Spring ball can often be a time of experimentation with personnel decisions and schematic changes, but first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian has also brought a unique approach to his teaching methods.
Among the areas that Sarkisian wanted to emphasize this spring for the Trojans was an immediate introduction to the up-tempo style, the installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball and the desire to have any injured player healthy by the time fall camp rolls around in August.
With the new up-tempo style, the Trojans are running more plays in practice. They ran 120 on the first day of spring compared to an average of 80 or so per day during the Pete Carroll era. There are quotas in place for each period of how many plays need to be run and there is no stoppage between plays to huddle with the coaches -- it is a game-time environment where things are moving at all times.
For the installations, Sarkisian is using walk-through teaching periods as a key element of his plan. The timing of these periods is also designed to mimic game conditions, as a game is a series of high-paced plays followed by working with a coach on the sidelines to review what took place on the field.
“We don’t have time to critique our players between plays, and it’s designed that way,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why you see the walk-through periods at different stages during practice. Most people do that teaching before practice but we break them up into three periods within practice and we call them teaching periods. We take the time to try and fix some of the errors that we saw during the team periods. It’s a little different way of teaching but I think it’s a way to grab the players' attention and I think they respond to it well.”
There are also morning walk-throughs before each practice, which can feature as many as 100 plays in each session.
"The coaches are doing a great job with walk-throughs and meetings,” USC tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen said. “With a walk-through in the morning we're able to fix mistakes for practice that afternoon. A lot of guys learn better in that setting and it translates quickly to the field.”
Getting that kind of teaching done when installing a new offense and a new defense is critical. One bonus that comes with it is the ability to allow the injured players to be more involved, both mentally and physically, in the walk-through portions of practice.
"I think our communication is much better, especially defensively. We've put in a lot of offense and a lot of defense and those two things mashing together can be challenging," Sarkisian said. "I think we are really benefiting from the walk-throughs, one, at practice, but two, the 20 guys that can't practice right now are getting such valuable reps."
With the USC roster numbers still somewhat limited during the final year of NCAA sanctions, this approach by Sarkisian is a good example of the former quarterback evaluating his options and developing a plan to accomplish his goals for spring.