Four players from USC football feature on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-Pac-12 First Team including Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns.
USC football is coming off of a 5-7 season, in case you’d forgotten, so it’s no surprise that Trojans don’t populate preseason All-Pac-12 teams in quite the same way they have in the past.
This year, Phil Steele’s All-Pac-12 preseason squad includes four Trojans, though two of those feature on special teams.
Michael Pittman headlines as a first team wide receiver in the conference. His receiving partner Tyler Vaughns made the team as a punt returner while snapper Damon Johnson also got some recognition. Defensive lineman Jay Tufele was the only defender to make the cut.
Pittman certainly got the recognition he deserves as a first teamer. He is the third-leading receiver returning in the Pac-12 after logging 758 yards on 41 receptions with six touchdowns as a junior. The transition to the pass-heavy Air Raid offense in 2019 should only improve his showing.
Vaughns had the second-best punt return average last year behind Stanford’s Trent Irwin, who graduated. He was the only return man with at least 1.2 punt returns per game to take one back for a touchdown.
Johnson hasn’t been mentioned often at USC, which is exactly what you want in a longsnapper.
As for Tufele, hopes are high for him to build on his 4.5 tackles for loss in 2018. Slowly but surely he began to show signs of the explosive talent which made him a coveted recruit. Penciled in as a starter for the coming campaign, he could be a difference-maker on the Trojan front line.
Several Trojans warranted a mention on Steele’s second, third and fourth teams.
Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and safety Talanoa Hufanga are preseason second teamers.
Offensive tackle Austin Jackson and linebacker John Houston made the third team.
Freshman defensive end Drake Jackson got the vote of confidence on the fourth team along with punter Ben Griffiths.
The biggest surprise is the lack of inclusion for Christian Rector, which reads more like an oversight than anything else. Rector had nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year and figures to be the main man in USC’s pass rush in 2019. Slotting the gifted but unproven Jackson in over him is incredibly bold, if it was on purpose.