Not exactly the ideal day to play offense with the weather going from good and bright and breezy to cold, dark, windy and rainy.
And yet, as has happened much of this spring, the offense just seemed to take it in stride Tuesday, although against a defense that’s limited a bit numbers-wise now with LB Uchenna Nwosu suffering a mild MCL sprain Saturday and having to sit out.
Make that an even trade as tailback Ronald Jones was feeling a bit under the weather with a bug that’s going around the team and mostly just watched. What he saw was an offense that’s learning to spread the ball around, much the way Western Kentucky did last season, getting the ball quickly to the first open man.
”There’s a whole lot of everybody in this offense,” coordinator Tee Martin said. WKU (where Tyson Helton and Neil Callaway) are coming from, Stanford, USC and on and on.
“It’s a little bit of gumbo from where I’ve been, from where Tommie Robinson has been, from where John Baxter has been with Pat Hill at Fresno,” Tee rattled off some of the influences coming together on a day when the number of receivers in team and specialty passing hit double digits.
”It’s been a pleasant surprise,” T-Rob said, the way they’ve picked it up and the way they’re executing it.
Just ask Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Reuben Peters, two of the important pieces no one would have predicted would be there to start things. At nearly 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, the Florida transfer and older of the two Imatorbhebhe brothers, opened things in the final 11 on 11 session with a 30-yard deep sideline from Max Browne under coverage just before going out of bounds.“Last year here was good for me, getting to play on the Scout team against Su’a [Cravens],” Daniel said. He learned a lot. Now “I’ve got one of the best tight end coaches in the nation in Coach Baxter. “This has been fun . . . I don’t know what it was like on offense last year for the tight ends but we’re catching the ball a lot . . . It’s cool.”
But not just from the tight end spot. The tight ends are interchanging at the F-back spot with fullback Reuben Peters, a 6-foot, 223-pound redshirt sophomore former linebacker from Loyola High who caught Tee’s eye on the Scout team last fall and is now the Trojans’ lone fullback. “He really brought it and could turn on a dime,” Tee said and when Peters came to the coaches and asked how he could get on the field more, they said they had an idea that might work.“He’s a tough kid with good football IQ,” Tee said, “and he’s a lot better than we thought.”
“I’m just trying the best I can to get on the field,” he said. “I think it’s going well. When guys like Soma [Vainuku] and Jahleel [Pinner] are here like today, I just want to do well in front of them.”
What made the day go so well for the offense, even if the defense rose up to stop them 3-2 on the last five plays – as well as four more at the goal line in a hurryup situation, was the work of the two quarterbacks. And a whole host of wide receivers – plus tailback Justin Davis, whose improvement catching the ball has Clay singing the senior’s praises and constantly reminding him of how many passes Buck Allen caught in his final season before heading off to the NFL.“I really like what the quarterbacks are doing,” Helton said of the way the ball is getting out quickly to whoever’s open. “One of the things I’m really thrilled about is balls thrown to the number of guys that I’m seeing.
"They’re beating the coverage," CLay said, "and I want to be able to beat any system we play so the ball has to be spread around.”
And for redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, Helton said, it was his best day as a Trojan. "Sam was efficient, accurate, I'll bet he was better than 70 percent."
"I'm starting to get a handle with the guys I'm throwing ot," Darnold said. "I'm really getting into a rhythm . . . there's a lot of talent there and you just have to trust your receivers."
With Juju Smith-Schuster not quite back from his hamstring tweak, there were lots of candidates on this day ready to jump in: from DeQuan Hampton, noting how it’s so much less frustrating this season to be open and know the ball might come your way, to all three tight ends including the returned Tyler Petite (from his concussion) to Taylor McNamara despite his subluxed shoulder to either Imatorbhebhe, with freshman brother Josh catching the long ball of the day in seven-on-seven to the athletic, acrobatic Deontay Burnett, to Ajene Harris who is coming into his own after hip surgery to Steven Mitchell Jr. to Darreus Rogers to Isaac Whitney to the speedy Dominic Davis when he’s in the slot.“There’s a lot of talent there,” Max said. “And they’re getting open They can all catch it."
But it’s not that simple about the number of receivers. It’s this simple. “When you can run the ball, which we’re showing we can,” Tee said, “this is what you can do throwing it.”
Quick hitters here
Players limited or missing from Tuesday's helmets, shoulder pads and shorts workout: LB Osa Masina almost back and running and doing drills with a hamstring; WR’s Michael Pittman with a collarbone crack that will keep him out rest of spring and JuJu, whose hamstring allowed him to run and do drills, no contact yet; DT Noah Jefferson with his sore back could be back next week . . . Also out John Plattenburg (ankle – almost back); Nwosu (minor MCL sprain, back in a day or two) and Jones, who felt sick and was told by Clay to take it easy . . . Finishing his concussion protocol and having a very good day according to Clay was TE Petite . . . also McNamara seemed to sublux his right shoulder again but after a quick trip to the trainer’s table, he was back at it and finished strong.
*** For more details on today’s practice, check out Tuesday Spring Day 7 Ghost Notes.
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