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Tuesday practice report: Another physical day as the defense performs well again

The Trojans took to the Coliseum turf for the first time this spring and turned in a spirited Tuesday afternoon practice in full pads. The physical play we saw in the first full-contact practice on Saturday carried over to Tuesday, as both sides of the ball got in some big hits and big plays.

Available personnel update

Tuesday was the first time we’ve seen outside linebacker Drake Jackson and linebackers Ralen Goforth and Tuasivi Nomura at a spring practice. All three were in uniform, but must go through the acclimatization period so they were not in pads yet and didn’t go through any of the contact periods.

Wide receiver Bru McCoy and cornerback Chris Steele were not in attendance again.

Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao returned to the field and the starting lineup after missing Saturday’s practice.

Cornerback Dorian Hewett was not spotted during practice.

Cornerback Adonis Otey was injured on Saturday and had his foot in a boot on Tuesday. Tight end Josh Falo looked to suffer a fairly significant injury on Saturday, but he had no brace or other medical equipment on his legs today and went through rehab on the sideline during practice. Hopefully that means good news for the senior tight end.

With Otey on the sidelines and Hewett not there, USC had just three scholarship cornerbacks today, in Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Jayden Williams and Joshua Jackson Jr.

USC lost safety Max Williams to injury during the practice. He went down during a full-contact period and was helped off the field without putting weight on his left leg.

Ooooooooooklahoma

Once again, the Trojans got practice started with the Oklahoma drill.

Tight end Lake McRee had a nice block against safety Xamarion Gordon. Outside linebacker Hunter Echols did really well to fight off a block and move laterally to bring the running back down at the line of scrimmage. Tight end Ethan Rae had a solid block on his rep. Outside linebacker Juliano Falaniko made a tackle at the line, as did defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu.

Casey Collier and Michael Jackson III teamed up with two really nice blocks to send the running back all the way through. Jacob Lichtenstein had the hit of the drill when he got out to Stephen Carr and wrapped him up high and brought him down while fighting through a block from Jonah Monheim. Running back Keaontay Ingram helped get himself through with a couple nice moves on his rep, helped by blocks from Liam Douglass and Gary Bryant Jr.

Lichtenstein delivered that big play, but I don’t recall seeing him during the team period or the other tackling periods. His availability will be something to monitor for Thursday’s practice, because he has had a nice showing early in the spring.

Offensive line shuffle

The first-team offensive line remained the same for the entire practice, with Courtland Ford at left tackle, then Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons and Jalen McKenzie going left to right.

The second-team offensive line saw its first shuffle of spring ball, as Justin Dedich moved from center to left guard and Andrew Milek came in at center. The rest of the line remained the same, with Casey Collier at left tackle, Liam Douglass at right guard and Jonah Monheim at right tackle.

The third-team offensive line had Caadyn Stephen at left tackle, Jason Rodriguez at left guard, Milek at center, Gino Quinones at right guard and Joe Bryson at right tackle. Stephen was flagged for a hold on one play and sent out, so Rodriguez moved out to left tackle and Andres Dewerk came in at left guard.

Special teams work

There was significant time devoted to special teams work and it was an interesting look at the way Sean Snyder breaks up the drills.

In one section of the field, the two returners were fielding kicks with three blockers ahead of them, taking on three coverage players. In another area, two return blockers were working on retreating after a kick/punt, turning to pick up their coverage player and getting in position to block them. And in another area, some of the safeties and cornerbacks were doing gunner work.

One on ones

Bryant Jr. got one on one going with a nice comeback route against Jayden Williams for a catch. Max Williams got the defense on the board with great coverage against K.D. Nixon to force an incompletion. Tight end Lake McRee had one of the catches of the day, as Miller Moss floated a pass over good coverage from Anthony Beavers Jr. and McRee was able to haul it in while diving and going to the ground.

Nixon came back and put a good move on Max Williams for a completion. Kedon Slovis found Gary Bryant Jr. on a deep ball over coverage from Jayden Williams. Erik Krommenhoek got loose against coverage from Xamarion Gordon.

