No matter who wins the USC quarterback competition, the Trojans are going to be rolling out a guy making his first start on Sept. 1 against Nevada Las Vegas. Tyler Petite has spent this off-season and fall camp making one thing abundantly clear to JT Daniels, Jack Sears and Matt Fink: He is here to help.
As a senior tight end who has the most experience of any USC pass catcher, he is uniquely qualified to lend them his hands. And through two weeks of his final fall camp, it sure seems as though they’re starting to listen.
“Before, I would maybe get one catch every few practices,” Petite said. “But the last two or three practices, I have combined for like seven or eight catches, which is great for me. I obviously want to catch balls, but the point is helping the team and being available to our guys when they’re in distress.”
Petite caught 23 passes last season for 307 yards and three touchdowns, but it seemed that Sam Darnold was looking his way less often as the year went on and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe emerged. Petite had just four catches in the last five games. With Imatorbhebhe still not taking part in contact drills — USC coach Clay Helton said Wednesday that he’s felt his lower-body injury flare up — Petite will be expected to step forward.
“Something I always try to relay to the quarterbacks is they are inexperienced,” Petite said, “and as much as I would love to say that they’re going to have perfect command of the game, they’re going to make some mistakes. You can do it in practice all the time, but once you get in that Coliseum, it’s completely different. I just tell them, make sure you go through your reads, do everything you would normally do, take a deep breath and throw me the ball.”
Helton said that last season USC added more plays in which the tight end is a first-read option for the quarterback. He takes the uptick in targets for the tight ends in this camp as a good sign about the way Daniels, Sears and Fink are going about their business.
“I credit the quarterbacks,” Helton said. “They’re taking what the defense is giving them. They’re not keying in on one particular guy. They’re seeing the matchups, and you know how it is: When you play a two-high coverage, and you’re getting that tight end matched up on that [middle] linebacker, that’s a win for us.”
Plenty of picks
The roar of a defensive sideline in celebration became a pattern at practice Thursday as defenders intercepted pass after pass from the three quarterbacks during two-minute drills.
Helton attributed the interceptions to poor decision-making under a time crunch. But that was the point of the drill, Helton said. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast tested the quarterbacks with high-pressure plays to prepare them for intense in-game moments.
“That’s what we’ve designed these practices to do is to try to make it as hard on the quarterbacks as we can,” Helton said. “We feel that’s gonna progress them the best way, not make it easy on them. And there are gonna be some mistakes. That comes with any young quarterback. So I don’t want an easy world right now. We’ll build confidence in football games.”
At 6 p.m, when practice normally ends, the field was long empty. Helton ended the 12th practice of camp early so the team could unwind at the pool.
The seniors stood in spandex on a multi-story platform that towered over the practice field’s wall, where one by one they jumped into the pool to cheers from underclassmen. For several of the seniors, it was their first time leaping off a platform that high.
“It’s been a great camp,” Helton said. “We got Salute to Troy [on Friday] and then a live scrimmage on Saturday, so we allowed the kids to have a little fun and swim in the pool.”
Cameron Smith (hamstring) will not play in Saturday’s scrimmage, but Helton said the linebacker is making progress. He did seven-on-seven drills and individual work on Thursday, but no live action. Helton’s goal is for Smith to return by mock game week. “He’s feeling really good,” Helton said. “We’re having to kind of try to hold him back right now.” Chase Williams and Erik Krommenhoek (hamstring) returned to practice, but Clayton Bradley (back) and Austin Jackson (ankle) did not participate.