Spring practices provides fresh start for Helton, USC offense

USC Trojans head football coach Clay Helton, in a file photo appearing at a Dec. 30, 2016 Rose Bowl Game press conference, is optimistic about his current team. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

With one week of 2019 spring practices in the books at USC, head coach Clay Helton and the Trojans are focused on leaving a tumultuous 2018 season in the past. A fresh calendar flip, new offensive coordinator and open quarterback competition have USC optimistic for what’s ahead.

“We have identified and addressed the lessons we learned from last season,” said Helton. “Now it’s time to move on to prepare this team for the 2019 season and the very demanding schedule we will face.”  

Forgetting 2018 will be easier said than done, a season that was anything but normal for USC.

The Trojans failed to live up to a storied history that includes 11 national championships, 34 bowl victories and 15 pro football hall of famers, finishing the season with a 5-7 overall record. Last season marked USC’s first losing campaign and the school’s first bowl-less-non-sanction year since 2000, including back-to-back defeats to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

Despite the adversity, Helton survived the offseason and now enters his fourth season as USC’s head coach.

“We know we have to live with last season until Game 1 kicks off,” said Helton.

Elsewhere on Helton’s staff, major shakeup occurred. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin, defensive backs coach Ronnie Bradford and defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze are all gone. First-year quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis left the program to become the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.

The Trojans initially hired Kliff Kingsbury to replace Martin as offensive coordinator, but Kingsbury left the program just one month later to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Once the dust settled, USC landed North Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell to assume the same roles. Harrell commanded back-to-back top 25 offenses while at North Texas and runs an air raid offense similar to Kingsbury’s.

While quarterback JT Daniels returns for his sophomore season, Helton’s made it clear players in every position are in open competitions for starting spots. Redshirt junior Matt Fink, redshirt sophomore Jack Sears, and true freshman Kedon Slovis highlight the competition to challenge Daniels for the quarterback position.

Helton said, “You see those quarterbacks they are having a blast. They all understood that with a new system comes a new competition and that’s the beauty of SC and the kids that we bring in here.”

Through the first three spring practices, Daniels, Fink, and Sears have thrown no interceptions. Slovis tossed one, but Helton is content with how the group has progressed early on.

“I’m seeing no confusion whatsoever by all the quarterbacks right now,” said Helton. “They are getting the balls in the right place.”

Daniels started 11 games in 2018, throwing for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns at a 59.5 percent clip. Fink replaced an injured Daniels in USC’s loss at Utah and completed 7-of-9 passes before breaking his ribs. Sears threw two touchdowns in place of Daniels and Fink against Arizona State. Slovis, who graduated from Desert Mountain High School (Scottsdale, AZ) early to enroll at USC for spring practice, collected 2,500 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year.

Helton said, “There’s always going to be great players here. In the real world, whether it’s this level or the next and in my opinion, this is the closest thing to the NFL, you’re going to have to compete on a daily basis and you’ll have to fight for your job on a daily basis.”

Blake Atwell
About Blake Atwell 46 Articles
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and freshman at Santa Monica College. For the past two summers, he’s worked at the Los Angeles Times as a multimedia intern with the Times’ youth journalism platform, HS Insider. Blake is in his first season covering UCLA football, USC basketball & more with News4usonline.com.

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