No Depth On D Is a Huge Helton Problem

Five key storylines heading into USC football training camp

Adam Grosbard (OC Register —  USC football training camp starts on Friday. Unlike last year, when media couldn’t step foot on campus due to the pandemic, this year we’ll be allowed to watch just about every practice of training camp. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on.

Can Kedon Slovis bounce back?

As a sophomore, the USC starting quarterback saw some regression from his breakout freshman campaign. There were simple throws he failed to complete and his lack of rhythm allowed the Trojans to fall behind early in games. Slovis was able to lead several fourth-quarter comebacks to minimize the damage, but it was clear he wasn’t himself.

But at Pac-12 media day, Slovis was honest about what led to the down year: A lack of confidence in his throwing elbow after he injured it in the 2019 Holiday Bowl. Slovis says he’s shaken those doubts off and wants to come back and be the best version of himself as a quarterback. There will be challenges, like new faces in the receiving corps and the departure of a first-round left tackle. But if Slovis is confident and not holding anything back, USC will be in better shape than it was a year ago.

How serious are the depth concerns on the USC defense?

USC has a lot of front-line talent to be excited about on its defense this season. Outside linebacker Drake Jackson (99) will try to follow Talanoa Hufanga onto the All-American team this fall. Cornerback Chris Steele and safety Isaiah Pola-Mao are reliable presences in the secondary. Defensive end Nick Figueroa will try to follow up last year’s breakout campaign, while Tuli Tuipulotu is ready for the spotlight.

But anywhere you look on the field, USC is an injury or two away from depending on untested freshmen or having to get creative. Just look at nickel back, where Max Williams is out for the season due to an ACL tear and Greg Johnson is a frequent injury liability. During the spring, USC had to move Pola-Mao to nickel to avoid playing a freshman with the first team.

These types of depth issues exist throughout the defense. So can any of the younger players establish themselves during camp to prove they can be relied on during the season? It will be something to watch closely.

Is the offensive line ready for the big time?

It was a rocky spring for the USC offensive line. The pass rush frequently got the better of the unit, and the run blocking wasn’t exactly inspiring. The Trojans stood pat during the summer, not adding any transfers to the talent pool on the offensive line. So USC is confident enough to go into the season with the unit, with several redshirt freshmen as backups. Will a summer of workouts lead to a more cohesive unit in training camp?

How do the Trojans utilize Korey Foreman?

When you sign the top-rated recruit in the country, the expectation is that you are going to have to play that recruit in some form as a true freshman. But Foreman, a defensive end, enters a competitive position group at USC, with Figueroa and Tuipulotu both looking to build off strong 2020s. Jakob Lichtenstein had an impressive spring, too.

Foreman, meanwhile, did not enroll early at USC and missed out on spring camp. So how ready is he for the college game? Can he earn some time in the defensive end rotation? Does he spell Drake Jackson at the hybrid linebacker position? Or is he ready to take over a starting job from the get-go?

Who backs up Slovis?

After Mo Hasan’s season-ending injury during the spring game, the answer will come down to two true freshmen, Jaxson Dart (left) and Miller Moss. Dart was the more consistent of the two during spring camp, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given he was able to play his senior season in Utah (a legend-in-the-making campaign). Moss, meanwhile, looked like he was shaking off rust after California postponed football season past his December graduation.

But Moss came on strong late in spring, setting up the question of who would win the backup job. Moss plays a style similar to Slovis, more pocket bound and less of a playmaker with his feet. Dart could give USC a genuine running threat and the opportunity to run some option plays. But it will come down to who does a more consistent job of completing passes and running the offense.

ocregister.com

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Rushmore
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August 7, 2021 3:06 pm

Clay Helton is a huge problem for Clay Helton.

illinoisusc
Noble Genius
illinoisusc
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August 8, 2021 6:43 am
Reply to  Rushmore

2x……what are we going to do with ourselves if USC hires a good head coach.

TrojanRJJ
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TrojanRJJ
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August 8, 2021 1:21 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, I think the interior run D is the weakest position on the team. The team is loaded with DEs (which is why Tremblay transferred) and speed to the outside. It has little depth and talent on the inside. If the kid from AL cannot play, SC is playing one of two 3 stars no names with no experience.

RialtoTrojan
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RialtoTrojan
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August 6, 2021 8:57 pm

I have read that at least one Trojan was held out of practice today due to Covid. The trouble is my source is named Scott Wolf.

Chris
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Chris
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August 6, 2021 9:46 pm
Reply to  RialtoTrojan

he’s a clown.

LawyerJohn
LawyerJohn
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August 6, 2021 8:22 pm

With all this talk from many Trojans that Slovis getting hurt-and-down early in the season is practically a certainty, one wonders what Slovis thinks of his chances of ending the year upright and ready to take down 10-million or so NFL bucks? I am sure the family purchased insurance, but it probably affords no more than a million or so in protection. Slovis did get hurt in 2019 on the last play of the year, of all crazy things, when his shoulder was snapped by a lineman as he tried to throw the ball. And last year he was not… Read more »

Steveg
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Steveg
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August 6, 2021 5:30 pm

I look at it like who is going to step up. They didn’t recruit kids without ability, so it is just a matter of who wants it and is able to step in and do it. O line is like a third world country, so far behind everyone else it is inconceivable to imagine them being successful. I am not really worried to much about defense other than the speed of the linebackers which has plagued USC for years now. It is great to have good running backs, but they can’t open holes, only run through them. Slovis is set… Read more »

Steveg
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August 7, 2021 5:57 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

So who do you think they will lose to? I think ND and Arizona St. but will get past the others. Granted it won’t be pretty and there will be nail biters that shouldn’t be but it is a Helton the Cat led team and we have to realize he is not good at finding a way to win but is great at finding a way to lose.

Jamaica
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Jamaica
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August 12, 2021 3:34 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

This is like beating a dead horse over & over. You bring in a upgraded coaching staff, a master recruiter, a good strength coach that knows his business, you eliminate a 2nd tough non-conference opponent. And here we are just like the past 4-years saying the same things about depth and fear the starting QB will not last the full season. Add to this we continue to look at the misfortunes of other conference schools as hope for a better season record. Just another reason I have never believed you can overcome the liabilities of a hacker HC no matter… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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August 13, 2021 7:58 am
Reply to  Jamaica

Jamaica, I see it the same way. How can you say SC is loaded when the top 2 QBs backups are true frosh? I am very much still at 6-6.

TrojanRJJ
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August 6, 2021 1:20 pm

The article is an excellent starting point. Allen has pointed out that on O, the WR are set even without McCoy. SC has significant numbers and talent at WR. It also has talent at QB, even if it is very inexperienced. What the O lacks is OL. It has the name number of WR as it has OL. The talent on the OL is suspect at best. Any injury to the starters and the OL is going to be playing 3 star true sophs with little or no experience. As Alicia De Bortola told an O site, SC is a… Read more »