USC football Spring Camp: Tight ends enjoying simplified offense

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

Tight ends Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek are looking to do their part in USC football’s new offense, playing more freely in the passing game without abandoning the run.

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USC football’s transition to the Air Raid under offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is supposed to transform the Trojan offense, but it doesn’t feel terribly different to Trojan tight ends Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek.

The concepts in terms of run blocking feel the same, while spacing concepts in the passing game aren’t exactly foreign.

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“I think the biggest difference is we’re just running the same sort of plays out of a bunch of different formations instead of having a bunch of different plays,” Krommenhoek said.

The Trojans will stick to basic plays but mask their intentions from the defense by lining up in different ways. Like other players at other positions have noted, the offense is just simpler as a result.

“The playbook’s not like this,” Falo said spreading his arms out wide. “It’s really just a condensed playbook.”

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The advantage is just as Harrell described in his introductory interviews: playing not thinking.

“That makes me not think a lot and just makes me want to go out there and just play freely,” Falo said.

It didn’t seem like the tight ends were playing particularly freely in 2018. Falo, Krommenhoek and Tyler Petite combined for 17 receptions, 194 yards and one touchdown. The year before, Petite had 23 catches for 307 yards and three touchdowns on his own.

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Neither Falo nor Krommenhoek could identify exactly why the production dropped so far. The ball just didn’t come their way, Falo said, noting how drops didn’t help matters.

Krommenhoek hopes things will be different this year as they improve on the little things that make a tight end “friendly to the quarterback,” whether getting open running across the field or providing an option in a tight window.

Spring Camp has hinted as such opportunities, with far more activity from Krommenhoek in particular as a pass catcher underneath.

The tight ends are happy to be more involved in the passing attack, but neither has forgotten their role in the rushing game as well.

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“We’re SC, we’re RBU,” Falo said. “We’ve still got to run the ball, pound the ball in.”

That’s why Falo’s goal this Spring Camp is still to shore up his blocking ability.

“This big question is about my run game, if I can block big guys, d-ends, inside ‘backers, outside ‘backers,” he said.  “So that’s my main focus.”

Krommenhoek has a more blocking-oriented skillset to begin with and is looking to get the most out of it.

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“I want to be an all-around guy,” he said, “Be able to block inside on the inside run game, get my hand in the dirt still…and then be a reliable pass catching option.”

There’s another role for Krommenhoek, now one of the veteran players on the team, particularly in the tight end room which no longer includes the likes of Tyler Petite, Austin Applebee and Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who remains absent with injury.

“It’s been a bit different being the leader, being the older guy in the room but I’ve embraced it and I’ve learned a lot,” Krommenhoek.

Part of Krommenhoek’s, and Falo’s, job going forward will be to integrate new Trojans to the position. In the fall, Ethan Rae will join up, but this spring the new face is Jude Wolfe.

Though he has missed the most recent week of practices because of injury, Wolfe has made the right kind of first impression on his older teammate.

“Coming in early is tough. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to be in high school, come in early and try to compete for a spot, Krommenhoek said. “He’s doing a great job listening, working, always showing up early and doing what he’s supposed to do.”

With just three scholarship tight ends available, and Rae’s involvement in the coming season in question as he recovers from a high school knee injury, Wolfe figures to see early playing time.

The dearth of tight end options means the margin for error at the position is thin. Harrell vowed to get his best 11 players on the field, it’s on Falo, Krommenhoek and Wolfe to ensure the tight end position is represented in that number.