USC football Spring Camp notes: Depth waning, youth rising (4/4)

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

USC football’s 11th day of Spring Camp had depth problems on full display, but there’s a silver lining: opportunities for young players.

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USC football went into Spring Camp expecting to deal with major depth concerns in the secondary, but Thursday’s practice on Howard Jones Field highlighted how those issues aren’t limited to the defense.

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Day 11 of Spring Camp featured a makeshift secondary, but also a paper thin receiving corps, one healthy tight end and a shuffled offensive line.

With Devon Williams sitting out another practice, the Trojans were down to four scholarship receivers. With Josh Falo in a yellow non-contact jersey and Jude Wolfe still sidelined, Erik Krommenhoek was the lone tight end available for live reps. And with Austin Jackson unavailable, right tackle Jalen McKenzie shifted to the left and converted defensive lineman Liam Jimmons took first team reps on the right, lingering injuries to Clayton Bradley and Bernard Schirmer limiting other options.

The defensive line has also been impacted. The Trojans have deployed defensive ends like Jacob Lichtenstein and Connor Murphy at nose tackle to fill in the gaps, with Jay Tufele apparently limited from live reps.

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The limited numbers may be concerning, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast put the focus on the other side of the equation.

“I thought we had some young guys get in there and really compete in some tough situations,” Pendergast said following Thursday’s practice.

Pendergast highlighted linebacker Ralen Goforth in particular, who “really jumped out” in live situations.

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Defensive end Drake Jackson also caught the defensive coordinator’s eye, along with defensive back Briton Allen, who “is getting better every day that we’re out here.”

Allen, whose future likely lies at the safety position, is playing cornerback this spring because of the lack of available bodies. Pendergast said he may be frustrated at times being thrown into the fire, but more reps now will me a greater comfort level later, especially at multiple positions.

“To give us flexibility to be able to play all three positions in the secondary is important for a young guy,” Pendergast said.

Defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a is also hoping to see benefits down the line for Lichtenstein and Murphy, who may find defensive end easier having lined up at tackle this Spring Camp.

SEE ALSO: Where does Connor Murphy fit?

Perhaps the best example of a defender who has taken advantage of far more reps than expected is safety Jordan McMillan.

“He’s unbelievable,” Pendergast said, crediting the walk-on who went from “not knowing if he’d ever have an opportunity to play here” to playing against Notre Dame last year.

Injuries sidelining Talanoa Hufanga and C.J. Pollard and limiting Isaiah Pola-Mao have ensured regular first team reps for McMillan this spring.

On Thursday, he made two of the biggest plays of the day in the overtime challenge to end practice. He crashed the line of scrimmage to stop Vavae Malepeai in his tracks on a third-and-short, then chased down Matt Fink from behind for a sack to give the defense a win.

It’s that kind of playmaking that has him in Pendergast’s good graces.

“He’s a guy that I would have no problem playing in games,” Pendergast said.