In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Hard to believe or maybe it really wasn't when some fans at last Saturday's Spring Showcase in the Coliseum were seen wearing cardinal and gold writing on their bare chests (cover photo above), referring to "their return" as fans to watch USC football rather than the team being the immediate object of their immediate affection.
Hard to believe that this upcoming week ends the final three days of 2021 spring practice. From having basically no spring practice a year ago to having a full complement of 15 days this spring, we’re going to find out in August training camp and into the schedule just how valuable this spring practice cycle was for Clay Helton’s latest cardinal and gold edition.
Hard to believe that true freshman wide receiver Michael Jackson lll from Las Vegas was ranked a 3-star recruit. After the flash he displayed at the Spring Showcase and has in practice, the kid should have been a 4-star recruit. No wonder Clay Helton smiles when he talks about MJ3, and the kid’s teammates are pretty well darn impressed, as well.
Hard to believe, IMHO, that it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that big wide receiver Drake London (6-5, 210) could be as dominant as another big wide receiver, former Trojans All-American Mike Williams (6-5, 230), who was a man amongst boys during the seasons of 2002 and more specifically 2003. Enjoy Drake London in 2021 because next April you’ll probably be seeing No. 15 on stage during the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.
Hard to believe that the more you watch Jaxon Dart, the more you see the kid's potential and why some compare him to former Trojans QB great Sam Darnold. However, if Dart is the real deal, he’ll have to prove it like Sam did during his time at Troy, or perhaps you’ve already forgotten the dramatic 2017 Rose Bowl Game, which surely Penn State hasn’t.
Hard to believe that even though it was just a Spring Showcase game, the Trojans didn’t help out their quarterbacks with any meaningful play-action passes, which isn’t really shocking because they generally don’t do it during the regular season either.
Hard to believe that I am still advocating that if the Trojans really want to help Kedon Slovis and his understudies healthy, they will greatly accelerate their running attack and incorporate the aforementioned play-action passes into their general philosophy. A draw play and some well-executed screen passes might also slow down the lethal pass rushes, but what do I know.
Hard to believe that with a lot of attention being paid to some currently impressive running by the Trojan ball carriers as a group, let's not forget that the fastest of coach Mike Jinks' unit, junior Kenan Christon, is not participating in spring practice due to his commitment to Troy's track and field team (sprints).
Hard to believe that Trojan quarterbacks did not wear the traditional yellow “Don’t hurt me” jerseys during last weekend’s Spring Showcase in the Coliseum, so it was ironic that quarterback Mo Hasan suffered his season-ending ACL injury without any contact while wearing no yellow jersey.
Hard to believe that when it’s all said and done, sophomore defensive tackle Tuli Tuipulotu could be better than his celebrated brother, Marlon.
Hard to believe how many folks were worried that the Trojans running backs weren’t good enough? If you watched the running backs in the Spring Showcase, they’re good enough. BTW, how long into the regular season before Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram gets the bulk of the “touches” as Clay Helton and Graham Harrell like to say?
Hard to believe in a good way that Wednesday’s practice saw some rushing production from the offensive line. Eyes should be focused on the development of redshirt freshman Andrew Milek (6-5, 290), who could end up in time being the backup center spot behind starter Bret Neilon, which could allow junior current backup center Justin Dedich to make a serious run at a starting guard position.
Unfortunately and fortunately, it was feared that Andrew Milek had suffered a serious knee injury during last Wednesday's practice only to learn later that it was a severe knee sprain, which would not require surgery. Whew!
Hard to believe that, well, maybe it’s not really hard to believe when Colorado grad wide receiver transfer K.D. Nixon, who hails from DeSoto, Texas, said, “USC is a special, special school. In Texas, it's kind of legendary.”
Hard to believe that as impressive as the early entry freshmen have been in spring ball, just wait till you see the balance of the Class of 2021, which won’t be arriving until August training camp. The best may be yet to come.
Hard to believe the stories coming out regarding a homeless man, who somehow, some way was not only able to spend a number of days posing as a USC walk-on football player but was allegedly able to field punts in practice, eat at the training table, enter and exit the supposedly highly fortified John McKay Center, sleep in one of the Coliseum suites, and share a jacuzzi with other athletes. It seems to validate the old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.” In the immortal words of late legendary LA sports radio voice Jim Healy, “Who goofed, I’ve got to know?”
Hard to believe that with what everybody has gone through with COVID, it hasn’t really been too much of a distraction through these four weeks of USC spring practice, a credit to the football program, athletic department, and interacting health officials.
