USC football news: Graham Harrell explains Kedon Slovis’ quarantine development strategy

USC football OC Graham Harrell had to figure out new ways to develop QB Kedon Slovis this offseason. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC football OC Graham Harrell had to figure out new ways to develop QB Kedon Slovis this offseason. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

USC football had to cancel Spring Camp, but Graham Harrell and Kedon Slovis still got work done.

The 2020 USC football season stands to be one of the more most fascinating in recent memory.

Sophomore phenom and starting quarterback Kedon Slovis enters the all-important second year in the Air Raid system with a veteran roster at his disposal.

But the Trojans, who desperately need to improve on their 9-5 record from a year ago if they want to keep embattled head coach Clay Helton, didn’t get the luxury of conducting spring camp due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

How could USC continue to develop Slovis in time when practices and player-run workouts were off-limits? That was the question levied upon offensive coordinator Graham Harrell on Athlon’s Cover 2 podcast this week, with the Trojans’ play-caller going in-depth on how the offseason went at QB.

How USC football’s Graham Harrell worked with Kedon Slovis during quarantine:

“I don’t think you can ever replace experience,” Harrell said. “Getting those live reps, there’s nothing like it. So not getting live reps, we had to do as much as we could to continue to develop him, and the next best way to get reps is mental reps through film study.”

Harrell encouraged Slovis to hit him up whenever he wanted to get in some time with the film.

“I might have signed up for more than I planned because he was texting me up all the time,” he said.

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The second-year OC opined that he wound up spending more time talking with Slovis 1-on-1 than he would have otherwise. It allowed the duo to be critical not only of the quarterback’s freshman tape but their communication.

While working through cut-ups—compilations of every time they ran a particular play—Harrell was able to work with Slovis to understand why he threw a particular ball, to get more familiar with defensive alignments and to figure out where there are other opportunities to attack.

“The quarterback has to see the game and see the field the way that the coach sees it,” Harrell said. “The time we were able to spend together I think has helped with that.”

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Harrell also found areas to shore up Slovis’ knowledge, particularly when it came to things the coach may have taken for granted. There were specific instances where the quarterback asked a simple question which made Harrell realize plays didn’t work as well as they could have because Slovis hadn’t fully grasped a basic concept yet.

In a perfect world for the Trojans, the fruits of the labor could be Slovis having more and more control of the offense with the go-ahead to checking in and out of plays.

If Slovis can take a solid step forward mentally, it would help pick up the slack for both lost reps and an opportunity to evaluate the progress of a key mechanical objective for the quarterback.

The QB coach noted how Slovis’ arm got fatigued during the season, likely because he wasn’t using his body enough while throwing.

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Coming off the arm injury sustained in the Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa, Harrell had hoped to work with Slovis to reduce the overall physical stress on his arm. Spring camp would’ve been an ideal testing grounds, but the pandemic forced USC to get more creative.

“We researched and found people that could help us […] to strengthen his arm as far as just building muscle and building preventative work from getting it injured again,” Harrell said. “And then, what can we do mechanically to use his lower body a little more and use his core a little more? Those are things that you don’t have to be in-person to do.”

How? Homework for Slovis. Workouts and drills. He’s just had to wait to get graded on well he progressed.

With any luck, Slovis will be ahead of the curve on the mental side while right on schedule in terms of the physical side. The Trojans won’t know until practices resume in the coming weeks.

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