The Trojans took the field in shells Sunday with the mantra of physicality becoming a reality instead of coach-speak.
New offensive line coach Neil Callaway knows that if USC is to become a more physical team at the point of attack, his position group will be the tip of the spear. Callaway, who coached at UAB and Alabama before landing at Western Kentucky in 2015, believes is coaching his linemen from the ground up.
“We really try to teach the basics and fundamentals first,” said Callaway. “We want to work with them on their assignments and Coach (Clay) Helton has done a great job letting the trees get work from scrimmage.
“When we go into team (drills), we’re only going to work two groups. We’re going to push as hard as we can and hopefully be smart enough to back off at the right time. But we’re gonna push them.”
Callaway has two newcomers to camp this fall, but three true freshman on the roster. Offensive tackle Nathan Smith came in during the spring.
“Getting on campus was fun,” said Smith. “I got a lot of the plays early, so that was good. It was a blast just to be out there competing.
“I got school down pretty quickly, so it was more about adjusting to the speed of college football. It was a short learning curve in the spring, so I’m trying to keep up.
“I think the difference between high school ball and college ball is… lets say I’m trying to make a slip to a weak side backer. In high school, I’ll make the block, slip and slowly see that linebacker trying to fill. In college, you turn the corner and you’re getting smacked by the backer.
“In college, you have to know where to be before you get there. You have to be really structured in knowing what you’re doing.”
Smith is not only making the transition from high school to college, but also from left tackle to right tackle.
“My footwork was a little messed up at first,” said Smith. “I think now I feel more comfortable in my stance at right tackle than I did left tackle. From that perceptive it’s been alright.
“The main thing now is that I know about 90-percent of the plays. I know where I have to be most of the time. Now it’s just a matter of getting my technique down.”
Enrolling last January was also advantageous for Smith physically. Smith came to USC at 260-pounds and is now 278-pounds.
“I think my peak weight will be from 295 to 305-pounds,” said Smith. “I’ve got a ways to go and I’ve always had trouble putting on weight, so that’s really good progress for me. I was trying to get to 260-pounds for like three years. (laugh)”
While Smith attempts to prepare physically for the college level, Callaway says that each freshman’s mental disposition is just as important.
“Nathan Smith got here in the spring, so he has a little leg up on Frank (Martin) and E.J. (Price), but they’re all very talent and I’m pleased with how they played,” said Callaway. “They all really seem to like football, which is important.
“At some point in time they’ll all be good players. Now, when that’s going to be, I don’t know.”
Price, unlike Smith and Martin, has been getting reps with the full No. 2 offensive line at left tackle. That means he has gotten reps over redshirt freshman Roy Hemsley.
“E.J. is a talented young man, but he’s still learning,” said Callaway. “We’re going to see if he can get ready, and it will be soon.
“His reps goes back to numbers too. Going back to last spring, we made some decisions on who was who and what was what. E.J. is talented, so I want to see what he can do.”
News and notes from practice:
Freshman safety Jamel Cook continues to warm up with the team fully dressed but heads to Rehab Island shortly after. Sunday he came out in tennis shoes. Cook rehabbed on cone drills for about an hour going half speed.
Freshman Keyshawn Young continues to work with the cornerbacks after his first day cameo appearance with the wide outs. Young showed off his speed in special teams gunner drills by flying past Ronald Jones as a blocker.
Freshman tight end Cary Angeline hasn’t seen a ton of reps outside position drills, but he may be the fastest tight end USC down field. Both Tyler Petite and Angeline run more fluidly like wide receivers than the rest of the tight ends.
Although freshman running back Vaevae Malepeai had some issues handle the ball as a receiver early Sunday, he once against displayed some great vision and lateral feet in team scrimmaging. Malepeai had a handful of carries with the second team offense for about 25-yards.
In linemen one-on-one drills, E.J. Price was beaten badly by Don Hill only to come back and stonewall Porter Gustin on a spin move to the inside.
Utah junior transfer Stevie Tui’Kolovatu has been receiving more second team reps as of late. Tui’kolovatu bull rushed the offensive line a come of times in team scrimmaging to stuff the run. Center Toa Lobendahn remarked after practices, “Stevie is just so strong and is really hard to leverage. That’s not just a guy out there… that’s a guy you have to really think about blocking before you block him.”
Freshman wide out Tyler Vaughns got some first team reps Sunday and caught his first touchdown in camp on a slant pass.
Freshman outside linebackers/rush end Oluwole Betiku and Connor Murphy were both on the field at the same time Sunday. While both were recruited at the same position, they are now playing opposite of each other.
Lynwood (Calif.) cornerback commit Wylan Free attended practice Sunday