By Johnny Curren
With two weeks of spring practice in the books, including the first live scrimmage, here’s a best-guess look at the current depth chart at USC based on what has been observed.
*Those listed in italics have been sidelined or are currently limited due to injury.
Sam Darnold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds, RS So.); Matt Fink (6-3, 195, RS Fr.); Jack Sears (6-3, 195, Fr.)
While the spring has presented some challenges for Darnold in terms of adjusting to life without some key members from last year’s team along the offensive line and at receiver, the talented passer has continued to look sharp for the most part. With Jalen Greene spending the entire spring at receiver, Fink has gotten the most work with the No. 2 unit, and he’s definitely shown improvement.
Ronald Jones II (6-1, 195, Jr.); Vavae Malepeai (6-0, 215, RS Fr.); Aca’Cedric Ware (6-0, 195, Jr.); Dominic Davis (5-10, 180 Jr.); James Toland IV (5-11, 195, RS Sr.)
Reuben Peters (6-0, 225, RS Jr.); Chris Edmondson (5-11, 210, RS Fr.)
Jones, last season’s leading rusher with 1,082 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, is having a very solid spring, and he had two nice touchdown runs in the most recent scrimmage. With Ware (foot sprain) currently sidelined, and Dominic Davis (concussion protocol) having just returned in a limited capacity, Malepeai has received a heavier workload, and he’s shown promise as a more-physical rusher.
Michael Pittman Jr. (6-4, 210, So.); Josh Imatorbhebhe (6-2, 210, RS Fr.)
Jalen Greene (6-1, 200, RS Jr.); Tyler Vaughns (6-2, 180, RS FR.); Keyshawn “Pie” Young (5-11, 175, So.); Jake Russell (5-11, 170, RS So.)
Velus Jones Jr. (6-0, 185, RS Fr.); Deontay Burnett (6-0, 170, Jr.); Steven Mitchell Jr. (5-10, 190, RS Sr.); Trevon Sidney (5-11, 170, RS Fr.)
Burnett has stood out as Darnold’s favorite target this spring – no surprise considering his Rose Bowl performance – although he did sit out the scrimmage after landing hard on the turf while making a touchdown grab during Thursday’s session. Perhaps the biggest story, however, has been the emergence of Velus Jones, who has impressed onlookers with his big-play ability. After spending the first week at cornerback, Young has been lining up at receiver in recent days.
Tyler Petite (6-5, 235, Jr.); Cary Angeline (6-6, 230, RS Fr.); Austin Applebee (6-6, 240, RS Jr.); Daniel Imatorbhebhe (6-4, 240, RS So.)
Imatorbhebhe has been limited so far with a shoulder injury, so Petite and Angeline have been taking virtually all of the reps during the team periods. Angeline has really opened some eyes with his play.
Chuma Edoga (6-4, 290, Jr.); Clayton Johnston (6-6, 285, RS So.)
Chris Brown (6-5, 300, RS Jr.); Jordan Austin (6-5, 300, RS Jr.)
Cole Smith (6-4, 280, RS So.); Frank Martin II (6-5, 310, RS Fr.); Nico Falah (6-4, 280, RS Sr.); Toa Lobendahn (6-3, 295, RS. Jr.)
Viane Talamaivao (6-2, 315, Sr.); Frank Martin II (6-5, 310, RS Fr.)
Roy Hemsley (6-5, 310, RS So.); Andrew Vorhees (6-6, 290, Fr.); Nathan Smith (6-6, 275, RS Fr.)
Edoga and Hemsley have been lining up exclusively with the No. 1 group at the two tackle spots. Falah has been limited with a back injury, so Smith has been spending a lot of time with the first unit at center. Vorhees has drawn praise from USC head coach Clay Helton for his performance so far. It will be interesting to see how the return of Lobendahn (knee) shakes things up in fall camp. Helton said that he will initially compete with Falah for the starting job at center.
Interior Defensive Line
Josh Fatu (6-3, 290, Sr.) OR Marlon Tuipulotu (6-3, 295, Fr.); Jacob Daniel (6-4, 310, Jr.); Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, RS SR.\
Rasheem Green (6-5, 280, Jr.); Liam Jimmons (6-5, 280, RS Fr.);
Christian Rector (6-5, 275, RS So.) Malik Dorton (6-2, 280, RS Jr.); Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 295, RS SR.)
After Fatu ran with the No. 1 unit at nose throughout the first five practices, Tuipulotu started at the position in the scrimmage, and he shined. The mid-year enrollee doesn’t look or play like a freshman, and it certainly appears as though he will make a real push for the starting job. Bigelow (knee) has been limited, and it will be interesting to see where he fits into the equation upon his full return to action.
Oluwole Betiku Jr. (6-3, 250, So.); Connor Murphy (6-7, 255, So.); Porter Gustin (6-5, 260, Jr.);
Uchenna Nwosu (6-3, 235, Sr.); Olajuwon Tucker (6-3, 230, Sr.); Grant Moore (6-0, 210, RS Jr.)
Gustin (hand) recently returned after sitting out Week 1, but he’s only been participating in individual drills. There’s no doubt that he will be back with the No. 1 group at the predator spot when he returns to 100 percent, but in the meantime Betiku has been taking the bulk of the reps there, with Murphy also getting some time at the position on Saturday. On the other side Nwosu has been flat-out stellar.
Cameron Smith (6-2, 245, Jr.); Jordan Iosefa (6-2, 215, So.)
John Houston Jr. (6-3, 220, RS So.); Tayler Katoa (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Smith has really started to establish himself as an unquestioned leader of the defense this spring. At the WILL position Houston has been lining up exclusively with the No. 1 group.
Jack Jones (5-11, 170, So.); Isaiah Langley (6-0, 170, Jr.); Jonathan Lockett (5-11, 180, Sr.)
Iman Marshall (6-1, 200, Jr.); Jalen Jones (5-8, 165, RS Jr.)
Jack Jones has been lining up in Adoree’ Jackson’s old spot throughout the vast majority of the spring and making the most of the opportunity, showcasing his cover skills and playmaking ability with regularity. On the other side Marshal, the proven veteran of the cornerback unit, is quietly enjoying an excellent spring.
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.)
Ajene Harris (5-11, 190, RS Jr.); Jamel Cook (6-3, 185, RS Fr.)
Hawkins and Tell have been a force as the starting duo here, and Ross, who has battled injuries in the past, has really started to assert himself as a potential contributor as well. The most intriguing development, however, has been the emergence of Cook. Having redshirted this past fall while recovering from ankle surgery, he’s caught everyone’s attention with the unique skill-set that he brings to the nickel spot. He had three interceptions alone in one 7-on-7 period last Monday.
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.)
Damon Johnson (6-0, 205, Fr.); 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.)
With it looking less and less likely that Matt Boermeester will return, Brown has gotten plenty of work, and while he has been inconsistent at times – particularly early – he has shown some recent improvement, going 7-of-8 on his field goal attempts this past Saturday.