USC Football Fall Camp Notes: Pressure amped up on Day 3

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

Day 3 of USC football Fall Camp was all about pressure and physicality as the Trojans took the field in shoulder pads for the first time.

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Clay Helton has a plan to make the 2018 USC football team a more physical squad and Monday was the first day to truly implement it.

The strategy? More live reps.

“We’re going to play ball,” Helton said after practice on Monday. “That’s what this team needs. They need live reps.”

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Working in shorts and shells for the first time this Fall Camp, Helton noted most of the work the Trojans put in came in the form of team work with Team Run, Team Blitz and Team Third Down periods.

Improved depth this year has allowed USC to “two-spot,” which means running the same segments in two groups simultaneously. More live reps for more players will result in more physicality, Helton hopes.

Those periods are also explicitly for the benefit of “trying to put our quarterbacks in the hardest situations possible,” Helton said.

And that’s definitely what they did. Matt Fink, Jack Sears and JT Daniels each faced a furious pass rush which saw multiple sacks and quarterbacks running for their lives with varying success.

“I walked away from it saying that our pass rush is still pretty dang good,” Helton chuckled.

Daniels, in particular, felt the force of that pass rush on the day. He was sacked by Porter Gustin, Christian Rector and Marlon Tuipulotu during the third down segment.

Those sacks were a topic of conversation after practice.

“I told JT the biggest difference between being a high school quarterback and a college quarterback is just the timing,” Helton said, wanting to see his young passer either get the ball out more quickly or throw the ball away. “You don’t have as much time when Porter Gustin is on one edge and Christian Rector is coming at you.”

At the same time, Helton is happy with how the quarterbacks in general have handled the pressure in the early goings. His biggest concern is turnovers or critical errors and the offense went turnover free on Monday.

The next step will be not just surviving the pass rush, but thriving in spite of it.

Practice standouts

  1. Christian Rector: The versatile front man jumped on a dropped snap by Sears, sacked Daniels and was a general nuisance for the offensive line throughout the day working at outside linebacker with Jordan Iosefa shifted inside.
  2. Porter Gustin: Gustin stuffed a run early in Team Run and sacked Daniels while also creating problems on the outside upfront.
  3. Marlon Tuipulotu: Fully returned from the back surgery which prompted his redshirt, Tuipulotu worked with the second team and made life difficult for Daniels during the Team Third Down segment.

Notes and tidbits

  • Snaps were a problem for the Trojan offense as center Toa Lobendahn launched more than a few erratic ones at the quarterbacks. After practice, Sears said it was the quarterback’s job to catch the snap, shifting the blame to his own position group, but the miscues certainly disrupted the offense. Helton downplayed concerns, attributing the issue to rust as Lobendahn gets back to snapping in pads for the first time in a year. He worked after practice to extend his follow-through and fix the problem.
  • Five of USC’s six practices this week will be in some kind of pads, with Monday as the first of two shells practices followed by two days in full pads. Friday will be a day out of pads before a full pads scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday.
  • Helton praised redshirt freshmen linemen Brett Neilon, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Jalen McKenzie for their efforts so far this Fall Camp. The trip composes the bulk of the second-team offensive line with Neilon at center, Vera-Tucker at guard and McKenzie at tackle. “It’s good to be deep,” Helton said.
  • Despite Daniels’ trouble with the pass rush, the quarterback remained an efficient passer during the team periods, completing all but a small handful of his attempts. He was praised by Helton for his arm strength and accuracy. “He does not miss any throws. That’s been probably the most impressive thing about him,” Helton said. Speeding up those throws is the task right now.
  • Senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware reminds Helton of Buck Allen and Justin Davis in his attitude going into his senior year as well as his ability to be an every-down back.
  • Sears tossed a long touchdown pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe during the team blitz period despite a low snap. Imatorbhebhe got a step on freshman defensive back Olaijah Griffin and hauled in the throw running down the sideline. It was a touch of redemption for the redshirt sophomore receiver who had before gotten a step on Greg Johnson but dropped another perfectly thrown deep ball from Matt Fink during Team Run.
  • Freshman running back Markese Stepp broke free for a long run during Team Run.