Trojans look to use spring practice to adapt to injuries

The Trojans returned to Howard Jones Field for practice on Tuesday as they continue their march toward the Spring Game in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on April 15. Head coach Clay Helton put his team through various situational drills, including pinning his offense at the

one-yard line and giving his defense a look at a fast-paced offense.

Defense Ahead of Offense

As is typical for spring camp, the Trojans’ defense looks sharper than their offense. With a young offensive line with multiple injuries and redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold still developing a rapport with some of his young wide receivers, the defense has had the advantage in practice.

The defense, which returns seven of 11 starters, has shown playmaking ability throughout the spring. An experienced secondary featuring junior Iman Marshall, redshirt senior Chris Hawkins and senior Marvell Tell III has challenged Darnold on a daily basis. Sophomore cornerback Jack Jones even picked off the Heisman favorite and was in the clear for a pick-six before the play was whistled dead.

The defensive line also dominated on Tuesday, constantly putting the Trojans’ patchwork offensive line on the back foot, and Helton admitted the latter unit still had much work to do.

“You try not to pull your hair out, but you also expect some growing pains there,” Helton said.

Freshman defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu has also stood out this spring, as he looks to fill the large shoes of Stevie Tu’ikolovatu on the defensive line. It hasn’t been too tall of a task for the freshman, who has impressed the coaching staff with his strength and maturity.

Trojans Battle Injuries

As the Trojans have gotten deeper into spring ball, injuries have started to pile up. Helton announced that senior offensive guard Viane Talamaivao successfully underwent surgery on his elbow. Considering Talamaivao is one of the few veteran members on USC’s offensive line, his loss is concerning, but Helton said he was expected to make a full recovery and return during the summer. This news came after another major injury hit the Trojans on Saturday when freshman linebacker Taylor Katoa tore his ACL.

Sophomore running back Ronald Jones II (ankle) and offensive linemen redshirt junior Nico Falah (back) and redshirt sophomore Toa Lobendahn (knee) were all limited on Tuesday and will continue to take on a light workload during spring ball in order to get their bodies in shape in time for the fall.

Figuring Out the Offensive Line

Following the departure of
All-American offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner, USC has used spring practice to assess their options on the offensive line. As injuries limit the Trojans’ three most experienced linemen (Talamaivo, Falah and Lobendahn), Helton and offensive line coach Neil Callaway are looking to develop their options.

“We’re trying to decide the best five,” Callaway said. “I think we’ve made some progress, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

In order to replace Wheeler and Banner, the Trojan coaching staff has entertained a handful of options, looking to find the best combination. Junior Chuma Edoga, redshirt sophomore Roy Hemsley, freshman Andrew Vorhees and redshirt junior Chris Brown have all shuffled along the line this spring.

The Trojans’ offensive line is a puzzle that will take time to figure out, but with two more weeks in spring and camp in summer and fall, the coaching staff has plenty of time left to find a solid starting five.