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WeAreSC Mailbag (8-9 edition)



It’s pretty common for 2 or more of the 5 starting offensive linemen to be out nursing an injury on any given week. A year or two ago, Helton talked a lot about cross-training guys at different positions to be ready for this innevitability. Has cross-training been a point of emphasis in spring and fall camp so far? Second question, name 3 linemen who look ready to step up to fill the gaps in those situations.

Yes, we see “cross-training” a lot with the o-line. Yesterday we saw Clayton Bradley at RT with Chuma Edoga out, and Clayton has been primarily at LT all spring and fall. Jalen McKenzie has seen time at both tackle and guard. Alijah Vera-Tucker worked at both guard spots in spring. Frank Martin has primarily been a guard but he’s been working as a reserve at LT this week. As far as 3 linemen ready to step up if needed I’ll go with Bradley, Vera-Tucker and McKenzie. Brett Neilon is another who is ready but he’s been at center only, haven’t seen him take reps at guard.


Hey GP,

1 – Assuming our starting OL is Jackson/Bradley, Brown, Lobendan, Vorhees, & Edoga, who looks like our 2nd group of 5?

2 – Please give us an update on our 6 frosh LB’s.

Thanks, TMD

2nd line: Bradley, Austin, Neilon, Vera-Tucker, McKenzie (Bradley would be first up if needed)

Freshmen linebackers: Kana’I Mauga is making the biggest impact so far, it helped him to be here for spring and he’s continued to impress in fall. Such quick feet and went with the 1’s yesterday in place of Porter Gustin. Palaie Gaoteote is getting a lot of 2nd team reps at WLB and is looking comfortable. McClain and Winston are big guys but haven’t seen them do much yet. Raymond Scott is probably headed for a redshirt year with so many guys ahead of him, he has a nose for the ball. We haven’t seen Solomon on the field yet as he rehabs from his foot injury.


How much potential does USC’s defense have? Best since Pete.. For USC to be on the level of playoff contenders it needs a in your face defense smash mouth get after the qb.

I definitely think they have a chance to be the best we’ve seen since the Pete era. There is a lot of talent, good depth and they’ve been in the same system for three years now. We put up good sack numbers last year and it looks like we’ll be strong again this year, but the biggest difference I see is the help the front 7 will get from the improved secondary.


OL vs DL review after pads on. RB s also.

The running backs ran the ball well yesterday when the pads came on, alour backs had their moments. Carr had a huge hole to run through on his long touchdown. I would say so far, so good on the o-line through the first few days except for the snapping issues. Caleb Tremblay has had a solid start to camp to add to the depth along the interior of the d-line.


It was interesting how in the Roundtable the only mention of the offensive line was about Toa’s snapping issues. That is certainly not good, just how bad is it? Is it so bad that Toa appears to have some form of the yips? What is Plan B both at center and with Toa?

If we’re still seeing issues with the snaps in another week or so then I think it becomes something the coaches would deal with on a stronger level. For now I understand the thought that Toa is “shaking the rust off” because he really hasn’t played much center in his career. If they look to make a move it would be Neilon getting first shot at center, not sure where they would put Toa.


Does practice this year indicate that our QB will be under center more often or use a fullback more often?

Yes, we’ve seen the QB under center a little more but no on the use of a fullback. The only fullback on the roster from last year, Rueben Peters, is now a reserve linebacker.



What’s your take on camp so far on the physicality scale? Since we can’t see and hear the pops from our computers I’d like to get your perspective from the field. Full pads go on Wednesday and I’m hoping things get intense.

The run drill yesterday when the pads came on was about as physical as you could hope to see, and I expect we see some hitting on Saturday with the scrimmage in the Coliseum.


What effect do you think playing in the new Gray Lady (in drag) will have on the sense of home for the football team?

Good question. The Tower (even though it is still under construction) definitely draws your eyes to it since it is such a commanding presence inside the stadium. Will that take some getting used to? Will it impact crowd noise from that side of the field? It’s hard to know the answers to those questions until the players get inside, which will happen this afternoon for the first time.


It’s early, but I’ll pose a question from a few months back to see if anything has changed:

Will the offense be run first, pass second, leveraging the RB’s and pushing the OL to pile drive first and foremost, as the young QB (whoever it is) essentially manages the game first, and makes plays second? This also assumes a USC defense that can shut down opponents (meaning USC doesn’t need 24+ points to win game in and out).

