Neil Callaway knows he is in a unique situation coaching the offensive line at USC.
Not only is he once again instructing high-caliber players similar to his stops at Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, but he also is working with the Helton brothers, head coach Clay and passing game coordinator Tyson.
“It’s very special. I think a lot of Coach Helton. I think a lot of Tyson Helton. I think a lot of their family,” Callaway said. “They are very special to be able to work for Coach Helton and with them, so I'm very excited about it and I'm very excited to be at USC. It's a great place.”
Callaway was an assistant head coach and offensive coordinator under Kim Helton, Clay and Tyson’s father, for four seasons. Prior to that, Callaway was coaching the offensive line at Auburn, where Clay was a quarterback behind Callaway’s group of big bodies. For the previous two seasons, Callaway was coaching alongside Tyson at Western Kentucky where the duo helped turn the Hilltoppers into an offensive juggernaut. They finished in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency, scoring, passing, first downs and total yards while breaking more than two dozen school records.
Now Callaway and Tyson Helton have joined big brother Clay with the hopes of turning a sometimes-moribund offense into a constant producer.
That all starts up front where Callaway must turn a group of talented but inconsistent linemen into a cohesive unit that is able to sustain an injury or two without having multiple mental lapses after a substitution. He got his first look at his group last week and was quick to declare that “we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
It’s a group that has individually earned accolades, but as a group, forced Cody Kessler to need to take out a life insurance policy at times. There have been communication issues and whiff blocks on occasions in the past two years and Callaway is tasked with correcting those errors, even if that means making some lineup changes, which he said could be possible..
“We're going to start the best five. If they're good enough to play, we're going to play them. If they're not, they're not. That's kind of how were going to go and I think it's too early yet to tell what we've got.”
The USC fans are hoping for the Trojans to play with a nasty, physical streak. Callaway is no different, but he wants them to play smart as well. How to do both?
“I want to play harder than everyone we play against. That's our goal. That's what we want to do.”
This spring, the emphasis is on the fundamentals, working to perfect technique even if that means continued repetitions and an earful of Southern drawl from Callaway. He wants the players to understand what it takes to truly play at full speed rather than pantomiming hard work and hustle.
“We're trying to install the good habits that we want everybody to have,” Callaway said. “We want to play hard and play smart and play physical like I talked about. Then we have to play with a lot of oneness. We have to have everybody play together. We have to communicate and all be on the same page and play as one.”
He felt communication increased just from the beginning to the end of the first practice, but knows “we’ve got still a ways to go.” Communication is one of the key elements, but one of the things Callaway cautioned might take a little longer because of the change in the offense with Tee Martin taking over as offensive coordinator and Tyson and Callaway’s additions to the staff.
“It's not going to happen in one day, two days. It's going to take a little time. But as long as our guys are working hard and trying, I think we'll be OK.”