From the press box…
Spring week 4: Saturday's morning practice saw the Trojans return to Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields in full pads. As he said the team would, Clay Helton's focus was on short-yardage situations and continued mixing and matching of the offensive line. Once again, wide receiver Drake London exhibited his potential to be a 2021 All-American with some dazzling performances.
Spring week 4 - Part 2: Another apparent positive during Saturday morning's practice was that the offensive running drills were productive. Two tidbits regarding offensive linemen, senior lineman Andrew Vorhees has looked good at left tackle, according to Helton, so perhaps that position isn't a done deal for sophomore Courtland Ford, and it was announced that OL Andrew Milek, who is strongly contending for the backup center position, did not suffer a serious knee injury earlier this week and will not need surgery.
Spring week 4 - Part 3: Just when you think all eyes are focused on the development of the offensive line came word on Friday through a Twitter post that defensive end Caleb Tremblay, who has his USC degree, has elected to play his final season of eligibility somewhere else. Depth at defensive line now has been thinned somewhat especially when you consider that Conner Murphy has already departed (UNLV) and surgery has claimed the activity of Alabama transfer DL Ishmael Sopsher (leg), DL Brandon Pili (Achilles), and rehab for DE Nick Figueroa (shoulder).
The main loss of Tremblay is his experience and team depth. However, Clay Helton said on Saturday that he wasn't worried about defensive line depth because of the number of returning young players who have shown promise and incoming players in August like defensive end Kory Foreman.
Spring Week 4 - Part 4: The past week didn’t start off on a good note. Grad transfer quarterback Mo Hasan, who last season missed most of his first season at USC because of surgery necessitated from compartment syndrome, through a Twitter post announced that he had torn his ACL during the Spring Showcase and would be undergoing knee surgery, which likely means he is lost for the 2021 campaign. Like the old saying goes, “If Mo didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 5: With the recent turn of events of Mo Hasan being lost for the season, eyes get even a little more focused – if that’s possible - on the development of the offensive line. This week, O-line coach Clay McGuire said, “I think things are going pretty well. Obviously, the offense hasn’t changed, just the terminology and some of the things and maybe some of my philosophies and principals that I am trying to teach and incorporate. It’s not really new, but there is some newness to it."
McGuire added, “Every day we’re getting better and that’s the ultimate goal and to have a steady process. Our ultimate goal is to win every game. I am excited to coach these guys and whatever their potential level is because if can reach that, we have a chance to be really good.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 6: There has been discussion on how much of a difference Clay McGuire, who replaced last season’s offensive line coach Tim Drevno, has brought to the O-line. Veteran Trojans starting center Bret Neilon says, “Coach McGuire has brought great energy to us, and, yeah, he has a lot of experience in this type of offense when he was at Washington State, and they turned it around with Coach (Mike) Leach.
“Obviously at Texas State where they ran a similar offense, I think that has helped tremendously to have a mentor that has been in that offense for years and years and has coached tremendous offensive linemen such as Andre Dillard (Philadelphia Eagles) up at Washington State.
“Technique wise, what we’re doing really fits this offense, and how we are identifying things.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 7: When discussing the young offensive line talent, Clay McGuire gushingly spoke this week of redshirt freshman offensive tackle Casey Collier. Regarding Collier, McGuire said, “Casey’s a guy that has incredible talent,” and “When we put it all together for him, he has the ability to be a rare talent. I think that’s coming down the road.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 8: Asked this week about expectations for his safeties unit, coach Craig Naivar said, “Accountability, run, and hit.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 9: Asked what else Coach Naivar preaches to his players, senior starting safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said, “He asks us to be vocal leaders and do more than lead by example.”
Spring Week 4 - Part 10: On who has impressed him on offense, safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said, “Keaontay Ingram for sure. His running style is completely different from what we have. He’s just a hard-nose football player. (Wide receiver) Michael Jackson lll is going to be a beast, and it’s only going to be a matter of time. Of course, (wide receiver) Drake (London).”
The post-game show…
Feeling a draft: All the hopes and dreams for those former Trojans of 2020 will become a reality check beginning Thursday evening with the commencement of the NFL draft from Cleveland. For the likes of All-America safety Talanoa Hufanga, All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, All-Pac-12 defensive tackles Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele, All-Pac-12 receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, and wide receiver teammate Tyler Vaughns, Thursday begins the dream of a professional career of NFL dream making or a reality check of why it was so important to get a USC academic degree.
