Trojans unleash their secret weapon: the tight end

The USC Trojans are looking to make a splash with their air-raid offenses this season with quarterback Kedon Sloivs and Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown, two of the best wide receivers in the country. Both Vaughns and St. Brown are considered serious candidates for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best college wide receiver.

Wide receivers, however, are not the only thing Pac-12 Conference defenses have to worry about this season.  The USC passing offense may have a trick up its sleeve when it comes to this subject.

“I have been really impressed with our tight ends in this camp and how Graham [Harrell] is using them,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. 

The emergence of the tight end for the Trojans is coming from former offensive quality control analyst John David Baker, who was promoted to tight end coach in January. Baker followed the current offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell from North Texas, and between their first and second seasons together in 2016, tight ends accounted for just seven catches.

That is a smaller percentage of the offense than in their first season at USC. In 2017, that total jumped to 31 catches or with USC tight ends accounting for more than 10 percent of the team’s passing offense. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdown of college football right after Baker was given his new position, he was not able to meet with his tight ends and inside receivers until the start of the Trojans’ official camp.

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

“For the first two or three months, we didn’t even talk football on our Zoom calls,” Baker said. “I knew that what we did offensively if we meet over this for the next however long, it’s going to get old. But more importantly, I was missing out on time being around these guys. I needed to know them, and they needed to know me better.”

Those players had to wait for camps opened up to at least meet with Baker face to face in a meeting room to talk football. Although they were separated, he says that his tight end squad should understand how he works in and outside of football.

What is up in the air right now is how effective the tight end will be for the Trojans’ offense. In 2019, the position accounted for 15 receptions or just four percent of the Trojans’ total catches in the field of play.

As Helton has alluded to, he is looking forward to how the tight end will favor them and the players themselves are prepared to take on a bigger role.

“We haven’t gotten as many balls the last two years as we’ve wanted to,” senior tight end Erik Krommenhoek said. “We love being physical, lining up and just running the ball. We’re going to need to do that to be successful this year. But at the same time, like JDB said, we’re not as deep at receiver as we have been. That’s going to be an enhanced role on the offense. I’m excited. I think we’re going to get a lot more opportunities on that outside than we have in the past.” 

USC Trojans summer camp
Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

Krommenhoek spent his summer working out with Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper in hopes of becoming a great pass-catcher, such as the likes of Travis Kelce. As mentioned by Helton, he is excited to see the rising redshirt freshman, Jude Wolfe, play well as he as developed in training camp. 

“Jude Wolfe has really come out of nowhere and provided us some explosive play opportunities down the field,” Helton said.

There is also senior Josh Falo, who was expected to be the lead in the position last season, is slowly getting himself back into condition and into shape as Helton has been preaching all throughout camp.

Whoever comes out as the top man for the job, the coaches all around would be blown away with the progress they have made for the team.

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