At this moment in the spring ball season, USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is hesitant to name any standout players, or even to judge a player’s ability before he puts on pads.
What he can pinpoint, though, is the culture he wants to build.
“For us, it’s tough, disciplined, united,” Orlando said. “What we’re trying to preach is that every day you come in there, it’s fourth-and-inches and game on the line. If you train that way and maybe you fall short of doing A-plus work and it’s an A, well it’s way better than a B. If you get enough people doing that, then you can hold up that trophy at the end of the year.”
Developing that culture could be a catalyst for improvements head coach Clay Helton said he is hoping to see from the Trojans’ defense this season: increased efficiency in third-down situations and more opportunities to create turnovers.
In 2020, USC recorded nine interceptions, recovered seven fumbles and forced another three.
The defense returns starters at eight positions, but loses safety Talanoa Hufanga, who led the team in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles.
“We’re taking time out of practice to just focus more on getting to the ball at all times,” said inside linebacker Kana’i Mauga, who had one interception last season. “No matter where, if you’re near or far. For five yards, a five-yard burst to the ball. It’ll work on 11-man to the ball.”
Mauga is one of two returners at inside linebacker, and the outside linebacker position has talent in Drake Jackson, who had 20 tackles, a sack and an interception last season.
Still, out of up to six individual periods during spring ball, Orlando has mandated that at least one of the periods is centered around creating turnovers, whether the drill is focused on strip sacks or interceptions.
“Really, at the end of the day, whatever you emphasize is what you get,” Orlando said. “So if you keep talking about it and you keep drilling it, eventually it will happen. And then sometimes it just pours, you know, they just keep coming, which is a good thing.”
Orlando estimates he’ll have the best scope of what his players can do by the end of the second scrimmage – in roughly three weeks. Although he’s reluctant to judge them barely a week into spring ball, he gleaned some details based on winter workouts.
“A lot of these guys are going to get opportunities because they’ve had great winter workouts, but until you put the pads on, you really have to reserve judgment,” he said. “In this day and age, you’re not threatened by somebody hitting you as hard as they can, it’s easy to play, but as we move forward on this, as we get into Saturday … put the pads on … That’s when these guys will start to separate themselves.”
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