To your health: USC Athletics announced on Friday the full integration of its athletic medicine services with Keck Medicine of USC, through USC Student Health. The enhanced athletic medicine program will allow Trojan Athletics and its student-athletes to benefit from Keck Medicine’s world-renowned medical experts and resources, combined with USC Student Health expertise in college health to provide exceptional care for student-athletes. And don’t think this won’t be mentioned during a recruiting pitch.
Feeling rocked: The Los Angeles Times released a less than flattering look at the famed USC Song Girls in which ten former USC Song Girls described to the paper a toxic culture within one of college sports most iconic units.
Feeling rocked – Part 2: Some of the main alleged charges in the USC Song Girls story by The Times included its former coach, Lori Nelson, rebuking “the girls publicly for their eating habits, personal appearance and sex lives.”
Feeling rocked – Part 3: According to The Times, “Their stories spanning nearly a decade — supported by emails, text messages, the Song Girls contract and other Title IX investigation documents obtained by The Times — reveal a program that was largely unchecked by the university or Nelson, who former students said went to great lengths to uphold her own carefully crafted image of what a Song Girl should be.” Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Feeling rocked – Part 4: One of the more eye-opening revelations in The Times story included this little alleged tidbit: “A former Song Girl told The Times both team leaders and Nelson instructed them to buy a specific Victoria’s Secret padded push-up bra, which advertised that it added two cup sizes.” Wowzers!
Feeling rocked – Part 5: And you thought the Trojans’ offensive line was under intense scrutiny, and now the famous USC Song Girls, too?
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, since we’re at the halfway point of spring practice, what do you think?
Caller No. 1, I think many of the same questions remain such as the offensive line, backup quarterback, an open cornerback position, and who is going to fill the shoes of All-America safety Talanoa Hufanga? I don’t think any of these issues have been resolved yet and will probably continue well into August training camp. I do think, however, the coaches are more than aware of these issues and are trying their best to figure it out. Remember, another large group of talented freshmen will be arriving in August that will further add to the mix.
Caller No. 2: Greg, how concerned are you that backup quarterback Mo Hasan has been lost for the 2021 season?
Caller No. 2, I am disappointed for Mo, who has certainly been struck with back-to-back medical issues that will have caused him to miss consecutive seasons. However, no matter how you slice it at this point, no matter who the Trojans go forward with as the Kedon Slovis backup, they’re not going to have game experience. Of course, the Trojans could dip into the NCAA Transfer Portal and try and find a quarterback with some previous experience, but it figures that transfer quarterback would have to have some sort of background in the Air Raid, willing to sit behind Kedon Slovis, and be motivated that it would be all worth it if getting a free master’s degree was in the offering.
Caller No. 3: G-man, your thoughts regarding reserve offensive lineman Justin Dedich.
Caller No. 3, I really like Justin on a number of levels. First, he is a serious football player and a smart one to boot. He’ll do anything for the team and has already proven it. The idea of playing and even starting him at guard is certainly worth a big look. As the Trojans’ current reserve center, a lot depends on if the Trojans can find a legitimate backup that would allow Justin to pursue a starting guard spot. Could he make a difference at guard if he is given that opportunity? I think so and I think the coaching staff thinks so or they wouldn’t have placed a lot of emphasis on redshirt freshman Andrew Milek possibly moving to backup center.
Caller No. 4: GK, I know this may sound like a very naïve question, but is there any chance that Drake London and/or Drake Jackson return for one more season after 2021?
Caller No. 4, sure there is – slim and none and slim just rode out of town. The chances of both Drakes returning are as possible as the sun rising in the West and setting in the East.
Caller No. 5: Katzer, any vacation plans this summer?
Caller No. 5, it depends on your definition of vacation plans. My fantasy vacation plan is to stay in Maui for two weeks and relax before USC training camp in August. However, my realistic vacation plan is to do what I’ve been doing and staying out of COVID’s harm’s way. I am sure I will expand some day trips within reason, and once completely vaccinated, I’ll make use of my Dodgers half-season tickets sometime later in June. Hopefully, I’ll make up for lost time next spring/summer but who really knows.
The last word: It was so deflating to hear about the recent and unexpected passing of former Trojans offensive lineman Chris Brown (2015-18), the pride of Los Angeles Loyola High. Chris was a dedicated Trojan through and through, and in the interviews I had with him, he was just a class individual. In 2017, Chris was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention and Troy’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. Our thoughts go out to his family during this difficult time.