LOS ANGELES – With the nation’s best quarterback (Sam Darnold) and a sometimes flashy tailback (Ronald Jones), USC’s offense should assure the Trojans of being at least a top 10 team in every preseason poll.
Darnold’s prowess is expected to mask the loss of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the irregular contributions of Adoree’ Jackson. But despite Darnold’s talent, he is experiencing some growing pains with an inexperienced group of wide receivers.
“I think I’m definitely forcing a lot of passes when I shouldn’t be,” Darnold said. “It’s never good when you throw interceptions.”
Darnold has thrown six interceptions in seven spring practices. That is not a remarkable figure. But he is the gold standard because in about 70 previous spring and fall training camp practices, Darnold threw a combined two interceptions.
More important, he needs to develop a relationship with true sophomore receiver Michael Pittman along with redshirt freshmen Velus Jones, Tyler Vaughns and Josh Imatorbhebhe during spring drills.
“It’s not easy to get that (same relationship as with Smith-Schuster),” Darnold said. “I think it’ll come soon. When it does, we will be super explosive.”
Right now, Darnold and Jones are the eye-catching duo on the practice field. Jones is USC’s fastest receiver and caught a 40-yard pass from Darnold in the Trojans’ first scrimmage.
“It’s really on us to make (Darnold) comfortable,” Jones said. “It’s building up. He trusts us in one-on-one coverage.
“We’re building our chemistry. We’re a young wide receiver corps.”
Darnold did not just lose Smith-Schuster. The other starter, Darreus Rogers, also is gone. So are reserves DeQuan Hampton and Isaac Whitney. And junior Steven Mitchell is recovering from torn knee ligaments. The go-to receiver is Deontay Burnett, who many fans were unfamiliar with before the Rose Bowl.
So each spring practice is important to the quarterback and his receivers. The contrarian view is…