The USC football team returned from spring break Tuesday, resuming camp with its fourth practice. The lead-up to the April 14 spring game continues as the team looks to fill vacancies left by departing players.
Sophomore tailback Stephen Carr remains out as he recovers from back surgery. He’s been ruled out for the entirety of spring practice. Senior Porter Gustin, who missed a majority of last season due to a toe injury, looked fully up to speed today. His burst and power looked just as strong as ever in bag drills and in the run defense segment of practice.
Although the Trojans still await the arrival of incoming five-star freshman JT Daniels, the battle to fill the void left by departing quarterback Sam Darnold continues. Redshirt freshman Jack Sears and redshirt sophomore Holden Thomas both looked solid, but redshirt sophomore Matt Fink still looks to be ahead of the pack as of now.
Fink was sharp throughout the day, at one point completing three consecutive perfect post corner routes. He continued to display good decision making and accuracy throughout practice, not throwing a single pick and impressing in the team redzone portion of practice, where he used his trademark speed for a rushing touchdown while passing for two more. Although things may soon change upon Daniels’ arrival, Fink looks like the man to beat right now.
The top two returning Trojan receivers both put on a show today, as redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns and junior Michael Pittman looked dominant throughout the day. Pittman caught nearly everything thrown his way, winning with speed on go routes and with his massive frame on crossing routes and hitches. His most impressive reception of the day came during team drills when he came back to an underthrown ball on a deep route, securing the grab as he hit the ground.
Vaughns exhibited incredible route running and body control, as he caught pass after pass along the sideline, including a ridiculous grab in which he contorted his body 180 degrees through a defender to snag the football. Vaughns and senior cornerback Isaiah Langley got chippy with one another after executing a few routes together, exchanging verbal jabs and a few shoves as well.
When asked about the interaction afterwards, Vaughns brushed it off, saying, “Yeah, that’s normal. Out of anger you’re gonna say stuff like that, but we’re still family, still teammates, so none of that stuff matters off the field.”
State of the Running Game
With the departure of star running back Ronald Jones II to the NFL, there are big shoes to be filled in the backfield. Carr looked explosive when he was on the field last year, but his absence for the spring leaves the starting tailback job wide open. Redshirt sophomore Vavae Malepeai impressed with his carries, providing a lot of powerful running to the backfield, while senior Aca’Cedric Ware also took a significant number of touches at running back. Redshirt junior Dominic Davis also joined the rotation, switching back to his original position after a stint as cornerback. The unit believes new running backs coach Tim Drevno has made a positive impact so far.
“[Drevino] knows what he’s talking about all around,” Malepeai said. “He does a good job of making sure we understand how the entire play works and not just our assignments.”