"One of the things," Clay Helton "loves about this program, about this field, is competition," he said after Saturday's practice before another SRO crowd.
Saturday was one of those days when you could see and feel it. Tyler Vaughns certainly could. After watching his young wide receiver mates take their starring turns this spring -- Velus Jones, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Michael Pittman -- redshirt freshman Tyler, out of Pasadena and Bishop Amat, made this his time to shine.
"Tyler had a stellar day," Clay said, "he really stood out."
Indeed, he caught the deep ball, caught the TD balls, caught them in coverage, caught the 50-50 balls, high-pointed them when he had to, played bigger than his 6-foot-2 frame and just had one of those days where he was the man, starting early and finishing late, catching balls from all the quarterbacks.
Which gets us to the second standout group, Clay said: "the quarterback position."
Sam made one of those Brett Favre-like plays in red zone at the 25, slipping into a narrow seam near the line of scrimmage under a rush, then going left and side-arming it back right -- right on the money -- to a diving Tyler Petite just short of the goal for maybe the play of the spring. When you see one of those coming at you, as we were able to, you just shake your head and say, "Wow."
Clay played the Favre card on that one, talking about "the core strength it takes" to be able to throw that ball "across your body" -- saying there's "a bit of Favre in him."
Not that it's going perfect here. There are still patterns when Sam expects a young receiver to zig and they zag and the ball, thrown before the cut, bounces near no one.
Not however, when Deontay Burnett -- "a shut up and work guy," Clay calls him -- is running the patterns. The chemistry between the two members of the 2015 recruiting class is seldom off.
"Deontay reminds me of Robert Woods," Clay said. "There's no difference between practice and the games."
Clay says he "tells our guys that he might be the smallest horse in the stable but the one with the biggest impact."
And then there's this. Deontay hasn't dropped a ball all spring. "Not that I've seen," Clay says.
"You really see a chemistry between him and Sam," Clay said. On some of these plays, "Tyson [Helton], Tee [Martin] and me just look at one another and say 'Whoa,' " which is a good thing for your offense to hear when the passing game coordinator, the offensive coordinator and the head coach see it the same way with the same word.
That's not all on the receivers, of course, as Clay said. Great day for the quarterbacks, too. We've mentioned Sam. And Matt Fink keeps on his upward swing.
But for the first time this spring, early entry freshman Jack Sears didn't look like a freshman. Or a high school senior "who should still be in his Econ 4 class," his San Clemente High coach, Jaime Ortiz, said as he went by. His advice to Jack: Slow down, it'll get better, you'll be fine.
And Saturday, he was, showing touch on the deep ball, the ability to drive the short ball into traffic, accuracy on both and the ability to scramble with his speed. Nice catch-up day for Jack.
Three coaches Clay mentioned as guest speakers at the sold-out Nike Clinic for 400 coaches this weekend were former USC coach and player, Joe Barry, now the linebackers coach for the Rams, Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen and UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins . . . also speaking were former LSU coach Les Miles, Kansas City assistant Eric Bienemy and NY Giants wide receiver coach Adam Henry . . . the final two official scrimmages will occur next Saturday, April 8, and then in the Spring Game at noon, April 15 . . . Injury update: Tayler Katoa's MRI revealed an ACL tear requiring surgery and a nine-month rehab for the freshman linebacker from Utah who has impressed in the early going. Ronald Jones practiced with an orthotic and new Nike shoe for his turf toe and was able to do nine periods but no team contact . . . Cam Smith (neck), along with RoJo is expected back next week, Clay says . . . O-linemen Nico Falah (back) and Viane Talamaivao (elbow) along with running back Aca'Cedric Ware (foot) also were on the sidelines . . . Big day for USC's placekicking game as they tested Michael Brown under fire after he'd gone nine for 10 in the kicking special teams portion of practice by inserting him into the 11-on-11 work as in a real game. Brown hit all four cleanly, strongly and accurately, nailing the first two from 42, the third from 27 and with the pressure of ending practice if he made it, drilling a 30-yarder to the cheers of his teammates . . . For play-by-play of today's practice, check out: SATURDAY SPRING DAY 9 GHOST NOTES here: http://www.scout.com/college/usc/forums/1017-the-peristyle/15495819-saturday-spring-day-9-ghost-notes