By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
The Obvious: Like everybody else in the cardinal and gold stratosphere, the O/NSO has our own take on the summation of spring ball; however, unlike everybody else, the O/NSO made final spring predications before spring ball even started in late March.
The Not So Obvious: So how did the predictions of pre-spring practice mesh with the final results of April? Let’s take a look at the O/NSO foreshadowing and compare the two.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Jalen) Greene (photo above) will finish as (Sam) Darnold’s No. 2 heading into training camp in August.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the quarterback backup competition finished unofficially official with redshirt freshman Matt Fink as Darnold’s immediate understudy with true freshman Jack Sears behind Fink as No. 3. As for the O/NSO pre-prediction, how were we to know that junior Jalen Greene would go quietly into Clay Helton’s office before spring ball and ask to be a permanent wide receiver? Not surprisingly, we take no ownership of our prediction based on circumstances beyond our knowledge and control. Is that called a “cop-out”?
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Aca’Cedric) Ware will be next up behind RoJo (Ronald Jones).”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the tailback competition was pretty much set with Ronald Jones being the proven incumbent. Although RoJo didn’t have an electrifying spring, there’s no reason to believe that RoJo even remotely has lost his starting spot. What has become food for depth chart thought was the impressive performance this spring of redshirt freshman tailback Vavae Malepeai who must now be considered a legitimate challenger for the No. 2 tailback spot even with the return of junior Cedric Aca’Ware, who was injured enough of the spring to give Malepeai an opening.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Reuben) Peters will finish spring ball as the No. 1 fullback.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the fullback competition wasn’t any competition at all, as Peters held on to the fullback spot with some impressive displays of blocking and running. Of course, lurking in the background is the possibility that Vavae Malepeai could be used in a two-back set, which he did during various parts of spring ball, and that tells the O/NSO that the ghosts of former multi-dimensional fullbacks Stanley Havili and Malaefou MacKenzie live!
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Tyler) Vaughns and (Michael) Pittman Jr. will join Deontay Burnett as the Trojans starting three receivers heading into training camp in August.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the wide receiver competition initially went pretty much as expected with Burnett retaining his slot position to coincide with the emergence Vaughns and Pittman. However, the big unknown variable early in the process was the commitment by Jalen Greene to be a fulltime wide receiver. In the opinion of the O/NSO, Greene earned a starting spot this spring alongside Burnett with Pittman with Vaughns continuing the competition in August. If pressed, Pittman would have the starting spot if there was a game on Saturday. And, no, the O/NSO hasn’t forgotten redshirt freshman Velus Jones Jr. who was impressive during the spring, but he wasn’t part of the original prediction.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: Daniel Imatorbhebhe will be the starter beginning training camp in August.”
The No So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the tight end competition didn’t see Imatorbhebhe lose his starting spot due to injury, but it did allow impressive redshirt freshman Cary Angeline and improved junior Tyler Petite to assert themselves into the rotation. Imatorbhebhe will still be the starter and be one of Darnold’s favorite targets, but there will be fierce competition by Angeline and Petite for the No. 2 role come August. It won’t surprise if the Trojans use three tight end formations in specialized situations.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: Chuma Edoga (LT), Chris Brown (LG), Nico Falah (C), Viane Talamaivao (RG), Roy Hemsley (RT) will start.”
“Bonus Post Spring Practice Prediction: In the fall, the O/NSO will give an OL selection of Chuma Edoga (LT), Chris Brown (LG), Nico Falah (C), Viane Talamaivao (RG), Toa Lobendahn (RT). Lobendahn could flip positions with Brown.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the offensive line competition was hampered by injuries to three expected starters (OG Talamaivao, OT/OG/C Lobendahn, C Falah). Our prediction for the final spring starters would have come close had right guard Talamaivao not had late spring arm surgery. Because of various injuries and experimentation, Brown started at guard but ended at right tackle opposite left tackle Edoga. Falah was able to come back late in spring from a nagging back issue and play in the spring game, which was encouraging. As for our “bonus” fall camp predication, it’s still in play with the wild cards being Lobendahn and Brown. They could be at left guard and right tackle, respectively, or flip-flopped. A second wild card could be Roy Hemsley who could line up at either left guard or right tackle. Look for the final starting spot (right tackle) to be contested in August between Brown and Hemsley with Lobendahn starting at left guard.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Josh) Fatu (NT) will join (Rasheem) Green (DE), and (Malik) Dorton (DT) as the down linemen heading into training camp in August.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the down linemen competition was a very pleasant surprise. Our original pre-spring couldn’t have possibly seen that true freshman nose and early enrollee tackle Marlon Tuipolotu to be so advanced, so fundamentally sound, and so emotionally mature to give him the pre-spring nod. However, Marlon unofficially finished spring practice as the starting nose tackle ahead of Fatu. Because of the rise of “Tui” and the anticipated return of senior Kenny Bigelow in August, there was successful experimentation in having both Tuipolotu and Fatu in game at the same time. As for Rasheem Green, he played this spring at a level that bodes well for a monster junior season, while Dorton’s current status was affected by the play of Tuipuloto and Fatu, it should bring out the best in Malik in the future. Second-year D-line coach Kenechi Udeze now has quite a number of options, which will only increase with the. arrival of true freshman DT Jay Tufele whom some say is even better than Tuipuloto.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: (Jordan) Iosefa to be in the starting group along with Cameron Smith on the inside with last season’s outside starters, (Porter) Gustin and (Uchenna) Nwosu, holding serve.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the change in that original prediction is that sophomore ILB John Houston Jr. has a slight edge over Jordan Iosefa, which could change in the August training camp. Clay Helton has been quite complimentary of both Houston and Iosefa with Houston being the speedster and Iosefa bringing the muscle.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: A surprise, Ajene Harris to join Iman Marshall at the corners along with returning starting free safety Marvell Tell lll and co-starter (safety) Chris Hawkins.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, the key here to the pre-prediction is that the secondary would be four-player defensive backfield, although the Trojans spent a lot of the time in nickel situations. Of the four secondary members mentioned above, Harris had a fine spring and will certainly be in there in nickel situations if he doesn’t eventually start at corner. The big unknown is how talented sophomore corner Jackie Jones will be evaluated in summer training camp. As of this point, Jones has a slight edge, but again the O/NSO wouldn’t call Jones a cement starter and Harris can do the job.
The Obvious: Before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “Post Spring Practice Prediction: If (Matt) Boermeester does not return, (Michael) Brown will be the kicking answer heading into training camp in August.”
The Not So Obvious: In spring ball retrospect, redshirt freshman Brown did “win” the spring starting spot because there was not much competition. Based on Clay Helton’s comments following spring, we’ll have to wait to find out if Brown is the final kicking choice by the end training camp in August.
The Obvious: And finally, before spring ball, the O/NSO wrote, “However, one thing is certain. There will be experimentation both in position groups and some complete switches either by choice or request. This is always one of the great surprises of spring. With the return of Sam Darnold, this is one spring that any surprises will be cushioned by the return of No. 14.”
The Not So Obvious: And in spring ball retrospect, there were some experimentations like TB Vavae Malepeai in a two-back set, OL Roy Hemsley being moved around the tackle and guard spots, Marlon Tuipulotu and Josh Fatu in the lineup at the same time, and the play of former quarterback Jalen Greene who appears to have earned an unofficial starting spot. And in spring retrospect, who could have predicted that there would be continuing conversation and conjecture regarding the status of MIA sophomore left tackle E.J. Price, who was still attending spring classes and has signaled that he would love to return to the team. Now, who could have pre-predicted that?