Starting your first full-time coaching job over Zoom is less than ideal. That was the situation new USC tight ends coach John David Baker found himself in this spring and summer after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Baker knew that spending too much time on the offense, which is simple in nature, would get redundant. So he spent much of the position group Zooms on getting to know his players, and letting them know more about him, as a way to make up for the natural bonding they couldn’t do on campus.
It was less than ideal. But, as his players learned, Baker used to be an elementary and middle school P.E. teacher. And it’s an easy choice to coach via Zoom coaching over returning to those roots.
“Any day of the week,” Baker deadpanned on his Zoom press conference Tuesday. “I spent half of a semester in elementary P.E., which was an absolute nightmare for me, and the other half of the semester I spent at a middle school, which was even worse because it was about the time middle school kids were getting cell phones.”
Instead, Baker is now tasked with making the tight-end group a consistent option in USC’s passing game.
Tight ends accounted for only 3.3% of USC’s receiving yards in 2019. Increasing that market share is the goal for the position group this year, senior Erik Krommenhoek said.
“We haven’t gotten as many balls the last two years as we’ve wanted to,” he said. “I’m excited. I think we’re going to get a lot more opportunities on that outside than we have in the past. Got to make the most of those opportunities and do our best to catch some touchdowns and help our team out.”
Krommenhoek spent part of the summer working out with Browns tight end Austin Hooper, picking his mind about routes and run blocking. He also watched film of NFL stars George Kittle and Travis Kelce, noting their ability to break tackles and get yards after the catch.
This training camp is about the tight ends finding ways to be effective and to make it impossible to deny that they deserve to be on the field for passing downs.
“To me, you see it show up in critical situations, whether it be in a scrimmage, in practice, on a third-down situation, where everything is even, and all of a sudden, the quarterback is looking our way,” Baker said. “I understand that if that’s the case, the quarterback trusts our guys, trusts our tight ends to make a play, and up until this point, our guys have made those plays.”
While Krommenhoek provides the leadership, fellow senior Josh Falo is playing himself back into shape after missing part of the offseason. And redshirt freshman Jude Wolfe has been impressive by all accounts.
“He’s extremely coachable. We’ll be sitting in a position meeting, and I’ll tell him, ‘Hey, you need to do this, exactly like this,’” Baker said of Wolfe, “and 30 minutes later, we’re on the practice field, and the same situation comes up and, bam, he fixes it. That’s impressive for a young guy.”