
– John Plattenburg also saw time with the No. 1 defense at safety, particularly when the unit went to their nickel alignment, which took Greene out of the lineup.
– Helton said that John Baxter has the USC special teams units “way ahead of the game” through the first two days of spring practice. The Trojans spent extensive time getting kick return, kickoff and field goal work in on Thursday.
– One of the highlights of the day was watching running backs coach Tommie Robinson work with his group on a pass blocking drills. He really hammered home the idea of technique and physical play.
– Oluwole Betiku, Marshall and Ykili Ross got extra work in after practice and were the last players to leave the field.
– Among the Class of 2017 recruits in attendance were USC commits Stephen Carr (Fontana, Calif./Summit) and Thomas Graham Jr. (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga), as well as UCLA defensive end commit Hunter Echols (Los Angeles, Calif./Cathedral), and uncommitted wide receiver Jamire Calvin (Los Angeles, Calif./Cathedral).
– Former Trojans players in attendance included Emon Saee, Antwaun Woods and George Uko.
– Justin Davis ran outside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards before Plattenburg made the stop.
– Darnold hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Tell stopped Darnold for no gain.
– Jabari Ruffin sacked Greene.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Bigelow stopped J. Davis for a loss.
– Browne connected with Rogers outside for a gain of 12 yards before Marshall made the stop.
– Browne tried to hit Burnett down the sideline, but Marshall broke up the pass.
– Browne hit McNamara outside for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Darnold connected with Pittman outside for a gain of over 25 yards.
– Darnold threw over the middle, but Olajuwon Tucker tipped the pass and it fell incomplete.
– Greene hit Ajene Harris for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Browne hit Smith-Schuster for a gain of 10 yards over the middle before Matt Lopes made the stop.
– Browne hit Mitchell outside for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Fink hit D. Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Browne hit Mitchell over the middle for 15 yards before Plattenburg made the stop.
– Browne hit Burnett over the middle for 10 yards.
– Browne hit Isaac Whitney over the middle for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Darnold hit D. Imatorbhebhe for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Darnold hit Ronald Jones II with a quick pass outside and he picked up 12 or 13 yards.
– Darnold hit Mitchell outside, who then made a nice cutback inside and picked up over 20 yards.
– Jefferson sacked Browne.
– Houston stopped J. Davis after a short gain.
– Browne hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 8 or 9 yards with Marshall in tight coverage.
– Powell batted down a Darnold pass at the line.
– Jacob Daniel sacked Darnold.
– Browne hit McNamara over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Browne hit Rogers over the middle for a gain of 8 or 9 yards before Langley made the stop,
– Nwosu intercepted the Browne pass.
– Browne hit Burnett for a big gain over the middle.