LOS ANGELES >> Some notes and observations after USC’s first six spring practices, which feature plenty of new faces and questions for next season:
USC’s success next season will be dependent on some players who never played or barely played a college football game. Sophomore offensive tackle Roy Hemsley, who played in only three games the past two seasons, could start at right tackle. Freshman safety Jamel Cook, who redshirted last season, could start at nickel back.
The weakside linebacker will be someone new. During spring drills, it’s sophomore John Houston, who played mostly on special teams last season. Defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu is a true freshman but the coaches inserted him into starting lineup during Saturday’s scrimmage.
It’s also worth noting the kicker is currently freshman Michael Brown, with starter Matt Boermeester suspended after an incident involving a female student. Imagine a game coming down to the little-used Brown next year?
And this does not even consider the wide receivers, who are inexperienced following the departure of starters JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers.
USC might have a lot of young wide receivers, but right now only Velus Jones and Michael Pittman have stood out among the group. Jones’ strength is his speed and he will probably return kickoffs. Pittman, who is 6-foot-4, is more of a possession receiver so far.
This is a stat to ponder: Quarterback Sam Darnold’s thrown six interceptions in six spring practices. He threw two in roughly 70 spring/summer training camp practices prior to March.
If Darnold threw interceptions at a similar rate next season, Clay Helton won’t look like such a good coach.
Senior safety Chris Hawkins said Darnold’s been special since the first day he arrived at USC and offered a quote that might be hard to forget.
“When Sam was on the scout team (as a freshman), he killed us,” Hawkins said. “He was different. He killed (fellow freshman quarterback) Ricky Town. That’s nothing against Ricky. He didn’t take showers with us, but he was cool.”
One complaint you can expect to hear next season is that USC does not have a bye. When former USC coach Pete Carroll showed up on campus Wednesday, Helton discussed the longer NFL season with Carroll for tips on playing 12 straight weeks.
Among the former USC players who attended Saturday’s practice were wide receiver Mike Williams, quarterback Matt Barkley, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, defensive tackle Shaun Cody, linebacker Keith Rivers, fullback Sam Cunningham and wide receiver John Jackson.
Jackson’s son, also named John, is batting .789 for the Serra High of Gardena baseball team.
Safety Ykili Ross was a highly regarded player at Riverside Poly but nearly invisible the past two seasons at USC. Ross is finally garnering some attention this spring and is currently backing up Hawkins and Marvell Tell.
The fastest 40-yard dash run by a USC player was by wide receiver Isaac Whitney (4.41 seconds). Whitney barely edged out cornerback Adoree’ Jackson’s 4.42.
“He owes me $20,000,” Whitney said. “That was the bet.”
When Whitney finished his 40, an NFC assistant coach asked, “Why didn’t he play more?”
Whitney caught only three passes for 32 yards.
West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin were the only schools to win 10 football games and make the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. USC came close but lost in the Round of 32 to Baylor. Among those four schools, Wisconsin averaged 17,286 fans at basketball games; West Virginia 11,375 and Michigan: 11,122. USC averaged 5,755 per game.