USC Football Fall Camp Notes: JT Daniels makes mark on Day 1

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

USC football’s first day of Fall Camp in 2018 highlighted the quarterback battle, where JT Daniels showed his worth and Jack Sears displayed improvement.

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Day 1 of USC football Fall Camp was always bound to be about the quarterbacks, and it was.

Matt Fink, Jack Sears and JT Daniels ran onto Howard Jones Field with the weight of an even competition between the three of them and responded with the urgency head coach Clay Helton wanted to see.

“I thought there was extreme competitiveness which I liked,” Helton said after the Trojans completed a two-hour, non-pads practice.

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Daniels’ debut has been breathlessly awaited by Trojan fans and the true freshman did what he could to justify the hype following him from Mater Dei.

On his first rep with the first team in the 7-on-7 period, Daniels tossed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Michael Pittman, hitting the receiver perfectly in stride past senior cornerback Iman Marshall. He nearly completed another spectacular throw in the same spot but Pittman had the second attempt slip through his arms.

That’s not to say Daniels was perfect. He threw the lone interception on the day with nickelback Ajene Harris jumping a ball thrown behind Pittman.

On the whole, Helton was impressed with the freshman, who he called “extremely accurate” and “very knowledgeable.”

“For an eighteen-year-old kid to do come out here and do what he did today was very impressive,” Helton said. “It’s like he’s already been in a camp.”

Daniels wasn’t the only quarterback to catch the eye on Day 1. Sears also drew praise from the head coach for an outing which included a touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Devon Williams.

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“He has made a lot of progression from spring to this first day. You could see the light kind of click on,” Helton said, crediting Sears for making faster decisions with the ball in his hands.

Pittman noted that Sears seemed to have cut out his tendency to rely on his legs, letting his arm do the talking. And it did, with far more consistency than he’d shown in the spring.

The progression could serve Sears well as Helton laid out his criteria for picking a quarterback come the end of Fall Camp.

“In my mind always for the quarterback it’s about decision-making, timing and accuracy and most important moving the ball and being productive about putting it in the red zone,” Helton said.

Though offensive coordinator Tee Martin and Helton said the evaluations have already begun, the real work will begin when the team goes out in full pads and each quarterback has to face a formidable Trojan pass rush led by Porter Gustin. Those moments, Helton said, may count extra.

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That will have to wait until next Wednesday. Saturday’s practice is slated to be another day in shorts and jerseys while Monday and Tuesday will ease the team in with just shells.

Practice standouts

  1. JT Daniels: The freshman quarterback didn’t look like a freshman, launching the quarterback competition with proof that he’s very much in it.
  2. Devon Williams: Another freshman standout, Williams announced his arrival with a one-handed grab on a deep throw during throws on air. Then he caught a touchdown pass from Sears in double coverage in 7-on-7 and then rounded out his day with a diving grab near the sideline, again from Sears during 11-on-11.
  3. Ajene Harris: Dubbed the “smartest guy on the field” by Pittman, Harris showed off his football instincts knowledge by jumping Daniels’ pass for an interception.

Notes and tidbits

  • There were a few number changes on Day 1 of camp, most notably Sears switching out his No. 13 for No. 10, which was vacated by Jalen Greene’s transfer to Illinois. Randal Grimes wore No. 87 instead of No. 9 while Keyshawn “Pie” Young was in No. 85 rather than No. 15.
  • There was also a name change, with Clayton Johnston opting to honor his stepfather by taking his last name, Bradley.
  • Bradley received first team reps at left tackle as the battle for that open starting job reopened on Friday. He and Austin Jackson are expected to trade off first team reps.
  • Cornerback-running back Dominic Davis was back on defense after spending part of spring helping USC with depth in the backfield.
  • Velus Jones Jr. took first team reps in the slot with Trevon Sidney and Young behind. Freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown worked on the outside behind Tyler Vaughns.
  • Bubba Bolden lined up alongside Marvell Tell at safety with the first team defense.
  • Malik Dorton and Brandon Pili took first team reps on the defensive line.
  • Receiver Tyler Vaughns had a couple of uncharacteristic drops and paid for it by doing pushups.
  • Cornerback Iman Marshall got the better of Pittman on the first two plays of 7-on-7, defending one pass from Matt Fink before breaking up another.
  • Chase McGrath hit a field goal from beyond 55 yards.
  • Former Trojans Steven Mitchell, Chris Hawkins and Antwaun Woods were on hand to watch practice.