It was a shorts and shells practice for the Trojans on Wednesday with a lot of work on special teams and offense being backed up inside the five-yard line and crowd noise being piped in.
“Obviously we play in some very loud places, not only in the Pac-12, but having to go to Notre Dame,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “One of the things that we have to rely on both offensively and defensively is the ability to communicate when it is loud – whether that’s visual snap counts, whether that is signals in special teams. So, we put a lot of emphasis into that today.”
At one point during the punt drill with the punters backed up in their own end zone the crowd noise was turned off, and John Baxter yelled “keep that music loud, I want it miserable out here.”
Steven Mitchell had a blocked punt in that drill, and the punt returners were Deontay Burnett, Velus Jones and Trevon Sidney (Jackie Jones did not participate in practice).
There was a field goal session as well with Jake Olson getting plenty of work as long snapper. Michael Brown hit 2-4 (long 44) and Chase McGrath hit 3-6 (long 44). One of the McGrath misses was an off-the-mark snap from Olson and the coaches got on him like any other player “get it back there Jake!”
“I’m thanking God we’ve got about three more weeks left on the kicking situation,” Helton said. “It’s been off-and-on. One day it’s been really good, and then today there are some balls going everywhere, so we’ve got to work from an operational standpoint. There is a good competition there. It seems to go back and forth. We’ll put a lot of work into it Saturday, and put them in some pressure situations in our scrimmage, and really do it the next Saturday also to see where exactly we’re at at the position. But I’m really hoping for a lot more consistency.
“For the return guys, probably the three that we’re really looking at right now, that have jumped out at us, is Jackie [Jones], Velus [Jones] and Ajene [Harris]. They’ve been probably the most consistent and confident in the catch and doing things after the catch. There are some more kids, some more running backs that we’re looking at like Stephen Carr, Greg Johnson at corner, Vavae Malepeai – we’re trying to develop those kids to see if they can be an off-returner and help us in the kickoff game. But those three primarily right now have jumped out at us.”
In other action, there was a drill held on Brian Kennedy Field and RoJo got things going with a nice cutback across the middle. Cary Angeline went up high in the flat to catch a pass from Darnold, C.J. Pollard forced an incompletion to Erik Krommenhoek with a big hit and Josh Imatorbhebhe caught a pair of slants. Greg Johnson left midway through the drill and was later spotted with ice on his shoulder.
The team moved to Howard Jones Field where Tyler Vaughns provided the play of the day with a one-handed catch at the goal line while going to the ground despite terrific coverage from Isaiah Langley. Tyler really has played well this camp. Trevon Sidney followed that up with a pretty stop-and-go move that left Isaiah Pola-Mao several yards behind and he couldn’t catch up. Ykili Ross had a pick. Darnold rolled to his right and just flicked a perfect pass 30 yards in the air to Vaughns. On the next play, Sam threw a dart down the middle to Jalen Green, Pola-Mao thought he could get there but he didn’t, touchdown. Ross knocked away a pass attempt to Mitchell. Jamel Cook intercepted a Jack Sears pass. Uchenna Nwosu popped Aca’Cedric Ware for no gain on a run attempt.
Among those in attendance today were former USC tight ends Dale Thompson (Tennessee Titans scout) and Chris Willson, and former USC basketball player Clayton Olivier.
Injury update from Helton
“We stayed healthy again for two days in a row. We really only had one kid that we pulled with a little bit of a shoulder, and that was Greg Johnson. Jackie (Jones) we held out today, just a little bit of an arm, shoulder issue. I think he’ll be back in two days. We’re just giving it a little bit of a rest.”
“There’s a difference between mental reps and physical reps. I need to knock this rust off and get more work on my football technique, it’s not terribly lacking but I’m not where I want to be yet” – Kenny Bigelow
What positional battle on defense do you see as being the most competitive right now?
Right now, I would really have to say you’ve got the nose tackle position, which you’re trying to establish a big man in there, and you’ve got some really good candidates in there right now. You’re looking at the secondary – what marries up the best? We feel pretty good about the ones, but who’s going to be that two group that comes in and fills in, you know, 20 or 30 snaps in a game and provides some depth for us? Those are probably the two areas you feel there’s the most work that needs to be done over the next week-and-a-half.
Helton on the recent performance of Ykili Ross in camp:
I’m so happy for him right now. There’s a great example – not for everybody does it happen right off the bat. Every 18-year-old wishes you could walk in here and immediately start playing, but sometimes it takes a little bit. Sometimes you need a year in the weight room. Sometimes you need to be able to get in that playbook and understand a new system and new terminology. Sometimes, like in Y.K.’s case, he had an injury. But just keep on pushing through, and keep on worrying about the things that you can control, which is becoming a better player. You look up and he’s starting to make plays for us now, not only on defense, but on special teams. He’s got a chance to really help this football team this year. I’m very proud of him going into his third year.
A lot of those guys like Ross and Connor Murphy – guys that have jumped out – it seems like they have some players ahead of them that are really good and/or older. Is that the dynamic that you want?
It’s a blue-collar mentality, that you know that when it is your opportunity, you’re ready to make the most of it. We saw it last year. You saw Steven Mitchell as a starter, but you saw Deontay Burnett out here every day, you know, practicing for his opportunity. And then it comes. We have an injury, and he’s got to step into that next role, and if you’re not prepared for it, then you’re hurting our football team, and you’re hurting your chances to create more opportunities. And I’m really proud of those individuals that we mentioned, just because they’ve learned from their older brother that’s what we always talk about – a brotherhood here, learning from your older brother, developing your skill-set and when you get your opportunity, make the most of it.
- Garry Paskwietz and Johnny Curren