5 min Read

O/NSO: Spring ball edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC

The Obvious: The USC Trojans will commence the physical foundation and true transition of the Clay Helton era when spring practice opens on Tuesday afternoon (3:30) on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields.

The Not So Obvious: There have been hours of meetings and strategic changes that will be revealed to the public when the Trojans open spring ball. Areas to watch beginning Tuesday will be attention paid to any position changes, the bigger picture of getting more “physical,” and how this coaching staff plans to up the physicality of the team.

The Obvious: All eyes will begin focus on the battle at quarterback between 2015 back-up and junior redshirt Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold.

The Not So Obvious: The reality is that no matter how intense the competition does get, it would be highly surprising if Max Browne isn’t named the starting quarterback for the Trojans either at the end of spring or during fall training camp. Max has paid his dues and he has looked good in practice sessions for a long time. Darnold is a talent like Browne, but it would seem inevitable that San Clemente Sam will have to wait his turn.

The Obvious: There have been not so subtle reports that Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin have “redesigned” the offense with input from quarterback’s coach and passing game coordinator Tyson Helton.

The Not So Obvious: We may not know in the first week of practice how much the changes, but the O/NSO certainly hopes to see more screen passes, passes to the tight end, and draws plays added to the offensive repertoire.

The Obvious: No new coach on Clay Helton’s staff will be under more scrutiny than first-year offensive line coach Neil Callaway.

The Not So Obvious: What a difference a season makes. Last spring practice, Trojans fans were sharply divided on Steve Sarkisian’s hiring of Bob Connelly, and while a number of offensive linemen seemed to be receptive to Connelly, in the end, Clay Helton didn’t care for what he was seeing and Connelly didn’t last long enough to coach in the Holiday Bowl. It should be entertaining to watch Neil Callaway and his “old school” approach to being mean, nasty, and physical.

The Obvious: Nobody on the new staff seemed to get any more public and private support than new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the most intriguing part of Clancy’s return and his reestablishing a defense Trojans fans have come to know is where he will be making position changes to fit his defense. Many fans have urged the Trojans defense to consider moving sophomore corner Iman Marshall to a strong safety position. It is known that Pendergast does have his safeties designated as strong and free – unlike former DC Justin Wilcox, who said both safeties were of equal responsibility. It will also be interesting during spring ball to see where Pendergast spends his time in dealing his defense.

The Obvious: This will be Kenechi Udeze’s first full spring practice as the Trojans new defensive line coach.

The Not So Obvious: One advantage that Udeze has in working with his unit is that he knows them and they know him from last season’s Holiday Bowl practices. If anything, he can now really let loose, and his charges will now know he’s “the man.” A key to the down linemen’s productivity may be the efforts of junior Kenny Bigelow, who must now show more production than potential.

The Obvious: The Trojans will have a number of early freshmen enrollees that will participate in spring ball.

The Not So Obvious: The two freshmen that will have the attention of the O/NSO beginning next week will 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and 6-foot-4, 210-pound wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (Woodland Hills, Calif./Oaks Christian). Both players could make an impact as the spring progresses.

The Obvious: The Trojans offensive staff says it will make a concerted effort to involve the tight end in 2016.

The Not So Obvious: This spring should add some credibility to the tight end proclamation, but the Trojans have lost walk-on Caleb Wilson, who is transferring to UCLA. The O/NSO can’t recall a crossover like this since Rod Sherman left UCLA to Troy in the early 60s.

The Obvious: The Trojans new linebackers coach if former running backs coach Johnny Nansen.

The Not So Obvious: You can talk about the competition regarding other areas of the Trojans, but the O/NSO says keep an eye on the progress of the linebackers with Nansen now in charge. You can bet that Nansen will be getting plenty of input from Clancy Pendergast throughout the spring. A key to the revised defense will be where and how sophomore Porter Gustin will be used. With sophomore middle linebacker Cameron Smith out rehabbing his knee surgery, keep a close eye on junior Olajuwon Tucker.

The Obvious: And finally, the long-range weather forecast for Tuesday’s afternoon 3:30 practice is sunny with a high of 71.

The Not So Obvious: Okay, Jim Harbaugh, let’s see you match those weather numbers in Ann Arbor. FYI, the temperature in Ann Arbor on Tuesday is projected to be a high of 64 and cloudy. Of course, Wednesday it drops to 57 with light rain.

Greg Katz
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.

More Articles By Greg