On any other Saturday, it’s easy – or at least simple and basic -- to be a football fan. You want your team to win. You want it to be injury-free. And move on to next week better than it was this week.
But the Spring Game Saturday is different. You’re playing yourself. And it’s pretty much a zero-sum game. The offense looks good? What the heck is wrong with the defense. And vice versa.
So it’s a fine line here. Reminds us of the reports out of Tuscaloosa this week about a new 240-pound running back at Alabama with 243 yards and an 11-plus-yard average running the ball in The Tide’s last two intrasquad scrimmages.
And as the case would have it for some of the more fearful USC fans, the postings say: “Here we go again . . . no way to stop those guys” in USC’s Sept. 3 opener in Texas. And of course, the “glass is half full” way we think asks: “What’s happened to Alabama’s defense?”
So when it comes to your Trojan team in today’s Spring Game (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) at the Coliseum, it’s a fine line you have to walk in terms of what you’re wishing for.
Here’s our wish list:
*** QUARTERBACKS: Just keep on keeping on. This has been a good spring for both Max Browne and Sam Darnold. Jalen Greene, too. Make the calls and the plays with a crowd in the stands and a TV audience watching. Let the game come to you. Move the chains. Don’t try too hard. Protect the ball. Get what you’re given. Act like you’ve been there. Don’t think about the “competition,” think about the play. No one is being coached up more than you guys with more coaches. Good day to listen to all of them. You’re the story here. As you always will be. Embrace the spotlight.
*** RUNNING BACKS: First, pick up on the pass protection and pass catching emphasis this spring. We know you can run it. Get the mesh with the offensive line down. Know where the seam is going to be and get there when it opens. And of course, take care of the ball. Then make your coach, Tommie Robinson, proud of your play. T-Rob likes to brag on his pupils. If Justin Davis, Ronald Jones, Aca’Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis play up to what we’ve seen this spring, they have a chance to do just that.
*** TIGHT ENDS/F-BACKS: One of the bright spots of the spring, for the four of you – Taylor McNamara, Daniel Imatrobhebhe, Tyler Petite and Reuben Peters -- keep opening up the field, getting deep down the seam and catch the ball. Then let’s see how you block for coach John Baxter.
*** OFFENSIVE LINE: Listen to your coach. Neil Callaway is looking for the five of you who can play as one, who can get all the little things right, who play under control, but nasty. Help him make the calls as to who goes where and how this all shakes out before the injured guys return this summer to give him even more choices. This is your chance. Make the most of it. It starts with you.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The few, the strong, the proud, the young guys learning to play a different way, listen to Kenechi Udeze as he talks of his time at USC and how important technique is -- and the discipline to do it every time. Listen to your inner attacker and do what tackle Noah Jefferson, back from his back issues, tells himself before every play: “All I think about is TFLs,” he says. With Clancy Pendergast wanting his defensive line to play on the other side of the ball, "tackles for loss" sounds like a good focus for Noah and all the guys who have stepped up – at times – this spring – Malik Dorton, Jacob Daniel, Rasheem Green and Christian Rector.
*** LINEBACKERS: For both the second and third levels, Clancy wants: them “to get to the right spots and break in the right direction.” With his smaller, quicker veterans blitzing inside – Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings joined by Osa Masina and Olajuwon Tucker – and the big guys coming on the edge -- Porter Gustin, Uchenna Nwosu and Jabari Ruffin -- this group has a chance to get it done as they have most of the spring. They can also make the QB’s better, as well. Keep playing fast and tough and under control in space.
*** SECONDARY: There aren’t a lot of you left for today. But for the guys who will be there Sept. 3 against Alabama, as Iman Marshall was saying the other day, “Saturday is going to be really exciting.” Not the way you think of DB’s doing their business. Usually it’s what Clancy says: “Eliminate the big plays.” But for a group that’s playing much more man, using all-new techniques with their hands and feet, this is a big day for the likes of Isaiah Langley, Marvel Tell, Leon McQuay and Matt Lopes as they await reinforcements who will return this summer.
*** SPECIAL TEAMS: Not sure how much, if any, live punting we’re going to see but we should get a line on Matt Boermeester and his improving field goal accuracy. But the more kicks the rush guys block, as they have consistently this spring, the zero sum game kicks in for the protection. So this isn’t all that simple. We’ll just let this one play out for Baxter’s bunch here. They do seem well ahead of the last couple of years at this time.
And obviously, no injuries. More than anything, you want to see everyone who plays today able to answer the bell this summer when there are 28 practices to get ready for Alabama.
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