USC Football Mailbag: Starting jobs, owning LA and nickel trouble on the horizon?

Mar 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast during spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast during spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Starting jobs at quarterback, tight end and cornerback are on the mind along with questions over the nickel package as USC football rolls through spring camp.

We’ve reached the halfway point of spring camp, so there’s more and more answers to be had about how positions battles are shaping up in this Thursday Mailbag.

Who will be the starting QB? (@grldnlsn)

Max Browne.

Clay Helton praised Sam Darnold for his performance on Tuesday and the redshirt freshman has certainly done everything he could this spring to close the gap on Browne but there is still no reason to suspect anyone but Browne will lead the Trojans onto the field against Alabama. Darnold has a mouthwatering skillset, but it’s telling that when De’Quan Hampton talked about better chemistry resulting in more distribution to the wide receivers this year he referred to Browne as the one to fix that problem.

What are the chances Daniel Imatorbhebhe earns the starting spot and any updates on John Houston? (@BranLo14)

Taylor McNamara has the experience and reliability to hold down the starting job in 2016, so short of injury it’s a safe bet that Imatorbhebhe won’t be at the top of the depth chart. That, however, doesn’t mean he can’t work his way into a role for the Trojans this season. As a receiving option he has looked strong this spring.

There’s still a real question about how much usage the tight ends will get, given the wealth of options at receiver. Still, Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Petite made plays to extend the two-minute drill at the end of practice on Tuesday, which is a good sign.

As for John Houston, he is listed on the roster as a defensive end (i.e. outside linebacker) but he has been practicing with the inside linebackers, which is not surprising since his size doesn’t seem suited for the end role.

Quinton Powell seems to have taken pole position at the WILL while Michael Hutchings is serving as the place holder for Cam Smith at the MIKE. That leaves Houston as a back up, unless something changes.

I want a bold prediction. who owns LA this year? (@PapaVentura7)

USC basketball has three wins over UCLA in 2016 and the Trojans will certainly feel like they can repeat last year’s success on the gridiron against the Bruins. So naturally, the answer is the LA Rams.

If USC has to be in nickel way more often, does that bring less ability to stop power run teams…Like Alabama and Stanford? (@TurntUpTrojan)

After Kenny Bigelow went down with a torn ACL, Helton said one of the ways the Trojans will cope is relying more on Pendergast’s nickel package, which he said they would use in ten of the first 12 games anyways. The trouble is, those two games they won’t be working from that base are two of the toughest of the year, so the question is as valid as they come.

Though the nickel will be a useful tool throughout the season, the Trojans will need someone to step up on the defensive line to help deal with Bigelow’s absence right away. A front three of Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson and Malik Dorton supplemented by the likes of Jacob Daniel, junior college transfer Josh Fatu and incoming freshman Connor Murphy might be able to hold their own, but with so much inexperience on deck the coaching staff will need to be ready to change tactics if needed.

At the very least, USC boasts decent size on the edge with Porter Gustin, Jabari Ruffin, Uchenna Nwosu and early enrollee Oluwole Betiku settling in.

Matching up with Alabama won’t be easy, but there is some good news on the Stanford front, with their pro-style offense shifting towards the finesse of Christian McCaffrey as opposed to the more tradition Cardinal power run.

Will kickoffs and punts be target shooting like years past or booming kicks? (@GregKatz)

Matt Boermeester is likely to retain his kickoff duties so don’t expect a change in kickoffs unless new special teams coach John Baxter is able to unlock extra distance from his kickers.

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As for punts, Australian punter Chris Tilbey appears to have a stronger leg than Kris Albarado.

Do you think when Adoree’ comes back that he’ll take the spot back from Langley? (@TrojanNinja)

Isaiah Langley has definitely placed himself higher on the pecking order than Jonathan Lockett this spring, but he’s not competing for Adoree’ Jackson’s job. Rather, he’s in the process of securing himself the third cornerback spot for the Trojans before incoming freshman Jack Jones can take a swing at it.

When Jackson returns to the football field, his starting place is assured.