USC Football Spring Camp Review: All steady at inside linebacker

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football returned both starting inside linebackers for Spring Camp in 2018, making the position one of the most solid for the Trojans.

If there’s one area on the field USC Football has little to worry about in 2018, it’s inside linebacker. Returning two starters, including a team captain, will have that affect.

Here’s a look at USC’s inside linebackers this spring…

Roster Rundown

Returning (6):Reuben Peters, RS-Sr.*Cameron Smith, Sr.*John Houston, RS-Jr.Levi Jones, So.Tayler Katoa, RS-Fr.Raymond Scott, Fr.

Fall Enrollees (2):Palaie Gaoteote, Fr.Solomon Tuliaupupu, Fr.

*Returning starter

USC’s inside linebacker corps was in two minds this spring. On the one hand, with Cameron Smith and John Houston both returning starters, camp was an extension of and progression from the 2017 season.

Smith opted to return for his senior season instead of leaving for the NFL and that gave USC much needed stability in the center of the defense.

Beside him, Houston turned up for camp at 225 pounds, much bigger than the 210 listed on USC’s roster. The added bulk should help him battle with more physicality inside, though his overall camp performance was steady, but unspectacular.

On the other hand, spring camp was about sorting out the depth behind Smith and Houston. Though the numbers may speak to more available bodies, the numbers were still rather thin with Levi Jones and Reuben Peters forming the second team for most of spring.

Jones may be where Houston was this time last year, striving to find his place in the defense. There’s still work to be done on that front. At the least, he seems to be locked in at inside linebacker, rather than double training on the outside as well.

Peters stood in admirably next to him, but the former walk-on may have to battle to keep that second team status come fall camp.

Spring enrollee Raymond Scott didn’t have many opportunities to flash as he settled into his role while redshirt freshman Tayler Katoa was held out while continuing his rehab from last year’s Spring Camp ACL tear.

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Biggest Winner

Head coach Clay Helton praised Smith, along with other returning seniors, for avoiding complacency during his final spring.

Smith went about his business, stating his desire to earn a plaque on USC’s All-American Walk to finish off his Trojan career. He may yet get there. His Spring Camp performance certainly didn’t temper that expectation.

Biggest Disappointment

The lack of answers behind Smith and Houston was a definite disappointment. It’s not that Jones or Peters performed poorly this spring, but it remains unclear if either could do the job if Smith or Houston went down with an injury.

If Scott had hit the ground running, like fellow spring enrollees Kana’i Mauga or Talanoa Hufanga, he might have begun to answer the question, but he apparently needs some time to settle in and develop.

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Meanwhile, Katoa’s injury has put his progress on hold and there’s no telling how much he’ll be able to contribute in 2018.

The arrival of Palaie Gaoteote and Solomon Tuliaupupu, two exceptionally highly-rated linebackers, in the fall will muddle the picture. Or clarify it.