USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Clay Helton coaches quarterbacks (4/5)

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

Clay Helton spent the day coaching quarterbacks while the defense was tested with trick plays and misdirection on Day 11 of USC Football Spring Camp.

It was a different kind of practice for USC Football on Thursday, in part because the head coach took on a different kind of role. With quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis absent while awaiting the birth of a baby with his wife, Clay Helton stepped up to coach the quarterbacks for the day.

“I got to play quarterback coach, it was my favorite day of the entire camp,” Helton said with notable enthusiasm.

He warned Matt Fink, Jack Sears and Holden Thomas that they would be tired and joked that they were perhaps over-coached on the day. Helton ran around, simulating a pass rush as the quarterbacks went through their drills. He shouted and barked encouragement to everyone from the passers to the student managers catching passes.

“That was two-and-a-half years of not getting to coach a quarterback all in one day,” Helton said.

It may have done the quarterbacks some good to hear a different voice and get a different perspective. Both QBs did a better job of taking what the defense gave them as each completed all but one of their attempts during 7-on-7 after a week with less-than-stellar passing numbers. Fink and Sears also tossed at least one touchdown during the redzone 11-on-11 segment.

“They did okay. They did okay. Not to say we were an overnight success, but we’re getting there,” Helton said of how the two responded on Thursday.

There was plenty still to correct. Fink had three turnovers on the day: two tipped ball interceptions, one by Marvell Tell and one by Jay Tufele courtesy of Porter Gustin, and a strip by John Houston on an option run.

Deep ball accuracy also remained a struggle for Sears, though Fink did throw a long touchdown to Josh Imatorbhebhe and found Tyler Vaughns for a big gain on the sideline.

“Overall, a good day for them and a good attitude by them,” Helton said. “They’re really showing up to try to get better each and every day.”

Tufele’s big moment

Tufele’s interception of Fink was one of the highlights of all of Spring Camp.

Porter Gustin got it all started, storming off the edge as the quarterback attempted to find his tight end for a short dump off. The ball never got there though, as all 6-foot-5 of outside linebacker leaped up to bat the ball up into the air. It came back down right in front of Tufele, who caught it with all the grace of a receiver despite his much larger 6-foot-3, 295 pound frame.

The defensive lineman took off with the ball as soon as he caught it, his elation matched by literally the entire defense, who cleared the sideline to celebrate alongside him.

“When every member on defense runs 90 yards at the end of practice to celebrate a touchdown by a defensive lineman, that’s a really cool thing,” Helton said.

Ball security focus pays off…sort of

A clear change for this year’s Spring Camp was the introduction of fundamentals drills for the entire team, including both sides of ball security: keeping the ball and ripping it loose.

Thursday was another example of how that’s paying off for the Trojans as Houston stripped Fink for a redzone turnover.

“These guys are really taking a lot of pride,” Helton said.

The next step is locking down the ball security side of the equation, especially at the quarterback spot.

Notes and nuggets

  • Receiver Tyler Vaughns had a couple chance to show off his exceptional pass catching ability on Thursday, but both instances would have undoubtedly required a replay review to settle. During the Team Run period, Fink tossed up a long attempt to the receiver, who had to dive for the ball. Bobbling it on the way down, he may have managed to keep it off the ground by cradling it in his arms before completing the catch on the ground after the ball bobbled across his hip and off his leg. Later during 7-on-7 on another long Fink attempt, Vaughns made a diving grab on the sideline, seeming to just get one foot inbounds before tumbling to the ground.
  • Helton praised the defense for their eye discipline on a day when the offense was meant to test them with trick plays and misdirection. Some defensive highlights included:
    • Tell tipping a ball away from Vaughns then relocating the ball for an interception.
    • Pass breakups by Iman Marshall, Ykili Ross and Greg Johnson.
    • Big hits by Isaiah Pola-Mao and Levi Jones.
    • A sack by Tufele.
  • Tight ends Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek each caught a short touchdown pass during the red zone period, the former from Fink and the latter from Sears.
  • Saturday’s scrimmage at Howard Jones Field will feature more live play than usual: “We’re actually just going to put the ball down and play,” Helton said.
  • The practice action will be followed by the annual Swim With Mike event.