With eight starters back from last year’s Pac-12 title team, USC is in very good shape on the defensive side of the ball for 2018. How it handles some holes up front and manages its vast amount of talent at linebacker will be key to what happens next season.
Here’s an early guess at the depth chart heading into the 2018 season, including where we see some of the Trojans’ many blue-chip signees from their latest recruiting class will fit in.
Starters: Malik Dorton, R-Sr.; Christian Rector, R-Jr.
Reserves: Jay Tufele, So.; Liam Jimmons, R-So.; Jacob Liechtenstein, So.; Abdul Malik-McClain, Fr.; Hunter Echols, R-Fr.
Notes: Rasheem Green turned pro after a junior season in which he started every game and led USC in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (12.5), though Rector started four games and Dorton three in 2017 and combined for 59 tackles (14.5 for loss), 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Malik-McClain flipped from UCLA in December while Tufele was the Trojans’ top defensive signee from 2016.
Starter: Marlon Tuipulotu, R-Fr.
Reserves: Brandon Pili, So.; Trevor Trout, Fr.; Caleb Tremblay, Jr.
Notes: Tuipulotu appeared USC’s first three games but then was shut down because of a lingering back injury that required surgery. Assuming he returns healthy he figures to slide into Josh Fatu’s starting role, though Pili (who started twice and had 14 tackles in nine games) is another viable option. Trout and Tremblay are 2018 signees, the later from the junior college ranks.
Starters: Porter Gustin, Sr.; Jordan Iosefa, Jr.
Reserves: Oluwole Betiku, Jr.; Connor Murphy, Jr.; Juliano Falaniko, So.; Raymond Scott, Fr.; Kana’i Mauga, Fr.
Notes: With Uchenna Nwosu graduating, USC must find a primary edge rusher to come up from the linebacker corps and put pressure on the backfield. Gustin was limited to just four games last season because of injury but had three sacks in the first two games of 2017, while Iosefa started five games. Betiku, the Trojans’ top signee from 2016, is ready to play a much more significant role after very little action to this point.
Starters: Cameron Smith, Sr.; John Houston Jr., R-Jr.
Reserves: Levi Jones, So.; Grant Moore, R-Sr.; Palaie Gaoteote, Fr.; Solomon Tuliaupupu, Fr.; Eli’jah Winston, Fr.
Notes: Getting back Smith for one more season, combined with USC’s massive haul from the 2018 recruiting class, makes this its deepest defensive position. Smith has 273 career tackles, including 112 last season, while Houston had a breakout year in 2017 with 84 tackles. Gaoeteote was the top-ranked inside linebacker prospect in the country and Tuliaupupu was third-best (as well as someone the Trojans flipped from Washington right before National Signing Day).
Starters: Jack Jones, Jr..; Iman Marshall, Sr.
Reserves: Isaiah Langley, Sr.; Ajene Harris, R-Sr.; Ykili Ross, R-Jr.; Jamel Cook, R-So.; Greg Johnson, R-Fr.; Olaijah Griffin, Fr.; Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Fr.; Chase Williams, Fr.
Notes: Jones and Marshall combined for 25 starts, with Langley starting ahead of Marshall on three occasions. USC frequently started five defensive backs in 2017, with Harris and Ross the extra man on the field, and the returners had 9 interceptions. Johnson, the top-rated athlete from the 2016 class, missed most of last year with a shoulder injury but should get a shot at meaningful snaps as well key National Signing Day pickups Griffin and Taylor-Stuart.
Starters: Marvel Tell III, Sr.; Bubba Bolden, So.
Reserves: C.J. Pollard, R-So.; Isaiah Pola-Mao, R-Fr.; Talanoa Hufanga, Fr.
Notes: Tell started every game at free safety and will do so again in 2018 but the strong safety position is wide open with Chris Hawkins’ graduation. Bolden gets the first crack after a freshman season in which he played in 13 games as a backup. Hufanga, a do-everything player in the mold of Adoree’ Jackson, will also be given a shot before seeing if other positions fit better for his skills.
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