It was another physical practice in shorts and shells, as the USC Trojans got to work on their fourth practice of fall camp Tuesday afternoon.
While there was plenty of action on the field, the two biggest pieces of news came after practice, when Clay Helton announced that freshman Chris Steele’s eligibility waiver had been granted by the NCAA. That means Steele, who participated in spring ball at Florida before transferring to USC this summer, will be eligible to play this fall for the Trojans.
That is welcome news for the secondary, where Steele has made a quick impression. Potential starters Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Greg Johnson, and Olaijah Griffin have performed well this spring, but there is no experienced depth, and Steele’s ability makes him a likely first-year contributor.
There were some mixed blessings with Helton’s second announcement, as middle linebacker Jordan Iosefa underwent surgery Tuesday morning for a dislocated kneecap. Iosefa injured his knee during Monday’s practice, remained down for an extended period and could not walk off the field under his own power. Helton said it was not an ACL injury, and that the recovery time would likely fall somewhere between four to six weeks. It’s unfortunate that Iosefa will be out for any time at all, but very welcome news that what looked like a bad injury won’t keep him out for the entire season.
USC fans might be anxious to hear who the Trojans’ starting quarterback will be this season, but offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is in no rush to name a starter.
“We have to figure out who we think is going to be playing best come August 31,” Harrell said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think you have to get closer to that point to see who is playing the best at that time and who gives you the best chance to win football games.”
Harrell is splitting reps evenly between all four quarterbacks at this point, and said keeping the competition ongoing will benefit the entire position in the long run.
“Regardless of who ends up playing,” Harrell said, “they’re going to be better because they had to compete every day all spring and every day all camp.”
JT Daniels came out firing on the first day of fall camp, but Tuesday mostly belonged to true freshman Kedon Slovis. He threw the only interception of the day, but it appeared that he had the best overall performance.
Harrell spoke glowingly of Slovis following practice, saying the freshman is “a special talent,” which is something we’ve heard from Harrell about Slovis several times now.
Solomon Tuliaupupu, Maninoa Tufono, Jacob Lichtenstein, Kyle Ford, John Jackson III, and Ethan Rae all missed practice due to injury. Several players, including running back Stephen Carr, were not in attendance due to this being the last day of finals. All those players are expected back tomorrow.
Eli’jah Winston worked with the inside linebackers on Tuesday, as Juliano Falaniko continued to work at outside.
Tuesday marked the first time we’ve seen Chase McGrath kick since last season. It’s tough to tell the result of a number of the field goals from our vantage point, but it looked as though he went five-for-five, with a long of 39 yards during the session.
The defensive line got off to a strong start during run drills, as Palaie Gaoteote again got things started with a stuff on a run up the middle. Brandon Pili and Jay Tufele picked up stops on the following two plays.
During the one-on-ones between wide receivers and cornerbacks, Slovis hit Tyler Vaughns on a perfectly throw back shoulder ball that Chris Steele could do nothing about.
Devon Williams got on the end of a deep ball down the sideline against Greg Johnson. Williams beat Jayden Williams for a touchdown a little later, but the wide receiver eventually went to the sideline with ice on his knee for the remainder of practice.
Drake London submitted another entry for the catch of fall camp, as he effortlessly held off a defender with one arm and hauled in a touchdown pass over his shoulder with one hand as he got at least one foot in bounds for the score. London looked really good all day, and has a surprising amount of quickness in and out of breaks, and acceleration once he has the ball, for a receiver of his size.
Jack Sears hit Amon-Ra St. Brown with a beautifully thrown ball that landed just over really tight coverage from Steele.
Steele was beaten later on jump ball in the end zone by Munir McClain. Every practice so far has come with a reminder of just how big this receiving corps is, and the defensive backs are definitely getting a lesson in how to deal with height and strength.
During team drills, Chase Williams came in on a well-timed blitz to force an incompletion.
Talanoa Hufanga came out of nowhere to knock away a deep ball from Matt Fink that looked headed for a wide open Michael Pittman.
JT Daniels hit a few short passes, including one to London that turned into a nice game with some yards after the catch.
Slovis was completely in control on his drive, going four-for-four including a deep ball to Pittman down the sideline.
Jack Sears found completions on a couple of short throws, including one to Kenan Christon where the freshman back was popped to the ground by Kana’i Mauga.
During seven-on-seven work, Slovis picked up right where he left off, hitting several straight passes, including a perfectly placed deep ball to McClain. But John Houston got one back for the defense, when he was able to reach in and grab an interception on a pass that was intended for London but thrown slightly behind the receiver.
Slovis came right back on the next play and drilled a strike deep down the middle to Josh Falo, on a ball that was placed nicely between two defenders.
Matt Fink completed several passes to underneath receivers, and Daniels did as well before a nice pass deflection by Raymond Scott. Daniels then found Velus Jones down the sideline for a long touchdown, though it came against two true freshmen defensive backs on that side of the field.
Houston and Gaoteote combined to stand up Markese Stepp at the line (never an easy thing to do), but Stepp came back a few plays later, grabbing a pass out of the backfield and turning upfield for a huge gain.
Quincy Jountti got loose up the middle for a long touchdown run, but Isaiah Pola-Mao impressed by chasing him down and forcing a fumble, though the sideline ref ruled the ball had already crossed the goal line.
Houston almost finished his day with a second pick, as he came up just short on a diving attempt on a ball from Slovis.
With Pili sidelined for the latter part of practice and Marlon Tuipulotu not in attendance, Trevor Trout and Dejon Benton both worked with the first team defensive line.
After practice, what looked to be the entire defensive line stayed afterward to get in some extra work on the bags.
The offense had some punishment work, as the two ball fumblers during practice were made to recover fumbles over and over while the rest of the offensive players performed up-downs.