Week 1, some spring thoughts

What we think we know after the 1st week of USC's spring, some thoughts here.

As USC heads into Week 2 of spring football today, we know something after Week 1. Not a lot, at least not a lot more than we knew coming in here. But there are some things we think we know now. Or will know in the next month or so.

Not enough to be absolutely definitive but we have some clues. It's not something that will have us "Just Sayin' " or even "Just Askin' " quite yet. We need more time for that.

But how about the things we're "Just Thinkin'." Yeah, that's it. Here are some thoughts/observations we have after three practices even if only one has been in partial pads.

*** We're thinking how different it looked the other day with an inside linebacker who can flat-out run sideline to sideline the way Lamar Dawson always could and now that he's back, make that easy one-handed grab of a tailback he can go step-for-step with.

*** We're thinking that will help. That he's a senior with three years experience and a guy who's been calling the signals for three seasons makes it even better. Best development of the first week.

*** And as much as we've heard Coach Bob Connelly say he'd like to redshirt every freshman O-lineman, we wonder how this is going to play out for Chuma Edoga, who would certainly have played last season if he'd have arrived then. He has the technical and physical tools to play as well as the smarts and temperment to do so. If USC doesn't have a spot for him this fall, the Trojans will be in very good shape along the O-line.

*** If there's been one change in practice that we really like, it's the emphasis on practice-ending competition between the offense and defense, sometimes in the red zone, where every play matters -- and is counted. As does this competition.

*** Sure, the defense won the first two days, the offense the third, but what matters more is the way the players took to it, and the understanding that every play matters. One play can be the difference, as it was last year at least four times at the end of games for this Trojans team.

*** We think that can only reinforce and recreate a situation we saw so often with Pete Carroll's teams who tended to finish so well in games, the bigger the better, and that doing this every single finish of every single practice seems the way to replicate game finishes, several of which we hope never to see again.

*** That competition -- and it really is a competition we didn't see so much last fall -- is what will change the face of this program. Pete had this exactly right. It has to happen -- fast, tough, hard and every day. It doesn't necessarily have to go long but at absolute game-speed in game conditions.

*** And it's the one constant when you talk to any player from the Carroll Era. They were convinced to a man that no one competed harder or against better practice partners than they did and that when Saturdays came, nothing would work better for them.

*** A big part of what seems to be happening here as far as competition is concerned is a secondary commited to get after it led by veterans Kevon Seymour as the shutdown corner and Leon McQuay III as the two-year starting safety junior who has realized it's time for him to take ownership of that spot -- and this secondary. The more he talks others through it, the better it is for his own play, apparently.

*** But even more, the better it is and will be for a young corps of talented wide receivers who will have to go against them every day.

*** We've already seen that with the way the secondary, with help from the linebackers, has been physicalling-up Juju Smith, Steven Mitchell, Ajene Harris, Darreus Rogers, Isaac Whitney, Connor Spears and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick thus far. You want to catch the ball, you'd better find a physical way to make a play. They're not giving it to you.

*** That may have been the big offensive takeaway from Week 1. Sure, there's talent in this Trojan receiving corps. But it's young and it lost three of last year's top four pass-catchers. It has yet to prove itself. And it looks like it will get the chance the way the secondary is going after it.

*** Add a tough, physical second-year guy John Plattenburg to that mix and it goes without saying about the one-of-a-kind talents of a second-year Adoree Jackson, and even without factoring in the freshmen arriving this summer, or the second-line guys who played a year ago, just doing what they did last year gets this secondary better.

*** But this group should be able to more than that in the second year of this system, which is the take you get from these first practices. The coaches seem to be saying that, too, with the way they're both coaching and calling things. It doesn't quite have that timid feel from last fall.

*** Have there been some uh-oh moments? You bet. With three of the six D-line frontliners not cleared for contact, it's going to be hard to tell how, as a group, these guys are stepping up to replace Leonard Williams.

*** The trio of Antwaun Woods, who's doing enough running on the track to fill in on the mile relay, along with a trim, fit 285-pound Kenny Bigelow and a senior Greg Townsend Jr. with a final shot to make an impact, look like they'll be ready for the fall. But we're not going to know this spring.

*** If one player more than any must step up for us, we'll pick Claude Pelon. The D-lineman has the talent. Does he have the will to play every play? They'll need him to.

*** One thing we do know is that having senior Soma Vainuku stepping in as the big running back for the spring helps USC work on that necessary power-run component that was so often missing last fall.

*** One reason for that, says running backs coach Johnny Nansen, is how much USC"s young O-linemen -- Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao -- look up to Soma for his leadership.

*** Haven't seen Cope-Fitzpatrick step up yet at tight end but Columbia transfer Spears looks like he can move and catch the ball in a crowd. USC may have caught a break with the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder.

*** And even though the scholarship numbers are improving, USC is blessed again with a solid cadre of walkons who will prove their value on both the two-deep and in practice -- from the Smith/Sullivan special teams snapper/holder duo to DL Joey Augello, QB Michael Bowman, kicker Reid Budrovich, LB , WR Robby Kolanz, S Matt Lopes, WR David Mellstrom, DL Jeff Miller, WR Aaron Minor, S Davonte Nunnery, LB Nick Schlossberg, TBs Stefan Smith and James Toland, QB Larry Tuileta and PK Alex Woods, to name just some of the guys who show up and compete every single day.

Footnoted


USC practices at the Coliseum twice this week, today and Saturday, which means those practices will be closed to the public . . . USC will also practice Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Cromwell Field and that one is open to the public . . . Wednesday will be Pro Day at USC, also closed to the public . . . Trojans will take off next week for spring break and will return to practice Tuesday, March 24, at Cromwell Field.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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