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WeAreSC Mailbag: Spring ball, recruiting and quarterbacks

Erik McKinney04/16/21
Article written by:On3 imageErik McKinney


Jaxson Dart
USC football practices at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on April 6th, 2021. (John McGillen/USC Athletics)

Before USC’s spring game on Saturday, we answer some reader questions including what spring practices have looked like, which recruits are visiting in June, how the backup quarterback battle is shaping up and what’s going on with the offensive line.


Q: How does the physicality of practices and the Oklahoma drill compare with practices of coach Carroll? It would be great if our players start saying “practices are harder than the games” again.

A: It’s tough to compare them on a one-to-one because of the relatively newer NCAA rules regarding the number of days in pads and contact days and all of that. I will say that I have no complaints about what they’re doing and how physical the practices have been. On days where they go full contact, those periods are full contact for the entire time. And they’re finding extra ways to get that physical competition involved, like with the Oklahoma drill or the goal line drill.


Q: Is the mixing on OL mainly happening on 2nd team?

A: The one change from the start of spring ball has been elevating Andrew Milek to the second-team center and shifting Justin Dedich to left guard with the second team. The right guard spot with the second team has rotated as well, but that’s due to Liam Douglass being on the sideline with an injury. As far as I’ve seen, the first-team offensive line has taken every snap together.


Q: When do the Fall freshmen usually get on campus and Summer PRPs usually start? Looking forward to this year’s new class! Gonna be a big team with all the returnees too. No reason to slack off on the contact now. Lots of bodies.

A: It’s usually early June that they arrive and PRPs start pretty soon after that. There are definitely some potential early-impact guys coming this summer, starting with defensive end Korey Foreman. The other freshmen coming in include linebacker Raesjon Davis, cornerbacks Ceyair Wright and Prophet Brown, defensive lineman Colin Mobley, safety Jaylin Smith, wide receivers Kyron Ware-Hudson and Joseph Manjack IV, tight end Michael Trigg and offensive linemen Mason Murphy, Maximus Gibbs and Ty Buchanan.


Q: Is it a rule that a coach must be on his nth athletic director and nth set of assistant coaches before he changes the culture of a program? Even if the Kardashian sisters were the AD and coordinators, couldn’t Helton still have started practice with the Oklahoma Drill?

A: No to your first question. Yes to your second question.

Gold Trojan

Q: Hurray for the mailbag! Now it’s time for the OL questions.

1. Development: There aren’t a ton of ‘elite’ OL targets coming out of HS every year, but certain teams seem to do very well with lower ranked big men. Is our new S&C showing early success in the trenches?

2. Recruiting: Any under the radar prospects at the OL position we should keep our eyes on?

A: 1. Clay Helton and the assistant coaches have responded strongly in a positive sense to the work that Robert Stiner and the strength and conditioning staff have done. That’s not surprising because you just aren’t going to hear coaches speak poorly about that, but some of the physical changes of a lot of the defensive linemen have been notable. It’s tough to tell about the offensive linemen when it comes to raw strength because we aren’t in the weight room or anything like that. But I definitely haven’t seen anything that would be cause for alarm.

2. Nobody under the radar really jumps out at this point. It wouldn’t surprise me if the coaches found another Texas lineman to chase at some point. USC is chasing some big-time targets right now, so the next opportunity to add guys to the board will be watching the film from this spring season and getting in evaluations when hosting visitors this summer.


Q: Erik, do you think Notre Dame tickets will be available this year?

A: I do. Notre Dame allowed 15,525 fans at home games last year and I would imagine that number will go up by a large amount this fall.


Q: Any inside scoop on Jay Toia’s development? He looks like an absolute beast in the making

A: I was underwhelmed by Toia the first day I saw him, when the players weren’t wearing pads. With pads on, he’s a different player and I have been more and more impressed by him every practice since then. He needed to do some work on his body this offseason and he’s done exactly that. He’s huge, but it’s not all a bunch of bad weight like you see in a lot of big high school players. He is physical and he is extremely difficult to move inside. If Brandon Pili and Ishmael Sopsher are healthy this fall, those two plus the improvement from Jamar Sekona and Kobe Pepe might mean Toia isn’t needed this year. But with the summer still to go, I’m not ruling him out to at least see a little time this fall. And I’m all in on his future impact along the line.

Buck Dancer

Q: 1. Any news on the new PAC12 commish? Any news on direction of the conference/what they are looking for in a new commish?

2. Do you think this would be Clay’s last year if things don’t go well? Replacements?

3. Is the talent still available on the west coast to rock a killer OL and RB combo? I think it’s still there, we just need to corral it, the topic/question comes up because many posters on this board grumble about the west coast being soft/no longer a football factory. I feel like the crappy programs got even crappier or non-existent (teams with only enough players to play offense and defense using the same players) but that the top level quality is still the same. From a population perspective CA will always be packed, however Nevada/Utah/Arizona/Oregon/Texas populations are rapidly growing / is the talent pool growing right along with the population growth?

