The thing that really stood out from the opening day of USC fall camp is how crisp the practice was. It was a two-hour session that moved along, there was only one turnover for the offense, and no injuries. Of course, there were plenty of eyes on the quarterbacks as freshman J.T. Daniels joined Matt Fink and Jack Sears for the first time in a Trojan practice.
“There’s no secret we’ve got a QB battle,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “There was some extreme competitiveness today but it was also a no pads day. I want to see when the pads come on and Porter Gustin is breathing down their neck.”
There was the return to the field of running back Stephen Carr, who got in several nice runs as well as a catch from Jack Sears and didn’t show any notable signs of rust, and even tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe was able to get in some extended work as he comes back from his hip/thigh injury. On defense, a pair of senior defensive backs made the biggest plays with Ajene Harris (pick) and Iman Marshall (a couple “aggressive” pops and a terrific PBU vs Pittman on a throw from Matt Fink).
“For the first day of practice I thought we played extremely fast,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “You had the older guys helping the younger guys and one of the things that really jumped out to me was to see the talent and depth that we have. I could also feel the sense of urgency, due to NCAA rules we’ve gone from 29 to 25 practices this camp so there’s a lot of work to be done before our first game
Velus Jones had a pair of big plays, one over the middle on a crossing route from Daniels and another on a wobbly throw down the right sideline from Holden Thomas where two defensive backs were unable to locate the ball but Velus tracked it down inside the ten yard line.
There was a lot of special teams work with Chase McGrath hitting a 52-yard field goal, and punt return work (the three returners I saw were Ajene Harris, Tyler Vaughns and Jay Godfrey, if Amon-Ra St. Brown took any returns I didn’t see them, Amon-Ra did work as a gunner on the punt team). There was no sign of Australian punter Ben Griffiths, following media reports that he could be joining the Trojans in camp.
QB Watch: Clay Helton said the Trojans will implement what he called “two-spotting”, where they will have two sets going during the same drill, with two QB’s going in each drill to ensure that all four QB’s are getting equal reps, and to help grow other younger players as well. Helton said he liked the way all the QB’s competed today and that he met with them last night to set the expectations for fall camp. He also liked the way there was only one turnover, which came on a late throw on a curl route by J.T. Daniels, and a veteran read by Ajene Harris for the interception.
Play of the Day: It was a wow moment for sure when J.T. Daniels lofted a ball down the left sideline and Michael Pittman ran under it for a 50-yard touchdown pass. J.T. is known for his accuracy and touch, and it took about an hour and a half into his first practice to make that kind of throw which drew gasps from the small gathering of media and parents in attendance. Daniels threw another pretty ball a few plays later to Pittman, it was a route down the middle of about 40 yards and the ball was dropped directly over the top of Pittman, it would have been a tough catch but Michael would be the first one to say he should have made the play. He also threw an out pattern to Tyler Vaughns along the right sideline that showcased the strength of his arm, not many college QB’s can make that throw, much less in their first practice. Isaiah Langley broke on the ball well and probably arrives on time more often than not.
Freshmen Watch: Besides the plays from Daniels, the two wideouts Amon-Ra St. Brown and Devon Williams really stood out. Williams caught a pretty pass from Sears along the right side, and followed that by catching another pass from Sears where he had to stretch his long arms at the sidelines. St. Brown caught a couple crossing routes from Daniels.
Injury update: (OUT) Oluwole Betiku (hip), Solomon Tuliaupupu (foot), Jake Lichtenstein (knee strain), Randal Grimes (back), Jay Tufele (lacerated foot)
In attendance: Marvin Pollard, Antwaun Woods, Chris Hawkins, Steven Mitchell, Bernard Schirmer (dressed in street clothes while watching OL drills, expected to be added to roster)
Future practice schedule: The Trojans will be in helmets and no pads on Saturday, will not practice on Sunday, will be in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) for Monday and Tuesday, with Wednesday being the first day in full pads.
Katoa mission: Helton confirmed that Tayler Katoa will take his mission and is scheduled to return to the Trojans in 2020.
Quotebook: “Yes there is a sense of urgency for these guys. It’s camp. It’s not just the fact that J.T. is here. We need to make a decision on a starter at some point and it has to come in the next few weeks” Tee Martin, when asked if the stakes are higher for the other quarterbacks now that J.T. Daniels is here.
Clay Helton quotes
On Stephen Carr “It made my heart feel good to see him out there, to see him run around and catch the ball. He was at full speed, obviously he’s not getting hit, but I’ll sleep a lot better after seeing him out there like that.”
On Amon-Ra St. Brown being a slot receiver or an outside guy “He has such a physical presence with little man skills. It’s like we did with guys like Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor and JuJu in that we don’t want to designate him to a particular spot, he can play both.”
On evaluating the QB’s “Everything counts but some count more than others. When you get into live scrimmages and stepping up and making those throws and making them accurately, I put a lot of weight into that. When we get into shells and pads you’ll see us go away from some of the 7-on-7 stuff and go with more live team pass and team blitz segments because I want to make it as hard as I can for the quarterbacks.”
On J.T. Daniels first day “I thought he was extremely accurate, very knowledgeable. For an 18-year old kid to come out here and do what he did today was very impressive.”
On changing the “culture” of the team after Ohio State loss “That game left a bad taste in our mouth. We want to be in the playoffs, we want to win a national championship, to be on that stage, and we’ve all tightened our screws. We all know that. I thought you saw on the field today with the way they played fast, holding each other accountable.”