USC Football Spring Camp Notes: First scrimmage action (3/23)

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

Day 6 of USC Football Spring Camp in 2018 featured full pads and an emphasis on scrimmage action as Matt Fink and Jack Sears were put to the test.

After noting his excitement to see his quarterbacks in more live action, head coach Clay Helton got his wish on Friday when USC Football donned full pads and held their first scrimmage-like practice of Spring Camp.

When it was all over, the head coach was pleased.

“Not surprised, but [I was] kind of excited about how the quarterbacks performed today. I thought they did a nice job distributing the ball,” Helton said.

Helton praised the decision-making of Jack Sears, pulling the ball down to scramble for two first downs. He also complimented the two for efficiency during the scrimmage portion, which featured situational work on second and third downs.

“They were put in a lot of third down situations. When you’re playing Clancy [Pendergast] that equal pressure, which really excites me because I want to see how they handle live action and live bullets,” Helton said. “And I thought they did a really good job.”

The pressure was certainly on with incoming freshman quarterback JT Daniels of Mater Dei watching practice for the second day in a row.

Despite Helton’s approval, it wasn’t all roses for the two quarterbacks, particularly Matt Fink who did have some trouble.

During the 7-on-7 period, Fink fumbled a snap and later managed to hit center Toa Lobendahn square on the back of his helmet. He did come back with a touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns, but the 11-on-11 segment brought more struggles.

Fink dropped another snap and was forced to throw the ball away. On the next play he seemed to panic in the face of pressure and didn’t set his feet as he threw, finding nickelback Ajene Harris rather than a receiver for an interception.

Sears had a brighter outing, tossing two touchdowns to Velus Jones Jr. and one to Tyler Petite during 7-on-7. He too dropped a snap during 11-on-11 and seemed quick to tuck and run in the face of pressure, but he found Vaughns for a score.

Josh Imatorbhebhe steals the show

It’s been a long time coming for redshirt sophomore receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe to make his presence known at USC, but Friday may have been his coming out party.

“Josh Imatorbhebhe really stood out for me today making two huge explosive plays,” Helton said.

Those two explosive plays included a long touchdown grab from walk-on quarterback Holden Thomas and a big gain down the sideline on a pass from Sears. Even before that, he started off the 11-on-11 period by fighting for first down yardage on Fink’s first throw.

Helton noted that he’s always had the natural ability, but he has needed time to fully understand assignments and alignments.

“The light is starting to come on for him playbook-wise,” Helton said. “You can see him reacting so much faster which tells me that he’s ingrained into assignments.”

With USC looking to replace the production of Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell, Imatorbhebhe potentially taking the next step comes at just the right time.

“He’s a special talent that really is coming into his own right now.”

Runners rumbling

It can be difficult for running backs to stand out during practice, with quick whistles limiting yards after contact. Thanks to Friday’s contact practice, USC’s rushers got more of a chance to show off their strength, most notably Aca’Cedric Ware.

The senior is up to 215 pounds and it showed.

“You can see the strength and the pounds he’s put on,” Helton said. “He’s a really physical runner right now.”

Helton specifically pointed to a sequence when they handed the ball off to Ware on three downs in a row and each time he powered through to move the chains behind Austin Jackson on the left.

Dominic Davis also drew some praise from Helton for his powerful running despite his much smaller size.

Going under center

It’s a good thing USC’s running backs are impressing because Helton also acknowledged on Friday that they have installed more plays under center, as well as more playaction.

“We’ve actually installed a little bit more of that because both quarterbacks are pretty good at it,” Helton said. “With us having to lean a hair more on the running game, we will do a little bit of under center as well as pistol.”

Talanoa Hufanga’s head start

Talanao Hufanga nabbed an interception on Thursday and finished off his second week of practice at USC with another exceptional outing on Friday.

The spring enrollee broke up a pass intended for Erik Krommenhoek in the endzone and was regularly around the ball throughout the day.

“He seems to get to the ball in a flash,” Helton said. “He’s got great football instincts and very happy he’s here now because he’s getting a great jump start on a freshman year.”

Standouts so far

Who is standing out for Helton after two weeks of practice?

Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith received shoutouts from the head coach on Friday for their veteran presence, along with weakside linebackers John Houston and Levi Jones for their continued development.

More from Reign of Troy

Nose tackle Brandon Pili earned billing as USC’s rock in the middle while Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman drew praise on offense.

Porter Gustin vs. Chuma Edoga

Helton used to tout the battle between JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson and he’s got a new “special competition” to highlight this year: Porter Gustin vs. Chuma Edoga.

“Those are two NFL players going at each other each and every day,” Helton said. “They’re making each other better and it is fun to watch.”

Former players always welcome

USC’s sidelines have always been star studded a Friday was no exception with former running back LenDale White on hand for practice, along with former offensive lineman Chad Wheeler.

TRENDING: Five Impact Redshirt Freshmen for 2018

“We want our former players back. We’ve invited them to every practice,” Helton said. “There will never be a practice closed ever here to our former players.”