Gerard Martinez |

New-look USC playing at speed of Sam

New approach has a slimmed-down Trojans team talking speed . . . and more speed. Above, two of the fastest Trojans -- Velus Jones diving and Jack Jones tackling -- take one another on.

With a mostly new offensive line that will average around the 295-pound mark next fall after a veteran one that weighed in at 325 pounds a man, this will by definition be a new look for USC's Trojans.

"It's weird," Sam Darnold said, "not seeing the 6-foot-9, 360-pound guy [Zach Banner] out here."

And different. But the change is more than cosmetic. It's functional. Not that there's any choice.

Chuma Edoga, who is lining up at left tackle to start, says it doesn't feel all that different yet. The junior played both tackle spots a year ago after playing right tackle all his life. But at 292 pounds with good, quick feet, he's better suited to the left side with 6-foot-5, 315-pound redshirt sophomore Roy Hemsley stepping up in Rose Bowl practice and now getting his chance to go with the first group on the right side.

"I'm impressed with Roy's athleticism," Clay Helton said after Thursday's practice.

"Roy's really improved at the right tackle spot," Chuma says of his old position. And even if they're doing the same things so far on the O-line and it doesn't seem different to him, that's not how it looks to the guys on defense.

"Funny you asked about that," Clay says of the "Are you different?" question. "I was asking Cam [Smith] about that and he said, 'Coach, those guys are quicker, they're getting to the second level much faster.' "

"Good observation," Clay says, "I am impressed with their quickness."

USC will have 285-pounder Nico Falah, last year's center, and 290-pounder Toa Lobendahn, who's started at four different O-line positions, contending for that spot with the other one fighting for a place in the "five-best-guys" O-line group with 315-pound returnee Viane Talamaivao set in place at right guard and Chris Brown available at guard and tackle.

Except for Hemsley, that's a veteran front. And a versatile one. "That's why we signed them," Clay says of the ability to play more than one position.

Starting with Chuma, there's a different focus. "Last year my head wasn't in it, I wasn't focused, I had other issues," Chuma says. This year? "I'm 100 percent."

It helps that he had that Rose Bowl game to go back to Georgia with when "I got to talk some smack," he says of the hometown folks. "They [Georgia] won their bowl game but not like ours."

Chuma is so energized he doesn't hesitate to say this O-line can have a more productive season than last year's did. "I think we can. We're definitely up for the challenge." 

 But the ability to play quick on offense isn't all on the guys up front. There are others involved.

'We are playing fast," says offensive coordinator Tee Martin, "we're stressing tempo." As in fourth-quarter-of-the-Rose-Bowl tempo. 'Sam knows how to run an offense the way he likes it."

And that's the point. Gearing things to how Sam can play "is a point of emphasis," Tee says of the quick ball-fakes that accompany so many of the run and pass plays because Sam can handle them -- and it will make life miserable for defenses keying on him.

Ronald Jones agrees. They're going faster. He's going faster. Last year, he had to wait a bit to see how the blocking was lining up and when he could make his move. But a couple of times this spring, he's put the "quick" into quick-hitter in ways reminiscent of Reggie Bush. "That's my idol," says Ronald, whose weight is staying right at 205 pounds. "They do show us his practice cut-ups," he says of Bush.

So he's playing faster. "Definitely," RoJo says. No waiting for the line-of-scrimmage guys.

Speed, talking some speed

Talk all you want about a faster O-line or an entire offense, speed may be no more important anywhere than for the playmakers. One newcomer who has shown it the first two days of spring is Alabaman Velus Jones, who has made the plays running and catching the football that back up the game he talks.

After saying how he was "impressed with Tyler [Vaughns] and Mike [Pittmann]," Clay immediately added "You know who had a great day -- Velus Jones." A couple of big outside runs -- one on a flanker reverse -- and a nifty quick post TD catch from 20 yards out sum it up.

"I'm excited about him," Clay said of Velus' versatility as a receiver, runner and return man, "like Adoree'."

Those are the magic words -- "like Adoree'" -- that you'll hear more than once for corner Jack Jones, who Clay is hoping to give some offensive opportunities to, as well as Velus, who doesn't back off the thought.

"I can do it all," Velus says -- especially run. And yes, if they had a match race -- which he handicaps among Dominic Davis, Trevon Sidney, Pie Young, Jack Jones and his buddy, Josh Imatorbhebhe, he'd pick himself.  "I'm very confident in my speed."

Jack Jones says he's talked to Adoree' about succeeding him. "He told me just to go hard," said Jack, whose "competitiveness" may have him "taking chances a time or two," Clay says but his ability and confidence are hard to beat.

As Jack says of Adoree's corner spot: "If there's an open corner spot, it's not my spot."


Senior linebacker Olajuwon Tucker is on the team but not at practice, Clay said. After being declared ineligible for the Rose Bowl, Olajuwon is doing the morning walk-throughs with the team and then afternoon meetings but when practice starts, he's doing academic work to get himself back eligible for next fall. If he's not eligible, practice won't help him, Clay said . . . With redshirt freshman Michael Brown's first chance to kick in practice Thursday, Clay said he looks to be about where the no-longer-on-the-squad Matt Boermeester, hero of the Rose Bowl, was a year ago at this time. "He has a powerful leg," Clay said, "he just needs to be more consistent . . . like my golf swing." Clay said he was "impressed with his strength, making them from 45-50 yards out" . . . . Saturday's 10 a.m. practice will be in full pads. Unlike in the fall when teams need three padless practices before going in full pads, in the spring teams they need just two. No scrimmage, however, until the Saturday after the week off for Spring Break next week, March 25 . . . Some updates on the injury situation: Josh Imatorbhebhe was revealed to have a slight shoulder injury that kept him out of the first two practices but he's expected back soon, maybe even Saturday. Pie Young (groin) and Jacob Daniel (hamstring) had minor injuries Thursday and did not finish practice as did Jake Russell (hip flexor) . . . For more-play-by-play on practice, check out Thursday's Spring Ball Day 2 Ghost Notes:

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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