USC offensive line coach Clay McGuire said Tuesday morning that they would begin to start moving offensive linemen around soon, flipping positions and working guys in on the first and second team. That’s exactly what happened during Wednesday’s practice, the tenth of spring ball, with many different offensive line formations taking shape throughout the session.
There were at least a dozen different lineups on the offensive line Wednesday, after the same lineup of Courtland Ford, Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons and Jalen McKenzie had taken every observable first-team snap of spring ball practices to this point.
McGuire said he wanted to get a look of guys playing in different spots and lining up next to different players and he certainly got that opportunity on Wednesday.
Here is a look at all the different offensive line variations that were spotted throughout practice (all going from left tackle to right):
Courtland Ford, Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Justin Dedich, Jonah Monheim
Jalen McKenzie, Dedich, Andrew Milek, Gino Quinones, Monheim
Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Liam Jimmons, McKenzie
Monheim, Dedich, Milek, Quinones, Ford
Monheim, Dedich, Milek, Quinones, Vorhees
Vorhees, Quinones, Milek, Jimmons, McKenzie
Ford, Quinones, Milek, Jimmons, McKenzie
Monheim, Quinones, Milek, Jimmons, McKenzie
Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Jimmons, Monheim
Vorhees, Jason Rodriguez, Dedich, Quinones, McKenzie
Monheim, Rodriguez, Dedich, Quinones, McKenzie
Ford, Rodriguez, Dedich, Quinones, McKenzie
Of note is that Andrew Milek suffered what looked to be a left knee injury during the latter half of practice, which meant Neilon and Dedich took the rest of the reps at center and Dedich stopped repping at guard. That will be an injury to monitor because it was obvious the coaches were gaining confidence in Milek at center, which allowed them to take a real look at Dedich potentially at guard.
While this was definitely the most interesting day for the offensive line during the spring, it also happened to be the best day. The offense worked a lot on no huddle/hurry up and it was clear that head coach Clay Helton wanted the offense to lead the way for the practice period.
The day’s highlight play was a long, long touchdown run from Vavae Malepeai (at least 50 or 60 yards) that came behind the line of Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Jimmons and Monheim. Malepeai will get credit for the run, but the individual play of the day might have been the block from Jimmons, who got into the second level and put a big block on Kana’i Mauga, helping to open a massive hole that got Malepeai into the secondary and off to the races. McGuire came off the sideline and all the way across the field into the endzone to praise Jimmons for the block.
Malepeai was far from the only back to have a nice day. Stephen Carr had an early fumble when Hunter Echols wrapped him up and Mauga looked to pull the ball away, but Carr built on a good performance in the Spring Game with another nice showing on Wednesday. He had two or three solid runs today, including one where he spun out of the grasp of Tuli Tuipulotu in the backfield and escaped outside before being chased down by Xamarion Gordon.
Keaontay Ingram had his customary impressive plays, including one where he took a short dump off pass up the sideline for a nice gain, and another where he spun away from Chase Williams on his way to a big run down the sideline. On another carry, he might have joined Malepeai with a long touchdown run but he slipped down in the secondary while trying to make a cut to get past the final defender.
Not to be left out, Brandon Campbell again showed his physical running style and some wiggle as well, as he made a nice move in the hole to get past Julien Simon.
With the solid running game and offensive line performance, it should be noted that linebackers Drake Jackson, Ralen Goforth and Tuasivi Nomura were not in attendance, though they did show up in street clothes toward the end.
The defense had several notable plays as well throughout the practice.
Defensive tackle Jay Toia got things started early with a firm stop on Carr right at the line of scrimmage. Toia added another solo stuff on a run later in the practice. Mauga did well to shed a blocker and make a tackle for a short gain. And both Jamar Sekona and Jake Lichtenstein drew loud cheers from their defensive teammates with solo stops after taking on and fighting through blocks.
Chase Williams had a nice rundown tackle against John Jackson III where Williams had to cover a lot of ground along the line of scrimmage. Xavion Alford was credited with a pass breakup when he arrived after Erik Krommenhoek had both hands on the ball and was bringing it in, but Alford was able to punch it out before Krommenhoek finished the catch.
Calen Bullock had a nice pass breakup on a deep ball where he was able to locate it, turn his body and bat it away. Isaac Taylor-Stuart did well to run with K.D. Nixon deep down the field to make sure a long throw from Kedon Slovis fell incomplete.
Offensively, the passing highlights included a deep ball from Slovis to Nixon, although Josh Jackson Jr. might have had a reason to complain about an offensive pushoff. If it’s not called, it’s Nixon being a savvy veteran to create space against a younger player.
Jaxson Dart hit Michael Jackson III for a long touchdown when a walk-on cornerback bit on play action and left Jackson completely uncovered deep down the field. That was a gimme for the two freshmen, but the connection between these two is starting to feel a lot like what we saw from Slovis and Drake London during that 2019 fall camp before they were starters.
Slovis found John Jackson III for a long touchdown as well. That play when the defense looked like it jumped offsides. The offense kept going with a free play but the defense on Jackson’s side stopped, leaving him wide open. He’ll gladly take the touchdown, but the better play for Jackson III came just before that, when he did really well to work back to the ball and pull in a completion against tight coverage from Chris Steele.
Milek going down was the big one today. He went down on a pass play and it looked as though it was a situation where a bunch of bodies came together in a pile. He was helped off the field while limping, but spent the rest of practice on the trainer’s table.
Josh Falo also limped to the sideline, but under his own power. He got rolled up by a tackle while blocking in the second level.
Wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. and quarterback Mo Hasan joined the injured players doing rehab throughout practice. Hasan announced that he tore his ACL on Saturday. Bryant is dealing with a hamstring injury also suffered during the spring game. Cornerback Dorian Hewett was also on the sideline today after missing time earlier this spring, but he did play on Saturday.
USC continues to be without tight ends Ethan Rae and Jude Wolfe, cornerback Adonis Otey, linebackers Solomon Tuliaupupu, Eli’jah Winston, Kaulana Makaula and Tayler Katoa, safety Greg Johnson, and defensive linemen Nick Figueroa and Kobe Pepe.
Kicker Parker Lewis was back on the field after missing some time while at home with his family. Linebacker Micah Croom also returned to action.
Defensive lineman Maninoa Tufono was in attendance for the first time this spring.
Because Hewett and Otey are out, Calen Bullock worked exclusively with the cornerbacks on Wednesday. He’s played there are times this spring and his versatility in the defensive backfield is a real bonus with the numbers what they are at cornerback right now.
The Trojans had a nice competition among coverage/return players today, with two players lined up against each other and a tackling dummy a ways downfield. On the whistle, the coverage player had to make the tackle while the defender kept him away.
Xamarion Gordon, Bryce Matthews and Anthony Beavers Jr. all drew praise on various blocking reps.
Matt Colombo, Vavae Malepeai, Chris Steele and Kana’i Mauga (twice) drew praise for their coverage reps.