USC only has seven new faces on the field from the 2016 freshman class, but the Trojans have plenty of new faces on the coaching staff. In one instance, even an old face has a new job.
Wide receivers coach Tee Martin is now USC’s offensive coordinator. Having been at USC the past five years, the assumption may be that it’s just another spring for Martin regardless of his change in title.
“It is different,” said Martin. “You’re never prepared for something you’ve never done. I’ve been here and seen how the other coordinators have done things, but when it’s your turn, you have to be you.
“Today I spoke to the offense and I spoke how I talk. I wasn’t trying to be anyone else. I spoke from then heart and we talked about expectations. We talked about what we need to do to have a good spring. I think we had a good first practice. The effort was there, the focus was there and guys paid attention to detail. For a first day, I thought it was good, but we have a long ways to go.”
In terms of expectations, Martin generalized what he sees the USC offense as being next season.
“We want to play USC football, a specific brand of USC football,” said Martin. “That all starts up front in the trenches with the offensive line, the running backs and the tight ends. Then we have to make plays on the perimeter.
“We return a lot of those guys — all of our tight ends and a lot of our skill players. For the most part, our o-line is returning as well. We replace a quarterback, but outside that, we have all of those guys that came close to winning a Pac-12 championship. The expectations are to get back to that game and win it by playing USC style of football.”
Pittman is returning from a broken collarbone he suffered while practicing for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
“The doctors cleared him and today wasn’t a contact day,” said Martin. “We were also short on guys, so no worries today.
“We will watch him a little bit when we put the pads on. We have to be smart about that, but I think by the time we come out of spring, we’ll be close to letting him go full speed.”
Pittman and Imatorbehbhe both looked full speed Tuesday, although Martin saw more than enough mistakes to temper his enthusiasm.
“They played like first day wide receivers — deer in the headlights a little bit,” said Martin. “I was impressed by how much they knew though. When things didn’t go their way, they just let it roll off their shoulder.
“Those are traits of guys that could be really good in the future. They didn’t panic and they never got down on themselves. That was really good to see. I liked how they competed today.”
Imatorbehebe, who already looks to be in the physical mold of JuJu Smith-Schuster, played in the slot and out wide Tuesday. Pittman, who caught the ball as well as any of the receivers, lined up in the role of a traditional split end.
“Early on, I’m just trying to get them lined up in general,” said Martin. “When receivers are confident in what they’re doing, then you can see what they’re capable of doing.
“We’re going to move them around a bit and see where they fit with the chemistry we already have. But both of those guys have outstanding skill sets, so I’m excited to see where they go from here.”
Keary Colbert is a former USC wide receiver whose skill set landed him in the NFL. After coaching at USC as a graduate assistant, then Georgia State as a wide receivers coach, Colbert went to Alabama as an administrative assistant.
He returns to USC two years later in a similar role for the Trojans this spring.
“Keary, we know his history and his knowledge,” said Martin. “Former Trojan receiver that’s been around not only pro football, but also one of the best college football programs in the country. His expertise and knowledge will be big for our guys.”
Colbert, who cannot instruct players on the field, will be a vital support staff member when it comes to analytics, film study, recruiting and mentorship.
“They definitely have a good group of receivers here,” said Colbert. “This is the most talented group of wide outs I’ve seen here in a while.
“Just as far as depth and having guys that do different things, it a good group. I’m excited just to watch them as they go. Tee has done a great job with them and they’re an exciting group to watch.”
For Colbert, a former player and coach at USC, being back on Howard Jones Field is a surreal experience.
“I just love USC and I have a lot of great memories on this field,” said Colbert. “There’s been a lot of great players who have practiced on this field. It’s been fun being back and I’m honored to be a part of this staff.
“I’m just an extra resource. From a former player standpoint here and in the NFL, a California kid… I’m just here to be a resource.”
Coming from Alabama, a team the Trojans will face to start the next season, Colbert wants to help revitalize the winning culture at USC.
“Being a part of what Nick Saban has done at Alabama is great,” said Colbert. “Just the consistency and attitude. There’s a lot of things i’ve learned about the process of winning.
“Now I’m learning a lot from Coach Helton, and I see a lot of similarities in how we structure things here and what I saw at Alabama. The style of coaching, motivation and leadership. I’m looking forward to what we’re going to do here in the future.”
The immediate future rides on players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, but further down the line, players like Imatorbhebhe and Pittman will lead the way.
“Josh is huge and very athletic,” said Smith-Schuster. “His vert is ridiculous, so having the type of athlete in the line up just makes us better.
“Michael has the ability to make those high ball catches, and having him in the mix makes it very interesting to see who is going to be in the rotation.”
While some veterans take a hands-off approach to mentoring younger players, Smith-Schuster has no hesitation in leading the younger Trojans.
“I take a very active role in that,” said Smith-Schuster. “They’re a part of the team, and what they have to learn is what I learned. I’m there to teach them and mentor them.
“The other big thing is stepping back and letting them play. I have to let them perform in practice so they can perform on Saturdays. We have to have them prepared and ready to go in the rotation.”
Practice newcomer news and notes:
Quarterback Matt Fink had a solid day throwing the ball in drills. but received no reps in team scrimmaging. Fink will wear No. 19 this spring.
Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe had more drops than Michael Pittman Tuesday, but he did show some explosion with the ball in his hand after the run. Imatorbhebhe also saw the football as a motion receiver out of the backfield. Imatorbhebhe, listed at 210-pounds by USC, was one of the most physically impressive looking players on the field Tuesday.
Pittman had one of the best catches of the day winning a one-on-one battle over Isiah Langley deep. Langley was step for step with Pittman until the very last moment when Pittman used his long frame to reach up and pull the football down. Pittman’s speed down field is proving to be deceiving for his size.
Oluwole Betiku looked a bit uncomfortable in pass drop drills as a linebacker Tuesday. Betiku is slated to play the predator spot for USC behind Porter Gustin. While that position requires less coverage skills than the SAM outside linebacker position, it was still apparent that Betiku was a fish out of water in those drills backpedaling and moving laterally. Betiku has the look of a defensive end with a full cage face mask and the No. 99 as well.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast spent an extended amount of time working with the linebackers. Johnny Nansen also coaches with the linebackers, but Pendergast ran several of the drills.
Defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze spent about 10 minutes with Betiku after practice working on hand technique. Betiku then spent another half hour after practice going through drills on his own. He was the last player to leave the practice field.