Spring ball always offers an opportunity for younger players to rise up and make a statement that they are worthy of bigger roles. Here are some of the underclassmen that we think could make some noise this spring.
QB’s Matt Fink and/or Jack Sears
These two will have the brightest spotlight in spring and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of them play well. Fink has really developed in his time at USC and a lot of people within the program are thinking he’s the favorite to win the job, but don’t overlook Sears at all because he’s got the skills to get it done too. It should be a heck of a competition to watch even if we know the starting spot probably won’t be finalized until fall camp when JT Daniels has a chance to make his case for the job.
RB Vavae Malepeai
With projected starter Stephen Carr scheduled to miss spring with a herniated disc, Vavae figures to share the backfield reps with senior Aca’Cedric Ware, someone who also could play an extended role. But it is Vavae with his bruising 225-pound running style who could gain the most. This is a big load carrying the ball and when he squares his shoulders it’s a pretty imposing sight for any defender looking to bring him down.
WR Randal Grimes
One of the mysteries from last season was burning the redshirt year for Grimes. Sure, he has a lot of physical traits and he’s going to be a good one sooner rather than later, but there just didn’t seem a need for it and he ended up with two catches for 17 yards before suffering a hand injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Grimes is reportedly healthy now and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ends up as the #3 outside receiver by the time spring is over.
OL Austin Jackson
Pretty much everyone reading this story already has Jackson penciled in as the starting left tackle, but let’s remember that Jackson is still a relative pup when it comes to stepping into such an important spot. Yes, Jackson did get some solid playing time last season and he looks to all the world like a guy who is ready for this moment, but he still needs to go out and do it. Personally, I think he’ll be fine.
DL Jay Tufele
There is an open spot on the DL from the departure of Rasheem Green and most speculation has the job going to either Christian Rector or Caleb Tremblay, but don’t forget about Tufele. Jay was able to save his redshirt year even though it was almost burned down the stretch as depth got tight. He was every bit the top recruit that Marlon Tuipulotu and Brandon Pili were last year and we saw what those two could do, Jay has a chance to get right in that mix this spring.
LB Levi Jones
Levi is ready for more, and that much has been clear since last fall. He’s one player that I definitely thought could have been used more and my guess is that we will see an expanded role this spring. One of the biggest questions is where he lines up, at an inside linebacker spot or maybe even get a look at OLB to replace Nwosu. Lots of options with Levi.
CB Greg Johnson
Greg really opened up some eyes on the coaching staff with his physical play early last season but a shoulder injury kept him out for most of the year. He’ll be back for spring healthy and ready to go, and I think he’s got a chance to position himself alongside Isaiah Langley as the first corners off the bench.
S Bubba Bolden
There is an opportunity waiting to replace Chris Hawkins in the starting line-up and Bolden appears to be the most likely choice as we head into spring. Bubba just makes plays, be it on special teams or at safety, and that could be what keeps him ahead of guys like Isaiah Pola-Mao, C.J. Pollard and Talanoa Hufanga.
Honorable mention – others on offensive line
I’m talking about guys like Jalen McKenzie, Bret Neilon, Nathan Smith, Alijah Vera-Tucker, etc. All have shown potential but wouldn’t it be nice to see one or two of them really rise up, maybe not necessarily to take a starting spot, but to show that they are ready to be next in line. We need depth on the line and it most likely will come from this group.