With nine spring practices in the books and six left to go, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what is being accomplished this spring.
On the positive side, the development of the secondary has been notable in terms of how many players have shown growth in their game. The results have been revealed with increased depth.
Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour are a very good set of starting cornerbacks with Jackson making a strong claim to being the best player on the field during spring drills and Seymour being an established veteran. John Plattenburg has really opened some eyes as one starting safety with his maturity and physical presence. One of the more interesting scenarios has involved the way the coaches have used Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett, who came to USC as cornerbacks but have alternated between safety and cornerback this spring. Hawkins in particular is looking more and more comfortable in the role as the coaches have made it clear the abundance of passing attacks the Trojans face demands that the safeties are often involved in pass coverage, which requires corner-like skills. And don’t forget Leon McQuay, who needs to be more consistent but offers such a lanky physical presence that he definitely figures to be in the rotation. That is a solid six-deep group that only figures to get better in the fall when guys like Iman Marshall are added to the mix.
On the offensive side of the ball, the depth along the line is very promising. Not only do all five starters return from the lineup that ended the season, but there is a sixth starter, Chad Wheeler, who is expected to return in the fall. The group is led by senior awards candidate Max Tuerk at center, and he is surrounded by a lot of talent, including a reserve group that is much better than anything the Trojans have seen in recent years. The line must prove its progress on the field, especially with the presence of a new position coach, but if you are basing things on what we’re seeing this spring, there is genuine reason to be optimistic about where things are headed.
As always, there are areas of concern, though many can be attributed to the lack of available spring bodies, a situation that will ideally be rectified at fall camp.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the front seven. The Trojans are missing a pair of senior starters in Antwaun Woods (chest) and Anthony Sarao (foot), so getting them back in fall will make a big difference. But they are not the only players missing right now as Greg Townsend, Kenny Bigelow and Jabari Ruffin have all been limited. There are also several incoming freshman who could get in the mix. The good news for now is that Su'a Cravens is back and looking stronger than ever, and there have been encouraging performances from guys like Lamar Dawson and Scott Felix.
The situation at tight end has been well-documented, with the absence and uncertain status of Bryce Dixon. Without knowing the details of why he is not with the team, it’s hard to judge his potential to rejoin in the fall, but his talent as a pass-catcher is undeniable. The Trojans have been forced to work with only one scholarship tight end, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, and he has been up and down as he returns from a year off following an academic suspension. Connor Spears is a capable walk-on, and there is more help on the way this fall with incoming freshman Tyler Petite and transfer Taylor McNamara.
The depth worries are also present at tailback, with only one scholarship player (Justin Davis) available for full-time duty. The good news is Davis looks recovered from an ankle injury, and he’s shown a lot of progress as a receiving option. Tre Madden has been very limited because of rehab from his turf toe, but all signs point to him being ready in the fall. That has meant a lot of tailback work this spring for Soma Vainuku, and Jahleel Pinner to a lesser extent, and that could pose an interesting option as both fullbacks know what to do with the ball in their hands. Vainuku offers a 270-pound presence, and you get the sense the coaches are getting more comfortable with the thought of him playing a bigger role. There is also a good walk-on in James Toland, and a trio of incoming freshmen who will arrive in the fall.