With the 4th of July holiday over the Trojans will be returning to the field tomorrow morning to begin the final month of player-run-practices before fall camp starts on July 29th.
We’ve seen some interesting developments through the first few weeks of the sessions, most notably the performance from Jackie Jones on the offensive side of the ball. It was well known that Jackie would eventually get a look on offense, Helton had mentioned it many times in spring, but he was also in the thick of a competition for a starting spot at corner so it would be a tricky balance to give him a legitimate look at both spots.
As much as Jones may indeed end up the starter at corner it’s hard to ignore the impact he makes with the ball in his hands. It’s somewhat similar to what we just saw with Adoree’, a player whose primary role was on defense but his offensive skills demanded that he get a look with his explosiveness.
However, does the recent success of someone like Adoree’ in handling the multiple roles impact things for Jones? It’s hard enough to master one position in college football, much less figuring out a way to contribute in all three phases of the game, something Adoree’ did at a rare level. He even added to that by skipping football last off-season to make a run at the Olympics in the long jump, and it didn’t seem to hurt him on the way to a Thorpe Award and a first-round NFL draft selection.
“Let’s be clear, Jackie Jones is an exceptional athlete who can benefit a team in a variety of ways,” said former USC corner Darrell Rideaux, a one-time California state 100m champion. “But not everybody is Adoree’, who was much more polished as a first year freshman corner.”
Jackie certainly hasn’t established himself on defense yet as much as Adoree’ did in his first year as the lasting image for many people is Jackie having coverage issues at the end of the Rose Bowl, and he’s also probably needed on defense at this point more than on offense. The Trojans have Iman Marshall and Ajene Harris who appear set as two of the three starting corners in the nickel package, while Jones is facing competition from Isaiah Langley, Jamel Cook and Jonathan Lockett (when healthy) as well as incoming freshmen Greg Johnson and Jay Godfrey. Jackie would be considered the favorite to win the job with Langley providing the biggest threat in spring.
On offense the path to meaningful reps is a little tougher. In the slot receiver position alone there is Deontay Burnett, Steven Mitchell, Velus Jones and Trevon Sidney (when healthy) so Jackie isn’t necessarily needed as much here, but if he continues to put on the kind of show we’ve seen so far I’m guessing the coaches will find a way to get him in that mix.
“I actually think Jackie is better suited for offense,” said Rideaux, “but the team probably needs him more on defense. That’s what worries me about taking reps away from him on defense right now, he needs to commit to his craft as a corner if that’s where he’s going to end up because he is still fairly raw on defense.”
Here are some other observations on what we’ve seen so far:
* There doesn’t appear to be a resolution on a home for Toa Lobendahn/Nico Falah. One of those two is going to be the starting center, barring any unforeseen circumstances, and both players have taken reps there in these workouts. Lobendahn has also seen time at LT, LG and RT, while Falah has taken reps at RT as well. One player who is quietly getting time in the mix at LT primarily with the 2’s is Clayton Johnston. He earned some praise from Helton at the end of spring and could be worth watching in fall.
* Matt Fink and Jack Sears are not Sam Darnold, yet. This should come as no surprise as both players are still in their early development but with Darnold missing from the last two workouts we’ve seen Fink and Sears get a chance to take reps with the first unit, and the results showed that the Trojans have a clear-cut #1 and two guys still battling to see who will emerge as the #2.
* One of the best sights at the early workouts has been Kenny Bigelow stepping in and taking some reps during the team activities. We’re a long way from knowing how Kenny’s knee will hold up once full contact arrives but we’re taking cautious steps right now and I’m pleased to see any progress on his end. Kenny looks to be in great shape and he’s got a real serious presence about him these days.