A supersized mailbag this week as USC Trojans fall camp is off and running. Questions from readers this week deal with a wide range of topics, including limited media access, recruiting, players standing out through a handful of practices, the speed of the offense, and others.
Q: I don’t get to the recruiting forum too often so maybe you have discussed Bijan Robinson who just committed to Texas. Do you think we can get him to flip if we show we are not just all about throwing…. not that I know what we are about yet but Harrell produced a great running back at UNT and he has a stable of potential ALL Pac12 enrolled here right now.
A: I still think a lot of recruits are in play if this is a truly successful season for USC, but even then it won’t be easy to flip them. There’s a real sense among recruits that you just don’t get pushed in the Pac-12 like you do in the SEC, or at Clemson, Texas, or Ohio State. Not only will USC need to do really well this year, but they’ll need some of those other teams to take a step back, because while USC was trying to right the ship this offseason, those other programs carried a ton of momentum and were able to get recruits to buy in before USC even had a chance to prove it on the field. The issue with getting Robinson into the class now is that he’s already used his official visit to USC.
Q: All I’ve heard over the past 4 – 5 months is, “Can the OL protect the QB?” Or, “Will the QB/WR timing be there?”
My huge concern is, “Will we be able to run the ball?”
A: I do think USC will be able to run the ball better this year. I still don’t think it’s going to be the best rushing offense in the Pac-12, but getting a full season of Markese Stepp and and healthy Stephen Carr was going to improve things there no matter what happened with the line. If the offensive line starters are healthy all year, this is a big improvement. But there is still very little depth behind them.
Q: Erik, What are your thoughts about the limitations on media access to practice that are starting after 8/17? Are they a function of SC simply lining up with what other major programs are doing or do you feel Helton may be trying to hide a little bit from the constant scrutiny? I don’t buy the paranoid need for secrecy excuse. Thanks
Q: I am very curious how practice and post practice media access – both Fall Camp and regular season – is handled at the other eleven Pac-12 football teams compared to USC. Could you please give a summary for each school on media access; to practice, to the Head Coach, to Assistant Coaches, to individual players, and fan access to practice.
A: I lumped these two questions on the same topic together. The limited media availability definitely brings USC more in line with the way other college programs handle things. It’s a drastic change that limits a ton of what we are able to cover, and it STILL provides some of the most relaxed media restrictions in the country.
I don’t have the exact media policies for every Pac-12 program, but AZCentral.com had a story from this past February that broke down how open Herm Edwards keeps his program to the media, and how it is such a major departure from the way other programs are run. In it, the story says: “Edwards’ philosophy in dealing with the media is the exception, not the rule, in college football.
During the regular season, Edwards meets with reporters twice during the week and after games. The starting quarterback has a weekly press conference, as do offensive coordinator Rob Likens and defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales. All are available after games, too, and other players and assistant coaches are available upon request.
At many schools, that week’s interview subjects are picked by the coach; it doesn’t matter who the media might want.”
That is actually still tighter restrictions than USC, where, during the season, Clay Helton also meets twice with the media each week, and all players and assistant coaches are available each week, with offensive personnel one day and defensive personnel another.
Also from the AZCentral story: “For instance, at Arizona, coach Kevin Sumlin had one press conference each week last year. Assistants were not available during the regular season, and quarterback Khalil Tate, in general, was available only after games.
At Iowa State, freshman quarterback Brock Purdy was off-limits to the media all season. At Alabama, coordinators aren’t available during the season and freshmen aren’t permitted to do interviews.”
Q: Erik, since no QB is standing out in just the first two practices, are you willing to go out on a limb and declare who you think will be the starter?
A: I think it will be JT Daniels. The experience he has is tough to ignore. He’s become a better leader. And he just doesn’t seem to go through the dips that the others do. Now, if that changed and someone else puts together a hot streak leading into the season, I’ll have no problem changing my guess. I don’t think Graham Harrell (photo above) is playing games in how he is going to choose a starter. The guy playing the best, most consistently, as the season gets closer, will be the guy.
Q: Is Graham Harrell’s simplified offense potentially easier for an opposing DC to game plan against?
A: It’ll be about tendencies when it comes to whether it’s easier for defenses to gameplan. If the quarterback is throwing the same hot route when he sees a certain kind of pressure, then yes. If receivers are winning off the line of scrimmage and one the same page with the quarterback, then it’s really tough to come up with a defense that defends the entire field, because that’s what this offense can do.
Q: Your last report on Justin Flowe was that SC was in great shape for him, as long as this season was successful. What changed in that short time?
