USC receiver Deontay Burnett continues to bloom in spring practice

After USC’s football practice ended on Saturday, Coach Clay Helton grabbed receiver Deontay Burnett and wrapped his arm around him.

"I just used him as an example of what a Trojan should be,” Helton said. “Right now, he's just a shut-up-and-work guy."

The departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers makes Burnett the only major contributor remaining at receiver. The Trojans are counting on him to become a legitimate No. 1 option, which makes his development in the spring important.

So far, it has proceeded almost flawlessly. Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Tee Martin said Burnett had missed a total of only three assignments — a very low total over many repetitions. He had yet to drop a pass. At the time, he’d caught 35 of 35 passes in teams drills. And he didn’t drop one over the next two practices.

“He seems to catch everything,” Helton said.

Burnett started the final six games last season at slot receiver after Steven Mitchell Jr. tore ligaments in his knee. He had a breakout game in the Rose Bowl, when he caught 13 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, including the score-tying reception late in the fourth quarter. Before that performance, he hadn’t caught for more than 100 yards in a game.

Burnett is somewhat undersized, at 6-feet-tall and 170 pounds. (Helton acknowledged that “he may be the smallest horse in the stable. But he makes the biggest impact.") His stature fits in the slot position. But USC heavily used sets with two tight ends and one running back last season, meaning the slot receiver wasn’t on the field.

Helton said that Burnett is capable of playing both inside and outside this season. In practice, he has remained on the field even in two-receiver sets.

That should provide quarterback Sam Darnold some stability as he works in new pass catchers.

"The chemistry between him and Sam now is amazing,” Helton said.

After some connections this spring, Helton said, the coaches were “all looking at each other going, 'Whoa.'"

Katoa injured

Freshman linebacker Tayler Katoa will require surgery after injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during practice on Thursday. He is expected to miss next season.

“Usually that's about a nine-month process,” Helton said.

Katoa, an early enrollee, was not in position to start next season, but he did add needed depth at linebacker. In high school in Salt Lake City, he was a versatile athlete. He played quarterback in addition to linebacker and defensive lineman.


Near the end of practice, Darnold eluded the rush, shuffled to his left and then hurled a sidearm fastball through two defenders for a touchdown. "I've always thought he's got a little bit of Favre in him, to be honest with you,” Helton said afterward. He added: "Not to say Sam's at that level yet. But he has those type of attributes." … About 400 coaches attended USC’s coaching clinic on Friday and Saturday. … Freshman receiver Tyler Vaughns had "by far his best practice” on Saturday, Helton said. He made several diving catches in traffic.

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