USC’s Spring Practice No. 9 Saturday was as much about the non-football stuff as what happened on the field in a game-condition, full-pads scrimmage finish in front of the biggest on-campus crowd of the spring.
*** There were the Song Girls and the TMB, stopping once each on Brian Kennedy and Howard Jones Fields during practice on their way next door to the Uytengsu Aquatics Center for the big crowd that had also turned out for Swim With Mike.
*** There was Brian Kennedy, the legendary benefactor whose $1 million donation made the new artificial turf practice field possible. He was here for his second time this spring and great to see him back with the program.
*** There was the large crowd of recruits, their coaches and family. As has been the case every day this spring, the turnout was big again.
*** Then there was music for the first time for Clay Helton’s guys this spring, from Swim With Mike next door and then the TMB doing its pre-game routine.
*** There was even a full crew of officials who would overrule Helton on a crucial fumble call in favor of the offense in the Final Five competition. Not unusual for a USC coach to get overruled by the officials, we note.
*** And finally, there were also the hundreds of coaches and fans signed up for the USC Coaches Clinic who got practice as a part of their weekend with the seven-man group of San Clemente coaches headed up by Jaime Ortiz getting to see their former player, redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, put together his third straight stellar performance.
“We probably didn’t do that enough last year,” Helton said of throwing it over the top and down the field off play-action predicated on a strong run game.
He praised offensive coordinator Tee Martin for getting that done, as much as it can take out of your wide receivers – and DBs -- to do those all-out sprints.
“No question, when you have a two-and-a-half hour practice, you have to figure out the time to do it,” Helton said. “Maybe just two or three times you do it, but over a season, those times add up.”
The wide receiver depth helps here, Helton said, addressing last season’s tendency to throw it maybe too much in one direction – toward JuJu. “One of the things now, we’re fully healthy,” Helton said, “. . . and we have so many weapons.”
He ticked off their names: JuJu, Steven Mitchell, despite one pass off his hands that ended up as an interception for an unlucky Browne, Justin Davis, Darreus Rogers, Deontay Burnett and on and on. “Max, Sam and Jalen don’t have to single out just one of them.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Which is really what Saturday was about. One more day of making this incrementally add up as JuJu, Osa Masina and Ronald Jones returned while Chad Wheeler, with an ankle and Chuma Edoga with a sore wrist were held out of the final 11 on 11 allowing Jordan Simmons to start at right tackle with Zach Banner moving over to left.
What they got to see was a good deal of situational work where, for example, they saw what discipline it takes not to get drawn offisides in the third down period. Or how to get the ball, as Western Kentucky did when passing game coordinator Tyson Helton was there the past couple of seasons, to the tight ends.
As for Mitchell, he distinguished himself on what Helton called the “catch-bang plays” when you know you’re going to get hit right after making the catch and you make it and make something of the play through the tacklers.
One reason Helton said he was pleased with the quarterbacks’ performance is how they’re having to deal with Clancy Pendergast’s defense that is “always good at getting the quarterbacks off their spots . . . and even though he only has four or five defenses, but the different angles they come at you make it tough.”
SCOTT FELIX UPDATE: Clay reiterated the USC statement when it was learned Friday that the senior linebacker's appeal of a year’s NCAA ban was turned down after taking an over-the-counter supplement and failing a drug test that USC was going to try to find way that the theater major could stay involved with the program. They’re thinking of “a possible role as a service team player,” Helton said as Scott finishes up his degree work in the fall. They just have to get the OK that he can do that.
Quick hitters here
CB Jonathan Lockett left practice out of pads because of the concussion protocol . . . Players limited or missing Saturday included . . . WR Michael Pittman, DT Noah Jefferson, safeties John Plattenburg, Matt Lopes and Ykili Ross, OL Clayton Johnston and the trio of post-surgical players – Chris Hawkins, Toa Lobendahn and Cameron Smith.
*** For more details on Saturday’s practice, check out Saturday Spring Day 9 Ghost Notes.
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