USC Football Fall Camp Notes: Scrimmage 2 focuses on youth, not QBs

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

The second scrimmage of USC football Fall Camp on Day 14 put the focus on developing depth, not the continuing quarterback battle.

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If USC football fans were hoping for a definitive performance from any quarterback on Saturday to put the position battle to rest, they’ll be disappointed.

Saturday’s scrimmage, the second of Fall Camp, was all about getting a look at the Trojans’ depth as they progress into a mock game week.

Veteran starters were either sparsely used or not used at all. The benches were cleared. And USC’s quarterbacks were reduced to short dump offs and hand offs.

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While JT Daniels put in an efficient 8-of-10 passing performance, he didn’t quite replicate the highlight reel-filling day from a week ago. His most impressive moments came with his legs, scrambling for a first down and deftly avoiding the pass rush for the most part.

Matt Fink was less efficient, going 2-of-8 and resorting to thrown away balls to avoid sacks, though he was touched down twice by the defensive front.

Jack Sears, meanwhile, hardly threw the ball at all. He completed both of his live pass attempts, watching another long one fall incomplete with a defensive penalty wiping the play. The majority of his reps were handoffs. He himself ran for two first downs and a touchdown.

That touchdown was the only score of the day for the offense, stifled as they were by an emphasis on the run and a defense more than willing to keep them contained.

Looking one way, Helton praised the defense for their open field tackling and limiting of explosive plays.

“The amount of tackling we have done in this camp is really paying off,” he said.

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Looking for positives the other way, he also expressed pleasure with the quarterbacks for their sense of urgency on the day.

“They were taking sacks in the first scrimmage and the time clock I thought sped up today,” he said.

However Helton chose to spin the performance, the vanilla offense could only reveal so much about the status of USC’s quarterback trio, which is what everyone wants to know. Little new was learned about any of the three on Saturday, which means it’s that much more unlikely Helton will end the competition any time soon.

“My gut tells me it’s going to take one more week,” Helton said.

He’s running out of weeks to push the decision.

Practice Standouts

  1. Devon Williams… The freshman wide receiver accounted for two of the biggest plays of the day, catching both of Sears’ attempts to get the offense first into the red zone then down to the goal line. Helton gave him kudos for his efforts.
  2. Levi Jones… Helton commended Jones specifically for a couple of tackles on Stephen Carr, “a very hard thing to do out in open space.” One of those prevented a third down conversion. The linebacker only played two drives before he was pulled with a hand injury, but he performed well in his return from a prior ankle injury.
  3. Trevon Sidney… Sidney flashed with a big play during a Fink drive, catching a short pass and turning up field with the help of a block by Josh Falo. He weaved his way through the defense before being downed by Jonathan Lockett. Later, he was the one blocking downfield for a nice gain by Falo.

Notes and Tidbits

  • No two-minute drill… Helton’s chances for evaluation were trimmed because of injury. The plan originally was to give each quarterback a two-minute drill to show their stuff, but injuries at the tackle position scuppered that idea. Clayton Bradley, Austin Jackson, Andrew Vorhees and Frank Martin didn’t suit up to begin. When Chuma Edoga had to be pulled with an aggravated hip injury, “we ran out of tackle bodies,” Helton said. Jalen McKenzie and Bernard Schirmer were two of the only playable tackles left standing.
  • QBs using their legs… Saturday was more of an opportunity for the quarterbacks to show off their running ability and all three of them did. That’s right, all three, including Daniels. Sears was the most effective with his feet, but Daniels also showed what he could do by tucking and running for a first down. For Helton, the quarterback is an “adequate athlete” but it’s the way he feels the pocket and picks his moments that sets him apart. The head coach compared him favorably to Cody Kessler: “Cody was a tremendous pocket presence quarterback and so is JT. He can feel pressure and don’t fall asleep on his athleticism because he can move.”
  • Looking at the young guys… Few veterans played in the scrimmage, giving younger prospects the chance to impress coaches. Put simply: “I’ve seen enough reps on Marvell Tell. I know who he is. But I need to see Bubba [Bolden] and Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga and CJ Pollard. I needed to see exactly where they’re at in a real live scrimmage,” Helton said. Bolden and Pola-Mao took first team reps at safety. Hunter Echols and Kana’i Mauga worked at outside linebacker. Jones and Reuben Peters were the inside linebackers with Greg Johnson and Isaiah Langley both getting first team cornerback reps. Jonathan Lockett stood in for Ajene Harris at nickelback.
  • Pass rush plaudits… Echols continued his exceptional Fall Camp with another sack on Fink and a pressure on Daniels. Mauga also got to Fink while Jay Tufele barreled by his man to sack Daniels.
  • Who will return punts?… Punt work during the scrimmage featured Ajene Harris, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns back to return. Is that the pecking order fans can expect for the coming season? Helton said the three are locked in competition, all looking solid catching the ball. But as the youngest of the bunch, it’s St. Brown who has stood out with his ability to be reliable so early. “He is a guy that, one, we have trust in catching the ball but, two, is doing things after that catch,” Helton said. “He’s definitely in the mix.”
  • What’s left for Williams?… Williams earned a shoutout from Helton for his play during the scrimmage, proving his ability to make big plays downfield. The next step for him on the path to real playing time is all about the playbook, Helton said. “I know he made a mistake or two out here today because I could hear Tee over the headset fussing,” he added, noting how the freshman still needs assistance knowing exactly where to lineup and what to do, but that will come with time.