USC football Spring Camp notes: Versatility adds value (3/28)

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /
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Versatile players in the USC football defense have given the Trojans room to experiment, both out of luxury and necessity.

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Looking across USC football’s defense during Spring Camp in 2019, versatility has been a catch-all word.

Depth concerns are rampant , but the Trojans are doing what they can to fill the gaps. And in doing so, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is looking at the silver lining.

“At some point you have to put the right 11 guys out there that can fit together,” Pendergast said, noting how spring, at least, is a good time to experiment, whether by choice or need.

While teaching the defense, Pendergast is looking out for the right fit and learning what each player does best and where their best opportunity to help team lies.

“You’ve gotta kind of mix-and-match,” he said.

Mixing and matching is certainly what USC has had to do to field 11 players on defense this spring.

On the defensive front, that’s a luxury. Players like Connor Murphy are moving across the line, occupying a different spot in each defensive package. That means a greater ability to fit player skillsets to the particular need, whether pass rush or run stopping.

There’s luxury to be found in USC’s stacked insider linebacker corps, which is now made up in part by former outside linebackers like Jordan Iosefa, Kana’i Mauga and Juliano Falaniko.

In the secondary, there are no such luxuries.

On Thursday, the Trojans had five healthy scholarship defensive backs available, with Greg Johnson and Talanoa Hufanga joining Olaijah Griffin and C.J. Pollard on the sidelines. Max Williams and Isaiah Pola-Mao are limited from contact.

While cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart is prepping rather competitively with Michael Pittman in practice, the rest of USC’s makeshift secondary could very well end up playing another position at some point.

Pendergast said Briton Allen is possibly destined for a return to safety once reinforcements arrive in the fall. Nickelback Raymond Scott is also likely to see some run further back to get his “eyes trained a little bit.”

Even players not suiting up may find themselves training at nickelback in the fall. Pendergast mentioned Williams and Griffin as players who could get in work at the position.

Another Williams, Chase, is the prime example of the versatility Pendergast values.

“That position, we ask it to do a lot of things within this defense,” Pendergast said. “He’s got to play the run, he’s got to play zone coverage, he’s got to play man coverage.”

Williams, who Pendergast described as a “very smart player” who had the benefit of learning behind Ajene Harris last year, has commanded first team nickelback reps throughout Spring Camp.