They're back and is Clancy happy about that

Seniors Quinton Powell, Michael Hutchings and Leon McQuay III back with Clancy Pendergast in a 2013 reunion tour for the Trojans.

USC’s stable of 2013 coaches aren’t the only guys back where they were three seasons ago.

Quinton Powell is back. As is the guy next to him inside at linebacker, Michael Hutchings, is back as well. And behind them, safety Leon McQuay III. All back in business.

Nos. 18, 19 and 22. With their combined nine varsity letters and a shared senior experience akin to rebirth with coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense.

”I wouldn’t say I was reborn,” says Hutchings, who is playing at 225 pounds his final season, “just picking up the defense where we were and getting into it fast and getting better every day.”

Then there’s this. “It’s great playing next to Quinton,” he says, “he’s so athletic and I can play off him and we both know this defense.”

They’d better, Powell says. “Clancy told us it’s just the same as when he was here the last time. He wants us to play fast and run to the ball and make plays.”

That’s one of the reasons USC has a 200-pound inside linebacker like Powell, who Clancy has dubbed “Lizard” for his “slithery” quauities that Quinton says “I take as a compliment.”

They’re hiding him behind the defensive tackles and sending him most every play. Because if there’s one thing Quinton has proven in his USC career as a special teams torpedo, he can and will make plays.

Only he couldn’t the last couple of years on defense when he was on the sidelines because they thought he was too small. No more. “I figure I’m out there because of the pressure,” picky-eater Powell says as he still hopes to get his weight up to 215. “But I think my knowledge of the game and my instincts are better now.”

So is his support. “Everybody is helping me,” Quinton says, “getting me to the next level.”

”It really helps me having Quinton there,” Hutchings, Tuesday’s player of the day, says as the pair finished off the offense in the Final Five competition with a Powell blitz and tackle for loss followed by a Hutchings' cover bat-down. “Quinton’s play won it for us,” he says.

With their numbers down from injuries this spring, and guys like Osa Masina, Uchenna Nwosu and John Houston just now getting back on the day Kenny Bigelow had ACL surgery and with Adoree’ Jackson concentrating on track, Hutchings said the ability to play on “is what’s shaping us. We’re low in numbers but not using it as an excuse. The young guys up front might be young but they’re together.”

”I’m not concerned with the numbers,” Rasheem Green said. “We have enough to get the job done.”

One of those numbers is McQuay’s No. 22. “It’s the same attacking defense,” he says, “we’re just out there playing fast and flying around. Clancy told me he hadn’t changed a thing and we’re going to get back to playing fast with the defense flying around.”

Clancy doesn’t have 40 defenses,” Clay Helton said. “He wants them to get lined up and play fast . . . they made tremendous strides today” with three turnovers forced in the nine-on-seven run period and an improved pass-rush session.

McQuay, down to 192 and still working back from his in-season PCL strain and bone bruise in his knee, says that’s exactly what he’s doing. “You’re not thinking first and then trying to make a play.”

”That’s when he’s at his best,” Clay says, “when he’s not thinking and just playing fast.”

”Trying to get to top speed,” Leon says. “I’m not there yet but I’m working on it.”

Clay on Thursday

*** After the defense, Clay came down a bit on the quarterback competition. “There is a gap, not a huge one.” he said, with the “poise” and presence of redshirt junior Max Browne and the excitement and talent level of redshirt freshman Sam Darnold at the top two spots.

That’s the result of Darnold’s continued high level of play. “That 14 – Sam Darnold” and then Clay talked of his “competing” at a very high level and doing so for the second straight day. Give them a few more scrimmages with game-type pressure and it will be time to make the call, Clay said. Not yet.

And with Juju Smith-Schuster limited the last three practices, two wide receivers who have stepped up, Clay says, are senior De’Quan Hampton, who had maybe his best practice ever Tuesday and slim sophomore Deontay Burnett, Tuesday’s offensive player of the day.

Quick hitters here

Players limited or missing Thursday included Steven Mitchell, who joined Ronald Jones on the sick list . . . Smith-Schuster almost completely back along Osa, was joined by linebackers Nwosu (slight knee sprain) and Houston in action today – Uchenna looking like not a thing wrong with him . . . WR Michael Pittman’s collarbone crack keeping him out rest of spring . . . DT Noah Jefferson with his sore back could be back next week . . . Also out John Plattenburg (ankle – almost back).

*** For more details on Thursday’s practice, check out Thursday Spring Day 8 Ghost Notes.

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