• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into spring practice

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

Helton situation follow-up- Though some powerful voices on the board wanted both Helton and Swann out after the season, it was a vocal minority and Helton’s extension after the Cotton Bowl, triggering a large buy-out, along with Swann’s unwavering loyalty, protected him. Furthermore, without a president in place, it is extremely unlikely to attract a top level coach who would want the blessing of the ultimate boss.

New President announcement should come shortly- A few weeks ago I was told an agreement was in place with the new president and an announcement would be made in early March. I have no firm intel on who the individual is. The most significant chatter is around Northeastern’s Joseph E. Auon.

What really happened with Bru McCoy?- This had more to do with a young man that was highly pressured by his family to attend USC but really wanting to go to Texas, then the uncertainty within the football program. Obviously, the uncertainty didn’t help (does this happen if SC is coming off a 10 win campaign?).

McCoy, a five-star receiver out of Mater Dei, fell in love with Austin during his recruiting visit and really liked Tom Herman’s energy. However, Bru didn’t feel the choice was his to make. He also had a break-up with serious girlfriend here in LA, and from an emotional standpoint (remember, we are talking about an 18 year old), this helped tipped the scales in asking for a release. McCoy will claim the loss of Kingsbury is why he transferred to gain immediate eligibility (it will also be easier to crack the rotation at Texas at WR then SC), but SC initially intends to block his request.

What happened with Nacua?- Four-star WR Puka Nacua, the Utah Gatorade Player of the year, went from a firm SC commitment to flipping to Washington late in the recruiting cycle. Two main factors contributed- 1- Changes in the coaching staff after this past season along with the potential of a new head coach/staff after this season seriously concerned the family. 2- Washington is the most stable program on the west coast and provided more of an opportunity to play as a true freshman.

Not having Nacua and McCoy will not necessarily be felt this season, but they are special talents that are significant long-term losses.

The silver lining with the recruiting class- The Trojans did not land the star power they typically bring in and whiffed at some must-need offensive and defensive line depth. However, in talking with a few recruiting analysts, the Trojans did a good job of landing “tough/grinder types” the program desperately needs as they work on creating a more disciplined atmosphere. The last time the Trojans had a recruiting class rank this low was 2001 but they ended up having some pleasant surprises and that could very well be the case with this class.

Why receivers transferring make sense- The Trojans have one of the best returning receiving units in the country. Frankly, SC over-recruited the position while under-recruiting others (i.e.- offensive line/defensive back) and they are taking a hit for it. The receivers transferring will hurt their depth but how many of them outside Velus Jones Jr, would played much of a role over Michael Pittman Jr, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Devon Williams? You also have the physically imposing, albeit injured, 6’3, 210 pound Kyle Ford coming in along with a dynamic/shifty 6’4 Drake London. Also, do not surprised if John Jackson Jr. III rises up the depth chart and becomes a consistent possession receiver.

You only get one shot to play in college and they want to rightfully make their mark. The losses of Travon Sidney and Velus Jones Jr. will hurt the locker room from a leadership standpoint as they have great reputations on and off the field. Both Jones Jr. and Sidney will be graduate transfers with two year of eligibility remaining.

Transfer portal doesn’t mean players are automatically leaving- Chuma Edoga explored transferring before returning last season. The staff hopes Velus Jones Jr. will end up staying and he is on the spring roster. According to Scott Schrader, Jones Jr. is dealing with a legit family health issues and wants to potentially be closer to home. If he does transfer, he will most likely reunite with Tee Martin at Tennessee. Nobody else in the transfer portal is expected to return with rumblings the coaching staff had a less than cordial parting with CB Gregg Williams. **3-1--19- Update- Gregg Williams is back at practice and out of the transfer portal. Initially a chilly meeting went down between Williams and Helton but both sides see the obvious benefits of Williams staying at SC with Trojans depth concerns in the defensive backfield.

Can’t blame Swann/Helton for Kingsbury situation- When Kliff Kingsbury became the new SC offensive coordinator no one expected a coach fired by Texas Tech would become a serious NFL head coaching candidate a month later. At the time, it was the best coordinator hire in the college ranks. Kingsbury gave assurances to SC he would not leave for an NFL coordinator position. Furthermore, even with a larger buy-out, which his agent would have never agreed to anyway, Kingsbury would have left for the opportunity to be an NFL head coach. Criticizing Swann and Helton for this scenario is needlessly piling on the negative bandwagon.

Ausmus expected to be new strength coach- The head strength and conditioning coach during the Lane Kiffin era, Aaron Ausmus, is expected to return to the same position. Ausmus, was also an assistant strength coach at USC from 2001-2003 during the Peter Carroll era. He had his fair share of critics during his tenure under Kiffin, but this was probably one of the best hires the program could make considering Helton’s hot seat.

Trying to shift the culture- This is a “must win now” year, and some within the program have stated the heat has been turned up in workouts along with the overall expectations. “It’s uncomfortable, which is a good thing” is what I was told. However, it has not been easy to pull off with the staff changes and negativity surrounding the program. Ultimately, we will see if a more competitive culture has been implemented in fall camp. Prior to last season, analysts and scouts stated that SC lacked the fire and urgency they saw in summer and early fall camp practices at programs like Texas and LSU.

Kyle Ford – the next Mike Williams?- A long-time high school scout jokingly said the following to me- “Kyle Ford could be the next Helton savior”. Ford is recovering from a torn ACL and we will not know what to expect from him until the fall. The injury could set him back a year but most high school scouts expect him to make a big-time impact when healthy.

