Behind veteran leadership, USC defense makes strides

The USC football team held their eighth practice on Thursday, with the team focusing on defense and special teams work as the quarterback competition raged on.

Defense makes progress

Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast hosted a series of defensive and special teams drills during practice.

Redshirt senior Ajene Harris participated in an array of cornerback drills. He provided excellent man-on-man coverage.

“You just gotta love Ajene cause he got a heart of a lion,” Pendergast said. “He takes on every single challenge … You wish you had 11 guys like him.”

Pendergast also highlighted Harris’ leadership abilities over the last few seasons.

“When you stand around and eavesdrop on Ajene’s conversation with a nickelback or with a corner, he’s speaking the same language that we are as coaches,” Pendergast said. “That’s fun to hear as a coach.”

Senior linebacker Cam Smith warms up at Thursday’s practice. Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

Senior linebacker Cameron Smith, who elected to return for his senior season, continued to be a vocal presence during drills, creating pressure and causing plenty of disruptions for the offense.

“I’m seeing things a lot faster,” said Smith. “I’ve worked really hard all offseason. Three years in a defense, I couldn’t ask for a better thing.”

Still, Smith sees a need for improvement in his defensive game, particularly with some routes, pass rush and placement.

“That’s some of [the]things that I think that my game has always needed improvement since freshman [year] of high school,” Smith said. “It’s something I always want to better at.”

Even with the need for improvement, Smith has seen the defense truly come together during the spring with nearly five months until the first game.

“We’ve moved on from the 11 guys that can play,” Smith said. “We are working out 22 guys that know our defense, can play and we trust … We all work really well together.”

Quarterback Competition

Redshirt freshman Jack Sears and redshirt sophomore Matt Fink continued to showcase their offensive prowess in multiple drills during practice.

Redshirt sophomore Holden Thomas has not been the focus of the competition to fill the void left behind by departing quarterback Sam Darnold, but he had his moments during Thursday’s practice. A high point for Holden came when he connected with sophomore tight end Josh Falo on a deep play in one segment of practice to the adulation of teammates and coaches.

Sears continued to work and made some quick throws, but fizzled out late and missed key targets.

Still, it was Fink who continued to showcase his maturity, poise and accuracy. In one segment, Fink threaded the needle to connect with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trevon Sidney in between double coverage. In another instance Fink connected with redshirt sophomore wideout Velus Jones, Jr. on a deep route.


Junior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. continued easing into his return to practice by participating in an array of positional drills and route running.

Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu once again worked separately from the team at the onset of practice as he recovers from a back injury. Cornerbacks redshirt junior Dominic Davis (he also plays running back) and redshirt freshman Je’Quari Godfrey were not in pads.

Additional Notes

USC alum and current linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers Hayes Pullard attended practice. Incoming freshman quarterback JT Daniels also visited. Daniels will contend for the vacant quarterback spot after reclassifying and choosing to graduate a year early. He is set to enroll in the fall.