USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Offensive line coming along (3/27)

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

The third week of USC Football’s 2018 Spring Camp started off on Tuesday with the Trojan offensive line getting some love from head coach Clay Helton.

There was an emphasis on pressure during USC Football’s Tuesday practice and head coach Clay Helton took the opportunity to praise the offensive line for standing up against it, especially with so many young players populating the first and second team.

That’s most glaring at center, where redshirt freshman Brett Neilon and true freshman Justin Dedich have had to carry the load with Toa Lobendahn sitting out camp.

“I’ve been so pleasantly pleased with the two centers,” Helton said.

Neilon continues to command first team reps while Dedich is getting his first taste of college level action with the second team.

Despite their youth, and some apparently over-enthusiastic snapping during Friday’s scrimmage, the duo are impressing coaches by not looking like freshmen.

“You haven’t seen a lot of assignment errors. You haven’t seen a lot of physical beats. And for two young kids that’s great,” Helton said.

Other young lineman have also made an impression this spring.

“Those five players that we signed last year are really starting to come in and grow into their own,” said Helton, referencing the group including Neilon, tackle Austin Jackson, guard Andrew Vorhees, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and tackle Jalen McKenzie.

Vorhees already boasts a starting job while Jackson is battling for one at left tackle this year, but Neilon, Vera-Tucker and McKenzie are beginning to show signs of becoming usable depth.

Functional reps

Much of USC’s focus this spring has been on development, from the top of the the lineup to the bottom. While many have wondered if the Trojans will see greater rotation in 2018, Helton continues to emphasize the importance of camp to do just that.

“It’s really the opportunity to develop some younger people that can contribute and actually take functional reps in games so we’re a fresher football team down the stretch,” Helton said.

That’s why USC’s veteran-laden first team lineups on both sides of the ball continue to see a great deal of mixing and matching. Ykili Ross may pair with Marvell Tell at safety to start a segment, but Bubba Bolden also sees his time with the ones. Juliano Falaniko, Hunter Echols and Kana’i Mauga continue to get their chances along with Jay Tufele and others as well.

Playing to QB strengths

USC plans to play to the strengths of whichever quarterback wins that starting job, whether it be Matt Fink, Jack Sears or JT Daniels.

For Fink and Sears, that means giving both as many opportunities as possible to utilize their legs. However, that doesn’t mean making a major shift in scheme.

“We still have our system. It hasn’t changed. It will not change,” Helton said.

The quarterback run plays which have seen an uptick this spring have always been in the system, according to Helton. The playcalling has simply leaned more on that aspect of the scheme with two athletic quarterbacks available.

Of course, not all of the running has been planned. Helton praised Sears for his pocket awareness this spring, going through his progressions then taking opportunities to run when the passing options aren’t available.

Tuesday shout outs

Who has warranted a shout out from the head coach so far this spring? Helton noted the value of Jonathan Lockett’s return at cornerback after missing last season because of hip surgery.

The defensive back gives USC some much needed depth, but he is also the type of player who could rise and challenge for a starting job with his strong showing this spring.

More from Reign of Troy

Helton also gave a verbal high-five to defensive lineman Christian Rector for picking up where he left off after a promising 2017 campaign.

Finally, Connor Murphy, who is converting from outside linebacker to defensive lineman this spring, was highlighted in a recent defensive team meeting and got his own pat on the back from the head coach.

Going hunting

Practice ended with Helton revealing the results of his recent hunting trip. Not a literal hunt though.

“Hunting” is what Helton calls it when he randomly checks to see if players are going class. He picks a dozen or so Trojans to drop in on and if any one of them is missing, the whole team pays for it.

Luckily for the team on Tuesday, all 12 players Helton hunted were accounted for and the team was spared punishment.

TRENDING: Five Impact Redshirt Freshmen for 2018

“It’s part of our culture to be where you’re supposed to be,” Helton said.


  • USC will be back in full pads on Thursday and Saturday, with more live tackling coming down the line.
  • Helton praised the accuracy of USC’s quarterbacks during Friday’s scrimmage, particularly on deep ball opportunities.