Scrimmage not all upstream swim for Trojans

There was a lot going on for a patchwork Trojan team finishing up Week 4 of spring ball Saturday and finishing it up pretty well, all things considered. Above, a collision between Chris Hawkins (No.4) and Velus Jones.

Two things could not have been more obvious at USC's scrimmage in the middle of all the ecitement of another Swim With Mike Saturday.

The offensive line isn't even a work in progress right now with Nico Falah the only starter expected to answer the bell next September against Western Michigan out there with the first patchwork O-line group to hit the field. And the plan was for Nico, after being out of most of the spring with a herniated disc that won't require surgery,  to be back for a mere 12 plays based on how he felt. But as it turned out for Nico and the O-line guys around him, things may be looking better there than we'd have guessed.

As for their defensive counterparts, well, they're still there making life tough for whoever lines up against them on offense. They will flat out hit you. And anybody else.

"This is a violent front seven," Clay Helton said when asked if this defense is as physical and aggressive as it appears this spring in words -- especially that one word, "violent" -- that USC fans haven't heard in a number of years. "Our front is doing a tremendous job . . . Good observation."

That's especially true when it comes to trying to run the ball against them, with a nod to the way the linebackers are shaping up with Cam Smith sliding back into his old middle linebacker spot and how John Houston and Jordan Iosefa have stepped up now that their chances have come.

But even more, "Grant Moore keeps making plays," Clay said of the undersized-a-bit at 210 pounds but tough-as-nails redshirt junior walkon linebacker from Mater Dei who will definitely hit you. And be in the right place when he does it. And then there's "Budda," Clay says of Olajuwon Tucker, who had an interception Saturday and gives USC an experienced player who can play inside or out before the arrival of two freshmen -- Levi Jones and Juliano Falaniko, who can also play inside and out.

Clay is calling that the Michael Hutchings model from last season -- inside/outside guys -- but with serious speed.and larger frames at 6-3 and 6-4 respectively. 

"And our secondary is coming together," Clay says, calling out by name all of the backup guys he's hoping will give the USC defense the two-deep that exists in the front seven from Isaiah Langley and Jamel Cook to Ykili Ross.

So good so far for the defense. But what about the offense?

Well, for starters, Nico's back felt great and he went for 24 snaps and changed the look of the offense "operationally" is how Clay described it. "He's a tough kid. He's handled it like a champ -- handled it all season and in the Rose Bowl."

Now USC, with the summer return of multi-position Toa Lobendahn and freshman Andrew Vorhees, who may miss the rest of the spring with back spasms after ascending to the first team, will take two weeks in August camp to sort it out, Clay says, as they find their top five.

One of those will be Chuma Edoga, another who did not answer the bell for the first series Saturday but did come back after that with a big cast on on the right wrist he's been having trouble with that's also protecting a finger that got snapped back although X-rays revealed no fracture. He opened at right tackle with his cast on the outside, Clay said, "since your inside hand is your strong hand." But eventually got to play both sides. "We're down to just three tackles," Clay said.

But not in a "glass-half-empty" way. You've been seeing Clayton Johnston out there the last week and at 6-foot-6 and pushing 300 pounds, the Servite alum is "taking advantage of his opportunity," Clay says.

Just as is center Cole Smith who has gotten far more first-team work than he could have ever imagined and "is doing a good job," Clay says. Jordan Austin was also in at guard with Roy Hemsley with Viane Talamaivao dealing with biceps surgery.

So when they're all back, it looks like there will be more of them in the mix when August gets here. And at least five of them who can play two positions although as Clay points out, Nico and Toa can and will be able to handle "all five."

Although it wasn't all about the front seen on one side and the top five on the other. Even with Deontay Burnett being held out after bumping his head on a full-layout face-plant in an attempt to catch the ball in the end zone Thursday. He was on the Juggs machine on the sidelines during practice. "He got a little bit of a ding," Clay said. "We'll see where he's at."

Actually, Deontay was where he always is -- setting the tone. And on this day, with Josh Imatorbhebhe, in his new No. 87, and Tyler Vaughns and Jalen Greene, they were all making plays. As was tight end Tyler Petite. Check out the Ghost Notes at the link below.

But leading the way again was Michael Pittman, the third straight practice this week where Clay mentoned the nearly 6-4, 215-pound sophomore first after his possession catches in and above the crowd of defenders.


USC started early and finished early Saturday in order to get to the Swim With Mike fundraiser next door at the Uytengsu Swim Center that was aiming to raise another million dollars for scholarships for college students combating all sorts of injuries and physical handicaps . . . after practice, the wide receivers had two Juggs machines and at least four managers feeding them footballs in what is becoming a tradition with this USC team as everybody who catches footballs stays late . . . Back for the first time was Aca'Cedric Ware with a couple of runs while Dominic Davis also got his chance for a couple of carries . . .  Tyler Petite keeps showing up catching the ball down the field ing with Daniel Imatorbhebhe still not fully contact-ready and Tyler got another one Saturday . . . Another Pac-12 officiating crew here Saturday threw at least a half-dozen flags . . . For play-by-play of today's practice, check out: SATURDAY SPRING DAY 12 GHOST NOTES:

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

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