USC football spring preview: Secondary in rebuild mode

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

USC football’s secondary will undergo a massive renovation in 2019, replacing all five regular starters across the cornerback, nickelback and safety positions.

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No unit on the USC football team in 2019 will go through more of a transition this offseason than the secondary.

With five graduating seniors off on their next adventure, the Trojans will have limited depth to work with during Spring Camp before doubling up reinforcements in Fall Camp.

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How will cornerback, nickelback and safety units takes shape this spring?

Roster Rundown

Departing (5):Ajene Harris, Isaiah Langley, Jonathan Lockett, Iman Marshall, Marvell Tell

Returning (8):CB Dominic Davis (RS-Sr.)CB Greg Johnson (RS-So.)CB Olaijah Griffin (So.)CB/S Chase Williams (So.)CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart (RS-Fr.)S C.J. Pollard (RS-Jr.)S Isaiah Pola-Mao (RS-So.)S Talanoa Hufanga (So.)

Spring Enrollees (2):CB Max Williams (Fr.)S/CB Briton Allen (Fr.)

Fall Enrollees (6):CB Jaylen Watson (Jr.)CB Trey Davis (Fr.)CB Adonis Otey (Fr.)S Dorian Hewett (Fr.)S Kaulana Makaula (Fr.)S Jayden Williams (Fr.)

Five seniors, who were all sitting atop the depth chart in 2018, are gone including Iman Marshall and Isaiah Langley, starting cornerbacks; Marvell Tell, the veteran starting safety; Ajene Harris, a starter at nickelback and safety; and Jonathan Lockett, Harris’ nickelback replacement.

Those departures are particularly impactful because USC doesn’t have very many bodies to replace them with, at least not until the summer when six recruits from the class of 2019 will arrive.

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In the meantime, the Trojans will have to make due with a small, but bright contingent of players.

At cornerback, Greg Johnson and Olaijah Griffin were part-time starters in 2018 and may be favored to win full-time jobs this year. Johnson may have a harder time of it considering he is recovering from midseason shoulder surgery.

Isaac Taylor-Stuart redshirted in 2018 while dealing with an injury of his own, but he will be back fully healthy to contend for a first team place along with converted running back Dominic Davis, now a redshirt senior clawing for his final chance to make an impact.

Early enrollee Max Williams is rehabbing a high school knee injury, so he is not expected to participate this spring.

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Chase Williams is an intriguing player at this stage. He arrived as a cornerback, but also spent time at nickelback and impressed filling in as a safety at the end of the season. That versatility could land him in competitions at any of those positions.

It may be wise for USC to start him out at safety though, given the extreme lack of depth there.

C.J. Pollard is now the veteran of the safety group. He will be battling for a starting job this offseason, but against who is in question.

Both Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga started in 2018, but they each went down with season-ending injury. Pola-Mao’s recovery from shoulder surgery may keep him out for the length of Spring Camp (as a similar surgery did most of last year’s). Hufanga’s broken collarbone should be healed, but USC’s penchant for slow-playing the return of injured players has to be considered.

SEE ALSO: Marvell Tell could impress at the NFL Combine, if healthy

Fortunately, the Trojans will have at least one new safety arriving in Briton Allen. While Allen could end up at cornerback or nickelback, it seems likely he will begin his Trojan career further back.

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Biggest Battle

There are battle literally everywhere in the secondary. But some are more open than others.

While nothing is certain, it’s reasonable to predict starting jobs for Pola-Mao, Hufanga and Griffin, if all are healthy come the season opener.

That leaves the second cornerback spot as the most intriguing competition of the spring. Will Taylor-Stuart make it his own with Johnson sidelined? Or will Williams or Davis make it interesting?

Player to Watch

Early enrollees always come to the practice field with extra eyes on them, waiting to learn what they’re made of. That’s the case for Allen, who has a unique opportunity to see real quality reps this spring, whether at safety or elsewhere.

A place in the nickelback competition could be on the cards as well. It’s just a question of how well Allen can hit the ground running.