The second practice of fall camp saw things tilt toward the defense for much of the second half of practice, as none of the four quarterbacks stepped forward with truly impressive performances.
“I thought they were just okay,” Helton said of his quarterbacks. “I thought they were off and on, and I think they would even say that…I thought there were some great throws, and then I thought there were some simple throws that we missed.”
There were several standouts throughout the practice, as Olaijah Griffin, Talanoa Hufanga, and Isaac Taylor-Stuart all recorded interceptions, while the defensive line, led by Marlon Tuipulotu, Brandon Pili, and Christian Rector, had a big day.
“Really playing good ball right now,” Helton said of Griffin. “Credit to him, while he’s going through two shoulder surgeries, to really pay attention, glue in, be in meetings. Had an unbelievable summer, and now it’s great to see him play. He’s out here competing and competing at a high level.”
Offensively, the wide receivers continue to shine, as highlight reel catches were made by Devon Williams and Drake London, and the experienced trio of Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to make life tough on opposing defensive backs.
Special Teams Work
Special teams got another healthy dose of work on Friday, which has been a regular occurrence through spring and these first two days. Punt returners during warmups included Olaijah Griffin, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Dominic Davis, Max Williams, Adonis Otey, Velus Jones, and Tyler Vaughns.
When the full team was going through punt drills, it was Vaughns back deep alone.
On kick returns, Greg Johnson, Stephen Carr, Velus Jones, Dominic Davis, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Kenan Christon.
Punter Ben Griffiths got to show off on Saturday and crushed a few punts deep down the field.
Dorian Hewett participated in practice on Saturday after being cleared. He got a very fast introduction to college football when he met up with Michael Pittman after Pittman hauled in a pass on a crossing route and dropped Hewett to the ground with pretty solid contact for not having any pads on.
Linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu continues to sit out. Helton said his foot is still sore and they are still trying to rehab it.
Wide receiver John Jackson III also sat out a majority of the practice after he injured his hamstring running out a long play during Friday’s practice.
Stephen Carr opened things up a couple of times today and it offered a good look that his breakaway speed might be just about all the way back.
The first team offense and defense remained unchanged from Friday’s practice, with Drew Richmond continuing to start at left tackle with Austin Jackson out of action.
Juliano Falaniko worked with the outside linebackers today, adding to the group that had featured Hunter Echols, Malik McClain, and Eli’jah Winston all spring. Of the true freshmen interior linebackers, Manino Tufono worked at Mike, with Ralen Goforth and Tuasivi Nomura at Will.
At one point today all of the defensive backs lined up on the same yard line stretching across the field and there were 19 healthy bodies, a far cry from where the position was this past spring.
The one-on-one session between wide receivers and defensive backs was again spirited, and that’s something that will likely be the case all fall camp.
Michael Pittman was outstanding during this session, and basically did whatever he wanted against any defensive back he matched up against. He really looks to be playing at a high level right now, and that’s continuing what we saw during the spring. It was telling that Pittman and Vaughns came out on the first two plays and ran precise routes to get Matt Fink and JT Daniels easy completions right off the bat.
Josh Falo had a really nice grab on a pass from Fink, going to the ground to haul in a pass over his shoulder in the endzone.
Munir McClain has been really impressive during the first two days. Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford were the wide receivers who drew headlines during the recruiting process when they committed to USC, but McClain and Drake London are the healthy newcomers and they aren’t waiting for McCoy and Ford to see the field. McClain had a really nice grab on a deep ball where he got one foot in the back of the endzone against great coverage from Olaijah Griffin. McClain had another catch later where an offensive coach could be heard yelling that the defense couldn’t cover him. Griffin did get McClain back later by knocking a pass away intended for him.
Jack Sears threw a really nice ball to Erik Krommenhoek for a touchdown.
Isaac Taylor-Stuart made a terrific play to intercept a Fink pass, where he read the out and undercut it along the sideline.
Devon Williams showed where he is right now developmentally during this session. He had two really easy passes over the middle that he simply dropped. He then came back after each one with phenomenal grabs, one of which might stick as the catch of fall camp over the next few weeks. On a ball thrown over his shoulder into the back of the endzone, Williams located it over his shoulder, then had to twist his entire body around while diving to the ground and managed to haul it in. Later, he went up high over Greg Johnson to grab a touchdown on a 50-50 ball. Williams has shown consistently that he’s a special talent. It’s just about polishing everything up now.
Chris Steele had a nice pass breakup and turned in a really solid practice today.
When the ball was moved up close to the goal line, Talanoa Hufanga made a great play to intercept Matt Fink.
Amon-Ra St. Brown finished things off by going up high to grab a touchdown over Chris Steele.
On the first play of the team run, with JT Daniels at quarterback, Hunter Echols blew past Drew Richmond around the edge and likely would have recorded a sack. Playing through that, Daniels completed a pass.
Jack Sears came in and had two nice pass completions before Jordan Iosefa got into the backfield quickly and forced a throwaway. Iosefa had a couple of those plays today.
We got to see true freshman running back Kenan Christon open things up when he got loose down the sideline. There’s a good chance he would have been ushered out of bounds in a full contact setting, but the no pads practice allowed him to keep going and showcase his truly impressive speed.
Christian Rector tallied a tackle for loss on a run play, and later combined with Marlon Tuipulotu on another stop in the backfield.
Hufanga seemed to be everywhere today, as he knocked away a Kedon Slovis pass and then later came up to mimic what would have been a big hit on Amon-Ra St. Brown on a completed pass across the middle.
If Williams doesn’t wind up with the catch of camp, it might go to Drake London, who hauled in a Matt Fink deep ball with a full dive to haul in the pass just before it hit the ground. Really impressive play from London.
The defense started taking over practice late, as it felt like the offense got a little out of sorts. Olaijah Griffin picked up another interception when he read JT Daniels and broke on the ball to step in front of London and returned the interception for a touchdown.
Chris Steele recorded a pass deflection, then Brandon Pili had a stuff at the line, Iosefa forced an incompletion, Tuipulotu picked up a tackle for loss, and then Pili came through to record a stop when a slightly low snap was dropped by the quarterback.
John Houston and Christian Rector jumped out today with their work between drills, as the players rotated to different stations or fields. Both of them were out front running hard and easily the guy leading the way in their position group every single time.
Post practice, the first-year players gathered on Brian Kennedy Field and went through an extended 7-on-7 session, where walk-on receiver Chase Locke made several grabs.
Jack Sears and Tyler Vaughns were two of several players all over various parts of the field who stayed well after practice ended.