Thursday’s practice will send the USC Trojans across the halfway point of spring ball, so before that gets underway, we’ll take a position-by-position look at what we’ve seen so far through seven practices.
I think it’s safe to say that none of the three veterans have grabbed the position and none have played their way out of the competition to this point. We’ve seen multiple good days from JT Daniels, Jack Sears, and Matt Fink. And Kedon Slovis has been better than I think most anticipated at this stage of his career.
Markese Stepp has been one of the offensive stars of the spring, as Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai both missed time due to illness. Carr looks as healthy as he has been in a while when he’s been out on the field. Walk on Quincy Jountti deserves some praise here as well, as he has been a physical force every time he touches the ball. This group is as good as advertised.
Another group that has been as good as we’ve expected them to be is the wideouts, led by the quartet of Michael Pittman (photo above), Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Devon Williams. Those four have taken turns in terms of having the best day at the position, and Williams especially has taken a massive step forward this spring in his confidence and physical presence. He went to the sideline during Tuesday’s practice, so we’ll see if that’s something that keeps him out at all. John Jackson III has been a nice addition to this group, as he has jumped in quickly and looks like a veteran out there.
Jude Wolfe has been a big addition as an early enrollee, joining Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek. Falo’s abilities as a pass catcher have been on display. There have been a lot of promises with little results when it comes to the tight end position of late, but this seems to be an offense where the tight end will be called upon to make some plays.
It has been back to basics for the offensive line, which has come under fire in recent practices as the defense has been let loose in the form of a variety of blitzes and pressure looks. We’ve see a steady starting group of Austin Jackson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brett Neilon, Andrew Vorhees, and Jalen McKenzie. During one-on-one drills, they each are capable of holding their own against the defensive linemen, but it has been a struggle at times to keep a clean pocket for the quarterbacks during team drills. This is probably the group that will get the most attention between now and the end of spring, to see how much they’ve developed as a unit.
This group has the potential to be really good this year, with the talent on hand and the arrival of defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a. Jay Tufele, Marlon Tuipulotu, and Christian Rector have been terrific, and Brandon Pili has been a force before missing Tuesday’s practice. We’ve also seen Connor Murphy step up a bit, as he looks like he could make an impact this year. It’s unfortunate that Trevor Trout injured his arm during the first week, as this could have been an important spring for him to get some reps behind the veterans.
There is a nice mix at inside linebacker, as Palaie Gaoteote and John Houston man the middle, while Jordan Iosefa and Kana’i Mauga rotate in, and Ralen Goforth is already showing himself as a true freshman. Solomon Tuilaupupu was also showing well before missing the last few practices. On the outside, Eli’jah Winston, Hunter Echols, and Abdul-Malik McClain have all shown flashes of being able to get to the quarterback.
This has been a really nice spring for Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who is getting a ton of work with Olaijah Griffin out and Greg Johnson sporting a yellow non-contact jersey. Early enrollee Briton Allen has been terrific thus far, more than holding his own while going against some great wide receivers. Johnson removing himself from the transfer portal and returning to the team was a huge boost for this position.
This position took another hit when Talanoa Hufanga broke his collarbone this past Saturday. He will be out for the rest of spring ball. He and Isaiah Pola-Mao were playing at a high level as a tandem before his injury. It will be interesting to see what the Trojans do to replace him in the starting lineup. Chase Williams has come on of late and Raymond Scott continues to improve his coverage ability as he works with the safeties.