As spring ball winds down we take a look at the linebacker position, how it looks now and how it could look in the fall once the full complement of players is available.
Starting off at the Mike position, the Trojans are fortunate to have Cam Smith back for a fourth season to serve as the quarterback of the defense, you just aren’t going to find a more experienced and quality player to serve as that kind of anchor. Reuben Peters has been filling in as Cam’s back-up in spring and the one thing we know about Reuben is that he likes to hit people. To be realistic, Reuben probably won’t be in the #2 role by the time the season rolls around but he’ll likely have a role on special teams. My guess is we will see one of the true freshmen as the #2 to Cam in order to groom that player to take over in 2019, and it will probably be either Solomon Tuliaupupu or Palaie Gaoteote, with Raymond Scott also another option after coming in this spring.
At the Will spot, John Houston returns as the starter after a strong finish to the 2018 season. John is at 228 pounds right now and this spring he was playing with the confidence of a returning starter even as his position is going to be pretty crowded in the fall. We saw Levi Jones lining up as his primary reserve in spring and Levi is ready to start getting more playing time, I particularly like what we see from him when he’s bringing pressure in the backfield. We haven’t seen Tayler Katoa in action this spring as he continues to rehab his knee injury but all indications are that he will be ready in fall. And then we could see either Solomon or Palaie, whichever guy isn’t lining up at Mike.
My vote for the brightest spot of spring comes from Porter Gustin. We weren’t even sure if he was going to taking part in spring after missing the last half of the season with injuries, not only is he taking part but he’s set the tone for the energy of the defense. We’ve also seen a vocal leadership from Porter that we haven’t seen before. Behind him has been Hunter Echols and he had a good day on Saturday in the scrimmage. Hunter knows how to rush the passer and he added some bulk in the off-season. You figure there will be a freshman as the #3 man next fall and it will be either Abdul-Malik McClain or Elijah Winston (or both) and there is also the option of using Christian Rector here in certain packages.
One of the position changes that we were hoping to see this spring was Jordan Iosefa moving over to replace Uchenna Nwosu, and that’s exactly what happened with good results. Jordan is another one who has bulked up and he’s bringing a veteran presence right now. Probably the biggest surprise of the early enrollees has been Kana’I Mauga who has grabbed the #2 spot right now by making plays. Clancy Pendergast talks about Kanai’s quick feet as a key to his early impact. Juliano Falaniko is the #3 and he showed some athleticism this spring, I’m anxious to see how he adds weight to his frame. We will also see Oluwole Betiku in the fall once he returns from a hip injury.