TALK 'TOUGH,' PLAY 'SMART'

They've thrown a lot at this USC offense in early spring and they're handling it better than some of their coaches thought they could.

We’ve talked about toughness and technique, team and togetherness, the new offense and the new attitude. Lots of teams talk like this with a new staff in town.

But they don’t always talk about what the USC offensive coaches have been talking about this week with what this team is showing them: smarts . . . high football IQ . . . taking it all in and getting it right.

Because as much as holdovers Tee Martin and Clay Helton are the new and former offensive coordinators respectively, the “little bit of a gumbo” that is the new USC offense is a lot to digest in a few settings.

”I told Tee it might be too much,” said returning running backs coach Tommie Robinson after Tuesday’s spring practice No. 7 since Tee had decided “to install 80 percent of the offense the first three days.”

”It’s been encouraging, really encouraging what these kids’ knowledge is about what we’re doing,” T-Rob said.

”Our players seem to really like it,” Martin said. “I gave our players a lot. And yet we’ve had very few assignment busts.

”It’s really a credit to their experience,” Tee said. His wide receivers have been here as have the quarterbacks “and they know what we want,” Martin said, even if the quarterbacks haven’t played much in their careers here – or at all.

But it starts in a place where when you get it right, you have a chance to get it right everywhere, Tee says, with Coach Neil Callaway and the offensive line. Tee likes what he sees them being taught – “finishing with their feet and hands, just the mentality we see them working on every day.”

A team that gets that right, a team that can run the ball, well, it can pretty do just about whatever it wants is the way Tee is thinking here.

Right now, that’s showing in the ability to spread the ball around, to get it quickly to the open man much the way Western Kentucky did the last couple of years on the way to a Top 25 spot with Callaway and Tyson Helton, USC’s passing game coordinator, working together.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Max Browne says, as he and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold have more successfully been able to spread the ball around with better pass protection than Cody Kessler had in front of him a year ago. And of course that matters.

While some of the receivers may have wondered why he didn’t see them or throw it to them last fall, Cody admitted at Pro Day he may have been overly concerned with what the defense was doing so effectively to get to him so often. A head on a swivel may not be the best way to see open receivers.

While that doesn’t seem to be an issue here, this year, the quarterbacks get to be the smart guys, quickly scanning downfield as Helton wants them to. Credit Cody, though. He never complained, really never threw any of his teammates under the bus even if they dropped his passes or didn’t completely run routes.

”I think we’re really starting to develop a trust in our receivers,” Darnold said Tuesday. “I’m also learning to trust what I see with the defense.”

Clay didn’t like it much that his quarterbacks twice held on to the ball too long Saturday although that’s a major improvement over what USC fans have been accustomed to. Again, that comes from knowing what you’re looking for.

The result: an ability “to play clean,” Helton said. An ability to be “efficient” as Clay has commented on Darnold’s quick development.

Smart stuff. And why Clay went out of his way to say how much farther along this team was than he expected it to be.

”I told Tee he might have been throwing a bit much at them,” T-Rob says. He now says he was wrong.

“We have a great group of kids,” T-Rob says, “with a good football IQ.”

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com. #USCSpringBall16


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