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2019 Recruiting Reset: Defense

With fall camp set to start, we take a look at how the current roster is affecting positional needs in the 2019 class on the defensive side of the ball.

 

Defensive line

 

Currently on roster: Malik Dorton (RS SR), Christian Rector (RS JR), Connor Murphy (JR), Caleb Tremblay (JR), Liam Jimmons (RS SO), Brandon Pili (SO), Jacob Lichtenstein (RS FR), Jay Tufele (RS FR), Marlon Tuipulotu (RS FR), Trevor Trout (FR)

How we got here: USC lost a few potential senior leaders along the interior of the line when Noah Jefferson elected to transfer, Jacob Daniel was flipped to the offensive line and Rasheem Green elected to declare early for the NFL Draft. The development of Dorton and Rector has been absolutely vital and will be an important aspect of the line this year, paired with the continued development of what could be a fantastic trio from the 2017 class, in Pili, Tufele and Tuipulotu. Tremblay is one to watch this year as well. USC needed to add another veteran presence to this group and won a tight recruiting battle for the junior college product.

Defensive line commitments: None

Projected commitments for this class: 4

Defensive line targets: Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top prospect in the nation and could fit at several positions along the defensive line. Local defensive ends Stephon Wright and Drake Jackson would be important pieces in this class, and attention in the middle has focused on 350-pound defensive tackle Siaki Ika. Elite defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele didn’t include the Trojans among his top schools, but USC could continue to chase him. Defensive tackle Matthew Pola-Mao and defensive end Treven Ma’ae are on the radar as well.

 

Outside linebacker

 

Currently on roster: Porter Gustin (SR), Oluwole Betiku (JR), Jordan Iosefa (JR), Juliano Falaniko (SO), Hunter Echols (RS FR), Kana’i Mauga (FR), Abdul-Malik McClain (FR), Eli’Jah Winston (FR)

How we got here: Things have progressed nicely at outside linebacker, with Gustin looking like a potential All-America candidate this year. Behind him, it would be great to get something out of the very athletic Betiku, but several unheralded recruits—Iosefa, Falaniko and Mauga—look like they’re ready to see the field regularly and make an impact this fall.

Outside linebacker commitments: None

Projected commitments for this class: 1

Outside linebacker targets: The names to watch here are Laiatu Latu, Josh Pakola and Henry To’oto’o, though Latu and Pakola could likely make the move up to the defensive line.

 

Inside linebacker

 

Currently on roster: Cameron Smith (SR), John Houston Jr. (RS JR), Levi Jones (SO), Palaie Gaoteote (FR), Raymond Scott (FR), Solomon Tuliaupupu (FR)

How we got here: This spot has been a bit fluid as guys have moved from inside to the outside on occasion. The Trojans landed a terrific linebacker class in 2015, with Smith and Houston entrenched as starters. That allowed USC to go light at the position in the 2016 class before grabbing a couple of good ones in 2017—Jones and Tayler Katoa, who will now serve a two-year Mormon mission—and then hitting it out of the park in the 2018 class with the three incoming freshmen.

Inside linebacker commitments: Stanley Taufoou

Projected commitments for this class: 1

Inside linebacker targets: The Trojans did a fantastic job loading up last year when there was some terrific talent at the position. USC got an early commitment from Taufoou, but could be squarely in the mix for Maninoa Tufono when he announces shortly. It will be interesting to see if the Trojans elect to take two here.

 

Cornerback

 

Currently on roster: Ajene Harris (RS SR), Jonathan Lockett (RS SR), Isaiah Langley (SR), Iman Marshall (SR), Dominic Davis (RS JR), Je’Quari Godfrey (RS FR), Greg Johnson (RS FR), Olaijah Griffin (FR), Isaac Taylor-Stuart (FR), Chase Williams (FR)

How we got here: This group could have looked a lot different with the 2017 duo of Jack Jones and Jamel Cook still on the roster. As it is, the Trojans should get plenty of reps from the upper classmen, while youngsters Johnson and Griffin especially should have an opportunity to make an impact this season.

Cornerback commitments: Trey Davis, Chris Steele (pictured above)

Projected commitments for this class: 3

Cornerback targets: Steele was the big target at the position and the Trojans have him in the fold—a big plus because of both his talent and recruiting ability. Davis was a surprise when he committed and it’s probably worth watching his continued development this fall to see if he remains in the class. Local standouts Trent McDuffie and Max Williams are still on the radar. If there’s a spot in the back seven where the Trojans could take an extra body, it might be at cornerback, where USC will lose four seniors from the roster after the season.

 

Safety

 

Currently on roster: Marvell Tell (SR), Ykili Ross (RS JR), C.J. Pollard (RS SO), Bubba Bolden (SO), Isaiah Pola-Mao (RS FR), Talanoa Hufanga (FR)

How we got here: The Trojans have been plugging away at the safety spot, grabbing one or two potential impact guys every year. That now results in a position where six players are ready to see the field, which should help competition at the two starting spots as well as special teams depth.

Safety commitments: None

Projected commitments for this class: 1 or none

Safety targets: Noa Pola-Gates is on the radar and a local prospect like Jordan Patterson could be in the mix as well. With such a need along both lines of scrimmage in this class, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Trojans use just one ride on a safety in this class and then grab a couple in the 2020 class.