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Spring 15: Hitting

As we move closer to spring ball, WeAreSC will break down the 15 things we’re most looking forward to watching during those 15 practices that kick off the USC Trojans’ 2020 season. Up next, we look at just how much hitting will go on between Trojans on Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Fields.

You might have heard the USC defensive coaching staff talking a little bit on Tuesday about what it’s going to take to play defense for them.

It’s tough to realistically say that spring ball sessions of the past haven’t been physical, because those players and former players who have been through them likely have the lingering injuries to prove they were anything but soft.

But from the sound of things this week, practices are about to get ramped up. And then taken to another level. And then another. And another.

USC is not going to have a full roster for spring ball, as several players are on track to miss it completely or be limited through parts of it. But what’s clear is that the defensive coaches–and the entire coaching staff because of it–are going to get a really good look at the makeup of the players healthy enough to go through this camp.

“I’m sure that it’ll be a little bit different playing football on Tuesday and Thursday, but the Saturday practice, when we’re knocking the living heck out of each other, that’s when we’re going to find out what we’re all about,” said defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. “To me, it’s easy to go in here when it’s peaceful and non-chaotic. We want to create chaos and see if these guys can respond to it.”

Everything sounded great coming from the coaches on Tuesday. But that only made what happens during spring all that more interesting, as there has been a clear statement made about what the coaches are looking to do, and there will be expectations from fans and media alike about these practices looking, feeling and sounding different than they did last spring.

Head coach Clay Helton spoke following the Holiday Bowl loss about needing to take this program from good to great. Clearly, he felt that a chunk of the heavy lifting in the process would be handled be bringing in an entirely new defensive staff with a fairly straightforward belief that football is about violence, and you get better at tackling by tackling.

As far as “hitting” goes, I’m far less interesting in seeing wide receivers get blasted on crossing routes or opening up players to injuries. But I am very interested to see how “hitting” and “violence” and all the other buzzwords we heard translate onto the field and into creating a culture where no Pac-12 program, and ultimately, no program at all, is going to push USC around on the field. That means constant physical football on both sides of the line of scrimmage. And that means the offensive and defensive lines will be focal points at every practice this spring.

These coaches don’t need to get USC ready to beat Alabama in just these 15 practices, but this spring ball will go a long way toward setting the stage for how summer conditioning sessions play out, and in turn, how USC hits the field for fall camp and then that true 2020 season prep.

In that aspect, how this team hits, how these players react to being hit, and how enthusiastic they are about taking on the very real and demanding physical challenges set forth by this defensive staff are arguably the most important things of the upcoming spring.

And as a note, don’t expect USC to hit at every single practice, as NCAA rules limit how many padded practices teams can have and how much actual hitting can take place throughout spring:

“Of the 15 allowable sessions that may occur during the spring practice season, eight practices may involve live contact (tackling or thud); three of these live contact practices may include greater than 50 percent live contact (scrimmages). Live contact practices should be limited to two in a given week and should not occur on consecutive days. The day following live scrimmage should be non-contact/minimal contact.”

But this is about the mentality this staff instills in these players, especially on the defensive side, to hopefully become one of the more feared units in the conference.

Previous Spring 15s:
Young wide receivers
Drake Jackson and the defensive line
Offensive tackles
Solomon Tuliaupupu
Sean Snyder and special teams
Defensive secondary shakeout
Kedon Slovis
Tight ends

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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