This week we answer questions about new players in the secondary, Coliseum renovations, and USC’s record after its first six games.
Touchdown for USC
Q: What are the Trojans going to do with all the young secondary players who are coming in August? Is the coaching staff hoping they will find a diamond in the rough?
A: I assume the plan will be to throw them into the fire and see what happens. The coaches absolutely need to find out if these incoming guys can play and provide depth immediately. I like what we saw from Briton Allen and it looks like he’ll stick at safety now after working at cornerback for the majority of spring. Max Williams got a lot of mental work and the coaches really like his understanding of the game. I think if he’s ready to go physically, he’s a guy who could help out this year. As for the rest of the group, you have a juco guy in Jaylen Watson who wasn’t highly recruited but seems to have the size to be able to play corner or safety and really needs to be able to see the field this year. Adonis Otey is the guy I’m most excited about seeing when he steps on campus because I think he has a chance to be really good. Trey Davis is going to be someone that gets a lot of attention because the USC coaches passed up going hard after several cornerbacks and chose instead to stick with Davis, which was a questionable decision according to a lot of recruiting experts. I think Kaulana Makaula could be that diamond in the rough, but we’ll see if he’s ready to play as a true freshman. Typically, a lot of these recruits feel like guys who will take two or three years to develop, but there is a real need for them to get ready to play right away.
Q: Will the coliseum renovations be completed by the kick-off for Fresno State? Start a “pool.” pick a date.
A: As the son of a woodworker who moved into a house, tore it apart and is still putting it back together 30 years later, I always, always assume construction will go past the anticipated completion date. But the Rams preseason opener isn’t moving, and with the increase in budget going towards making sure it’s completed on time, I’ll go ahead and guess that the last worker is leaving the stadium at the same time the first Rams fan is entering. Of course, I’m also the guy who lived for 12 years in a concrete floor bedroom, assuming the carpet would be arriving any day.
Q: Elephant in the room.
Steele was here until the 11th hour, and then went to Florida. Now he’s leaving FL to go …… ?
I know a lot of fans say that they don’t want him, but I do. What’s our chances with Chris?
A: First of all, my read is that USC doesn’t have a 2019 scholarship to offer Steele. I believe they have used their full 25 initial counters after adding John Jackson III and now Drew Richmond as a grad transfer. Anybody they add at this point would have to count against the 2020 class, which would mean bringing in a blueshirt player this fall and putting them on scholarship after two days of fall camp. Again, that’s if my math is right. Schools won’t often confirm their scholarship situation from class to class because they like to have some wiggle room to make creative moves in cases like this. I think Steele going to USC makes a lot of sense, but if the numbers don’t work, it might not be an option.
Q: One of the most overlooked and yet important factors in determining whether or not the Trojans are a better team is kick returns.
When Adoree was at SC, he was a threat to take it to the house every time he caught a kick. That’s a cheap touchdown right there. Since he’s been gone, there have been no explosive plays (I’ve never understood why Velus Jones was never a threat despite his speed), only bonehead ones (I loved Ajene’s heart but NOT his returning).
What can you tell us about potential returners Erik? Who do you expect them to be, and do you expect them to be explosive, pedestrian or just plain bad, and why? Thanks and Fight On!
A: We saw a lot of veterans back on kick return this spring. Michael Pittman, Stephen Carr, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. I think Carr and St. Brown are true threats back there, but how much do you want to open them up to potential hits? They spend enough time on special teams where I’d be shocked if they were bad, and I think they’ll be more explosive than last year. Personally, I would take more advantage of the new fair catch rule and just start everything at the 25.
Q: In your estimation, what is the likelihood that we will be above .500 right after our first 6 games?
By December of last year, the consensus was that, if Clay Helton was retained as Head Coach, USC was certainly doomed to have another really bad season in 2019. Yet, several fans now believe that a few coaching changes and Helton talking tough (he’s so “pissed of” and he’s bringing “physicality” and “discipline”) will lead to a huge turnaround and 8, 9, or 10 wins — some have even stated that Helton will be HC during a playoff berth next January. What are your honest thoughts? Thanks, Erik.
A: Right now, I think 3-3 is probably a safe bet after the first six games. I didn’t see anything this spring to make me think wins at Washington and Notre Dame are guarantees, and beating Stanford and Utah at home will be tough. But I also think right now is too early to make that call or put it down in anything other than light pencil. There is still a lot to see this fall, including how the new additions perform and how the first-year players from 2018 continue to progress. I also want to see this offense after a starting quarterback is named. It’s a different feel when you have “the guy” as opposed to three or four guys battling to be the starter. I also want to see the defensive backs playing as a full unit, which we never got to see this spring.
3-3 would be disappointing and anything below that would be a disaster. If I make a change to that prediction this fall, it’ll probably bump up based on what we see this summer and during camp. I think this group is truly motivated, and I don’t know if that was always the case last year.