After a week of spring break, the Trojans returned to practice with friends, family, and officials in attendance. Coach Clay Helton said he loves the first scrimmage because you “can really tell where you are reality-wise…it feels more game-like and you see who can perform with eyes on them.”
The defense dominated with three turnovers. In the last few years USC’s defense has continued to improve under coach Pendergast, so this strong first-look against a potential Heisman-winning quarterback shows definite promise.
Helton referred to former linebacker Michael Hutchings as the “QB of the defense,” and went on to say that Cameron Smith has naturally accepted the challenge of assuming that role. Helton is excited that “you can feel the physicality” of the defense, referring to dynamic plays made by Jamel Cook, and Cameron Smith.
As with most first scrimmage practices, there were penalties that will need to be controlled. Afterwards, Helton stated that the team is trying to “create our identity…and that goes back to what we believe wins championships, running the ball, stopping the run, playing great special teams, and playing clean football.”
The next practice, USC’s receivers worked to fix some of those errors. Coach Helton said Tuesday’s practice was the “best so far for the Trojan offense.” Darnold worked with receivers Velus Jones, Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman Jr. and Josh Imatorbhebhe to create more explosive plays. A nice chemistry between Jones and Darnold was developing, and Vaughns had several nice catches in the red zone. In addition to working with new receivers, Darnold is also adjusting to a new offensive line after the departure of three starters from the 2016 team. He joked that “he's glad he doesn't have to throw over Zach Banner's 6-foot-8 frame anymore,” and can now settle for Chris Brown at 6-foot-5.
Former USC quarterback Carson Palmer made an appearance at practice to mentor Sam Darnold and offer words of wisdom. Darnold showed great composure, working to spread the ball to all of the receivers and building trust with the younger players. Helton later spoke to the importance of Palmer stopping by, saying “I smile everyday when I wake up because this is going to be my 8th season in the greatest place in the world…the one thing I’ve learned about this place is, when they say Trojan Family, it’s real.”
The Football Spring Game is scheduled for Saturday, April 15th, and all fans are welcome to join in and watch a preview of what will hopefully be an exciting season.