A: 1. Jon Wilner of The Mercury News is as plugged in as anybody when it comes to the Pac-12 commissioner search, and he addressed this same kind of question in his mailbag last Friday:

“I’m hesitant to list names because I have no idea what the presidents want — and according to sources, neither do they.

One of those sources recently explained that there’s zero consensus on the candidate background and expertise.

Some schools want a traditional candidate, from the world of college athletics.

Some want a specialist in the sports media space.

Some want an executive from the business world.

Until the presidents are aligned, there’s less-than-zero chance the process comes to a swift, efficient conclusion.

We could name a group of candidates in each category, but that’s of no use.

As far as what they should focus on, our feelings have been well documented.”

2. I think things would need to go extremely poorly for this to be his last year. At this point I don’t believe it’s a “win the Pac-12 or else” situation. Luke Fickell is probably the name that will get thrown around the most if USC does make the decision to move forward with a coaching change. Dave Aranda is another, as a Southern California native who will have another year of head-coaching experience this fall.

3. It’s not a major stretch to say that USC could be sending offensive linemen Alijah Vera-Tucker, Penei Sewell and Wyatt Davis, and running back Najee Harris to the NFL draft this spring. The talent is here. The issue along the offensive line is that you have to get a huge percentage of them, and that’s what makes it difficult. When the top offensive linemen out west are in Arizona and Utah, they can’t both wind up at Oregon, which is what happened with this 2021 class. When there are a bunch of good linemen in Washington (like in this 2022 class), USC can’t let them all go to Washington or Oregon or scatter around the country. As far as running backs, you’ve got three great ones in Pac-12 stats in 2022 (Colorado’s Gavin Sawchuk, Nevada’s Jovantae Barnes and California’s Raleek Brown) and last year California produced Byron Cardwell (who also signed with Oregon). It’s not fair to expect a 100% success rate at those two positions in California and surrounding states, but USC’s results haven’t been good enough of late.

SC Forever

Q: My main concern in recruiting is our Offensive line. Who are we targeting right now? Do we have shots on Josh Conerly, Earnest Green or Devon Campbell?

Are we done with our coaching staff?

A: USC definitely has a shot at Earnest Greene, and he’s the most likely of those three right now. Devon Campbell has USC among his top schools and the Trojans will get a visit, but it’ll be tough to get him away from Texas. I think the same could be true of Josh Conerly, but with Washington. Two major targets are in Georgia, as four-star linemen Addison Nichols and Dayne Shor will visit USC in June and I believe both are very interested in the Trojans.

Then you’ve got the other Washington targets — 4-star Malik Agbo (Federal Way, Wash./Todd Beamer), 4-star Dave Iuli (Puyallap, Wash./Puyallap) and 3-star Vega Ioane (Graham, Wash./Graham-Kapowsin) — and the other Texas targets — 4-star Jaylen Early (Duncanville, Tex./Duncanville), 4-star Cameron Williams (Duncanville, Tex./Duncanville) and 3-star Connor Robertson (Austin, Tex./Westlake).

Yes, I don’t anticipate any more coaching staff additions at this time.


Q: Any info on JT Tuimoloau and the possibility of a June visit?

A: 247 Sports’ Brandon Huffman has been plugged into Tuimoloau’s process since the beginning and he recently reported that Tuimoloau is determined to take all of his visits to his five finalists, which includes USC.

That is likely to happen in June, and USC is definitely still involved. At this point it’s tough to bet against Alabama or Ohio State, but I do believe USC still has a shot.


Q: In my opinion the offensive play schemes are detrimental to attracting 4&5* offensive lineman, is it the belief of the football program administrators that this can be overcome by a different line coach brought in every year?

A: The lack of continuity up front is something that I’m sure has been frustrating for everyone involved, from the administration to the players.


Q: Has Parker Lewis been out there at all?

A: He was out there to begin the spring, but has not been at the past few practices.


Q: It is time to re-evaluate our recruiting in 2019 (or that year when we were ranked 50th or so) and pretty much loaded up with local three star O-linemen which are, historically, almost impossible to evaluate. Evaluate them now if you will.

A: That’s the 2020 recruiting class. Jonah Monheim was the one four-star signee of the group, with Courtland Ford, Casey Collier, Andres Dewerk Caadyn Stephen and Andrew Milek rated as three-stars. I think those are all fine rankings for them. I think people get caught up in the idea that a three-star prospect can’t turn into a star. Most three-star recruits are seen as players who could eventually grab a starting spot in college and be major contributors, but maybe it’s more dependent on scheme, program fit and development. The four and five-star guys are more the guys who are so athletically gifted that they can be a star anywhere.

