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O/NSO: Coronavirus sacks USC Spring Practice edition

The Obvious: It was only a matter of time until the University of Southern California decided to cancel Trojans Spring Football Practice. On a cold and rainy Thursday morning in Los Angeles, it was officially announced that spring practice had been suspended indefinitely, which probably is more an indefinite cancellation.

The Not So Obvious: With all walks of sporting life – professionally and amateur – in the USA grinding to a halt, the decision to suspend spring ball was the only choice. The question: When will the Trojans return to something that resembles spring ball? The O/NSO is no doctor or politician, but the gut feeling here is that it’s going to be sometime until the gates of Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields (cover photo above) are reopened. It would be surprising if the NCAA didn’t create a new time period in the spring academic calendar that replaces the recently canceled spring practice. Then again, it might not even be during the current spring academic school year. Sometime during summer school could be an option.

The Obvious: There will be a number of options in the future to make up for the current spring ball suspension.  

The Not So Obvious: The NCAA could take the 15 days of spring practice and tag it on to training camp in August. In other words, if training camp was scheduled to commence the first week of August, those 15 days of missed spring ball could be frontloaded to the last two weeks of July.  

The Obvious: As Spring Practice was about to begin, Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton sounded again like a coach who is anything but on a hot seat.

The Not So Obvious: In an Associated Press story this week, Helton said, “I look at it right now as that I’ve been given a gift of having the things needed for us to be successful. Now, I put a lot of pressure on myself and our coaching staff. When you’re given the things that we’ve been given this off-season we need to produce the results. And that’s me saying that, not anybody else. That’s the standard that I’ve set for myself and for our staff.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) says he’s grateful that he now has the type of resources that can make his program successful.

The Obvious: Spring Practice traditionally has always been a source of optimism, and the Trojans know they will be one of the Pac-12 favorites heading into the 2020 season. Much of the optimism revolves in the hiring of a whole new upset and energetic defensive staff.   

The Not So Obvious: In being specific regarding why coaching at USC is still considered a major assistant coaching destination, Clay Helton told AP, “Why would Graham Harrell stay if he didn’t believe in what we’re doing? Why does a Donte Williams leave a Rose Bowl champion Oregon to come here to USC? Why does Vic So’oto, who has been raised by (Virginia coach) Bronco Mendenhall, I mean, that’s as close to a son as (Mendenhall’s) got, leave his mentor to come here? There’s something special that is going on here. We all feel it as coaches.”

Clay Helton says that new coaches like first-year defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above) came to USC because there’s “something special that is going on here.”

The Obvious: Mike Bohn is the Trojans first-year athletic director.

The Not So Obvious: Asked whether this off-season he (Bohn) and Clay Helton had a meeting of the minds in terms of the upcoming 2020 season, the Trojans AD told the AP, “The expectations moving forward are very clear. And he (Helton) understands that and he is embracing them like we all are. I want to be clear that we are not accepting the current state of the program. We want to play in the Rose Bowl, and we want to play for the national championship. So, we’re going to make the right investments to compete to do that. So, the frustrations that some of our people continue to have are shared by everybody in this building.”

Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above on right) says he has informed USC head football coach Clay Helton ( photo above on left) the expectations for 2020.

The Obvious: For the abbreviated first week of spring ball, sophomore quarterback JT Daniels didn’t physically participate in spring ball.

The Not So Obvious: It was revealed on Wednesday that JT had not been medically cleared and had a second “cleanup surgery.” Clay Helton informed, “He’s on pace to come back in the fall.” Here’s a little secret: JT will do the best he can to get back, but when the Trojans line up against Alabama, it will be Kedon Slovis at quarterback. That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but that’s the way the O/NSO sees it come Sept. 5.

Former Trojans’ starting quarterback JT Daniels (photo above) is still recovering from painful knee surgery, but that hasn’t stopped him from working hard to eventually compete again in the future with the other two USC quarterbacks – Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink.

The Obvious: One of the major complaints of the Clay Helton era is that his teams are not physical enough, and it shows when they play teams like Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Alabama.

The Not So Obvious: Before the indefinite cancellation of spring ball, Trojans head coach Clay Helton said, “This is going to be a very physical camp.” Helton added they would use all eight days they are allowed to tackle. With the indefinite halt to spring ball, the plan to up the physicality has also been put on hold.  

The Obvious: Clay Helton said before the official opening of spring ball that offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker would get a look-see at the vacated left tackle position.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO will go out on a very early limb and predict that Vera-Tucker will end up the starting left tackle and that Jalen McKenzie will be the right tackle. On the very first and only day of spring practice on Wednesday, Vera-Tucker was at left tackle, although McKenzie (due to an academic scheduling issue) did not participate so redshirt freshman Jason Rodriguez manned the right OT position. Of bigger interest was sophomore Justin Dedich, who lined up at left guard next to Vera-Tucker. Keep an eye on Justin, he could become a major key in solidifying the future of the O-line.

Although Spring Practice has been indefinitely canceled, it didn’t take away on the first and only day of practice that reserve center Justin Dedich (photo above) lined up at left guard.

The Obvious: Thirty USC players have undergone surgeries during the off-season.

The Not So Obvious: Yep, that’s not a misprint. There are so many players not participating that you have to wonder just how much can be accomplished. Well, with the current situation of no spring practice, it will give the wounded additional time to get better.

The Obvious: Sophmore wide receiver Drake London was not participating in spring practice.

The Not So Obvious: London was concentrating on basketball, but that no longer applies as both the post-season basketball tournament action has been cancelled, and now there is no spring football practice either.

Multi-sport athlete Drake London (photo above) missed Spring Football because he was playing on the Trojans basketball team. As the world turns, not only was football canceled for the spring, but the Trojans basketball season was cut short thanks to the Coronavirus, as well.

The Obvious: At the time of the spring football cancellation, sophomore running back Kenan Christon was not with the football program in order to participate in track.

The Not So Obvious: Imagine how disappointed Kenon must be considering that when he ran track at San Diego Madison HS, he had a 10:30 best in the 100 meters, 20.55 in the 200 meters, and was a 24-0 in the long jump.  

The Obvious: Mason Murphy (6-5, 287), a three-star 2021 offensive lineman from local San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra, committed to the Trojans on Wednesday.

The Not So Obvious: FYI, Murphy’s football coach at JSerra is Pat Harlow, the former Trojans offensive line great who also played in the NFL.

Former Trojans’ all-star offensive tackle and NFL vet Pat Harlow (photo above) was pleased to see one of his JSerra High offensive linemen, Mason Murphy, give a verbal pledge to the Trojans for the recruiting Class of 2021.

The Obvious: And finally, a casualty of the cancellation of Spring Practice was the “spring game” (AKA The Spring Showcase), which was to be played in the Coliseum on Saturday, April 11, at noon.   

The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the cancellation of The Spring Showcase has a silver lining. If there were concerns regarding attendance at the Coliseum, that will no longer be an issue.   

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.

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