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The Sports Report: Five questions USC must answer in training camp

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2018, file photo, Southern California head coach Clay Helton leads his team o
Clay Helton leads the Trojans onto the field last season.
(Timothy J. Gonzalez / Associated Press)

Howdy, my name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to the news.

USC

Welcome our new USC football reporter, Ryan Kartje (I don’t know how to pronounce it either. I think it’s RYE-AN) by reading his story on the five questions USC must answer during training camp. Here’s an excerpt:

“Clay Helton had no choice but to own it. He understood the damage a 5-7 season had done at USC. He knew that his seat at the helm of one of college football’s premier programs was hotter than perhaps anywhere else in America. There was no sense in hiding from any of that.

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“When you have a 5-7 season, you’re going to hear it,” Helton said at Pac-12 media day. “And it’s deserved. It’s well-deserved.”

“Helton has heard plenty of criticism over the course of a long, depressing offseason, and until the Trojans prove themselves in a down Pac-12 conference picture, he’s sure to hear plenty more. But as Helton enters a make-or-break campaign at USC, with his job very much in jeopardy, the Trojans have the talent to make a major turnaround, if his staff can make the necessary adjustments.

“Helton has done his best to make those changes. He hired an offensive coordinator with a radically different approach. He preached accountability all spring, stunning his players with his uncharacteristic seriousness. Those adjustments, heading into fall camp, have players believing that 2018 might’ve been just a random blip in the budding career of a great football coach.

“We had one bad year, it happens,” USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. said. “Think of Nick Saban when he was with LSU. Was he the coach he is today? I’m going to say no he wasn’t. Sometimes it happens for you, sometimes it doesn’t. Last season, it just didn’t happen.”

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Here are five questions the Trojans will try to answer during training camp:

When will JT Daniels take the reins (again) at QB?

Will we see top transfers Bru McCoy or Chris Steele?

Will USC’s touted young playmakers make the leap on defense?

Will a lead running back emerge?

Can USC weather big changes up front?

More reading:

A new, simpler offense gives USC hope it can rebound

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UCLA

Meanwhile over in Bruins camp, Ben Bolch sends in his report. Here’s an excerpt:

“Darnay Holmes and Kyle Philips were outnumbered as they lingered on the edge of the end zone to field punts.

“Everywhere they looked stood a UCLA newcomer.

There were Keegan Jones and Christian Grubb, freshman running backs. Nearby was Jaylen Erwin, a junior college transfer receiver. Completing the group of punt returners was Charles Njoku, a freshman receiver.

It was a similar story with the quarterbacks. Returners Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Austin Burton flung passes Thursday morning alongside freshmen Chase Griffin, Chase Artopoeus and Colson Yankoff.

“The Bruins opened training camp this week with 48 newcomers -- 42 freshmen and six transfers. The expectation is that many will contribute immediately. Even though the team features 10 returning starters on defense and eight on offense, coach Chip Kelly is known for rotating players frequently. Last season, he played a school-record 21 true freshmen.

“The numbers will tell you that some of those young kids are going to have to play because we don’t have a lot of older kids at certain positions,” Kelly said Thursday before practice. “Those kids are going to have to get on the field.”

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More reading:

UCLA gets verbal commitment from Arizona offensive lineman

Dodgers

You can exhale now, Dodgers fans. The great “Joc Pederson at first base” experiment is over.

“We’ve given him an opportunity, and this is something that Joc was asking for,” manager Dave Roberts said. “So for us to oblige and give him that runway . . . to give him an opportunity to see how he looks.”

Pederson made six errors at first base and generally looked as comfortable as a baby deer on roller skates.

“He’s worked his tail off to get better over there,” Roberts said. “So I really applaud him.”

Cody Bellinger will shift from right field to play first base against right-handed starting pitchers. Roberts has said he avoided playing Bellinger at first base earlier because he feared Bellinger would re-injure his right shoulder. He has dislocated the shoulder multiple times, most recently May 4 against the Padres.

“Talked to Cody and he’s done a great job keeping his shoulder healthy, getting it strong,” Roberts said.

More reading:

Clayton Kershaw tops Sandy Koufax in strikeouts, Will Smith hits grand slam in Dodgers’ win

Dylan Hernandez: Despite struggle, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen remaining upbeat in ability

Odds and ends

Column: Sports leagues will need to revisit cannabis rules as more states legalize weed…. Column: Fewer California high school students are playing football…. Rams’ Eric Weddle recalls lessons learned playing with Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers…. NFL’s Hall of Fame game: Vic Fangio coaches after kidney stone issue, Denver wins…. Forward Patrick Patterson is expected to sign with the Clippers…. Geoff Rowley’s daring stunt at Staples Center is immortalized with statue…. Melvin Gordon’s holdout has allowed Chargers’ Justin Jackson and Austin Ekeler more practice time…. College football 2019: Games that could decide the College Football Playoff field…. Angels promote top prospect Jo Adell to triple-A Salt Lake…. Pro wrestling legend Harley Race dead at 76…. Rams’ Aaron Donald ranked No. 1 by peers in NFL’s ‘Top 100 Players of 2019'…. Olympic skater Ashley Wagner says she was sexually assaulted at 17 by another skater…. Candace Parker comes back and powers Sparks over the Aces.

Other newsletters

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Our Dodgers newsletter, written by me. Subscribe here.

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Soccer newsletter, written by Kevin Baxter. Subscribe here.

Today’s local major sports schedule

San Diego at Dodgers, 7 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Angels at Cleveland, 4 p.m., FSW, AM 830

Born on this date

1937: Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon

1960: Figure skater Linda Fratianne

1966: Baseball player Tim Wakefield

1967: Tennis player Aaron Krickstein

1969: NBA player Cedric Ceballos

Died on this date

1979: Baseball player Thurman Munson, 32

And finally

The Thurman Munson memorial tribute at Yankee Stadium. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email us here. If you want to subscribe, click here.


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