USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Defensive backs dominate (4/10)

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

USC Football’s defensive backs put in another standout performance on Tuesday, with Iman Marshall and company making quarterback’s lives difficult.

After 13 practices in USC Football’s 2018 Spring Camp, one position has stood out among the rest for head coach Clay Helton.

“I’ve been thoroughly happy with our DBs,” Helton said on Tuesday as the Trojans began the final week of camp.

It was a day worthy of praise for the secondary, which disrupted the quarterbacks at every turn.

Safety Marvell Tell jumped a pass intended for Erik Krommenhoek, letting Matt Fink off the hook just barely when the ball skidded off his hands.

Cornerback Iman Marshall nearly had his own pick six on Fink, getting in front of a ball thrown towards Josh Imatorbhebhe, but he too couldn’t quite reel in the interception.

Safety C.J. Pollard made a play at the line of scrimmage, tipping a Jack Sears pass right back into the quarterback’s arms. Bubba Bolden sacked Fink on a safety blitz. Cornerback Greg Johnson broke up a ball from Sears for Tyler Vaughns.

Helton credited three veterans with guiding the defensive backs toward their perch as masters of spring ball: Marshall, Tell and nickelback Ajene Harris.

“Those three have just captured some young people and said, ‘Hey, follow us. We know what we’re doing. We’re going to be build this group together.'” Helton said. “And over 13 practices I couldn’t be any more happy. They’re the group that’s been playing the best thus far.”

Though there is certainly concern over the performance of USC’s offense thus far, the head coach sees the emergence of the defense as key to the Trojans’ 2018 season, at least in the early going.

“With a younger quarterback, you’re going to have to lean on the defense. They’re going to have to get us out of some tough situations,” Helton said.

He stressed that the offense will be fine after some growing pains, but in the end, the old cliche holds true: Defense wins championships.

Scrimmage offers blueprint

The defense has dominated just about every practice of spring camp, excepting Saturday’s offensive explosion. Helton sees that scrimmage as the blueprint for USC’s offense this season, with the running game leading the way and the quarterbacks keeping it simple with playaction and simple assignments.

“I want to really see what they did Saturday,” Helton said. “I want them to be great field generals, command the offense and see the ball move.”

If there was hope the quarterbacks would use Saturday as a spring board into the final week of practice, it didn’t exactly materialize on Tuesday.

Throwing opportunities were limited for both quarterbacks, but neither sparked. Fink went 3-for-8 on passes. One of those was a throw away after he mishandled a snap. Two were nearly disastrous interceptions.

Sears completed 2-of-8 passes on the day. His first attempt in 11-on-11 was tipped by Pollard at the line while Johnson broke up one of his attempts and he overthrew his receivers on two long shots.

Helton praised the quarterbacks for moving the ball with great timing, decision-making and accuracy on Saturday. On Tuesday, there was little of that on display.

Spring enrollees speak

USC’s five freshman spring enrollees—center Justin Dedich, safety Talanoa Hufanga, outside linebacker Kana’i Mauga, inside linebacker Raymond Scott and cornerback Chase Williams—spoke to the media for the first time on Tuesday.

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Each in turn spoke about the speed of the college game and the challenge of grasping the playbook while Helton took the chance to praise their collective maturity, both physically and in how they present themselves.

“They’re guys that are very talented, but their humbleness and maturity really sticks out to me,” Helton said.

Who has stepped up to mentor the young players?

Williams singled out Marshall for taking him under his wing while Mauga and Hufanga both referenced the influence of Porter Gustin in welcoming them to the team and guiding them through the transition. Mauga noted the value of fellow Hawaiian Jordan Iosefa helping him adjust. Scott credited Cameron Smith and the other linebackers for keeping him focused on the details. Dedich has leaned on Toa Lobendahn and Brett Neilon.

Notes and nuggets

  • Tuesday was the final day in helmets and jerseys, fulfilling NCAA requirements, Helton said. The Trojans will finish out Spring Camp with two practices in full pads.
  • USC worked on specific situations during the final segment of practice, including getting up quickly to the line to kill the clock, waiting until the right moment to set up a game-winning field goal and more.
  • Helton called this by far the best camp for Marshall in his career. He’s made the decision not to be comfortable, competing not to be the best corner at USC, but the best cornerback in the country.