The open Predator linebacker position will have to be filled by someone this offseason, and Hunter Echols is poised to take it.
He arrived with the class of 2017, but took a redshirt then worked his way into limited playing time in 2018. Mostly deployed as a third-down specialist, just getting on the field was a step in the right direction. However, more will be required of him if he truly wants to step into Porter Gustin’s shoes.
The first hurdle is to convince USC’s defensive coaches that Christian Rector isn’t needed at outside linebacker. After all, it was Rector who slid over into the Predator role after Gustin went down with injury.
Echols has the pass rushing ability to claim the job, that’s why USC was willing to use him on third downs in the first place. He will have to build trust in his ability to play the run as well if he wants to see every-down reps.
The second hurdle is holding off a now jam-packed outside linebacker unit full of equally talented hopefuls, including Eli’Jah Winston, Abdul-Malik McClain, Kana’i Mauga and others.
Going into Spring Camp, Echols is likely to get the first crack at first team reps. If he uses them well, he could have it locked up by the end of spring. The longer there is doubt about the starter, the more likely he is to be leapfrogged.