If you missed the first three spring ball practices and were hoping to see exactly how offensive coordinator Graham Harrell installs his system, you’re in luck. You’ll get to see it roughly four more times.
Harrell’s offense takes just three days to install completely. So if you’re wondering what the USC offense looked like today, you’ve already seen it. Harrell said he splits his offense into thirds, and installed the first part on the initial Tuesday of spring ball, the second part on Thursday, and the final part last Saturday. As for today? It was Part 1 all over again.
“It’s in,” Harrell said. “The offense is in. You could have taken a Day 1 script and it would have looked the same [as today]. Thursday will be the same as two Thursdays ago. We’ll just keep repeating it over and over and over, and hopefully mastering it.”
Harrell said he was pleased with the way the offensive players picked up the new system, and now it’s time to perfect things.
“Especially being Year 1, I think they really picked it up quickly,” Harrell said. “Last week they did a great job of learning it…Understanding the concept rather than just knowing the concept is where I think we need to improve.”
Harrell and head coach Clay Helton mentioned that there was some sluggishness as the players returned from spring break following the first three practices, but Harrell was upbeat overall about how quickly things are coming together for the offense—now that the players all realize his install plan wasn’t a joke.
“I think when I first installed, they didn’t believe that’s really all it was,” Harrell said. “But now I think they’re starting to believe it.”
Defensive backs Isaiah Pola-Mao and Greg Johnson both removed their yellow non-contact jerseys.
Offensive tackle Bernard Schirmer returned from injury and went with the second team at left tackle.
Defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay tried to return today, but his day was cut short as he wasn’t quite ready to go full speed.
It was really good to see Olaijah Griffin and Max Williams getting in some conditioning work with a trainer. Williams is sporting a large brace on his knee, but he continues to put together an impressive recovery timeline.
Defensive tackle Trevor Trout will miss the rest of spring ball after tearing his bicep last Saturday.
Clay Helton said in reviewing the tape from the first three practices, he “saw how fast our kids played on both sides of the ball.” Helton credited that to simplifying schemes on offense and defense.
He also mentioned that putting a bigger front—USC is playing four down linemen at times—really helped against the run. And he also praised the Greyhound package, where two edge rushers will replace defensive ends on third down pass plays.
Asked about who has stood out defensively, Helton specifically mentioned the middle linebackers—John Houston, Palaie Gaoteote, Jordan Iosefa, and Kana’i Mauga. He also gave special mention to newcomers in linebacker Ralen Goforth, and defensive ends Nick Figueroa and Drake Jackson.
Helton mentioned losing Eric Ziskin, who was the Assistant Athletic Director for Recruiting and Player Personnel. Ziskin wore many hats for USC in the recruiting department and Helton said it will be a major role to fill, similar to hiring an offensive or defensive coordinator. Helton said that because of the responsibility and how important the role is, he will not rush into anything. He said that by the end of spring, when a significant recruiting period kicks off in mid-April, they will have a replacement ready to go.
It was a lower energy practice than the first three—something both Helton and Harrell noted—as players worked their way back from spring break. Helton said they were “a little rusty pitching and catching.”
This was also the first day the defense was really let loose with pressure packages, and that definitely affected the offense. Helton said, “You could tell it was the first time.”
The offensive first-team featured Austin Jackson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brett Neilon, Andrew Vorhees, and Jalen McKenzie across the offensive line, with Matt Fink lined up at quarterback. Defensively, Christian Rector, Jay Tufele, Marlon Tuipulotu, and Connor Murphy made up the defensive line, with Palaie Gaoteote and John Houston behind them. Greg Johnson, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Chase Williams, Talanoa Hufanga, and Isaiah Pola-Mao comprised the secondary.
The second-team offensive line was Bernard Schirmer, Jacob Daniels, Justin Dedich, Liam Douglass, and Liam Jimmons, with JT Daniels behind center. Defensively, the second unit has Nick Figueroa, Brandon Pili, Jacob Lichtenstein, and Drake Jackson up front, Iosefa, Mauga, and Abdul-Malik McClain at linebacker, with Briton Allen, Raymond Scott, Jordan McMillan, and Jack Drake in the secondary.
After the quarterbacks looked too close to call during the first week, today clearly belonged to JT Daniels. Both Matt Fink and Jack Sears threw interceptions, while Daniels was clean (Note: Daniels was intercepted during one-on-one drills, but I am only counting interceptions during team work, where a quarterback needs to sense pressure and read coverage in a game situation). But Daniels authored a few terrific throws and looked in command all practice. This is certainly not to say that Daniels has taken a lead in the race or anything like that, but of the three quarterbacks, it’s safe to say that today went to Daniels.
There was a special teams drill where a ball carrier was being pursued by three defenders at once and had to find a way through. Amon-Ra St. Brown had the only successful attempt, though he had to do punishment up-downs for either excessive celebration or letting go of the ball too early afterward.
The team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets.
Plays of Note
Taylor-Stuart continues his impressive spring, as he had an interception early in one-on-ones on a deep ball intended for Michael Pittman.
During run drills, Mauga had a nice pop on Markese Stepp. Stepp came back after that and put together a big run down the sideline after bouncing outside and then changing direction.
Sears was intercepted by Richard Hagestad on a ball that was overthrown. But Sears came right back on the next play and fired a nice strike while rolling out to his left.
Sears also connected with Tyler Vaughns on perhaps the offensive play of the day, as Vaughns came down with the ball along the sideline while executing a perfect one-foot toe tap.
Hunter Echols had an impressive rep during one-on-ones with the offensive line where he was just a blur off the edge and the tackle couldn’t get a hand on him.
Schirmer and Drake Jackson took back-to-back reps where Schirmer swallowed up Jackson on the first one, but the freshman came back with a nice move to get inside and win the next rep.
There were some nice reps from McClain and Eli’jah Winston as well.
If Vaughns’ grab wasn’t the play of the day, a long pass from Daniels to Devon Williams was, as Williams adjusted nicely along the sideline to haul in the deep ball. We also saw Daniels and Williams hook up on a back shoulder bullet for a touchdown that was simply impossible to guard.
Jay Tufele put together a few pressures during the day, combining with Tuipulotu on a sack late in the day. The defense again won the day’s final play, as a short-yardage run was stuffed by virtually the entire defensive line.
Notables in attendance
A number of USC seniors who will be participating in tomorrow’s Pro Day were on hand, including Cameron Smith, Marvell Tell, Isaiah Langley, Malik Dorton, Chuma Edoga, and Ajene Harris. Mark Sanchez, Rasheem Green, Jalen Greene, Lynn Swann, Pie Young, Drake London, Chad Johnson Jr. (2020 Arizona State commit), Al Cowlings, and Wayne Hughes were also in attendance.