In this week’s mailbag, readers asked questions about USC recruiting, who steps up at left tackle, physical practices under Todd Orlando, what to expect from linebackers, Stanley Ta’ufo’ou and Daniel Imatorbhebhe, and other topics.
Q: What will it take to get the staff relationships with local high school coaches?
A: It just takes communication and showing up. I don’t think the prior staff had poor relationships with local high school coaches. But I did think it was interesting to hear new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams say that you have to love recruiting. It can’t just be part of your job and you do it because you have to. I think a lot of these guys really do love recruiting and that’s going to be seen and felt by local prospects. But relationships are one thing, and getting prospects to commit to and sign with USC is another. That’s going to come down to how well players are developed at USC and what those players do moving forward, both with their NFL chances and life after football. It’s tough to convince local coaches to push their 5-star prospects to USC when the Trojans are sending two players to the NFL combine and not playing for conference or national titles.
So there’s a two-step process there. The coaches hit local school hard this past January and I’ll bet they are there en masse as much as possible during the evaluation period as well. That’s the first step–proving that the local prospects are a priority. Then the second is providing the right resources to further their athletic and academic goals, and delivering results. We won’t know the answer there until the end of the season and beyond.
Getting Armond Hawkins Jr. on staff in the recruiting department is another plus. Not only does he know the local landscape, having played at Rancho Cucamonga and working as a visible participant in the 7-on-7 scene, he gives local prospects and coaches a familiar face to work with at USC.
Q: Erik, do you have any detail on how Daniel I’s rehab has come along? Now that he is back on the team, is he actually ready for practice at full speed in Spring, or is the plan to continue off-field conditioning with an eye toward being ready to go for Fall practice? It’s been such a long road back for him, with some bouts of false optimism along the way.
A: I’m not completely sure where Imatorbhebhe’s rehab process is, but that’s one of the items at the top of the list to check out when spring ball starts. It’s certainly been enough time where you’d assume he’ll be ready to go if his plan is indeed to play this fall. He’ll also need to be cleared for a sixth season by the NCAA, so it’s not exactly guaranteed at this point that he’ll be on the roster this fall even if he’s healthy. Like you mention, with his injury history, it still feels that there are a few more bridges to cross until we start penciling him into the lineup this fall. But, I’ll take anything we can get from Imatorbhebhe. If he’s fully participating this spring, that’ll be a welcome sight.
Q: Erik, We canceled the UC Davis. No FCS! The streak will continue. This is amazing news. I can’t tell how happy I am. How is the optimism within the program right now? No FCS, new coaches, and Donte Williams seem to hit the stride immediately.
Are students/athletes still with the coaches? It felt that the team quit when we played Oregon and Iowa, how is morale?
A: There is a lot of optimism right now. I think there’s a real feeling that if the defense takes the same step forward the offense did last season (combined with the offense improving even more this fall) this will be a very good team. There’s a little bit of a sense of urgency as well, because everybody knows Alabama is next, and that Oregon and Iowa are not Alabama. I don’t think we’re going to get a real answer for this until after the Alabama game, where we see how the players and coaches can pick themselves up and move on after a loss, or keep their focus and not suffer any letdowns after a win.
Q: Who do you think ultimately replaces LT Austin Jackson and protects our QB’s blindside?
A: At this point, I’ll take a shot and say Andrew Vorhees makes the move out to left tackle. But if I was betting on that, I’d take the field. There are a lot of possibilities, including Vorhees getting a shot and sticking. We could also see Vorhees head back to right guard with Jalen McKenzie moving out to left tackle. I don’t know if Liam Jimmons could move out there, but I think he has some real potential along the offensive line and I’d like to see him get a shot to start somewhere. I’d imagine Jason Rodriguez will get some run there this spring and that would probably be the easiest answer for the coaching staff. I’m also not ruling out a grad transfer coming in at that spot, though I liked USC’s chances more with Akron offensive lineman Brandon Council before he recently picked up an offer from LSU.
I don’t think you can completely rule out one of the true freshmen, but it’s highly unlikely, as none will be here for spring ball.
Q: Is SC going to try and scoop up the OT from Stanford in the transfer portal?
A: As mentioned in the previous answer, Akron’s Brandon Council is a target for USC in the portal. Stanford had three offensive linemen enter their names onto the portal and all three have found new homes for next season. Devery Hamilton is headed to Duke. Dylan Powell will play at Indiana. And Henry Hattis is going to Arizona State. All told, Stanford has seen 10 players transfer via the portal this offseason.
Q: Erik, I think most of us are stoked at how aggressive the coaches are being with all of these recent offers to top recruits. Now I am wondering if we have a large enough recruiting staff to build meaningful relationships with all of these athletes and their families. Do you think we have the recruiting support staff to accomplish this? If so, what changes to the support staff lead you to believe they can not only manage to be more effective when interacting with the athletes but also handle the additional volume of offers?