I think Casey Collier could turn into a really good player during his USC career, but I wouldn’t expect it this season. Courtland Ford might be the guy you could look back at and say he maybe should have been a four-star since any injury concerns appear to be non-issues. Clearly the coaches want to see more of Andrew Milek at center, and that’s a good thing for him if he can start to establish himself at an important position. Dewerk and Stephen were developmental prospects and it’s still too early to tell what the ceiling might be for them.


Q: I know it’s early in the process, but what’s your feeling so far on Dart or Miller Moss and which one has the biggest upside in your opinion? As a follow up to that, who do you think will be the #2 QB behind Slovis when the season begins – Mo Hasan, Miller Moss or Jaxson Dart?

A: There were some shaky starts for both early on, but both seem to have turned that corner and are playing with more confidence now and understanding the speed of the game. Dart has a running ability that makes him different than the other two back-ups, but his arm strength has been really impressive. So far there are no surprises from either of them, but Dart has the bigger upside because of his athletic ability. That being said, Moss isn’t a statue and there’s absolutely no reason to write him off at this point. It’s still too early to make a call on the No. 2 quarterback right now.


Q: Are recruits being allowed to watch the spring practices, or is it not allowed just like official visits?

A: No recruits are allowed at the practices since it’s a dead period. Recruits can’t do anything with coaches or the program and can only go where the general public is allowed. I would expect there to be recruits on hand as spectators on Saturday, but the coaches won’t be able to interact with them and they won’t get any kind of special treatment like they would at a typical practice or spring game.


Q: Erik, what do you think the inside linebacker rotation is going to look like this fall? That seems to be the only area besides OL where the team could be talent deficient.

A: I think Kana’i Mauga and Ralen Goforth are using this spring to cement themselves as starters. So much of the rotation depends on the health of Solomon Tuliaupupu, Jordan Iosefa and Tayler Katoa. Tuasivi Nomura is playing himself into a role of a key backup, and Raymond Scott continues to improve. I think walk-on Danny Lockhart has been very impressive as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in a game at some point, or at the very least on special teams. You’re right that it’s definitely a position of concern when you’re talking about depth. USC moved Micah Croom and Kaulana Makaula there this offseason and there are walk-ons getting time as well this spring.

Touchdown for USC

Q: Which recruits are coming to visit USC in June?

A: Is “everybody” an acceptable answer?

USC is absolutely loaded with scheduled official visitors this June. At this point, here’s what we’ve seen scheduled or mentioned. There could be many more additions or changes between now and then, but it’s a phenomenal group of prospects that USC is likely to have on campus.

June 4

RB Gavin Sawchuk (Littleton, Colo./Valor Christian)
OG Devon Campbell (Arlington, Tex./Bowie)
DE Quency Wiggins (Baton Route, La./Madison Prep)
DE Dani Dennis-Sutton (Owings Mills, Md./McDonogh)
DE Jeremiah Alexander (Alabaster, Ala./Thompson)
LB Harold Perkins (Cypress, Tex./Cy Park)
CB Jaeden Gould (Oradell, NJ/Bergen Catholic)

June 11

DT Christen Miller (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove)
DT Mykel Williams (Columbus, Ga./Hardaway)
DE Anto Saka (Towson, Md./Loyola Blakefield)
CB Earl Little Jr. (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./American Heritage)
CB Clint Stephens (Inglewood, Calif./Inglewood)
S Bryce Anderson (Beaumont, Tex./West Brook)
OT Dayne Shor (Alpharetta, Ga./King’s Ridge Christian)
WR Darrius Clemons (Portland Ore./Westview)
WR Chris Marshall (Missouri City, Tex./Ft. Bend Marshall)

June 18

OT Addison Nichols (Norcross, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian)
DT Chris McClellan (Owasso, Okla./Owasso)
CB Gentry Williams (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington)
S Zion Branch (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman)
S Kamari Ramsey (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon)
WR Kevin Green (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany)


Q: In the PC days USC was always in top 3 for national recruiting.
Even with the next two coaches USC was in top 5.
But with Helton the recruiting has dropped to 50 or worse.
What could be the cause for such a recruiting drop?

A: There was the 2020 recruiting class that was abysmal when looking at the overall rankings and the 2019 class the year before that was ranked only No. 20. But the 2021 class finished as the No. 8 overall group and I’d expect at least the same for the 2022 class. The recruiting struggled in 2020 for a few reasons. The 5-7 season in 2018 was weighing on the Trojans, in addition to the constant questions about the future of head coach Clay Helton. USC did not have a coaching staff or a recruiting support staff built to recruit against the top schools in the country. The Trojans also chose to bring in some offensive line projects that they were comfortable stashing and developing over the next few years, and there weren’t a lot of scholarships given out in that class. Had USC taken seven more guys, all low three-star prospects, the class ranking would have climbed just due to numbers.

USC has it figured out now and recruiting is going well again. This staff is relentless and the recruiting infrastructure built to support them is going to help keep USC in the discussion for a lot of top prospects. The Trojans need to put wins and a successful season together to close the deal on a top class, but things are definitely trending the right direction now.