12 min Read

WeAreSC mailbag (4-1 edition)

by Garry Paskwietz


Garry, it seems like there is some very real competition going on at the OL positions. My curiosity lies within the center spot. even if Toa and Rodgers come back, should Nico be starting?

I wouldn’t anticipate that. I still think Toa comes back as the starter but I really like the opportunity for Nico to get these reps because it will only help his versatility if he’s needed at either center or guard.


Garry, it seems we’re as deep as we have been in years along the O-line, with the injury to Bigelow, any chance any of those bodies get moved to the defensive side of the ball? It would be nice to have 2 more guys on the d-line to at least take up space and be rotational players.

No sign of it yet but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Jordan Simmons is the first name that comes to mind since he was on defense last year but he’s performing well so far at RG with a fresh start under Neil Callaway.


Can Josh Fatu, incoming JC DL commit, fill the gaping hole on DL created as a result of Kenny Bigelow’s injury?

That’s a lot to ask for Fatu, and to be honest I will be content if he can come in and be a solid reserve. Anything more would be a bonus, although obviously it would be great if he can come in and do that. I still think the starting trio on the interior will be Rasheem, Daniel and Jefferson.


It has been years since USC had an impact safety (I’m not counting Su’a because he barely played there). I’m talking about a presence like Kevin Ellison. Does USC have this kind of player on the roster today and if so who?

I’ll go with Marvell Tell right now, he sure looks like he has that kind of potential.


Is JCF officially done? Haven’t heard anything about him in a while, but don’t recall hearing he was officially done either. At this point, I doubt we’re desperate enough for a guy that hasn’t played in 2 years, but more curious how he is and if he’ll return to fball (at SC or otherwise)?

There was never anything “official” on a JCF departure but there also doesn’t appear to be any news that he may be coming back. I agree that there isn’t any desperation at tight end right now, I like the group of McNamara, Petite and Imatorbhebhe. Petite is a future star in my opinion, and Imatorbhebhe has been having a very productive spring.


Any DT versions of McNamara in the works for this summer as a GT?

Haven’t heard of any but we hadn’t heard anything on McNamara until it happened. It would certainly be a welcome bit of news to get a transfer at that spot.


Practice reports would have me believe that the interior D-line is the weak spot of the team, particularly concerning is the depth there. At the same time, it sounds as if the rest of the D may be deeper and with CCP’s scheme, more aggressive. If those impressions are accurate, do you think this years D will be improved overall, worse, or on par with last years, and after the interior D-line what area do you feel is the next most concerning on the team?

Past history with Pendergast shows that he took a defense that statistically was the 2nd worst in USC history and in one year had them ranked as the best in the conference, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a similar turnaround this year. Clancy said yesterday that one thing he’s learned in these two weeks of spring is that “we’ve got a long way to go” but you get the sense he will get them there. After the d-line, I would say depth at corner is something I’m paying attention to, you need quite a few corners these days in the Pac-12 and our depth leaves a little to be desired right now, although it will improve in the fall with Adoree’ coming back and the addition of Jackie Jones.


Garry has Don Hill played his last game for USC?

That’s hard to speculate on since we don’t really know the reason for his spring absence, but your question is valid when you consider that these issues are adding up for Don. I do hope he gets it figured out because there is talent there, and you can never have too many good players as part of your pass rush.


Running backs: Justin Davis has received much praise and looks like he is set for a great final year. Jones, I’m sure, will be right up there. What about Ware? I’ve seen some positive remarks for him. Does it look like he will be utilized in the regular rotation or just when there’s a big lead? Is it a situation where he would be the starter at most schools but has superior talent ahead of him? Also, what role do you see for Dominic Davis since we are loaded at WR and RB?

You’re correct in that Helton has given him a lot of praise this spring. But as you also mention, that’s a pretty daunting duo ahead of him on the depth chart and I have a hard time seeing Aca’Cedric earning major carries ahead of either Davis or Jones. But I do think his role will eventually come, he’s an old-school kind of SC back who can just wear on a defense. I also think, with the benefit of hindsight, that it would have been ideal to redshirt him last year rather than burn the year for 12 fairly meaningless carries. As for Davis, he’s a speed guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and in the slot. He may not get a ton of opportunities but I think this staff will find a way to get some production out of him.

Ladera Trojan

Garry, of all the incoming freshmen, who do you think will make the biggest impact this season?

I’ll say Betiku. I don’t think he starts but I think he is in the OLB rotation and he will be able to get to the quarterback. Josh Imatorbhebhe has the talent to make an impact but there are so many receivers ahead of him that it may be tough just due to a lack of touches. And I think Jackie Jones comes in this fall and is part of the corner rotation pretty quick.


With CCP use of the nickel package in many of the upcoming games, is Lockett ready for that opportunity based on spring observation.