A: I don’t think Armond Hawkins Jr. will be the last addition to the support staff. The most productive change will simply be added bodies, and more specifically, added knowledgeable bodies. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for a short-handed staff to compete with a staff of twice the manpower. It’s about making contact, but it’s also about making the right contact and I think USC is moving in a direction where it proves they understand that. You can’t just send the same edit to 150 recruits and be done for the week. I’m curious to see how this plays out, but I do think USC’s recruiting efforts will start to be more impactful as they continue to put more resources toward them.
Touchdown for USC
As the Pac-12 falls further behind other conferences on per-school broadcast revenues what will USC be more likely to do?:
- Lead the charge to fire under-performing commissioner Larry Scott. Or,
- Explorer joining another conference or going independent.
A: I think ultimately USC will figure out how to take up the charge and become a leader for the Pac-12. I do appreciate that athletic director Mike Bohn recently said everything is on the table in terms of taking a direction with the Pac-12 or going independent.
Update: Bohn spoke with CBS’ Dennis Dodd on Thursday and clarified his remarks. He said that comment referred to figure out the Pac-12 media rights. Bohn said there is no way for USC to go independent in all 21 sports, but he did specifically mentioned that if NBC came to USC and offered to partner football with Notre Dame, “then that’s different.”
Q: Erik, What was the total contractual expense to USC athletics for scrubbing the UC Davis game then replaced by San Jose State?
Also, How much is Alabama paying USC for the luxury of playing the opening game of next season?
A: USC paid UC Davis $725,000 to cancel that game, and then paid San Jose State $1.1 million to schedule the 2021 season opener.
I’m not sure about the specifics of this year’s game between Alabama and USC, but Michigan and Florida each reportedly received $6 million for playing in the 2017 AdvoCare Classic.
Q: I know the “air raid,” or, whatever you want to call it requires a lot of receivers, but, couldn’t a player like McCoy be utilized more effectively as a safety? I mean, it’s going to be Vaughns & Brown, London, and probably Ford as the top 4 and they can also use Jackson & Bryant…
A: I think McCoy would be a terrific linebacker in this system, but it’s clear that he wants to play wide receiver and both the USC and Texas staffs were more than fine with that. I do think USC has a really solid top three in Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London, and I’d probably be ready to put Kyle Ford up there with them, but McCoy has enough talent to crash that group. If someone wants to play a specific position, I don’t know how much more effective they’d be elsewhere.
Q: Erik, what are the chances Orlando ignores Helton and has physical, hard hitting practices?
Would the offense respond in kind after taking a beating the first couple days?
Would Helton intervene and stop them?
A: There is a 0% chance that Todd Orlando ignores Clay Helton. The head coach is going to know ahead of time what is going to happen at every practice. If things look different this spring compared to last spring, Helton has given the green light to make the changes.
I don’t think Graham Harrell would shy away from more physical practices. He said last year that he likes taking as many live reps as possible, so I think he’d welcome it for his offense, provided Kedon Slovis remains untouched.
Q: What is the projected number of scholarships SC will have available for the 2021 class?
Also, do you have an updated roster you can share? Everything I’ve seen is outdated.
A: There are no updated rosters yet because we don’t have the spring freshmen numbers. We’ll get our roster updated and posted as soon as that information becomes available.
As far as numbers for the 2021 recruiting class, USC is scheduled to lose 17 seniors and it’s probably safe to assume that there will be a couple early departures for the NFL Draft and then a couple transfers. That should put USC pretty comfortably over 20.
Q: Do you have any updates on Stanley Ta’ufo’ou? Is he going to be a contributor this year? I feel like we heard some good things about him last spring and hopefully he’s ready to take the next step.
A: Ta’ufo’ou was clearly undersized last season as he made the transition from linebacker to defensive tackle. But sometimes that’s one of those things where you can learn a lot about a guy, and I think Ta’ufo’ou has a bright future ahead of him. I don’t expect him to contribute a ton this year with the guys ahead of him, but he’s clearly been putting on some good weight and he’s one of the guys in that freshman class where I’m excited to see the difference from last fall to this spring.
Q: From the defensive standpoint, I feel reasonably good about the experience on the line. The question remains with what many feel was SC’s downfall on defense was the line backing corps and the d-backs. Can we expect an improvement this year?
A: I think this system fits this group of linebackers pretty well. In watching Texas tape, those linebackers were often unleashed to play downhill and attack the line of scrimmage. With guys like Palaie Gaoteote and Kana’i Mauga, that would appear to be a strength. I’m hopeful that some good health will also help the unit. John Houston often took the brunt of the criticism for the group, but he was a warrior during his USC career and played all of last season without a backup when Jordan Iosefa went down. Now, with Iosefa back, USC should have a ton of linebacker depth–Iosefa, Gaoteote, Mauga, Ralen Goforth, Eli’jah Winston, Maninoa Tufono, Tuasivi Nomura. I’m interested to see what happens with edge rushers like Hunter Echols and Abdul-Malik McClain and where they fit into this defense.