Recruiting, developing talent, more recruiting, and potential breakout players are a few of the topics from readers in this week’s mailbag.
Q: With Orlando, I’m stuck on his quote, “I had an opportunity to be with coach Helton multiple days and we believe in the same thing.” What is your expectation of what that translates to in terms of practices going forward? Because practices will either be physical and intense the way Orlando describes his philosophy or they’re going to be soft-serve-with-a-cherry-on-top, no-pads November the way Helton likes it. There is no in-between. Whose approach to practice do you think will actually be implemented?
A: I think some of it is coach talk. If you go back to when Tom Herman hired Todd Orlando, there were a lot of quotes from the two of them saying they were basically finishing each other’s sentences and in complete lock step with each other. In a job interview for a defensive coordinator, that’s going to happen. But like you, I’m slightly intrigued by the fact that Orlando talked about not being practice soft and play hard. But it’s also word for word what he said when he arrived at Texas, so I was expecting it. If I had to guess right now, I think Helton has a plan for how to practice and isn’t going to completely turn things around at this stage. However, I’m ready to be surprised when we go out there for spring ball.
Q: What gives on the recruiting front? We have become embarrassingly bad in trying to land top tier players from our own city (forget region). I’ve never seen it so bad.
A: It’s not going well right now. This 2020 class will have some contributors in it, but there hasn’t been a USC class in recent memory to finishing anywhere close to as poorly ranked as this one will be. USC was actually off to a really strong start with its 2021 class, but that came crashing down this past weekend when Clemson landed No. 1 overall prospect Korey Foreman and arguably the best Southern California wide receiver in Beaux Collins. We’ll see if the Trojans can find a little momentum to get the class moving again, but there’s just so much noise to recruit against right now. I do think that USC has a plan in place to get its recruiting department figured out, and USC is by far the school in the Pac-12 that has the potential shortest time between getting something right and seeing immediate results.
Q: Is it the head coach, or is it his assistants that develop talent? It seems we have some excellent recruits, however they don’t seem to progress in this program. You have to wonder what’s going on.
A: I think the assistants are responsible for a lot of the development. The head coach tries to oversee everything going on during every practice, but it’s the assistants that are working up close with their players more than anybody else. Of course, being faster and stronger than anybody else can have a way of making you look more talented as well, so the strength and conditioning coaches usually take plenty of credit/blame for talent development (or not) as well.
Q: I keep hearing that Slovis is the defacto starter coming back next year. What about J.T. Daniels? Amusing he comes back from his injury, do sports writers feel that he isn’t in competition with Slovis?
A: It’s really tough not to pencil Slovis in as the starter right now. He just had a phenomenal true freshman season, he’s clearly a guy offensive coordinator Graham Harrell loves at the position, and JT Daniels is going to miss spring ball and maybe won’t be 100% healthy for fall camp.
Playing Devil’s advocate, Harrell was part of the group that chose Daniels as the starter over Slovis last fall, and Daniels is absolutely talented enough to come back and push for the starting spot.
But, until Daniels is actually back on the field and actually outplaying Slovis, Slovis has to be thought of as the starter.
Q: On the recruiting front is there any visitors schedule this weekend?
Who do you think is most likely to sign with USC at the late signing period?
A: Jack Yary is the most likely guy to sign with USC at this point, as the Trojans look like they’ll be able to bring him back into the class. Quarterback Blake Shapen looked like a good bet as well, until Baylor made a late offer. We’ll see if USC can bring Shapen in, but the Baylor offer is from new head coach Dave Aranda, who just helped author a magical year at LSU, and Shapen is a Louisiana recruit.
USC is also in the mix for a couple running backs. Zach Evans is a wildcard, but Michael Drennen II is still a target. If those two head elsewhere, USC could extend an offer to Elijah Turner, and if they do, he would join the class.
Q: Any news on Zachary Evans coming out to USC for an official visit this weekend? Would a commitment from Evans be the most out of left field piece of bright news for USC possibly ever?
Also, do you feel there is any chance with a successful season, a change in head coach or the personal friendship with Drake Jackson that there is any way for USC to get back in it with Kory Foreman? It breaks my heart thinking about what this team could have been if we could have signed Kayvon Thibodeau, Mase Funa, Justin Flowe, Elias Ricks and Kory Foreman to go along with the pieces we already have in place on our D.
A: I’m not really putting any stock in Evans at this point, but USC has a lot of Texas influence on its staff now and running backs coach Mike Jinks–with his Texas ties–is as good of a coach as any to lead the charge.
I think USC could definitely get back into it with Korey Foreman. The issue is that they’ve given themselves such a handicap that so many pieces would have to fall into place. Like you mention, there are a lot of “what ifs” out there who will be playing for other programs this fall.
Q: Is this reason we are going out of state for more recruits, and seemingly having more success, because high school coaches in far away states aren’t close enough to know the toxicity around the program right now? Local HS coaches seem to be pushing their players almost anywhere but here.
What is taking so long on the Chris Claiborne hire?
A: I think a USC offer still means a lot to recruits in other states, but it still means a lot to local prospects as well. But until you can start locking down local players as well, I can understand the idea behind fishing where the fish are biting.
The last time I checked in on Claiborne, there had still been no official contact made.
Q: Last year around this time, nobody was talking much about players like Vera-Tucker, Slovis, Christon, London, Jimmons, D. Hewett, but they did some good to great things in 2019. Which under-the-radar players would you guess will step up and perform in 2020?
A: You’ve got four true freshmen in there and it’s really hard to pick true freshmen in this class because there are so many linemen that won’t be expected to play right away. But I think Gary Bryant has the kind of speed that could get him a couple big plays this season. The only question is whether there are enough footballs to go around for so many receivers, because Kyle Ford is on the potential breakthrough list as well. There are also so many returning starters on both sides.
I think we see more production from one of the young tight ends. Jude Wolfe was having a really good spring before the back issues.
Along the offensive line, Jason Rodriguez is a guy who will likely get a shot this spring, and how well he develops could be a key to the line.
I like Nick Figueroa stepping up a bit this year as a backup on the defensive line. All of those injured linebackers have a chance, with Solomon Tuliaupupu (if healthy), Abdul-Malik McClain and Hunter Echols able to rush the quarterback and potentially asked to do that a bunch in Orlando’s defense.
And in the secondary, I’m a huge Max Williams fan. That guy just makes plays when he’s healthy.