USC Football Fall Camp: Who has impressed Clancy Pendergast so far?

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

Which players have impressed Clancy Pendergast during USC football’s Fall Camp so far? The defensive coordinator highlighted his favorites so far on Tuesday.

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Fall Camp has only just kicked off for USC football, but already a number of defenders have caught the eye of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast as players vie for potential playing time.

Pendergast doesn’t hand out playing time lightly, content to stick with his “best 11” if those are the only players he knows he can trust. But this offseason has opened the door to far more rotation due with unprecedented depth on the defensive side of the ball.

For Pendergast, that depth is real because an increasing number of players already have or are earning his trust.

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Though the sample size has been small, on Tuesday the defensive coordinator highlighted a couple of handfuls of players who have stood out so far.

Marlon Tuipulotu | Defensive lineman

“He’s a little bit of a difference maker in there up front.”

Tuipulotu is fully healthy after missing last season with a back injury. After sitting out Spring Camp, he’s been a full participant so far, commanding second-team reps on the defensive line.

Defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze also praised Tuipulotu for being a technician who does everything right.

Jay Tufele | Defensive lineman

“He’s been very disruptive now for two practices in a row.”

Tufele was one of the standout players from Spring Camp and he’s carrying that momentum into Fall Camp.

Pendergast credited Tufele for his increased maturity, having now adjusted to college life and the rigors of a student-athlete’s schedule.

This offseason, Pendergast said, they gave him a handful of things to work on, focusing him on specifics rather than trying to do everything at once. The redshirt freshman has responded with strong results.

“I’ve seen a big growth in him from spring ball until now,” Pendergast said.

Caleb Tremblay | Defensive Lineman

“I think he’s going to be able to give us some quality minutes.”

The junior college transfer arrived as an early enrollee, spending spring ball in adjustment and settling in mode.

That time has paid off so far with Tremblay moving up the ladder to take on first team reps at defensive end with Christian Rector shifted outside to cover for Jordan Iosefa, who himself is covering for Cameron Smith at inside linebacker.

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Hunter Echols | Outside Linebacker

“Hunter Echols has done a good job.”

Echols is one of an increasingly deep pool of outside linebackers locked in battle for playing time at one of USC’s most important positions.

He has seen second team reps at times and has been involved in the action as the Trojan pass rush has put consistent pressure on the quarterbacks.

Kana’i Mauga | Outside Linebacker

“He’s a slippery guy playing on the outside.”

When Porter Gustin went down with injury on Tuesday, it was Mauga who stepped into the first team lineup to cover for him. That’s a sign of just how high the early enrollee has climbed in his brief time at USC.

Mauga’s spring performance was already bright and he doesn’t seem to have missed a step, adding even more bulk to his frame to better fit the position.

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Greg Johnson | Cornerback

“Greg Johnson has really showed some flashes”

Pendergast had already spoken highly of Johnson during last year’s Fall Camp before a shoulder injury knocked him out for the year.

Now a redshirt freshman, Johnson is back and picking up where he left off earning the defensive coordinator’s praise.

He had an interception on Tuesday and has impressed working with the second team defense.

Jonathan Lockett | Cornerback

“He’s obviously a guy that’s battled through injury around here, but coming back for his fifth year, he’s done a nice job.”

Lockett has lined up at cornerback and nickelback for the Trojans so far this Fall Camp, having returned fully from his long hip injury layoff spanning all of 2017.

Looking no worse for wear, his performances so far suggest he’ll be seeing game time this fall for the first time since 2016.

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Olaijah Griffin | Cornerback

“Olaijah Griffin has caught my eye.”

One of USC’s most highly-rated players from the class of 2018, it’s no big surprise to see Griffin already commanding second team reps at cornerback.

He has the look of a first year contributor for the Trojans. It’s just a question of whether or not he can push Isaiah Langley for first team reps as camp progresses.

Isaiah Pola-Mao | Safety

“He seems to have a focus and attention to detail, he just needs to be a little bit more consistent.”

Pola-Mao was playing catch up coming into Fall Camp because of the shoulder injury which forced him to redshirt in 2017 and kept him limited during the spring. But it didn’t take long for him to jump right back into the competition for the open starting job opposite Marvell Tell. On Tuesday, Pola-Mao worked with the first team for the first time.

Pendergast described the safety battle as a “roller coaster” with none of the contenders for the job, Pola-Mao, Bubba Bolden and CJ Pollard, performing consistently enough to grab it with any certainty.

“He’s one of those roller coaster guys,” Pendergast said of Pola-Mao.