Spring practice has come and gone. So we’re taking a look at each team’s position groups and projecting them as being in either “Great shape,” “Good shape” or “We’ll see.” Remember that the last category isn’t necessarily bad. It means what it says ... we’ll see.
Up next are the Pac-12 South division’s defensive backs.
UCLA: The biggest spring news for the Bruins was cornerback Ishmael Adams’ move to wide receiver. The Bruins -- already returning their entire secondary from last season, which happened to rank first in the league against the pass – are set in the defensive backfield. Top-end players like Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios return, as does corner Fabian Moreau -- regarded as one of the top defensive backs in the country before being lost for the season last year with an injury. This is a talented and experienced group with a track record of production.
USC: Arguably the best lockdown tandem in the conference resides in Troy with Adoree’ Jackson -- one of the nation’s most exciting players -- on one side and freshman All-American Iman Marshall on the other. They are joined by both returning safeties from last season in Chris Hawkins (who missed spring recovering from ankle surgery) and John Plattenburg. Leon McQuay (who could push for a starting job) and Marvell Tell III add starting experience and depth to the group. The group is loaded with athleticism -- so they get the “great shape” label. But they’ll have to improve on last year’s numbers where the Trojans allowed 25 passing touchdowns (8th in the league) while quarterbacks completed 63 percent of their throws against them (ninth in the league).
Utah: The headliner of this group (and there could be more than one) is free safety Marcus Williams, who was a first-team all-league pick last season after posting 66 tackles and a team-high five interceptions. Flanking him are returning cornerbacks Dominique Hatfield and Reginald Porter. Also returning is nickel back Justin Thomas. The Utes are loaded on the front line and loaded in the defensive backfield. Linebacker remains the only real defensive question mark heading into the fall.
Colorado: Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (84 tackles, 12 for a loss, nine passes defended) is the leader of the defensive backfield after an all-conference season last year. He should enter 2016 as a Thorpe Award candidate. Isaiah Oliver came out of spring as the second corner, with several on the coaching staff calling him the breakout player of the spring session. Returners Ryan Moeller and Tedric Thompson are set at the safety spots, and look for Afolabi Laguda as the No. 1 nickel back.
Arizona: Much like we’re taking a wait-and-see approach to the linebackers, the secondary will also depend on whether the Wildcats base in a four- or five-DB set. Cornerback Dane Cruikshank had a strong spring, as did returner DaVonte’ Neal. Jace Whittaker and Sammy Morrison both have some starting experience. Jarvis McCall has moved from corner to safety, and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles saw some time as a true freshman last season. Anthony Mariscal, who redshirted a year ago, also had a strong spring. Going forward, we’ll need to keep an eye on the situation with Tellas Jones, who missed spring practice for violating team rules and his status remains a question.
Arizona State: The big spring move was the decision to shift Viliami Moeakiola from linebacker to safety. He’s widely regarded as a team leader and the staff wanted to give him more responsibilities as a field commander. Along with Armand Perry and Kareem Orr, the Sun Devils feel good about the safety spots. Gump Hayes, along with JC transfers Maurice Chandler and J’Marcus Rhodes will fill out the corner spots and they are hopeful incoming freshman Robbie Robinson can help as well. Don’t be surprised, either, to see wide receiver Tim White playing some corner on third down or as a nickel. There are pieces in place, but not enough yet to bump them out of the "we'll see" category.