Ahead of final camp scrimmage, USC’s Clay Helton has an eye on youth
LOS ANGELES — USC will end its three-week-long training camp on Saturday when it holds a live scrimmage at the Coliseum.
Last year, the Trojans ended camp with a similar affair, wrapping up with a scrimmage at Howard Jones Field. It became the final barometer in a quarterback competition between Max Browne and Sam Darnold. One day after camp ended, Browne was tabbed as the starter.
There is no starting quarterback decision weighing on Coach Clay Helton this August.
His focus rests elsewhere.
After a walk-through practice on Friday, Helton pointed to two position groups he planned to examine closely during the scrimmage: wide receiver and defensive tackle.
At nose tackle, the Trojans are in search of a starter to replace Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, the burly graduate transfer from Utah who arrived for one season and anchored the unit. There are three primary candidates vying to replace him, including senior Josh Fatu, along with a pair of freshmen, Marlon Tuipulotu and Brandon Pili. For Tuipulotu, he enrolled early, participating in spring practice, giving him a leg up in the competition.
There is more to sort out at receiver, where the Trojans have sought dependable targets for Darnold after the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers.
For the past week, the likely trio to start includes Deontay Burnett, the slot receiver for the final six games last season, as well as Steven Mitchell and Jalen Greene. The receivers have gotten most of the snaps with the first-team offense in practice, though USC’s coaches have stressed a starting group has not been finalized.
“It’s, again, to kind of get the reality of where they are, make everybody step back to the sideline and see,” Helton said. “When you get in those real-live scrimmage atmospheres, you step back and see what the kids know. Those are my favorite times.”
Tyler Vaughns, a redshirt freshman, has made a push to start at one of the outside receiver spots seemingly held by Greene and Mitchell. Michael Pittman, a sophomore, was also a viable candidate before he sustained a high-ankle sprain in practice this week that will likely keep him out of the opener. Helton has praised redshirt freshman Josh Imatorbhebhe for his recent performance in practices. Freshman Joseph Lewis has also provided highlights after a groin injury limited him early in camp.
“It’ll be interesting to see who steps up there,” Helton said.
Receiver is one of USC’s deepest positions, with 11 scholarship players. But it’s also an inexperienced group.
Helton said a scrimmage in the Coliseum will allow his underclassmen to become “comfortable in that environment.”
Asked how he will eultimately valuate his long list of receivers, Helton brought up several factors.
“The biggest thing is just making sure they can get lined up in a no-huddle offense and play fast, play assignment sound,” Helton said. “And do they produce? When given the opportunity to put themselves between the defender and the ball, do they make a play? It’s how well do they know the playbook at this time and how are they producing?”
Last season, USC released an official depth chart at the end of camp. It will not this season, though it will be issued to reporters prior to the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2.
RODGERS BACK TO FOOTBALL
Former USC offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers, who left as a graduate transfer in the offseason, will in fact play this season at North Carolina.
Rodgers un-retired earlier this month, before rejoining the team this week, Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels’ coach, told reporters Friday. Before he originally left for North Carolina, Rodgers originally committed to join Iowa State.
In an earlier statement announcing his retirement, Rodgers cited health reasons and an interest in business.
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