Quarterback JT Daniels rested his arm on Tuesday as USC football got to work on fixing mistakes during the bye week.
From the moment the Arizona game ended, USC football head coach Clay Helton indicated the Trojans would use the bye week for two things: To get better and to get healthy.
Getting healthy doesn’t just apply to the long list of injured players who sat out Tuesday’s practice on Howard Jones Field. It also extends to proactive measures. Namely, protecting quarterback JT Daniels’ arm.
The freshman passer didn’t do any passing on Tuesday.
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“I just wanted to take two days off the arm. It’s been a long training camp as well as a lot of throws the first five weeks,” Helton said. “With any great quarterback or pitcher, at some point you’ve got to rest them.”
That’s not to say Daniels took the day off. Dressed in full pads, he spent the first hour of practice working with a trainer on his own, running through footwork and pocket presence drills. He high-stepped back-and-forth over obstacles and dodged tennis balls tossed at chest height.
Daniels will go back to throwing routes on air on Wednesday, but Helton was glad to use the last two days to give him a chance “to catch his breath, to learn from the first five games and to get a little freshness.”
Helton did the same with Sam Darnold last year as well. Having a late bye prevented them from giving him a week off, but they still found opportunities to take the load off his arm. For Daniels, the rest figures to be even more important.
As a true freshman, Helton highlighted the strenuous nature of adjusting to life as a college football player, dealing with strength and conditioning, game planning, meetings, practice, academics and study hall.
“It’s a daylight until dark job,” Helton said. Five weeks into the season, the bye is a perfect opportunity to give him a mental and physical break.
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Notes and tidbits
- Practice schedule clarification… Much was made of USC’s decision to practice just twice this week, but Helton clarified some details around the practice schedule. The Trojans did practice on Monday in helmets and spider pads, going full speed and doing more than usual to start the bye week. Tuesday’s full pads practice was thus USC’s second of the week while Wednesday’s outing, likely in shorts and shells, will be practice No. 3. Then the Trojans will devote Thursday to meetings while taking an academic focus day on Friday, freeing coaches up to go out on recruiting trips.
- Preparing for Colorado… Though the focus this week will be largely internal, the Trojans have begun to look ahead to next week’s Colorado game. Helton said the game will decide who takes first place in the South division, so it’s a big game looming. “To have the extra week for game planning and preparation is huge,” he said.
- Pittman maneuver… The one-on-one passing period pitting receivers against cornerbacks resulted in tons of victories for the pass catchers, but no one had a more dominating stretch than Michael Pittman. Going against Isaiah Langley on four reps, Pittman won each, including three impressively physical long touchdown catches. Tyler Vaughns also got loose for a couple of touchdowns past Greg Johnson.
- Offensive line shift… Starting right tackle Chuma Edoga missed the end of the Arizona game with injury, elevating backup Jalen McKenzie into the first team lineup to finish the outing. However, with Edoga out on Tuesday, it was right guard Andrew Vorhees who shifted over to take the senior’s reps. That left a spot open for backup Alijah Vera-Tucker to get first team reps in Vorhees’ place.
- Oh snap… Toa Lobendahn’s snapping woes were once again a topic of discussion after low snaps plagued the USC’s offense against Arizona. What are the Trojans doing to address the problem? The center is getting in extra work before and after practice, wrapping up his day by snapping with Helton. The head coach said he was getting better rotation on Tuesday but they’re going to keep working on it until his swing is perfect like a golfer’s. Lobendahn also hopes a change of equipment will help. He went from bare hands to using a glove earlier this year, but found that wasn’t working. He’s gone back to bare hands and said on Tuesday it was feeling better that way.
- Three types of penalties… Helton went into some detail about his efforts to address the penalty problem USC had this past weekend. In a full team meeting, he addressed every penalty flag thrown against the Trojans against Arizona. He said there are three types of penalties: administrative, fundamental/technique and decision-making. USC had all three on Saturday. An example of an administrative penalty is a false start or formation problem. Helton said they could live with one or two early jumps in a hostile environment, but there were too many in Tucson. Correcting those requires teaching: “That’s an educational piece and that’s me,” Helton said.
- Three types of penalties, cont… The second type of penalty is fundamental/technique. That’s corrected on the practice field. This week, the coaches are emphasizing hand placement in an effort to curb holding calls, for instance.
- Three types of penalties, cont… The final penalty type drew the harshest criticism from Helton: decision-making. Those are the personal fouls, the unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness calls which benefited Arizona time and time again. Helton said there were examples of young players like Talanoa Hufanga and Olaijah Griffin letting their aggression get the better of them. Harnessing that aggression requires reminding players to use their heads to keep themselves out of trouble. For instance, Hufanga must realize the quarterback is the most protected player on the field, if it’s a close hit near the sideline, it’ll get called. “That’s between them and me,” Helton said. “That’s my job to be able to show you that and to understand that if you’re going hurt the team that way, you’re not going to be in the game.”
- Tackling in practice… No, USC isn’t suddenly going to start live tackling in practice, but tackling was another emphasis for the Trojans on Tuesday. At the start of the day, players were put through a drill designed to focus on changing direction quickly and still getting the right angle on the tackle. “We haven’t missed many tackles, but when we have that’s been the case of being able to come to balance and change direction and fit up,” Helton said. “We worked that today.”