WEDNESDAY MORNING GHOST NOTES (SPECIAL TEAMS)

WEDNESDAY MORNING GHOST NOTES (SPECIAL TEAMS)

  • GHOST NOTES 10/28

    This morning we are joined by new USC special teams coach Sean Snyder as well as redshirt junior kicker Chase McGrath and redshirt senior long snapper Damon Johnson. Snyder is in his office wearing what appears to be a black USC jacket over a white and cardinal polo.

    - Snyder believes USC’s fall camp has gone really well overall with the offensive, defensive and special teams installs going smooth, which has led to the pace of practices really starting to pick up. The Trojans’ effort and attention has been terrific. “They want to be great at what they’re doing.”

    - He says it’s been awesome to work with the USC specialists and that they’re doing a great job. He believes their consistency is improving each day. McGrath and Johnson are “just solid as can be,” but he says punter Ben Griffiths “has really flourished a lot. He’s doing really, really well.” (He’ll have more to say about Griffiths later…)

    - Snyder laments not having a spring camp and some more time to get the timing down, but he thinks guys are starting to get in sync. He has kept things pretty simple: “I want to be fundamentally sound. I want us to be able to go out there and execute at a fast pace and high level. I don’t want guys to have to overprocess, overthink things.”
    - Guys have a lot of stuff going on right now, going through their heads, particularly with a new defense being installed. So Snyder has kept it pretty basic, focusing on getting down fundamentals (“how we’re punching, how we’re stepping”) and scheme right now and then he plans to start going in and adding stuff each week as he gameplans for the next opponent, starting with getting things set for Arizona State starting this week.
    - They’re not asking the players to do a bunch of different stuff, but will be able to add some different variations and adjustments as the season progresses. “My goal is to be able to bend and mold what we’re doing to the teams we’re playing against” each week.
    - A lot of things that will go in over course of season and that will give some variation but at end of day, responsibilities are going to be similar to what is asked each and every day.

    - No returners have been named yet. Snyder says Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a staple back there. Olaijah Griffin, Tyler Vaughns, Stephen Carr also mentioned as returners. Trying to get sorted through what are the best combinations of returners. (Will be interesting to see if Gary Bryant has time to get back in the mix, depending on when he gets healthy.)

    - Snyder says the Covid-19 restrictions this year have forced him to challenge himself in creativity more than he’s ever had to in his career, particularly when USC was separated into defense and offense due to the max cohorts of 6-12 people.
    - He says they installed the units that were mostly defensive guys -- kickoff (not sure if he meant kickoff and kickoff return or not), punt, punt return -- by putting guys in the spots they would be if they were to wind up on the unit so players could get idea of scheme and what it looks like. Did similarly for the offense, but focused more on punt and kickoff return. Says it was kind of like putting a skeleton in and then having to put it all together once camp began, but positive was that there was retention when they got to camp, so they weren’t starting from scratch.
    - Now they just have to get the timing down and get in sync on each individual unit. He was really pleased with Tuesday’s practice and feels they were able to get through everything he wants to get through.

    - In the talk of creativity, Snyder says that defensive players take up the majority of special teams. It’s an interesting comment after six of USC’s top 11 special teams participants (by total snap count) last year were offensive players (7 of the top 11 average snaps per game were offensive).

    - Damon Johnson appears super relaxed despite this being perhaps his first media scrum interview sessions. He’s got one shoulder thrown back on his chair as he sits in his white USC pullover. Asked about his perspective on the unconventional experience this year, Johnson says the team has been more united by all the obstacles. Everyone appreciates the game a little bit more and excited to get the ball rolling in a couple weeks

    - Chase McGrath has a vertical feed from his phone. He is wearing a gray hoodie with his hair parted. He concurs with Johnson and adds that after being in their own bubbles of offense, defense and special teams, it was “pretty awesome” to get back together as a full team and that they “feel way more close knit.”

    - McGrath and Johnson describe what their individual quarantine training looked like. McGrath, who obviously needs goal posts to practice, got kicked off a few fields trying to practice during the quarantine. “I guess someone would make a call” and then he’d get told not be there. He was finding work where he could get it.
    - Johnson went old school. He and his father tied a tire to a tree branch and snapped through it similar to a quarterback throwing through a tire swing. “I just had to find ways to find targets.” Says it was definitely an adjustment not having the normal resources during the offseason.

