A USC Secondary In Evolution

Entering a week off, the Trojans’ defensive backfield has posted promising numbers. The unit has given up more than 250 passing yards just twice in five games, is holding opposing quarterbacks to a 60.6% completion percentage, and last week at Washington allowed only 180 yards and no touchdowns through the air.

USC’s Isaiah Pola-Mao tackles Washington’s Chico McClatcher in the first half on Saturday in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

But Burns’ hesitant assessment goes beyond the stats. In a secondary playing underclassmen at almost every position, he is still catching too many mistakes that go unnoticed to the untrained eye.

“I’m not going to rest on what they’ve done,” he said, “because I see all the other little things.”

Such as?

“Just, everything,” Burns replied, chuckling. “Attention to detail in our coverages. Alignments. Checks. Footwork in press. Our fits. It’s a mixture of different things for each individual.”

It’s the reason why Burns isn’t a fan of the word “starter.” To him, that term means a job is won, that the competition is over. In his young secondary, which last week listed four freshmen and a sophomore as starters, that probably won’t be the case all year.

“There’s always a competition,” Burns said. “There’s a competition everywhere. No one is a starter. It’s just, ‘You go first.’ ”

That is perhaps nowhere clearer than at cornerback, where the Trojans have leaned on three players — freshman Chris Steele (left), redshirt freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart and sophomore Olaijah Griffin — to take snaps on the left and right sides of the field.

“I want to make sure I know that I won’t get handcuffed with, ‘We can only do this, or we can only do that,’ ” Burns said. “My goal is to have all three of them be able to go both sides, knowing what their strong side is, but at the same time being able to do both.”

So far, the fight for snaps is having the desired effect.

“Coach Burns lets us know,” said Steele, who recorded a career-high five tackles and recovered a fumble against Washington. “Me, ITS or OG, we could all play at any given moment. He doesn’t care who starts.

“Us three alone, we have a real brotherhood. They’re not just guys I go to practice with. I hang out with them on a day-to-day basis. After practice, we’ll go grab something to eat, hang out on the weekends. All that plays a bigger role.”

A similar situation has played out at nickelback. After forcing a fumble in his first career start last week, freshman Max Williams — who filled in after sophomore Greg Johnson was suspended for the first quarter — was praised by coach Clay Helton, who likened him to past Trojans stars Nickell-Robey Coleman and Ajene Harris.

“What a great opportunity for him to develop,” Helton said. “He’s going to be a special player for us.”

Burns said the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Williams “solidified” himself as the No. 2 nickelback, which could free up Chase Williams to focus primarily on safety moving forward.

“The biggest thing about someone that has to play the nickel spot for our team is you have to have a little bit of everything,” Burns said. “You have to have athletic ability to do coverage stuff, but you also have to have the physicality to be a box player as well.

“I’m not necessarily worried about [Max Williams’] size as long as I know he’s a willing tackler and someone who is willing to put himself in there.”

Quarterback injury updates

Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was again limited to noncontact drills Wednesday as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered against Utah two weeks ago.

“No live period,” Helton said of Slovis, who is expected to reprise his role as starter once healthy. “He’s just pitching and catching right now.”

Helton said that JT Daniels, the sophomore who entered the season as USC’s No. 1 quarterback, underwent an “extremely successful” surgery Tuesday to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the season opener against Fresno State.

“He’s now back on campus and is starting the rehab process,” Helton said. “Really happy for him.”

Helton didn’t offer an exact timeline for Daniels’ return. He was hopeful the former five-star recruit would be able to at least throw passes in a noncontact setting during the spring, and left open the possibility that he could be back in time for the start of training camp next season.

“I talked to him literally right after the surgery,” Helton said, “and he was already in the machine that bends your knee back and forth going 100 mph. He said, ‘Coach, I’m already 15 degrees ahead of schedule.’ ”

latimes.com

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danielmcd1
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Trojan fans, please give me your thoughts on this. If we could have for only 5 years as HC, would you want Urban Myers or Pete Carroll, assuming the financial part of this hire would be possible. Big money for USC to spend, but it would be worth it as far as I am concerned.
Give me your thoughts. Pete is still the best we have had in a long time, but Urban is younger but may not stay too long.
Fight On!

trojan92
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Between the two, I’d take Urban

UtahTrojan
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I used to say I did not want Urban because of his past. But we need to fix so many things as quickly as possible I think we need to take the chance and keep him on a short rope. Pete had his time, but his last few years were definitely slipping and I don’t know if he could recreate his magic of the early years.

illinoisusc
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Meyer if healthy. No way we get Pete……he has got another super bowl team.

Steveg
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Steveg
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Pete without question

Chris
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Easy, it’s Pete. The best coaches are in the NFL, and every team is loaded with talent. In college the best teams walk on the field 10 times a year knowing they have the best squad by a mile. The NFL is a grind pretty much every week. Pete’s a hall of famer at that level.

Pete, and in my opinion, it’s not even close.

Jamaica
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Both would rebuild the Trojan program to a top “3” level. I’m just not sure PC is going to stay in coaching much longer let alone want to go back to coaching college ball. Meyer on the other side is in his 50’s, is definitely a college coach and I have a strong feeling he wants to prove he can run a program cleanly with no issues. Meyer is a complete HC in his teams play both defense & offense at the highest level. PC gave us some 10 yrs of everlasting memories and we will never forget him. I… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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From the Instant Analysis segments I’ve watched the last few days, I haven’t gotten the feeling the team is really working hard this week on fixing things. Lots of chatter about it but again no pad practice yesterday.

UtahTrojan
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Is “Special” the only term that Helton knows how to use when he describes a player? If every player is special, then none of them really is.

Paul_Muad_dib
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You can also describe Helton’s coaching as “special”…

illinoisusc
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A good coach needs to be respected above all else………respect………a word that has a mix of fear and admiration in it.

Paul_Muad_dib
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Respect starts with fear. It always does.

LawyerJohn
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Say what you want about Helton, and you will, but he goes to a hospital to wish one of his players well right after surgery. If you posters were ever in a hospital, how many of your friends visited you? Helton sounds like a ‘best friend’ candidate…

But unfortunately coaching apparently requires a more cold, steely approach. John McKay wouldn’t even say hello to me when hailing him on campus. But he would give you a little wink.

RialtoTrojan
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Hey LJ, it was a different time when McKay coached. Men were supposed to be less touchy feely than they are nowadays. John Wayne was the model not Ryan Seacrest. So I am sure McKay cared, social pressure kept him form showing it. JK McKay played Pop Warner with my older brother and his father sat in the stands with all of the parents. (and little brothers) I guess there are different ways to be a player’s coach because I always had the impression McKay had the respect of his team. Helton is loved by his team, but not because… Read more »

Paul_Muad_dib
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I do say what I want about Helton, and I will say that his approach to being a HC is a complete failure. He is way in over his head and I don’t care if he visits players in the hospital after surgery. That’s for the friends and parents to do. An army general does not have time to visit the wounded in the hospital during battle, he has to continue to lead his team to victory. Helton has the entire off season to dish out hugs and kisses to his “children”.