Helton says he still wants a balanced offense as close to 50% run, 50% pass as possible but he also says a strong run game will be needed to help the new QB. I think this is the kind of RB unit that can handle that responsibility. We should know more as camp goes along and we see the team scrimmage a few times.

Burak Uslu

Hi Garry, I am liking the news of more physical 11-on-11 practices. Do you think the practices represent the Pete Carrol’s practices are harder than actual games regime or are these more to determine which QB to start?

Right now Helton is saying he wants to make things as hard on the QB’s as possible for evaluation purposes so it remains to be seen how things will continue into the season. In the past Helton has erred on the side of caution when it comes to the physical nature of his practices but a lot of people would like to see that increased. We’ll see what happens.



Talofa my brother!

My question to you is this. For the past several years now Coach Helton has emphasized a run first/ run heavy team. If this is still the case, don’t you believe that this would be better achieved if it were run out of an “I” formation?

I truly believe that it would and here’s my reasoning as to why:

-Carr/Ware/Vae out of an I formation with a lead fullback, in my opinion, would be huge.

-QB under center could help Toa with his snapping issues.

-Besides Fink, I don’t think Sears or Daniels are gonna fool many with the option read. Lets be honest here. 95% of the time their handing off.

-I believe it sets up the play action so much better. Sanchez to Ronald Johnson were a thing of beauties.

Was wondering what your thoughts on this were. Thanks Garry for all you do.


Talafo Moe!

Count me as one who would love to see more plays out of the I formation, a set that has served the Trojans well for so many years. We won’t see a true fullback because, as mentioned earlier, we don’t have one currently on the roster but that doesn’t mean we can’t motion another player into a position where he would serve the fullback role. I would also love to see the QB under center more, especially in the red zone. I think Sears is probably a better runner than you’re giving him credit for, he can be a weapon. Agree on play action.

Bobby Boucher

Garry, last season (and particularly this past recruiting cycle) there was a sizable discussion around special teams performance and scholarships. From what you’ve seen so far, who should we expect to start at place kicker and punter? On a scale of 1-10 how confident are you in our kicking game? And what do you think is the ideal number of scholarships to hand out to special teams players inclusive of long snappers?

I still think it will be Chase McGrath at placekicker although he’s been battling a groin injury and Michael Brown has looked really good in his place. I don’t see any reason to replace Reid Budrovich at punter but I also think we’ve got a solid reserve in Chris Tilbey based on what we saw from him two years ago. As for my confidence, I’ll give it a 9. I do think it’s a luxury to have four kicking specialists on the roster and that’s not something I would look to do often. Ideally you would be spending one scholarship at a time on a kicker and punter, maybe you overlap with two at one spot for a year or so but last year was an extreme when we lost Boermeester and then Tilbey got beat out by Budrovich.



What is the point of running dueling 11 on 11 sessions? IE, “2 sets?” Is it to stir up the QB competition quicker? Or is it to help with the fewer number of practices this year. Do we have the staff to actually observe that correctly, or is it for film analysis?

Definitely a nod to the QB competition so that each guy can get an equal (and more) number of reps in those drills. No, you don’t have the staff to watch both drills at the same time so, as you say, that’s where the film work comes in after practice.



On the recruiting front, our class is noticeably more full in early August than it has been in past few years, when we have typically taken our time and finished with a huge splash on NSD. In particular, there are more 3* recruits than we typically have in a final class. Any thoughts on either of these notes? (i.e., new normal in recruiting with the ESP, we’ll be taking a larger class in 2019, the 3* kids are underrated and/or will drop off if “bigger fish” opt in)?

As far as the class being bigger in early August than normal, I think we hit a nice run over the last month to add guys like Steele, the two tights ends and some key 2020 guys. As for more 3-star recruit than we typically have in a final class, that is probably correct, but we probably have the same amount of 3-stars that we usually have at this time. For whatever reason Helton has seen this as a pattern where some 3-stars are committed early but they seem to find their way headed elsewhere once signing day gets close, and I imagine we could see that again this year. I still think with the larger class that is expected this year that we will close strong and finish with another highly rated class. I’m just not doubting Helton and his staff when it comes to doing that because they’ve closed strong 3 years in a row.


We have a new defensive “”consulant” do we have anyone like this for the offense

Yes, there are two offensive analysts listed – Steve Murillo and Lenny Vandermade.

Sheldon Borson

Hi Gary,

Have I missed something? I see or hear no mention of T. Hufanga during practices ??

No, you haven’t missed anything. Talanoa hasn’t made much of an impact so far, at least compared to what we saw in spring.

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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