Briton Allen had great coverage against a Michael Jackson III route. Allen has had a couple good practices in a row and went into the starting lineup when Williams went down with his injury. Isaac Taylor-Stuart did well to jump with Drake London in the endzone and force an incompletion. And Joshua Jackson Jr. nearly came up with an interception in the back of the endzone when it looked like there was some miscommunication with the quarterback and receiver.

Over in the linebacker/running back blitz pickup drill, Julien Simon had a nice showing and his best rep was a really nice swim move to get straight around Brandon Campbell. Simon seemed to beat just about everybody until he ran up against Keaontay Ingram, who stopped him cold in one rep. Ingram also had a nice rep against Raymond Scott and Stephen Carr stood up Spencer Gilbert. Seemed like a fairly even split between the running backs and linebackers, with the linebackers maybe getting the overall best of the drill.

The offensive line worked the run game during this time, as the line ran three offensive linemen against two defensive linemen, and then six blockers (five linemen and a tight end) against four defensive linemen.

Full squad highlights

The first team defense on Tuesday featured Tuli Tuipulotu, Brandon Pili and Stanley Ta’ufo’ou up front, with Hunter Echols at outside linebacker and Kana’i Mauga and Raymond Scott inside. Isaiah Pola-Mao and Chase Williams were the safeties, along with Max Williams. Jayden Williams was at boundary corner with Isaac Taylor-Stuart playing field corner.

Ingram started at running back next to Kedon Slovis at quarterback and Ingram needed absolutely no time to get things going. Taking the first snap, Ingram broke through the line into the secondary and flattened Pola-Mao, who tried to meet him head on. Ingram does not look like a fun runner to tackle and he consistently gains yards after contact, either getting just enough of an angle to move forward through a tackle, or just launching himself at defenders and falling forward.

Pola-Mao came back a couple plays later and made a nice open-field tackle against Nixon around the line of scrimmage.

Allen nearly pulled down an interception when Slovis tried to loft a pass to Nixon over him. Allen got the pass breakup and now has a few notable plays over the last couple practices.

The second-team defense featured Jamar Sekona, Jay Toia and Kobe Pepe along the defensive line, with Juliano Falaniko at outside linebacker and Danny Lockhart and Spencer Gilbert inside. Josh Jackson Jr. and Calen Bullock lined up at cornerback, with Xamarion Gordon and Xavion Alford at safety, along with walk-on Tommy Maurice.

Alford had a nice stop on a Vavae Malepeai run.

Walk-on Mo Hasan was the second quarterback up today for run drills and 7-on-7.

Slovis and the first team went back and he found Bryant Jr. on a quick pass where Pola-Mao made the tackle. One of the nice offensive plays of the day was when Slovis sent a ball downfield to London and the big receiver went up to make the catch. Taylor-Stuart arrived at the same time as the ball and went up to knock it away, but London is just too big and physical. Taylor-Stuart didn’t affect London at all and it looked like London was going up for an easy rebound.

Chase Williams delivered a nice hit on Stephen Carr around the line of scrimmage and let Carr know about it afterward.

Miller Moss then came in with the second-team offense. Juliano Falaniko made a nice defensive stop when he was able to recover and get outside to bring Michael Jackson III down before he could really get going upfield after a short pass.

Danny Lockhart Jr. had a nice tackle to bring down Vavae Malepeai. And the defense finished the series when Tuli Tuipulotu ran down Quincy Jountti from behind in the backfield. The chants of “Tuuuuuuli” began from the defensive sideline before Tuipulotu even reached Jountti.

OL/DL one-on-ones

Even though the offense didn’t get a major push in the run game on Tuesday, the pass blocking was largely effective. That carried over into the one-on-ones, as Jalen McKenzie, Brett Neilon, Courtland Ford and Liam Douglass all handled their defensive counterparts in their first reps. Outside linebacker Bryce Gilbert put a nice spin move on Jonah Monheim. Jay Toia had a terrific rep against Andrew Milek, as Toia looks more and more comfortable out there now. And then Hunter Echols came back from getting stopped by Ford to get around Casey Collier.

Seven-on-seven

Slovis was mostly sharp in his seven-on-seven work, finding Krommenhoek for a touchdown and hitting John Jackson III, Michael Jackson III and Drake London on quick throws. He tried to go over the top to John Jackson III, but Calen Bullock had good coverage.

