D GETTING DOWN ON GETTING UP THE FIELD

There's a new sherrif in town for this USC defense with the goal of playing on the other side of the ball as quickly as they can get there. Above, running backs coach Tommie Robinson gets to play sheriff himself separating LB Grant Moore and RB Justin Davis as they scuffle after a physical pass protection drill.

Osa Masina doesn’t look it but he’s gotten his weight down to 235 pounds to stay inside and run with this Clancy Pendergast downhill defense. But other than that, things aren’t all that different for him in this second go-round the young man from Utah says.

”I wouldn’t say anything has changed all that much,” he begins his answer, then pauses, “except for the coaching, and the schemes, and all the blitzing. We’re blitzing a lot more and really getting after and running down the quarterback . . . I love it.”

Looks like fun? “Oh yeah,” Osa said after Thursday’s practice that had the defense, with two sacks in the final four plays competition, walking off winners again in the team head-to-head.

As to where he’d like to play, inside or out, Osa says “I’ll play wherever the coaches need – or want – me.”

Whatever Clancy says is pretty much the way he looks at it. “He’s awesome,” Osa says of his new coordinator who also is tutoring the inside linebackers. “He’s such a great guy, whether it’s one on one or the whole group or the whole team, he’ll make sure he takes care of whatever you need. That really means a lot.”

It’s meant a whole lot to Malik Dorton, a 280-pound redshirt sophomore resurrected from a backup and Scout teamer to a D-line starter in Clancy’s aggressive, penetrating, up-the-field defense. The clean-the-slate, start-over-fresh approach is all that mattered to Malik.

”It really has,” he said Thursday. “I’m really blessed to get this opportunity.” And when asked if the defense is different for him this spring, he doesn’t hesitate.

”It’s extremely different. Every single thing is different. One of the things I have to do is get out of my bad habits from the 3-4 of last year.”

One of those bad habits -- well, it is now -- was wrestling around two guys head up at the line of scrimmage. Now “I’m on the edge and using my quick-twitch get-off,” Malik says. “This fits me well.”

”That’s all I hear Clancy saying to them,” Clay Helton said after practice, “Play on the other side of the ball.” It’s something that works well both ways – in the pass rush and against the run. No more waiting for the other team – Stanford for example – to come and get you with double teams.

”I’ve really been working on my get-off, exploding and staying low,” Malik says. “This is an ideal situation for me. And I’m big enough. I’ve been around a lot of D-line guys nationally and I match up.”

He’s not alone, Clay says: “Porter Gustin, Jabari Ruffin, Rasheem Green, they all get up the field pretty fast,” Helton said.

And they’ll all have to. Especially in the big games against the big teams in the run.

“It’s going to have to be a full-team effort,” Clay says, including bringing a safety up. “The second level guys are going to have to play great . . . the linebackers and safeties are going to have to be extremely physical.”

More on the QB competition

No question it’s close. “It’s not a huge gap,” Helton said, noting that one word he hates to use is “talent” – he’d rather focus on assignments and technique and getting those right. But when it comes to talking quarterbacks, he can’t help himself.

”Who wouldn’t want to have these talented quarterbacks,” he asks, noting that last practice, Sam Darnold “completed 94 percent of his passes.” Hard to ignore those numbers no matter who he’s throwing against.

”Max is doing a good job managing the game,” Clay says of his redshirt junior in his fourth spring practice. “Max is doing a really good job of creating. They’re competing at a very high level.”

A level that continued Thursday as both threw for long touchdowns and neither gave up a pick. Same for Jalen Greene, who had a long TD throw. And both were stymied by some of the blitzes that Clancy would dial up to win the final four-play, two minute drill with Max in there running the ones with two sacks.

”Great lesson for our defense,” Clay said of the value of the pass rush, “and a great lesson for our quarterbacks.”

If there is a difference, Clay says, it's this: Max doesn't need a QB coach standing there explaining a play to him or why it works. He knows.

Sam, who is making all the throws -- and the runs -- still needs that voice telling him in the huddle how everything works. As he should, in his first spring.

Quick hitters here

A contingent of 20 Trojan alumni players came for practice and a tour of the McKay Center . . . and a 10-Marine group from the Wounded Warrior West Battalion out of Camp Pendleton was here for their annual visit as they rehab and return to service. One of them, according to the Project Hollywood Cares organization founder and executive director Thomas Fick, a USC alum, had had 14 surgeries . . . He said that when they were introduced to Trojans Zach Banner and Max Browne, Zach asked that they hold hands, form a circle and say a prayer. "No one had ever done that before with us," Fick said. . . . CB Jonathan Lockett and OL Clayton Johnston still out on their concussion protocol . . . WR/CB Ajene Harris went all the way at corner in his white uniform with the defense . . . . Juju Smith-Schuster, the other designated emergency two-way guy after Adoree Jackson, in an absolute emergency, said he can’t wait for a chance some day to play defense . . . DT Noah Jefferson got some work in team after returning from his back issues . . . freshman Oluwol Betiku stayed 45 minutes after practice working on his own as did eight DBs and WRs who were also making some plays for a video session for USC films . . . Marvel Tell and Iman Marshall two of the DBs staying late.

*** For more details on Thursday’s practice, check out Thursday Spring Day 11 Ghost Notes.

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


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