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O/NSO: Scrimmage edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: The USC Trojans will hold their first scrimmage of 2017 spring ball on Saturday morning (10 a.m.) on campus, and head coach Clay Helton and staff will get a true first-look at the early results of spring practice mentoring.

The Not So Obvious: Due to NCAA rules for spring ball, the Trojans are allowed just three “live” tackling scrimmages, so scrimmage No. 1 takes on added importance. According to Helton, this will not be a “thud” scrimmage but a real drag’em down, hit’em-in-the-mouth affair, which should delight the general public, which is invited to be Monday morning quarterback observers at Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields.

The Obvious: Although it’s still somewhat early in the spring practice calendar, Saturday’s scrimmage should reassure some expected offensive strengths like sophomore Heisman Trophy candidate and quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above), and a veteran defense led by junior all-star inside linebacker Cameron Smith.

The Not So Obvious: If you’re planning on attending Saturday’s scrimmage, it is expected that the defense will look effective while the offensive will likely appear a work in progress Specific areas of Saturday’s competition that will warrant scrutiny are battles for backup quarterback, the progress of the offensive tackles, replacement competition at nose tackle, replacement battles at receiver positions – both wide and tight – and a glimpse into the future of an expected new placekicker.

The Obvious: The big news of this past week is that junior wide receiver-quarterback Jalen Greene requested to be a full-time receiver and permission was granted.

The Not So Obvious: Jalen’s decision is big news because many of us, including the O/NSO, believed in the long run Greene had the inside track to be Sam Darnold’s backup quarterback for 2017. While Clay Helton has agreed to Greene’s request to be a wide receiver, the coach also indicated that Jalen could still play QB if needed.

The Obvious: With Jalen Greene remaining at wide receiver, it means all eyes at Saturday’s scrimmage will be focused on the quarterback competition between redshirt freshman Matt Fink and true freshman Jack Sears.

The Not So Obvious: Although we are still early in the competition process, Fink has shown good improvement from last season while Sears is learning the system but now knows he is at no worse than the No. 3 quarterback with the opportunity to still move up the depth chart.

The Obvious: One of those youngsters to watch in Saturday’s scrimmage is redshirt freshman safety/nickel back Jamel Cook.

The Not So Obvious: If you are going to Saturday’s scrimmage, Cook will be wearing No. 21. Cook, who had three interceptions during Tuesday’s 7-on-7 drills, is from Miami, Florida (Miami Central HS). Jamel (6-3, 185) was an All-State Class 6A first-team selection and a member of his school’s three state championship teams (2012, 2013, 2014). The talented kid is also the cousin of former Florida State running back star Dalvin Cook (2014-16).

The Obvious: Part of the fun of spring ball is seeing the younger players finally get a real shot at making a difference for the coming season.

The Not So Obvious: Another name to watch on Saturday is redshirt freshman running back Vavae Malipeai. The Hawaiian ball carrier, who wears No. 29, could give a real glimpse into a future star.

The Obvious: Jim Hardy is one of the Trojans all-time great quarterbacks.

The Not So Obvious: Gentleman Jim, who starred for the Cardinal and Gold in the mid-1940s, drives in from his Palm Springs area home at least once a week to watch his beloved alma mater practice – rain or shine. On Tuesday there was rain, but the octogenarian would not be denied.

The Obvious: The Trojans held their annual Pro Day for NFL scouts on Wednesday.

The Not So Obvious: With a new rule that says that five underclassmen from the 2018 class would be allowed to work out in front of NFL scouts, the question was would quarterback Sam Darnold tip his hand by working out with the NFL representatives? Darnold didn’t participate in Pro Day, which must have brought a collective sigh of relief to millions of USC fans. Clay Helton said earlier this week that it would be too difficult to select five underclassmen to participate in Pro Day, although one certainly comes to mind.

The Obvious: Former Trojans fullback and special teams terror Soma Vainuku has signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Not So Obvious: If ever a former Trojan worked hard enough to draw a paycheck from the NFL, it’s Soma Vainuku. The O/NSO has always thought that if Soma could have been a true I-formation fullback during the John McKay or John Robinson era, he would have been a nightmare for opposing defenses, especially linebackers.

The Obvious: During Wednesday Pro Day on campus, former Trojans head coach and USC Hall of Fame member Pete Carroll and former Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow were in attendance.

The Not So Obvious: From all reports, Carroll and Chow were extremely cordial to each other. As you recall, Carroll basically demoted Chow after the Trojans smashed Oklahoma in the BCS title game in the 2005 Orange Bowl. There are many cardinal and gold followers, including the O/NSO, that believe that when Carroll took the keys to the offensive playcalling away from Chow after the huge victory over the Sooners and gave them to a highly inexperienced Lane Kiffin, it put a major crack in the Pete Carroll USC dynasty.

The Obvious: Former Trojans tailback Justin Davis ran a 4.49 in front of NFL scouts at Wednesday’s Pro Day.

The Not So Obvious: Justin’s effort in the 40 will be rewarded in April’s upcoming NFL draft. Most thought Davis would run in the 4.5 – 4.6 range, but he gained some major cred with his time.

The Obvious: Former Trojans wide receiver Isaac Whitney ran the fastest Pro Day 40 time, which was electronically timed.

The Not So Obvious: Whitney ran a 4.41, which intrigued those scouts in attendance. Although he was a Trojans reserve, don’t count out Whitney’s chances of making a NFL roster.

The Obvious: And finally, former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer made a surprise appearance at Thursday’s practice.

The Not So Obvious: On Palmer’s return to campus, Clay Helton said, “Having Carson Palmer back on campus was so neat.” Carson, who plans on playing at least another year in the NFL (Arizona Cardinals), caught the attention of onlookers and displayed the same charisma and class that he displayed during his seasons at Troy (1998-2002).

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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