USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Case of the drops (3/20)

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

USC Football needed to break off some rust during the fourth practice of Spring Camp 2018 on Tuesday, with sloppy moments on both sides of the ball.

After a Spring Break hiatus last week, USC Football jump started Spring Camp on Tuesday. However, the return to Howard Jones Field was categorized by a bit of sloppiness, especially in the passing game.

The list of receivers who dropped at least one pass was long: Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman, Randal Grimes, Dominic Davis and Erik Krommenhoek each watched a catchable ball hit the turf.

“Drop balls happen,” Jack Sears said. “It’s part of the game. Just like you’re not going to be perfect every time you throw the ball.”

The quarterbacks had their moments on Tuesday. Matt Fink led a successful four-minute drill during the 11-on-11 period while Sears hit Michael Pittman for a touchdown during 7-on-7. But they weren’t immune to those little mistakes as well.

More egregious than the wide receiver drops, no less than three defensive backs also dropped near interceptions.

Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, back in full action after being limited during the first week of camp, let  Sears off the hook during 7-on-7 when he couldn’t pull off a spectacular grab on an overthrown ball. As far as drops go, that was an understandable one.

However, cornerback Je’Quari Godfrey also dropped a turnover when a Sears pass tipped up by tight end Josh Falo bobbled in and out of his hands.

On the very next play, cornerback Jonathan Lockett, back on the field after Week 1 limitations, jumped a short Sears pass intended for Trevon Sidney, but he couldn’t complete the potential pick six.

No question on playcalling

There might have been a question about who would be calling plays for USC in 2018 with Tyson Helton off to Tennessee, plus the addition of experienced playcallers in new running backs coach Tim Drevno and quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis.

However, head coach Clay Helton put that to bed clearly on Tuesday.

“Tee’s got the playcalling,” Helton said.

7-on-7 vs. 11-on-11

Sears and Fink had slightly different answers when asked about their preference between 11-on-11 play and 7-on-7.

“That’s where I feel most comfortable: 11-on-11, live, playing, letting my instincts take over,” Sears said.

Fink has instincts of his own, but he was a bit more practical in his comparison between the two experiences.

“I ain’t got a 300-pound man coming at me in 7-on-7,” Fink said laughing.

For his part, Helton sees more value in live 11-on-11 play, to get a feel for where his QBs are when the bullets are flying.

“Everyday I’m trying to put them in that situation, either once or twice….so I can see exactly where they are,” Helton said.

He said Tuesday that he’s most looking forward to USC’s Thursday and Friday practices in full pads because he’ll be able to get a read on the quarterbacks.

More RPOs?

USC’s use of RPOs, run-pass options, has been criticized over the years. The Trojans have had mobile quarterbacks like Cody Kessler and Sam Darnold, but not running quarterbacks who could make the most out of plays requiring them to keep the ball as a runner.

The effectiveness of RPOs could be quite different in 2018 with either Fink or Sears at the helm. Fink already showed his ability in that regard in live play, ripping off a long touchdown run against Oregon State. Sears has similar athletic ability.

So should Trojan fans expect to see a changed offense this year? Not in a drastic sense, but there will be more opportunities for the quarterbacks to use their legs.

“Me and Jack are pretty fast guys so I think they’d like to incorporate a little bit more QB run schemes,” Fink said on Tuesday.

Spring Goals

What goals have USC’s offensive players set for themselves this offseason?

For receiver Tyler Vaughns, the focus will be working on his route running and conditioning.

For center Brett Neilon, it’s improving consistently this spring, but also trimming down the fat from his current weight of 295 pounds and replacing it with muscle this summer and fall.

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For center Toa Lobendahn, it’s staying in shape and getting his body right.

For quarterback Matt Fink, it’s being more comfortable in the pocket.

Pro Day Wednesday

USC is getting ready for Pro Day on Wednesday, when they will host representatives from all 32 NFL teams, according to Helton.

Obviously Darnold will be a huge attraction, but there will be other Trojans on hand looking to impress.

Helton encouraged his players to see some of the action (if they don’t have class). One player who has plans to attend is Vaughns, who says he wants to support his teammates like Steven Mitchell, Uchenna Nwosu and all of USC’s other participants.

“I just want to see them ball out,” Vaughns said.

He also wished he could be out there catching passes from Darnold, but NCAA rules forbid that. He’ll have to wait for his own Pro Day down the line to participate.