With USC football’s Spring Camp officially open, the Trojan depth chart can begin to take shape. Which players are in contention for starting jobs in 2020?
The USC football depth chart for 2020 is far from complete, with the next six months focused around finding the best combination of players to lead the Trojans in the coming campaign.
Still, the opening day of Spring Camp offered the first official glimpse of a starting point for building the lineup.
Who will start? Who has the chance to rise? With observations from the practice field and some educated guesses, here is a crack at projecting USC’s 2020 depth chart:
Projected Offensive Depth Chart
Outside Wide Receiver 1:
Tyler Vaughns, RS-Sr.Munir McClain, So.Josh Jackson, Fr.
Tyler Vaughns is the man on the outside. He also happens to be the only one of USC’s three returning starters at receiver available for Spring Camp. Munir McClain’s rehab from his season-ending knee injury will keep him from practicing, so early enrollee Josh Jackson should take advantage of extra reps.
Outside Wide Receiver 2:
Bru McCoy, RS-Fr.John Jackson III, RS-Fr.
Bru McCoy sat out last year as a transfer while also dealing with some scary health problems. Now he’s fully healthy and taking first-team reps on Day 1 of Spring Camp.
There is a possibility Amon-Ra St. Brown could work on the outside over McCoy but for now he looks like the perfect replacement for Michael Pittman as a physical presence on the outside.
Inside Wide Receiver 1:
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jr.Gary Bryant Jr., Fr.
St. Brown thrived in the slot in 2019 but he could play all over the field in 2020 depending on how Keary Colbert and Graham Harrell decide to deploy him.
Unfortunately, we won’t find that out for sure until Fall Camp as St. Brown is out for Spring Camp while recovering from a sports hernia surgery.
In the meantime, it falls on newcomer Gary Bryant Jr. to pick up the slack. Despite it being only his first college practice, the four-star speedster fit right in on Wednesday.
Inside Wide Receiver 2:
Drake London, So.Kyle Ford, RS-Fr.
As a member of USC’s basketball team as well, Drake London won’t be around for Spring Camp. He will remain on the hardcourt while the Trojans look to progress in upcoming postseason tournaments.
That means we won’t find out if London’s future might include a transition to the outside or maintaining his role as a long body on the inside.
Kyle Ford, who redshirted in 2019 while recovering from a high school knee injury, took to a similar role like a fish to water on Day 1 of Spring Camp. He is broader than London, but his size gives him many of the same advantages as his dual-sport teammate.
Jude Wolfe, RS-Fr.Erik Krommenhoek, Sr.Daniel Imatorbhebhe, RS-Sr.Josh Falo, Sr.Ethan Rae, Fr.
Tight end was one of the most intriguing positions to watch on Wednesday. Jude Wolfe came out straight away and showed why he was such a highly-sought prospect in high school, with natural pass-catching ability and size to dominate.
Wolfe is more dynamic than returning starter Erik Krommenhoek, but the senior still has a role to play, particularly as a blocker.
It’s Daniel Imatorbhebhe who opened eyes most widely though. After missing 2018 due to injury and sitting out in 2019 to focus on academics, he has a sixth-year of eligibility and looks perfectly capable of picking up where he left off. His athleticism remains undeniable and he looks fully healthy for the first time in a long time.
Unfortunately, Ethan Rae is out for Spring Camp because of injury while Josh Falo appeared to suffer a setback of his own during the opening practice.
Alijah Vera-Tucker, RS-Jr.Frank Martin, RS-Sr.
After a stellar season at left guard, Alijah Vera-Tucker is preparing to help his team wherever he can by taking the first crack at the left tackle position left vacant by Austin Jackson. The Trojans may try other options eventually but it makes sense to put the best offensive lineman on the squad in the most critical role for the unit.
Justin Dedich, RS-So.Liam Douglas, RS-So.
Justin Dedich is getting a shot to make an impression at left guard while pulling double-duty at the center spot. The absence of Andrew Vorhees because of injury could open the door open just wide enough for him to make his case.
Brett Neilon, RS-Jr.Justin Dedich, RS-So.Gino Quinones, RS-Fr.
USC has an established center in Brett Neilon, which should make it easier to build the offensive line around him. But the Trojans are also light on center bodies with Gino Quinones out for Spring Camp with an injury. Otherwise, Dedich might have been free to go full bore at the left guard spot. As it is, Jalen McKenzie and Alijah Vera-Tucker are both practicing snapping.
Andrew Vorhees, RS-Jr.Liam Jimmons, RS-Sr.
Vorhees remains out with an ankle injury which has allowed Liam Jimmons to command first-team reps. Vorhees has a wealth of starting experience, so when he returns it still seems likely he’ll nab a starting job. However, with strong enough practices the likes of Jimmons and Dedich could shut him out.
Jalen McKenzie, RS-Jr.Jason Rodriguez, RS-Fr.Bernard Schirmer, RS-Sr.
Jalen McKenzie wasn’t available for Wednesday’s practice because of a class conflict but he is expected to return to the practice field and take up the first-team right tackle spot. On Day 1 Jason Rodriguez filled in as he looks to make his push for a starting job at one of the tackle spots.
Kedon Slovis, So.JT Daniels, RS-So.Matt Fink, RS-Sr.
Until further notice, USC’s offense belongs to Kedon Slovis. The sophomore quarterback is on a snap-count to protect the arm he injured in the Holiday Bowl, but he is otherwise healthy and capable of leading first-team. While the Trojans are preaching competition, it may take time for one to materialize.
