USC football practice notes: Clay Helton happy with freshmen linemen (8/23)

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football’s mock game week continued on Wednesday with Clay Helton praising his second-team offensive linemen, in particular young contributors.

With Viane Talamaivao sitting out practice because of a minor foot injury, USC Football’s Wednesday practice of the mock game week ahead of Western Michigan highlighted the Trojans’ growing depth on the offensive line.

Talamaivao’s absence meant reps for redshirt junior Jordan Austin and true freshman Andrew Vorhees, who could be significant contributors for the Trojans in 2017.

“They’ve really proven themselves that they can step in and play for us,” head coach Clay Helton said on Wednesday.

While much of the attention of fall camp was put on finding a starting center and settling on a “best five” in the trenches, the injury absence of Talamaivao and the shuffling of center Nico Falah and tackle Toa Lobendahn has given USC clarity in the second line.

“That second group is a very talented group,” Helton said. At the moment, that lineup includes Austin, Vorhees, Austin Jackson and Clayton Johnston.

The Trojans have the luxury of double-training Vorhees at tackle and guard because he joined USC as a midyear enrollee, impressing during spring camp and maintaining his momentum during fall camp.

Now he is one of two true freshmen linemen who could see playing time in Year 1, whether at tackle or guard.

“It’s good double training for him. You see his body type and his athleticism, he can play either-or and right now he’s helping us at the guard while Viane is out,” Helton said.

CHECK OUT: Predicting USC’s 2017 Depth Chart

The head coach has been impressed across the board with his young offensive linemen. USC went into the 2017 recruiting class looking to add size in the trenches and the early impressions suggest the mission has been accomplished.

“Offensive line-wise I could not be more happy with the five young men that we got,” Helton said. “You’re talking about guys that we signed, really four tackle bodies and a center, knowing that those tackles could go from tackle to guard at any point in time. Not only were we getting size but we were getting great athleticism and we’re seeing that. I couldn’t be more happy.”

Still, not all the linemen will be integrated into the lineup right away. While Vorhees and Jackson appear settled on the second team, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jalen McKenzie and center Brett Neilon are running with the scout team this week.

“It may be a day, it may be hundred days, it may be a year, but they’re going to have very bright futures here,” Helton said of his freshmen up front.

News and Notes

  • Talamaivao will sit for the rest of the week with that foot injury. Here is Wednesday’s injury report.
  • The Trojans hosted a special guest — 10-year-old Taylor Hammond, who has been battling Leukemia for four years. He caught a pass from Sam Darnold and was surrounded by the team as he ran the ball into the endzone. Helton called him the “definition of Fight On.”
  • USC did a lot of mixing and matching in the first team on Wednesday. While Deontay Burnett, Steven Mitchell and Jalen Greene maintained their place with the ones, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Velus Jones and Joseph Lewis all saw first team reps.
  • The first 11-on-11 period of the day tested both offense and defense in a third-and-three situation. The first team defense came out on top as the first team offense apparently failed to move the chains, including a collective sack from the defensive front against Sam Darnold.
  • Matt Fink had a shaky start to that period with the twos. His first pass intended for Randal Grimes was popped into the air but Jamel Cook went for the hit and wasn’t able to right himself quickly enough to grab an interception.
  • On the next play, Matt Lopes intercepted the back up QB, leaping high to catch an errant pass.
  • Fink recovered to convert three first downs on the next three plays, finding Lewis, Imatorbhebhe and Trevon Sidney in turn.

TRENDING STORY: Predicting USC’s Wins and Losses in 2017

  • Michael Brown hit 3-of-4 kicks with a long of 38 yards. Chase McGrath went 4-of-4 including a long of 43 yards.
  • Darnold and his receivers seemed to be more on the same page during 7-on-7 when he completed 10 straight passes in third down situations, though many of them were short throws.
  • Greene made a tough grab despite cornerback Jack Jones leaping on his back during 7-on-7
  • Fink floated a ball over the outside linebackers head to find Stephen Mitchell for a long gain.
  • Imatorbhebhe found himself free over the middle, catching a pass from Fink, but he paid the price for it. Bubba Bolden laid the wood, sending the receiver flying to the ground. It was a harder hit than usual for a touch period.
  • During 11-on-11, Darnold found a completely uncovered Cary Angeline for what would have been a long touchdown.
  • Practice ended with Jones intercepting a Jack Sears pass that was initially tipped by cornerback Iman Marshall.