Critical off-season for JT Daniels to win over teammates- JT Daniels has the most accurate arm among the Trojan QB’s, but to be an elite QB, he has to take the next steps in terms of the often under-the-radar intangible and leadership skills that he severely lacked last season. It was a lot to ask a true freshman who skipped his senior year of high school (though a holdback) to be the starting QB behind a suspect offensive line after playing behind the best high school offensive line in the nation.

After Jack Sears performance in the ASU game, some veteran players spoke to Helton about how impressed they were with his ability to handle adversity and energize the huddle, which was not happening with Daniels. Helton made it clear to those players that JT was the QB of the future. This helped feed into discontent among several players that the coaching staff played favorites and were stubborn about giving others opportunity. It is vitally important that Daniels overcomes this discontent and wins his teammates over. If Daniels makes this leadership jump coupled with an improved offensive line, he should put up huge numbers in new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s modified “air-raid” offense. However, Daniels better not slip up as Jack Sears is walking around with a confident swagger and believes Harrell's simplified offense suits his skill set very well.

Amon-Ra doesn’t care for the slot - Amon Ra St. Brown’s father put feelers out about a potential transfer in January but that was quickly abandoned after a positive meeting with the coaches. I don’t know what led to his frustration other than Amon-Ra is not enamored with being labeled as a slot receiver and wants to make sure he is not pigeon holed into the position.

Why the basketball season has been so disappointing- I missed the boat on this one in predicting a better than expected season. Rumblings over the summer from NBA scouts and those observing SC players made it seem like the Trojans would be surprise contenders in the Pac-12. Obviously, that has not come to fruition.

The loss of senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin’s leadership left a much bigger void than anticipated. A multitude of early season injuries devastated team chemistry (various times they could only go 3-3 in practice) especially with a team considered “difficult” to coach from an attitude standpoint. True freshman Elijah Weaver being out for two months with a bad ankle injury limited the role of a creative pass-first point guard on the radar of NBA scouts. Though Kevin Porter Jr. has shown glimpses of a projected lottery pick, injury and attitude issues has led to an inconsistent season. Though junior forward Nick Rackocevic had some dominant games, it is not a secret to Pac-12 coaches that he is easily baited into bad fouls or frustration plays. I have talked about this in the past but worth bringing up again--- Tony Bland was a highly respected and knowledgeable assistant the veteran players had a tight bond with and the program has not been the same since his departure.

The Trojans are 1-6 in games decided by five points or less and if they can flip that switch (making free throws would help), they clearly have the talent to be a dark horse candidate to win the Pac-12 tournament. However, they are going to have to play at a disciplined and focused level which they have not shown they are capable of doing over a four game stretch. It is a shame the season has not turned out to be a better one as Bennie Boatwright has rebounded from a disappointing junior season to have a phenomenal senior campaign that would have put him in the conversation of Pac-12 player of the year with a better team performance.

Why the hoops future is bright- The incoming recruiting class is not only one of the best in school history (#3 nationally), but they are known as coachable players with winning backgrounds. This will be a group you will want to cheer for. The program will lose some key talent to graduation (Boatwright and Aaron) and the NBA draft (Porter Jr.) while Derryck Thornton and Jonah Matthews are rumored to be graduate transfer candidates. The coaches are going to re-recruit Matthews pretty hard as they would love to retain his veteran presence and 3-point shooting ability to go with the top level recruits coming in. Rumors of Nick Rackocevic transferring or leaving early are not true. He could be a dark-horse contender for Pac-12 player of the year gaining another year of mental maturity, strength in the weight room and his game compliments the incoming talent well.

Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-Bits-

*A truly great Trojan, John Jackson Jr., is slowly recovering from a stroke suffered in December. Please keep the SC radio color analyst in your thoughts and prayers. JJ brings so much positive energy to those around him and we want to see that around the team and in the booth this upcoming season. It has already been a tough off-season with the loss of Garry Paskwitetz, a true gem of a person that brought fans wearesc.com

*Offensive line coach Tim Drevno is extremely confident his group is going to show marked improvement in 2019. He stated this is the most talented group he has coached outside of the NFL at a recent Trojan club event…we shall see…last spring, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was gushing about how talented the SC defensive line was.

*RB Stephen Carr catches the ball well out of the backfield and Harrell's offensive scheme should fit his overall skill set very well. It looks like the step he lost last season after his back surgery has come back and is ready to consistently show why he was such a big-time recruit.

*Around 30 recruits in the last four years have left the program for a myriad of different reasons. Wide Receiver Keyshawn “Pie” Young has also entered the transfer portal.

*Sounds like TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe Trojan career might be coming to an end. Having trouble getting cleared with his on-going hip problem. He is exploring more options but looking bleak.

*USC is changing its base defense to incorporate three down linemen and three linebackers.

*Redshirt junior Liam Jimmons is moving from the defensive line to the offensive line.

*UCLA’s lucrative Under Armour deal has been very helpful in acquiring Chip Kelly as the head football coach and look for them to make a splashy hire on the basketball front (Tony Bennett is in play). The Trojans Nike deal is up for renewal in three years and that will be a pivotal moment for the athletic department.

*Spring practices are open to the public. The Spring “showcase” will be on Saturday April 6th @ 11am at Cromwell Field.

*We will be back after spring football wraps up with a look at what happened on the field and how the players adjusted to the coaching staff changes and increased tempo on the offensive side of the ball.

Twitter- @TheskinnyonRE

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