Here’s a best-guess look at what the Trojans’ depth chart just might look like heading into spring practice, set to begin on Tuesday, March 7.
*Those listed in italics will be limited or they will miss the spring entirely due to injury. Players who are currently academically ineligible are also listed in italics.
*Heights and weights used are from this past season’s roster.
Sam Darnold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds, RS So.); Jalen Greene (6-1, 200, RS Jr.) OR Matt Fink (6-3, 195, RS Fr.); Jack Sears (6-3, 195, Fr.)
Coming off a stellar redshirt-freshman campaign, all eyes are sure to be focused squarely on Darnold, a unique talent whom NFL scouts are already drooling over. It will be interesting to see what develops in the battle for the backup role. Will Greene, the perceived favorite in that regard, continue to split his time between quarterback and wide receiver – where he is likely to challenge for a starting job?
Ronald Jones II (6-1, 195, Jr.); Aca’Cedric Ware (6-0, 195, Jr.); Dominic Davis (5-10, 180 Jr.); Vavae Malepeai (6-0, 190, RS Fr.); James Toland IV (5-11, 195, RS Sr.)
Reuben Peters (6-0, 225, RS Jr.); Chris Edmondson (5-11, 210, RS Fr.)
Jones was USC’s most productive tailback over the last half of the season, finishing with a team-high 1,082 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. With Justin Davis gone, Ware and Dominic Davis will look to take on a larger role. Malepeai, meanwhile, showed real promise in practice as a more physical ball carrier after returning from a shoulder injury.
Michael Pittman Jr. (6-4, 210, So.) OR Josh Imatorbhebhe (6-2, 210, RS Fr.)
Jalen Greene (6-1, 200, RS Jr.) OR Josh Imatorbhebhe (6-2, 210, RS Fr.) OR Tyler Vaughns (6-2, 180, RS FR.); Jake Russell (5-11, 170, RS So.)
Deontay Burnett (6-0, 170, Jr.); Jalen Greene (6-1, 200, RS Jr.); Velus Jones Jr. (6-0, 185, RS Fr.); Steven Mitchell Jr. (5-10, 190, RS Sr.); Trevon Sidney (5-11, 170, RS Fr.)
With the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney, there is sure to be a wide-open competition at the two outside receiver spots. Greene and Pittman hold an edge in experience, but don’t count out Imatorbhebhe and Vaughns either. With Mitchell sidelined, Burnett, who had 13 grabs in the Trojans’ Rose Bowl victory, is locked in as the starter at the slot position.
Daniel Imatorbhebhe (6-4, 240, RS So.) OR Tyler Petite (6-5, 235, Jr.); Cary Angeline (6-6, 230, RS Fr.)
With the loss of Taylor McNamara, look for increased roles for both Petite and Daniel Imatorbhebhe, the latter of whom really came on over the last half of the season. After redshirting last season, Angeline should add a unique dynamic to the rotation as a big receiving target. Incoming freshmen Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek could jump right into the mix in the fall.
Chuma Edoga (6-4, 290, Jr.); Clayton Johnston (6-6, 285, RS So.) OR Roy Hemsley (6-5, 310, RS So.); Andrew Vorhees (6-6, 290, Fr.); Toa Lobendahn (6-3, 295, Sr.)
Chris Brown (6-5, 300, RS Jr.); Jordan Austin (6-5, 300, RS Jr.) OR Roy Hemsley (6-5, 310, RS So.) OR Frank Martin II (6-5, 310, RS Fr.)
Nico Falah (6-4, 280, RS Sr.); Cole Smith (6-4, 280, RS So.)
Viane Talamaivao (6-2, 315, Sr.); Jordan Austin (6-5, 300, RS Jr.) OR Frank Martin II (6-5, 310, RS Fr.)
Clayton Johnston (6-6, 285, RS So.) OR Chris Brown (6-5, 300, RS Jr.) OR Roy Hemsley (6-5, 310, RS So.); Andrew Vorhees (6-6, 290, Fr.); Nathan Smith (6-6, 275, RS Fr.)
This is a position group where everything is up in the air, as evidenced by the plethora of ‘OR’ designations. Falah and Talamaivao are entrenched with the No. 1 group, but replacements must be found not only for a pair of veteran starting tackles in Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, but also the starting left guard in Damien Mama. Complicating matters is the fact that Toa Lobendahn will likely remain limited throughout the spring as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. When he does return, he’s capable of lining up at any one of five offensive line positions. Chuma Edoga and Chris Brown appear the most likely to push for starting roles this spring. The latest word from campus has Edoga beginning the spring at left tackle.
