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USC Practice report (8-22)

Clay Helton assessment: “It was another good competitive practice working some third down situations. The kids were really flying around; it was evident how well they are competing.”

Helton on the return of senior linebacker Cameron Smith: “He’s one of those guys that you know what you’re getting from him each and every day. He brings constant leadership, constant production. That’s why he’s a captain. He’s in the best shape of his life.”

On the players’ chippiness during practice: “Awesome, I loved it. It made it fun, didn’t it? We talked yesterday how we wanted to be competitive and not be lackadaisical practices. We have to let kids compete and when you do then, hopefully, Saturdays become really easy. When you have a Michael Pittman going against a Biggie Marshall, that’s a special matchup. Obviously, there’s going to be chippiness. They’re both big personalities and very talented people, as well as several other guys out here. That’s what I told the guys, you want to be right there on the edge where you’re competing at the highest level, but still staying disciplined and you’re fundamental in your assignment making sure you don’t get penalties. When you go 21 days, three weeks, going against each other, there’s going to be some, that’s just grown men going against each other. It happens in every camp in the country. I’ll control it. They know if two of them get into it and the others pull them away, and they know if they all get in it, they’ll be doing ‘up-downs’ until I get tired.”

Overall: On a warm and sunny afternoon with an occasional breeze on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields, the Trojans were in helmets and shoulder pads and went through a spirit couple of hours of high-energy hitting. There were a couple of scuffles, which brought both the offense and defense together. With positions still open for the offering, both the offense and defense really mixed it up.

On the quarterback front, all three starting candidates had their moments. True freshman J.T. Daniels bounced back nicely from Tuesday’s back-to-back interceptions and was razor sharp today, which included a 65-yard TD down the middle bomb to wide receiver Travon Sidney.

Speaking of Travon Sidney, it was quite a day of practice for Trojans’ sophomore. It might have been Travon’s best practice of his young USC career. The former La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat star made two earlier spectacular TD pass receptions on red zone fade routes, the second being a leaping one-handed grab while being heavily guarded by Ajene Harris. The earlier touchdown was a grab from safety Isaiah Pola-Mao.

Helton impressed by Travon Sidney: “Oh mercy, he made some good plays! The two things I asked our football team to do was No. 1 understand the situational football that we’re installing for game-plan wise and No. 2, depth charts are being made at the end of the week. This is your last time to produce a great tape. Travon definitely took that to heart and stepped up and really made some nice plays. It was one of the better one-hand grabs I’ve seen although I know he works at it all the time and came through there.”

Practice highlights:

*During parts of the practice 11 on 11 drills, we saw J.T. Daniels take some snap from under center, which seemed to speed things up.

*Sophomore Matt Fink had his moments especially when he connected with junior Michael Pittman Jr. for a 25-yard TD. Walk-on redshirt freshman tailback Ben Easington showed some running skills in the same drive with a nice 37-yard run around the left side. However, Fink did have an earlier interception courtesy of true freshman corner Olaijah Griffin, who has had an impressive training camp.

*During 7-on-7 drills, redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Sears threw a short pass into the flat to tailback Stephen Carr who spun around safety Marvell Tell lll, which drew some chatter from teammates. Another comical moment during the same drill was when J.T. Daniels attempted to pass and the pigskin fell out of his hand during the delivery, and members of the defense yelled, “Nice throw!” Also, during this passing period, Matt Fink connected with an impressive 18-yard dart to wide receiver Tyler Vaughns who also had a good receiving day. In fact, Vaughns, Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Sidney all showed elite catching ability on Wednesday.

*In a later 11 on 11 drill, senior tight end Tyler Petite made a nice diving catch over the middle from a toss by Matt Fink. Not to be outdone, Jack Sears connected to Pittman for a 55-yard TD catch and run.

* At the end of practice, the USC Song Girls came on the field accompanied by the Victory Bell and a large gathering of students who were invited to attend practice. The students surrounded the team and were welcome by head coach Clay Helton.

Injury report: CB Je’Quari Godfrey (groin, sore knee), OL Bernard Schirmer (stinger)


Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast on the state of the defense with less than two weeks until the season opener against UNLV in the Coliseum:

Training camp: “I think it’s been real competitive. The guys have really picked up from where we left off in spring. You can see the hard work they’ve put in on their own this summer. It’s allowed us to make a lot of progress during fall camp.”

The strength of the defense: “We’ve got a handful of guys returning, so I would say the strength is guys returning at all three levels and those guys ability to demonstrate what we want the younger guys to watch and be able to develop some continuity with depth.”

Areas to improve: “I think compared to things we did last year, we want to eliminate the big plays. We gave up way too many big plays throughout the course of a game. Even when we were up in some games, we shouldn’t give up the yardage that we did – especially in the passing game. That’s something we’ve really focused, and the guys have done a pretty good job in paying attention to detail with that.”

Competition for safety spot opposite Marvel Tell lll: “It’s been a very healthy one (competition). We’ve got a group of talent there next to Marvell. It’s still going on. We’ll obviously have an answer for you next week. Bubba Bolden, Isaiah (Pola-Mao), C.J. (Pollard), Y.K (Ykili Ross) had a hamstring that kept him out a lot, but he’s back now. Talanoa (Hufanga) has done a nice job. Those guys really have to mirror each other playing free and strong safety. It’s been a real competitive group.”

JC DL Transfer Caleb Tremblay

On the biggest adjustment coming to USC and D-1 ball: “The size and the speed of the game. There are just better athletes and more competition really. I’ve gotten a lot better going against the best. They’ve given me their best look, and at this level you have to show up every day. Since coming here in the spring, the speed of the game has slowed down, and I’ve learned the plays and the blocking. Everything has just slowed down like since fall camp.”

On the offensive line players that gives him the most competition: “They’re all good, but I have a lot of fun going against (OG) Chris Brown and (OG) Alijah Vera-Tucker. I get better every time I go against them.”

On running down the Coliseum tunnel for the first time against UNLV: “I am going to get chills. It’s something that I’ve work for since USC is my dream school. It’s going to be hard to be able to describe it. I went to see Fresno State and USC when I was 16-years-old, so it was like five years ago. My brother played at Fresno State. That’s when I first saw them (USC) play, and it was a great (Coliseum) environment.”

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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