    - Johnson is able to define success, in part, but McGrath’s performance: “If he’s having a good year, I like to take credit for it.” Feels he’s done a good job of being consistent with his snaps for Chase.
    - The question to Johnson included asking him what it’s like being perfect, which Johnson denies saying there’s games he hasn’t been pleased with himself, including the Friday night game at Washington State his freshman year, which he later says was “kind of my only game I would say was imperfect.” … “In long snapping, you don’t want to be in the limelight of being mentioned...I think I’ve done a pretty good job with that.”
    - McGrath doesn’t ever remember Damon giving him a bad snap and said it makes a world of difference knowing the snap and hold are going to be there every time: “All I need to do is focus on my job.”

    - How different is what Snyder is asking the special teams units to do this year? He doesn’t want to look in the rearview mirror and compare. “I’ve come out and tried to just install me and install what I like to see and what I like to do.” He didn’t want to have any preconceived notions about players so didn’t watch much of last year’s film, instead he wanted everyone to have a fresh start.
    - Later adds that the past was a different coaching style, and he didn’t want to bring anything that wasn’t him.
    - Snyder and safeties coach Craig Naivar, who has been a special teams coordinator previously, sit down and compare notes and evaluate what the Trojans are doing. Snyder says he’s pretty open minded with things and always looking for freshness and things that can be better.

    - Snyder is asked about standouts outside of the specialist and returners. The guys making blocks. Says a lot of guys are really starting to come into it: Isaiah Pola-Mao, Talanoa Hufanga, Jayden Williams, Raymond Scott, Bru McCoy, Drake London, John Jackson all get mentioned. Specifically highlights Scott being a recent addition that has started doing good things. Says there are more. Says a lot of them are getting to the point where they are starting to play fast. Says it will click for more guys down the line.

    - Special teams beat writer Shotgun Spratling asks Snyder his philosophy on using starters and if he’s had to adapt with the potential of COVID and restrictions. He says everyone is available, but says he doesn’t want starters on more than two units. Needs guys that will pay attention, that will focus and will watch film in their spare time. He doesn’t need them to watch a ton of special teams film but some just so they know what’s going on. Says he’s aware that starters have other responsibilities with studying film and the defense is learning a new scheme. He’s conscious of that. He wants the guy out there who is getting the job done regardless if they are first-, second- or third-team doesn't matter. They need guys out there that pay attention and play fast.

    - Shotgun follows up with a question about special teams swinging games this year and if he’s seen anything different in prep with everything going on. Says his mentality going back to Kansas State is that special teams have to be a part of the game. Make a big play, do some big things and do some great things. Some teams look at the unit as “let’s get the ball back to the offense” and not screw things up. Says special teams were the difference maker for them at Kansas State. If they didn’t have a big play on ST, they weren’t going to be able to get over the hump against Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. “Whenever there's a stagnant side of the ball, you need something from special teams to be great.”

    - Our own Keely Eure asks Snyder specifically what has Ben Griffiths been improving on. Snyder says he has so much upside and potential in what he can do but he needs consistency. Snyder could see the talent but just a little too inconsistent. He needs to be consistent with hang times, not outkicking the coverage and directional punting. Says they cleaned up Griffith’s footwork and his drop a little bit. Now 9-out-10 or 10-out-10, he’s hitting a good ball. Objective is to get a ball they can cover every time. Want to avoid the “miss hits” that will get them in trouble. “I think the potential he has to do this year is unlimited.” Snyder is really making it hard on Chris Trevino’s 2020 pledge to never buy stock in a punter during camp. (I must stay strong!)

    - McGrath and Johnson are asked to break down their practice schedule. McGrath says he gets there an hour early to hit a few kicks. Then it’s a 25-minute warmup, then 30 minutes of kicking before practice. In practice he has the field goal period and kicking throughout. Says he likes to keep his reps low. Johnson says that early warmup is a dynamic one and then they come together to do full snap kicks. Then Johnson goes with punters to work until practice starts. Sometimes they go work on a separate field (about eight periods) and get in work. Snyder is there and they can get some one-on-one work before meeting up for a special teams period.

    - Final question is if Snyder gets input from his players in the scheme. Says yes and he actually met with a handful of guys last night. Lays out a game where they have install on Monday and by Thursday the players have digested a lot of film. He will bring them in and ask what they are seeing and how they see the best fit for what they are trying to do. “I think that communication is huge, I think that’s important.” If a player does point out something he didn’t see there is still time for Snyder to go back and implement that for the week. He wants players to have ownership of what they are doing. They are the ones out on the field and have to perform. Snyder wants them involved.

    - Clay Helton with be on at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning and Andy Enfield with a couple of players at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.