Missing out on spring football practice doesn’t really compare to the serious issue facing the world as it looks to stop the spread of COVID-19. But it could still have a fairly significant effect on the program and the 2020 USC Trojan football season. In this series, we’ll take a position-by-position look at what exactly missing spring ball could mean for the Trojans, moving on to the wide receivers.
At this point, spring ball is technically still postponed. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that there be no gatherings of more than 50 people (a USC spring ball practice would certainly qualify) for at least eight weeks. USC has also announced that it will continue online or remote classes through the remainder of the academic semester. There is certainly a potential opportunity for some kind of out-of-season practices before fall camp, if the NCAA can react quickly enough to enact enough changes to its rules in order to accommodate that. But in this space, we are commenting on USC missing out on spring ball in its usual form and time.
Make sure to take a look back at our previous entries:
There were a number of questions at the wide receiver position heading into spring ball. We weren’t sure about the extent of Amon-Ra St. Brown’s availability, as he recovered from a surgery to repair a sports hernia. We weren’t sure about the status of Bru McCoy, who spent virtually all last fall away from the practice field but was slated to make a return for the spring. And we didn’t know how prepared true freshmen early enrollees Gary Bryant and Joshua Jackson would be for this level.
After one practice, while it sounds crazy, it honestly feels fine to shut this entire group down until the fall. We’ve seen enough.
This group is simply head-shakingly good.
Tyler Vaughns came out and looked every bit like the fifth-year senior he will be. He isn’t physically overpowering the way Michael Pittman could be last season, but he’s again going to be a problem for opponents that lean away from him in their coverage.
Truthfully, nobody needs to see St. Brown anymore outside of games. He’s too competitive to take it easy in practice, but letting him recover with a timeline that doesn’t factor trying to make it back for the tail end of spring ball might be in his best interest for the season.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Ford missed a lot of last season as he recovered from injury. After one practice, it’s safe to say he’s ready for this season, and might already represent one of the toughest physical matchups for opposing cornerbacks in this conference.
Fellow redshirt freshman Bru McCoy shot out of the gate as well, impressing during the first and only spring ball practice. He certainly looks all the way back from the illness that sidelined him last year, and both he and Ford look ready to live up to their lofty recruiting rankings.
It was also nice to see Bryant and Jackson hit the ground running. Bryant got to showcase a little bit of his speed, and both players showed how much of an impact true freshmen wide receivers are able to make quickly in college.
The only downside to missing spring ball for this group is simply the amount of reps they were going to be able to get. With Pittman off to the NFL, St. Brown sidelined and Drake London spending the spring with the basketball program, there were starting-receiver-level reps to be gained this spring, as several receivers could have developed a rhythm with quarterback Kedon Slovis.
John Jackson III is likely another receiver who could have used a strong spring to better position himself for significant playing time this fall.
Ultimately, this group was going to be just fine with one spring ball practice, 15 of them, or none of them. But offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is fond of saying that there’s no substitute for reps in this offense, so this group won’t be able to take that step forward that would likely have come with the number of reps they were about to put in over the course of spring ball.
The good news is that USC won’t need to rely on young receivers early in the season, as there are some experienced veterans back who can carry the load while the younger receivers fully learn the intricacies of the offense that can only been seen while running in a full-speed team setting. But with so much talent on hand, the bet here is that it happens sooner than later once they all get back on the field.