As the Trojan players take the week off for spring break we will take a look back at some of the things that stood out during the opening sessions of USC spring ball.
* Sam Darnold looked leaner. It was noticeable on the first day and Sam said he had a recent illness that contributed to the weight loss. It’s nothing alarming or anything, it’s just that anything with Sam these days is going to warrant attention. As far as his play, he looked fine throwing the ball with a lot of velocity.
* Matt Fink showed up ready to compete for the back-up spot with some added bulk and a good confidence. I think there are plenty of SC fans who have projected Jack Sears as the #2 this year but the Lee Corso line “not so fast my friend” certainly applies in this case.
* It will be interesting to see how things settle out behind Ronald Jones at tailback. Aca’Cedric Ware figures to get first look but Vavae Malepeai is looking good early on. Vavae is the biggest of the backs and he runs hard.
* As you would expect, Deontay Burnett has a different presence out there on the field as the leader of the receiver group right now. Michael Pittman has made his share of plays, Tyler Vaughns ready for more and Velus Jones is pretty fast, but Burnett is clearly the guy so far.
* Tyler Petite made one of the best catches of the week on a ball down the middle of the field, and while it was only one play it was nice to see from Petite. There have been some drops in the past from Tyler and that’s been surprising with his reputation as a strong pass catcher, the play he made last week was a reminder of the kind of weapon he can be.
* Clay Helton talked about the improved athleticism he sees from the offensive line and Roy Hemsley is a big reason for that. We didn’t know for sure who was going to be lining up with the 1’s at RT but it makes sense that the coaches chose to give Roy the first look. He’s got the size and extremely light feet, and he’s been in the program for two years so it’s time to find out where he’s at in his development. So far so good.
* With so many moving pieces on the o-line it’s comforting to see Viane Talaimaivao as the rock at right guard.
* Kenny Bigelow hasn’t done any on-field drills but he is out there every day doing limited work and he certainly looks as physically mature as we’ve seen him in his USC career. The coaches rave about his attitude and preparation to get back, and what a huge bonus for that will be for the d-line.
* Porter Gustin has been out of action so that has meant a lot of reps for Oluwole Betiku with the first unit. Wole and Connor Murphy, who is behind Nwosu, both look good after their first off-season in the SC strength and conditioning program.
* Marlon Tuipuloto has been as good as advertised. Big (he is one of the few who could follow Damien Mama in #51) and fundamentally sound, it’s easy to be impressed by what we’ve seen so far from Marlon. He’s been working at nose tackle behind Josh Fatu.
* John Houston has gotten first look at replacing Michael Hutchings at inside linebacker but you get the feeling he will be challenged throughout spring by a pair of really solid reserves in Jordan Iosefa and Tayler Kotoa. Iosefa has really bulked up while Houston is finally healthy, this could be one of the more competitive battles of spring.
* One of the redshirts I’ve been looking forward to seeing most is Jamel Cook (photo above) and he wasted no time with the biggest hit I saw last week, on Velus Jones coming across the middle. Cook has been running with the 2’s so far.
* Biggie looks more than ready to assume the role of a lead corner. He had a pick-6 of Darnold and looks so in control with everything he’s doing. The big question is going to come at the other two corner spots (outside and slot). I don’t think there’s any question that Ajene Harris is the guy in the slot (Lockett will miss spring after hip surgery) but the outside spot between Jack Jones and Isaiah Langley looks like they are splitting reps so far, and Langley has looked good. Most people (including myself) have projected JackJack to eventually get the role, one thing to note is that Pie Young and JackJack will both get a look on offense this spring.
* Michael Brown found out how quickly things can change in college football. On Thursday, in only his second practice as the only kicker on the USC roster, Brown was given an extended kicking period of field goal work. He showed a strong leg but he was inconsistent, according to Clay Helton, and later that night it was announced that the Trojans would be bringing in another highly touted HS kicker in the fall, Chase McGrath of Mater Dei. There has been no confirmation on the future status of Matt Boermeester with the Trojans but the addition of McGrath indicates the coaches felt the need to have another kicker on the roster, and you can read into that what you will.