Jaxson Dart then stepped up and tried to go to Bryant Jr., but Taylor-Stuart got there to knock it away. Dart then looked to London but Jayden Williams had good coverage. Dart found John Jackson III on the sideline on a throw where Taylor-Stuart undercut it and seemed to be in position for an interception but the ball found its way to the receiver. Dart then threw incomplete to Nixon.

One thing that’s becoming clear is that Dart wants to throw the ball downfield and hit chunk plays. If there’s the smallest opening for a receiver down the field or if he can give a receiver a chance to make a play, he’s taking it. That was countered almost immediately when Moss stepped up right after Dart’s series and checked down to safe throws around the line of scrimmage on a few of his first throws. Of course, then Moss followed those by finding Ethan Rae in the endzone for a touchdown after Rae ran a great route to get wide open.

Hasan then came in with the third team and hit successive throws to Ty Shamblin, Danny Ryan and Kohl Hollinquest before a completion to Grant Jones was cut down by Calen Bullock, who closed well and stopped the play around the line of scrimmage.

Team period highlights

The team period to close practice got off to a nice start for the offense when Slovis found Bryant Jr. on the sideline for a big gain, as Bryant slipped in between coverage from Taylor-Stuart and Allen.

Tuipulotu had a nice stop on Campbell, who started with the first group at running back. It looked as though Allen and Tuipulotu teamed up for a sack on the next play, before Slovis found Bryant Jr. on a slant. The defense was active during the final team period, with blitzes seeming to come from just about everywhere. Overall, the line and running backs seemed to hold up pretty well to the pressure brought, as it looked like there would have only been one or two sacks. Of course that number is always tough to gauge correctly every time when the quarterbacks can’t be touched.

Dart came in as the second quarterback during the team period and found Michael Jackson III with a short pass.

Lockhart had a big hit on Carr right at the line of scrimmage, then Tuipulotu followed that with a tackle for loss on a run.

Dart found Ingram out wide all by himself and Ingram got up the sideline for a nice gain and added a few extra yards by absolutely punishing the eventual tackler who did get him to the ground, but it wasn’t an easy tackle.

Taylor-Stuart made a great play on a wide receiver screen as he fought through a block to make a tackle in the backfield.

John Jackson III turned a short pass into a nice gain when he was able to quickly turn upfield, evade a tackler and take it for some extra yards. Jackson showed a little burst on the play that caught me a bit by surprise. He’s getting comfortable in the offense and keeps showing up this spring.

Julien Simon registered a sack on Dart, but the play was made by Joshua Jackson Jr. The defensive playcall asked Jackson to guard Michael Jackson III one-on-one without any safety help over the top. The offense tried to hit a quick slant against it but Jackson jumped the route enough that Dart had to pull it down. With nowhere else to go, Simon got home for the sack.

Slovis then came back in with the first-team offense against the first-team defense.

There might have been a sack on the first play, as Raymond Scott and Josh Jackson Jr. got close to Slovis, but he probably got rid of the ball on a throwaway.

Mauga got credit for a tackle on Malepeai, but I’m not sure Mauga saw it happen, as he was being brought to the ground and his legs tripped up the runner.

The defense then busted a coverage and left Nixon all by himself near the sideline for what would have been a huge gain. But Nixon couldn’t bring the ball in as he was backpedalling and it went for an incompletion. He got it back fairly quickly though. After a nice Campbell run over left tackle, Slovis found Nixon by himself down the seam and the receiver raced the final 25 yards or so for what was about a 50-yard touchdown play. Safeties coach Craig Naivar was, to put it mildly, not pleased with his group.

Hasan then came in with the second-team and Jountti got involved with a nice run over right tackle, then a catch that he turned up along the sideline.

Jamar Sekona then continued his nice play this spring with back-to-back tackles, including one in the backfield.

The final series featured the third team offense against the third team defense and a couple of walk-ons got to go at it, as running back Matt Colombo went though the hole hard and delivered a big hit on safety Tommy Maurice, who eventually got him down to the ground. A couple plays later, the roles were reversed and it was Maurice who drilled Colombo, bringing him down in the backfield.



Erik McKinney
Author
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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