The Trojans will get back on the field this week for the second month of PRP workouts, and here’s a look at a few of things we’ve learned from the first month:
* JT Daniels will be squarely in the mix to content for the starting QB job
For everyone who was wondering if a player could bypass his senior year of high school and have a realistic chance of competing right away for the USC starting quarterback job, the answer is a definite yes based on what we’ve seen so far. JT has come in and handled himself well while getting more and more comfortable with the speed at this level (even if its only summer workouts it’s still a step up from what he’s used to). It helps to have his favorite receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown with him as I would think over 50% of his completions have been to Amon-Ra so far, but that’s not a bad thing as St. Brown will have a role in this offense this year. Part of the reason for saying that Daniels has a chance to be the starter sooner rather than later is the fact that neither Matt Fink or Jack Sears has done anything to separate themselves, and unless that changes as we head into fall camp it will be an absolutely open competition with Daniels having every shot to win the job.
* Depth of offensive skill isn’t what you would hope
Don’t get me wrong, when fall camp rolls around and injured guys are able to take part it will likely be a different story but right now there are plenty of nicked up guys who are erring on the side of caution and taking it slow, and it shows in the PRP rotations. We expected Stephen Carr to be sitting out these days but Aca’Cedric Ware has also been sitting out most of summer. Now, to be fair, Ware answered the bell consistently in spring so there are no worries about him but several days of PRP workouts have been limited to Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp. Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman are consistently out there at receiver and Amon-Ra is quickly establishing himself as a presence in the slot but behind them things are unsettled. Velus Jones is the next guy in line, he could be the starter at slot but Amon-Ra is a more complete option with what he can do. Otherwise, there are Josh Imatorbhebhe, Randal Grimes, Trevon Sidney, Pie Young and Devon Williams to choose from and they simply aren’t on the field enough to know yet what they will bring. I will say that it’s been good to see anything from Daniel Imatorbhebhe, and his action has been limited but his presence is so important that any progress is good right now. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of Josh Falo, his expected successor as the big play tight end option, or even Erik Krommenhoek.
* Brandon Pili is ready to be a breakout star
The transition that Pili has made over the past two years is impressive. He went from a relatively unknown prospect in Alaska who had to move to Oregon for a chance to be seen by college scouts, to a player who had to burn his redshirt year midway through the season and ended up an honorable mention All-Conference player, and now he enters his sophomore year as the starting nose tackle for the Trojans and a guy who is playing with a lot of confidence. He poses such an intimidating presence on the field with his huge frame but it’s his surprising athleticism that sets him apart. When he took reps one day as the service team running back and was having fun giving stiff arms to defenders it was easy to imagine that he wouldn’t be a bad option to give him the ball on the goal line just to see what would happen. I can’t wait to see what a NT duo of Pili and Tuipulotu will look like once Marlon comes back on a full-time basis.
* We’ve got corners
It seems like depth at corner has been an issue in recent years and it has tested the abilities of Clancy Pendergast to go into beyond his starters on the depth chart. That’s not the case anymore, even with the roster loss of returning starter Jackie Jones, as when you look on the field now you can see three deep at all three corner spots with guys who can play. Iman Marshall, Ajene Harris and Isaiah Langley appear set as the starters for now. I really like where Greg Johnson, Ykili Ross and Jonathan Lockett appear as the first line of reserves, and then you have Jay Godfrey and Chase Williams trying to find their roles as incoming freshmen Olijah Griffin and Isaac Taylor-Stuart are ready to show why they were so highly-ranked, Griffin in particular has looked solid so far.
* Freshmen certainly look like they belong
We’ve talked about guys like JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown, both of whom will be right in the thick of position battles with chances to be starters sooner rather than later. We saw Talanoa Hufanga in spring, a special talent who we just need to find a home for, while Kana’I Mauga and Justin Dedich also performed well. There has also been Griffin, who opened up eyes in his first PRP workout with three pass break-ups. I would also want to mention a guy like Trevor Trout, who possesses the base physical traits that you want for a big man in the middle, namely size and athleticism. I also like the frames of Abdul-Malik McClain and Eli’Jah Winston, these are some solid guys at OLB. And then there is Palaie Gaoteote and Solomon Tuliaupupu, we’ve seen more of Palaie in summer as Solo continues to recover from a knee injury but these are two guys who showed up in the 240-250 pound range and are as physical as can be, nice to picture them as the future of the USC inside linebacker group.