A: Flowe took a trip to Clemson and was blown away. Things are just different right now at places that are positioned to win national championships, and that’s the level that big time recruits want to get to. USC is not being discussed as a national championship caliber program right now, and when your current claim to fame is that you’re constantly making changes, it’s tough to get recruits to buy in. I still think SC can be in the mix for Flowe depending on the season and what happens moving forward. But him releasing a top four without USC on it was a statement.
Q: We’re on track for possibly the worst ranked recruiting class in modern USC football history. Some of that is due to a 5-7 record and the uncertainty around Helton, but like Helton said USC is supposed to recruit itself so they’ll always get very good players (supposedly). My question: Is the staff deliberately targeting more underrated, underdeveloped players? If so, is that because all the top recruits are looking elsewhere or because SC is trying a new recruiting strategy, similar to Utah?
A: I think there’s a slight tilt toward putting an emphasis on guys who wind up being underrated, but it’s not like the coaches are starting the recruiting class by crossing off all the four and five stars on various recruiting sites. Right now the coaches just aren’t able to get those guys here consistently the way we’ve seen in the past. I do think they’re trying to take fewer risks on guys who might not be on the roster in a year or two, and sometimes that knocks a few highly ranked guys off the board. But ultimately, USC just doesn’t have the cache with high-profile recruits right now. I will say that I don’t think it’s a massive issue, because if you can coach them up, you can really shrink the gap between, say, the No. 3 guy and the No. 30 guy in the state. But USC can’t continue to miss out on guys like Justin Flowe, Kelee Ringo, Myles Murao, and Kendall Milton when they’re in the area.
Q: Is Connor Murphy currently sporting a mullet?
Q: What are your thoughts on Kyle Ford? I know that he is limited to start fall camp, but in your opinion; Is he close to going all out and possibly competing for playing time?
A: I’m excited to see Ford once he can get going. I’m curious to see about his speed and quickness because he bulked up so much this offseason after the knee injury. I’ve been surprised at how quick the big receivers have been in Munir McClain and Drake London. I’d imagine Ford will fit right in with that group, but that will be something to watch. At this point he’s been doing some running, which is encouraging, but I don’t know how close he is to returning.
Q: Erik, in Fall practices who so far has impressed you Freshman or otherwise?
A: There are a lot of guys who have impressed, so if a guy isn’t mentioned here, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good. On offense, Stephen Carr, every scholarship wide receiver (and some walk-ons as well), and Brett Neilon. On defense, Christian Rector, Ralen Goforth, Palaie Gaoteote, Olaijah Griffin, and Talanoa Hufanga. But like I said, those are just a few.
Q: Seems like Harrell needs to see the QBs in live action to make a decision on who should start. How many scrimmages, besides the one on the 17th, will there be?
A: We’ll hear from Clay Helton today about what Saturday’s practice will look like, but I would imagine every Saturday will be a significant scrimmage, with scrimmage elements throughout the weekday practice as well.
Q: Would you be okay with Kedon Slovis being named opening day starter if all the QBs are healthy?
A: Yes, with reservations. He’d need to limit the interceptions over the next few weeks, but he definitely has a spark to him. I don’t know if he’s ready to start, but I’m obviously willing to defer to Harrell on that call, and he’s going to go with the best guy.
Q: Is there any indication that this year’s team will be tackling better than last year’s group? Are the players demonstrating the required physicality and technique to minimize opponents’ yards gained after the initial contact?
A: I spoke to Johnny Nansen after Wednesday’s practice and he said tackling was the No. 1 thing the coaches wanted to address coming into this season. If it isn’t better, it’s not for lack of trying.
Q: I have not read much about Kanai Mauga this past spring or fall. Did he fall of the map? Last spring he was talked up a lot by Clancy. Did his game just go south or is the competition a lot tougher? Could he fit in Jordan’s spot temporarily?
A: He moved to inside, where he is squarely behind Gaoteote. He’ll play this year, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if maybe he got some work outside if the linebacker out there can’t put together a consistent rush.
Q: Will Helton allow Harrell to pick a QB other than JT Daniels when all is said and done if another QB (Slovis or Sears) is a better fit at running this offense?
A: Yes. Helton isn’t going to demand Daniels be the starter if he doesn’t give them the best chance to win. He knows how important the start of the season is for him and the program.
Q: Is there any indication in practice that the offense is going up-tempo? Is that a part of Harrell’s offensive philosophy, speeding up the flow of the O to keep the D off-balance?
A: Yes. I think we’ve heard the word “hurry” yelled more times that any other word from offensive coaches. They want to go fast and the offense isn’t quite at full speed yet.