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Now that the pads have come on and a scrimmage has been held, give 3 things that stand out to you through this point in fall camp
- J.T. Daniels flair for the dramatic: On the first day of practice, he took his first rep against the 1’s in an 11-on-11 drill and threw a beautiful 50-yard touchdown pass. In his first Coliseum scrimmage he opened with three touchdown passes on his first three possessions, and threw four total on the day. The QB competition is still ongoing according to Clay Helton but J.T. has certainly produced some big moments so far in his bid for the job. And we have to mention Amon-Ra St. Brown as well after his performance in catching three of those touchdowns in the scrimmage.
- Run game: With all the buzz about Daniels and St. Brown it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Trojans have shown some good signs running the ball. From Stephen Carr breaking off a long TD run on the first day in pads, to Aca’Cedric Ware continuing his power running, to Vavae Malepeai with some weaving runs, to the freshman Markese Stepp impressing early on with his combination of size and speed. And, of course, any success running the ball means the o-line is doing their job. I like what I see in this area so far.
- Work to be done in secondary: For all the returning depth on the defense there are still two spots that need to be settled in the secondary, and that’s at the corner spot vacated by Jackie Jones and the safety spot next to Marvell Tell. Isaiah Langley seemed to have the corner spot locked up but we’re seeing Greg Johnson make a run, and freshman Olaijah Griffin could be in the mix sooner rather than later. At safety, Bubba Bolden has been the front-runner, he was sharing reps with Ykili Ross early on but Ross has been out lately with a hamstring. Could that open the door for C.J. Pollard or Talanoa Hufanga, or even Isaiah Pola-Mao to slide over?
- Based on the first scrimmage, it would be impossible to say that the performances of true freshmen J.T. Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown wouldn’t be headliner standouts. Both are playing at a level generally reserved for seasoned veterans and have given no sense of being wide-eyed freshmen. If things continue to evolve in their playing production, the Trojans could legitimately make a future run at a national title if they can get other parts of the offense to elevate to a similar positive direction.
- While there’s justifiable hyperbole over J.T. Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown along with a host of other outstanding skill players, an alarming “standout” to me is the O-line, which gave up a slew of sacks in scrimmage No. 1 last Saturday. Memories of Ohio State’s pass rush in the Cotton Bowl raises concern that this offensive line still has a way to go, and that was again validated in Saturday’s first scrimmage. If Daniels turns out to be the “chosen one”, he’ll need protection, and the O-line will have to make a bigger commitment to protecting their prized talent. Granted starting senior tackle Chuma Edoga didn’t play, it was still all very concerning.
- Conversely, the Trojans’ defensive line appears to have the makings of a superior unit. They stood out by constantly harassing the Trojans’ quarterbacks during the scrimmage. While this was a standout moment for Clancy Pendergast’s defense, what also stood out to me was the need for secondary improvement no matter how good J.T. Daniels and Amon-Ra looked on offense. Yes, the secondary is athletic, but taken as a whole they need to improve their pass coverage to make the D-line rush pay off.
- Senior Leadership – it’s always encouraging to see the vocal leaders of the team step up in camp. As seniors on the team, Porter Gustin, Cam Smith, Toa Lobendahn, and Marvell Tell have been doing a lot of teaching this off-season and during Camp to help get younger players ready to assume larger roles this upcoming season.
- Physicality – with increased depth comes the ability to run practice with a focus on power and toughness. There have been a few injuries, but that comes with the territory. This kind of Camp will pay dividends down the line in a long season.
- Precocious Freshmen – the most watched position battle of the Camp has seen frosh JT Daniels step ahead in the quarterback competition. His running mate from Mater Dei WR Amon Ra St. Brown has turned heads all practice session by making plays. Other true freshmen who have looked good are WR Devon Williams, CB Olaijah Griffin, OLB Ka’nai Mauga, and RB Markese Stepp.
- Thank you, Mater Dei: After the standout performances from JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown in the Coliseum this past weekend, all a Trojan fan should be doing is thanking Mater Dei for what appears to be a pair of future All-Americans. JT’s four touchdown performance in scrimmage No. 1 this past Saturday was sensational. But boy, this St. Brown kid, he is something special — he does not look like a guy who was in a high school classroom just a few months ago; he’s looking more like a four-year starter at this point. After watching St. Brown reel in three impressive touchdown scores this past Saturday, I’m no longer wondering if St. Brown will get starting time — I’m utterly hoping this coaching staff has him on the field as much as possible.
- Defensive depth is a great blessing: As is common in most fall camps across the nation, guys have gotten banged up and been forced to sit out a practice or two over the course of training camp. This past week we watched as a good number of Trojans on the defensive side made their way to the trainer’s table during practice and were forced to sit out. But in the midst of guys being knocked out of practice, the depth of personnel for this defensive has been made all that much more evident. Even when the defense was running this week without guys like Cam Smith and Porter Gustin, there wasn’t a feeling that practice slowed down. This luxury of depth has allowed the Trojans to simultaneously run two 11-on-11 periods on the field at the same time — an interesting sight to see.
- Jay Tufele and Kana’i Mauga: A pair of young guys who have really caught my, and the USC coaching staff’s eyes over the course of this camp. Following the Coliseum scrimmage this past Saturday, Helton noted that Tufele is having the “best camp of anybody” on the team. Tufele’s display of size and agility off the line certainly make Helton’s statement justifiable. Also, this Mauga kid is an absolute killer off of the edge. Will be fun to watch him develop more and more as a pass rusher and coverage-defender. Sky’s the limit for these two.