Wolf: A position-by-position look at USC’s depth chart
USC has not published a depth chart since December but if the Trojans played a game today, it might be hard for some fans to recognize the team based on some of the players getting snaps with the first team.
This can be a mixed blessing. It might mean someone is doing better than expected. Or it might mean more-publicized players are not producing.
Either way, here’s a look at some positions that might surprise observers when the first depth chart comes out later this month.
Defensive tackle: This position always features a rotation but right now the most prominent players tend to be Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a 25-year-old transfer from Utah, Malik Dorton and Rasheem Green. USC coaches are thrilled with the addition of Tu’ikolovatu, who adds maturity and experience.
But ask yourself this? What is the state of the line if a fifth-year senior who could not even start at Utah is treated as a savior? For the record, Tu’ikolovatu started two games for the Utes last season.
There was hardly an outcry from Kyle Whittingham when Tu’ikolovatu went to a Pac-12 South rival.
Dorton, a third-year sophomore, deserves credit for overcoming whatever doubts the previous coaching staff had when he played in only two games last season. He already went from outside linebacker to defensive end and now tackle. That’s quite a journey in two years.
Green is the most familiar name to fans as he played every game last season as a true freshman and returned a fumble 31 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. That is the way USC players usually advance to starting spots and the fact he is the only “conventional case” among the top three demonstrates the dysfunctional nature of defensive tackle at USC.
Linebacker: Cameron Smith looks pretty good for someone coming off knee surgery. The coaches have a dilemma at the other spot. Senior Michael Hutchings has looked good in camp but never previously challenged for a starting spot. Sophomore Osa Masina has the credentials and size (6-4, 240) but missed spring with an injury and lacks consistency.
It is worth noting not much is being said about Olajuwon Tucker, who actually started in the Pac-12 championship game and Holiday Bowl last season. Like I said, it is early in camp and nothing is settled. But one would expect Tucker’s role to be more prominent.
Offensive line: Chris Brown continues to start at left guard ahead of previous starter Damien Mama. If that happens three weeks from now, it will be a big development. Mama was an all-everything prospect, not to mention nearly 400 pounds, when he arrived from St. John Bosco.
He will play regardless if he starts. Brown deserves kudos for shaking up the lineup, which is difficult when every starter from the past two years returned.
Maybe the center position is worth more scrutiny. Toa Lobendahn is the starter. If he gets hurt, what does he do? Nico Falah is the backup because last year’s backup, Khaliel Rodgers, switched to defensive tackle.
Would the coaches move Rodgers back to center or start Falah? That is why USC coach Clay Helton gets paid the big bucks.
Safety: So far most of the players at this position are hurt. Chris Hawkins, John Plattenburg, Jamel Cook and Matt Lopes have all been out at times. This leaves some really young looks when freshmen Ykili Ross and C.J. Pollard are playing with sophomore Marvell Tell, who was injured most of last season.
Hawkins started last season but this is a position where doubts exist. Who starts? Plattenburg’s started some games. Leon McQuay is still around too. Tell looks like he could start. Pollard should start one day.
The truth is even the coaches do not really know how strong this position will be during the season.
Quarterback: The best way to put it is if you stood on a sideline and watched you probably think Sam Darnold is slightly ahead. But if you listen to the coaches, you think Max Browne is slightly ahead.
Wide receiver: No questions here with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell the top three. It’s not easy at this point for any freshmen to break into the rotation.
Tailback: Talk about a no-drama position. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones will both play a lot. End of story.
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