I don’t see Lockett as the third corner in the nickel set, I would put Langley in that spot with Adoree’ and Biggie as the starters. And, as mentioned above, you also have Jones coming in. But if Lockett is the 5th corner that’s not bad.


Garry, please tell us about the progress of each of last year’s redshirt freshmen. Thanks, TMD

Sam Darnold is #2 QB right now and has received praise from Helton for his solid performances the last few days. Lots of potential for Sam but also competing with a guy like Browne who has loads of potential too. Daniel Imatorbhebhe has been impressive and should be a regular contributor this year at TE. Roy Hemsley is a reserve at LT who is developing nicely, and I really like where Cole Smith is at in terms of size and technique. Clayton Johnston isn’t as far along as Hemsley or Smith. Kevin Scott and Christian Rector are getting a lot of reps now on DL and I’m anxious to see where they are by the end of spring under Udeze tutelage. John Houston is working at ILB and getting a lot of reps, I would say special teams will be his main area of contribution this year and then in the rotation next year. Ykili Ross has been sidelined a lot of spring and I was really hoping to see him make a move for playing time, there’s still plenty of time for him to get in that mix because he certainly has the talent.


It seems to be quiet on the recruiting front as of late (aside from offers going out). If you had to make an educated guess, when do you think the next 2017 commit will come and who will it be?

The May evaluation period and June summer camps are usually a time when some verbals come so it would surprise me if we don’t get any commitments in the coming months. And with Tua Tagovailoa now saying he will be a summer commit, I will predict him as the next 2017 pledge.


We keep hearing of #80 Burnett making plays. How does he stack up with Harris and Mitchell in the slot or is he more of split end? I guess the question is, how does he crack the lineup given we have so much talent but you want guys who make plays come game time and #80 is consistent in that department.

I had this discussion with someone at practice yesterday. I’m very impressed with where Deontay is right now, and where he can go, but right now I think he faces a real logjam for playing time. With all due respect to Deontay, he’s probably #7 in the overall pecking order at WR, which says something about the depth at the position. He lines up mostly in the slot but he can play outside too, in the slot he is behind Mitchell and Harris (who is making plays all over the place).


Gary I really enjoyed the article about the new found focus on physicality, toughness, and effort with the Oline – It sounds like Clay Helton got on Banner though for mouthing off to the defense, which leads me to my question. It seems that Banner and Wheeler were really good last year at getting called for some type of stupid personal foul at least once a game, and often at a critical moment. Are the coaches focusing on that mental discipline with the guys as well to maybe prevent this for the coming season?

I think that specific example is a great one in terms of how the coaches are trying to instill that discipline. It would have been very easy for Helton to not say anything to Banner since it was such an emotional moment that was good to see from an offensive lineman, but Helton made his point right away while also letting Zach know that he loved the passion, he just wanted to see it come out in a different way.


I am thinking if Ware wants to get on the field, he should continue to work on his pass receiving, but I think back to when Marcus Allen came to SC. He played fullback and blocked for Charlie. As he became a senior, he told me that made such a difference in becoming a complete player and preparing him for the NFL. First because it made him a more hard nose player and two protecting your qb is probably the most important thing in the NFL. So we don’t have a true fullback, but Cedric Ware is pretty stout, I think he could handle the I.

I agree with your points on Ware, and the Marcus example is a good one. I can see Aca’Cedric needing to play those kind of roles this year but in 2017 I see him as part of a duo with Jones as the leading tailbacks. I really think he’s a good one.


Garry when you are watching the practices does it look like the ball is being spread around to all the receivers and not just JuJu?

Yes, and Helton addressed that the other day as one of things he is liking about this spring. He said he wants the QB’s to throw to the open match-up, not necessarily to a specific receiver.


Which players do you expect to have a breakout year this upcoming season?

Max Browne. Ajene Harris. Tyler Petite. Rasheem Green. Marvell Tell.


Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the news after most practices so far has been very encouraging. Is that just Helton putting a positive spin on things, or does the team look as solid as what’s being reported? Thanks.

Helton is definitely a glass-half-full kind of optimistic coach, but the good vibes coming out of spring are noted by former players and coaches who visit as well so it’s not just the head coach putting a spin on things. Of course, you take it with a grain of salt because hope always springs eternal this time of year.

old trojan 93

Garry, are all the plays Darnold is making against the 1s or 2s? I don’t think a fair assessment of both he and Browne can be made unless both play against the defense that ‘SC will field against ‘Bama.

There is some mixing and matching where Sam will get a chance to go with the 1’s but for the most part he is with the 2’s against the 2’s. I understand the point you are making in that you want to see him having that success against the 1st defense, but also remember that he is having success against the 2nd defense with guys who are part of the #2 offense, he’s not having the benefit of being surrounded by the 1st team offensive guys in those situations.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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