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Drake London looks to play an important, and still evolving, role for USC

USC receiver Drake London pulls in a catch Nov. 23 at the Coliseum.
USC receiver Drake London pulls in a catch against UCLA on Nov. 23 at the Coliseum.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Looking back on the talented young USC wideouts he’s coached, Clay Helton can remember the moments when everything finally clicked. For Robert Woods, it took all of one game. For Nelson Agholor, it took until the seventh week of his freshman season, when he reeled in 162 yards in a loss to Oregon.

For Drake London, that moment arrived in a clutch seven-catch performance in Colorado last season. The freshman caught a touchdown in each of the Trojans’ five remaining games, trailing only Michael Pittman Jr. in total receiving yards during the season’s second half.

“Everything slowed down for Drake,” Helton said. “You could see it in his eyes.”

On the doorstep of his sophomore season, a more confident London now has that gaze trained on an even bigger breakout campaign. He spent his quarantined summer focused on getting faster, playing more physically and tightening up his route running. He studied Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans — for his physicality — and New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas — for his hands.

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Todd Orlando, USC’s new offensive coordinator, didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop him from getting his players ready for the new season.

During the first week of training camp, USC’s coaches say the results have been apparent.

“Drake London is as talented a player as I’ve been around,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “If we want to win at the level that we think we’re capable of winning at this year, he’s going to play a large role in that.”

Exactly how that role might evolve remains to be seen. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound London has lined up primarily in the slot during camp, and on Wednesday, Harrell said his ability to exploit matchups from that spot was comparable to “elite tight ends in the NFL.”

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“If you put someone small on him he can manhandle them, and he’s just bigger,” Harrell said. “And if you put someone big on him, he’s too athletic.”

London won’t be putting his hand in the dirt as an in-line tight end anytime soon, though Harrell believes he could, if called upon. But the versatility he brings as a hybrid option in the slot makes him a vital weapon in a passing offense that must replace its leading receiver from a season ago.

“He’s going to be a key part of what we do,” Harrell said, “and he’s going to have to elevate his game to an even higher level.”

Line battle

In the early stages of its competition along the offensive line, USC has so far leaned on experience.

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At offensive guard, where both spots are still up for grabs, that’s given redshirt senior Liam Jimmons and redshirt junior Andrew Vorhees an early advantage. In the first week of camp, they’ve combined with Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jalen McKenzie and Brett Neilon to form a first-team unit made up of linemen with at least three years of experience in the program.

There are a lot of questions about how the Trojans’ offensive line will perform, but having Brett Neilon at center and Alijah Vera-Tucker at left tackle should help.

For Jimmons, though, that experience has amounted to just two starts, the same total as redshirt sophomore Justin Dedich, who’s also competing to start at offensive guard. Redshirt sophomore Liam Douglass, the other guard battling for a starting spot, has played in just three games, with zero starts.

“We have this great blend of upper-level experience and talent,” Helton said, “and right behind it is some young kids who will really be needed this year to contribute.”

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Etc.

After dealing with a hamstring injury at the start of training camp, redshirt freshman wideout Bru McCoy has been “cut loose” in practice, Helton said. … Edge rusher Drake Jackson continues to be held out with a hamstring injury. … USC will hold a morning scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday, as well as the two following Saturdays, to prepare for its 9 a.m. kickoff against Arizona State on Nov. 7.


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