Interior Defensive Line
Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, RS SR.); Josh Fatu (6-3, 290, Sr.); Jacob Daniel (6-4, 310, Jr.) OR Marlon Tuipulotu (6-3, 295, Fr.)
Rasheem Green (6-5, 280, Jr.); Christian Rector (6-5, 275, RS So.)
Josh Fatu (6-3, 290, Sr.); Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, RS SR.); Malik Dorton (6-2, 280, RS Jr.); Liam Jimmons (6-5, 280, RS Fr.);
The Trojans lost the heart and soul of last season’s defensive line in Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, and the competition at his vacant nose tackle spot looks to be one of the battles of the spring to keep an eye on. Bigelow, who is set to return from a torn ACL, is a natural option, although he was actually spending more time at defensive tackle prior to going down last spring. Fatu made strides as this past season progressed, so it wouldn’t be surprise to see him run with the No. 1 group at either tackle or nose. Tuipulotu is a player to watch. He arrived on campus as an early entrant in January and appears to have the tools to make an impact right from Day 1. There are reports that Kevin Scott is no longer with the team, but we won’t know for sure until a new roster is released early next week.
Porter Gustin (6-5, 260, Jr.); OR Connor Murphy (6-7, 255, So.)
Uchenna Nwosu (6-3, 235, Sr.); Oluwole Betiku Jr. (6-3, 250, So.); Olajuwon Tucker (6-3, 230, Sr.)
The Trojans return a pair of starters here in Gustin and Nwosu. Both are sturdy performers who will help spearhead the defense in 2017. Betiku and Murphy flashed at times in practice last season, with Betiku, in particular, looking like he’s ready for an increased role.
Cameron Smith (6-2, 245, Jr.); Jordan Iosefa (6-2, 215, So.)
Jordan Iosefa (6-2, 215, So.) John Houston Jr. (6-3, 220, RS So.); Tayler Katoa (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Smith, the returning team-leader in tackles, is back on the inside at the MIKE spot, but with the departure of both Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell, this is still a position group that is low in numbers. Iosefa and Houston appear poised to duke it out for the starting WILL position unless Katoa makes a faster-than-expected transition after arriving on campus this past January.
Jack Jones (5-11, 170, So.); Jonathan Lockett (5-11, 180, Sr.) OR Isaiah Langley (6-0, 170, Jr.)
Iman Marshall (6-1, 200, Jr.); Ajene Harris (5-11, 190, RS Jr.); Keyshawn “Pie” Young (5-11, 175, So.)
The Trojans will be searching for someone to fill Adoree’ Jackson’s shoes, and Jack Jones is the overwhelming favorite. The talented corner was consistently the third man up in the rotation over the last half of the season, and he performed solidly. Harris figures to fill the Nickelback role again.
Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Sr.) Matt Lopes (5-11, 195, RS Sr.); C.J. Pollard (6-1, 185, RS Fr.),
Marvell Tell III (6-3, 190, Jr.); Ykili Ross (6-0, 200, RS. So.) OR John Plattenburg (5-11, 180, Sr.) OR Jamel Cook (6-3, 185, RS Fr.);
The Trojans have a very solid starting duo in Hawkins and Tell, both of whom bring a ton of experience to the fold. Ross has performed well in practice throughout the last two years, and perhaps this is his chance to finally see some meaningful minutes. Cook, who is finally healthy, is an intriguing option who could surprise.
Chris Tilbey (6-5, 205, RS Jr.); Reid Budrovich (5-11, 185, RS Jr.)
Michael Brown (6-2, 195, RS Fr.) OR Reid Budrovich (5-11, 185, RS Jr.); Matt Boermeester (6-0, 180, RS Sr.)
Damon Johnson (6-0, 205, Fr.) OR Wyatt Schmidt (6-3, 210, RS Jr.); Jake Olson (6-4, 210, RS So.)
Wyatt Schmidt (6-3, 210, RS Jr.); Sam Darnold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds, RS So.); Reid Budrovich (5-11, 185, RS Jr.)
The big story here is the uncertain status of Matt Boermeester, who is still suspended from all team activities while the university investigates a ‘code of conduct’ issue. Assuming he isn’t cleared in time, Michael Brown – who redshirted last season – is the favorite to assume kicking duties. Johnson, who just arrived as a mid-year enrollee, will challenge for the starting long snapper job right from the get-go.