JT Daniels has not been medically cleared to practice yet. When he is, he may be able to jump in for Routes On Air and 1-on-1s, but little else. Clay Helton said he would be re-evaluated after Spring Break.
Stephen Carr, Sr.Vavae Malepeai, RS-Sr.Markese Stepp, RS-So.Kenan Christon, So.
USC has four scholarship running backs on the roster and only one of them is available for Spring Camp. Vavae Malepeai is still rehabbing the knee which bothered him for much of the 2019 campaign. Markese Stepp is slated to miss all of camp because of his injured ankle. Kenan Christon is focusing on track. That leaves Stephen Carr to take all the first-team reps. That’s a big opportunity for him to establish his value.
Projected Defensive Depth Chart
Caleb Tremblay, RS-Sr.Connor Murphy, RS-Sr.Nick Figueroa, Sr.
Caleb Tremblay took reps with the ones on Wednesday at defensive end and could be on track to lock down that starting role. Connor Murphy and Nick Figueroa will push him, while both could also see time on the other side of the line as edge rushers.
Marlon Tuipulotu, RS-Jr.De’jon Benton, RS-Fr.Trevor Trout, So.Kobe Pepe, Fr.
Marlon Tuipulotu is USC’s most reliable defensive lineman so it’s no surprise to see him step right back into a place at the top of the depth chart at nose tackle. De’jon Benton impressed as a freshman in 2019 on the practice field and should battle with the finally-healthy Trevor Trout for time in the rotation.
Jay Tufele, RS-Jr.Brandon Pili, Sr.Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, RS-Fr.Jacob Lichtenstein, Jr.
Jay Tufele wasn’t available for Day 1 of Spring Camp because of a class conflict, but he is expected back when the Trojans resume practice. Fortunately, when Tufele isn’t on hand the Trojans can turn to Brandon Pili to fill the gap. Jacob Lichtenstein is out for Spring Camp with an injury, leaving his ultimate landing spot positionally a mystery.
Drake Jackson, So.Hunter Echols, RS-Jr.Juliano Falaniko, RS-Jr.Abdul-Malik McClain, RS-So.
Drake Jackson starred for the Trojans as a freshman and he’s poised to take his game to the next level in Todd Orlando’s hybrid edge-rushing “B-Backer” role. The sophomore said his time playing 7-on-7 in high school makes him comfortable in the position which will have him drop into coverage more often than he did last year. Both Hunter Echols and Abdul-Malik McClain are out this spring with injury so they won’t have the chance to make a push for playing time until Fall Camp.
Jordan Iosefa, Sr.Kana’i Mauga, Jr.Ralen Goforth, So.Maninoa Tufono, RS-Fr.
Jordan Iosefa was voted a team captain last year and appeared set to take on a large role as the middle linebacker partner for John Houston. The same injury that derailed him last year is set to keep him out this spring. Until he is unseated, he’ll be projected as the starter. The Trojans do have some options to make it interesting. Kana’i Mauga, who started eight games last year, opened camp taking first-team reps while Ralen Goforth has also shown promise.
Palaie Gaoteote, Jr.Eli’jah Winston, So.Solomon Tuliaupupu, So.Tuasivi Nomura, RS-Fr.
Palaie Gaoteote was arguably the Trojans’ biggest disappointment in 2019. He failed to live up to huge expectations as a sophomore starter. Hopes now rest on the new defensive system getting more out of him. If that’s not the case, Eli’jah Winston could push playing time down the line.
The biggest question mark follows Solomon Tuiliaupupu. He has missed the last two seasons while dealing with a high school foot injury and he is set to be limited once again this spring. If he gets healthy he has the talent to claim a starting job. The IF just keeps getting more worrisome.
Olaijah Griffin, Jr.Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Jr.Jayden Williams, So.
Olaijah Griffin and Chris Steele will eventually have to contend with Isaac Taylor-Stuart in the same three-man rotation they maintained in 2019. For now, however, Taylor-Stuart is out with a knee injury and Griffin has free reign to establish himself as a trusted starter.
Chris Steele, So.Dorian Hewett, So.Adonis Otey, RS-Fr.
Steele is also getting first-team reps to begin Spring Camp and there’s no reason to expect that to change. However, he did have to come off late in Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury. Dorian Hewett, who showed immense promise in one start in 2019, may have to wait his turn either way.
Greg Johnson, Jr.Max Williams, RS-Fr.
Greg Johnson is the veteran at nickelback but Max Williams showed great instincts in brief appearances as a freshman. A battle could break out between the two if Johnson doesn’t lock things down quickly.
Isaiah Pola-Mao, RS-Jr.Briton Allen, So.Raymond Scott, So.
Believe it or not, this Spring Camp will be the first complete one of Isaiah Pola-Mao’s Trojan career (with any luck). He arrived in 2017 and suffered a shoulder injury which kept him from participating in 2018. Another shoulder injury kept him out during Spring Camp 2019. Now he has the chance to take on a bigger role, both as a playmaker and leader in Todd Orlando’s safety-centric defense.
Talanoa Hufanga, Jr.Chase Williams, So.Kaulana Makaula, So.
It will be especially important for Pola-Mao to step up this Spring Camp because Talanoa Hufanga will be unavailable. The junior safety had surgery for a sports hernia and will be out for the next six weeks. In his place, Chase Williams will take valuable first-team reps which could put him first in line as a rotational option for the Trojans in 2020.
Obviously, the picture could change drastically over the coming weeks as USC allows competition to reign on the practice field. Reign of Troy will be here to examine all the twists and turns as the offseason continues.