Spring Preview: Secondary is primary strength

Trojans return all starters and almost all backups with top newcomers arriving. Good time to be the new secondary coach, Ronnie Bradford.

Deep and talented. What more can you say about a USC secondary that returns all its starters, all but one of its top backups and several talented incoming freshmen by the fall.

No wonder new DB coach Ronnie Bradford, a 10-year NFL alum, is so excited about getting back together with Clancy Pendergast after the pair worked together at Cal and in the NFL. Just one note says a great deal about what USC has to start with, even if it’s been underachieving in recent seasons.

There are three five-star DB’s in the Pac-12. All three play at USC – junior All-Pac-12 first-teamer Adoree’ Jackson, sophomore Iman Marshall and incoming freshman, like Marshall, a Long Beach Poly alum who will arrive this summer, Jack Jones.

But with Jackson, the Pac-12 long jump champ on a track and field sabbatical of sorts this spring, there will be plenty of opportunities for the depth here to play out. But not to ignore Adoree’. Here’s what we said in ranking him No. 4 among USC’s “must come through” players for 2016: “We'll say it now. Just the way Zach Banner needs to be a first-team All-American, so does Adoree'. But not for Adoree's sake, for this USC team's sake. First thing USC has to figure out this summer, after AJ's winter and spring track seasons, is how to use Adoree' on offense. Way too much hit and miss, dependent on how the other team controls the ball with their offense. Trojans can't let opponents decide how and when Adoree' is going to get the call. Then there's the defensive component. Adoree' himself says he was just ‘OK’ last fall at corner. He's too good for that.”

Returning at the opposite corner is the 200-pound Marshall, our No. 7 Trojan: “After his baptism of fire as a freshman, we see the Long Beach Poly guy with 12 starts starting to play like a veteran, not just a sophomore. He's got the tools, the size, speed and toughness, to be a dominant player wherever that is in the secondary.”

Marvell Tell III isn’t even a starter but we had him ranked above some of the returning starters. Here’s what we said: “The rangy sophomore has the tools to be special. He can run and tackle and hit people and at 6-2 and 190-plus pounds, can grow into something special at safety as he figures it out on the back line.”

Our No. 15 guy is veteran leader Chris Hawkins making that four DBs among the top 15 as we asked: “Can it be the versatile DB from Rancho Cucamonga is going into his fourth season? He'll be back doing all the things he thought he could as USC's third-leading tackler (with 70 in 2015). We're thinking with some solid coaching and scheming here, Chris becomes the tough veteran who doesn't have to play hands-on as much this fall. Having a solid back end on this defense will make it much easier for the front seven to get up to speed in a hurry.”

Finishing out the starting foursome is John Plattenburg, our No. 32 guy: “A contact safety, Platt likes to mix things up. His 34 tackles had him right behind Marshall and Hawkins last fall and the eight-game starter will be on the field again doing his thing.”

Another veteran with starting experience is Leon McQuay of whom we said: “It's time for the talented senior safety to make a place for himself on the field in this his final go-round. It won't be a gimme although the numbers say he's needed.”

Tied for the Nos. 39 and 40 spots in our Top 40 rankings were sophomore Isaiah Langley and junior Jonathan Lockett. “Two corners share the final two spots here with the junior Lockett having a couple of starts and the sophomore Langley coming fast at the end with similar stats.”

Finally for the scholarship guys back, there’s redshirt freshman Ykili Ross, after a season with the Scout team. He’ll miss the spring after shoulder surgery but don’t take your eye off the guy we ranked at No. 44, saying: “As a freshman redshirt, Ykili showed up on the Scout team in ways that made it clear the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Riverside Poly product will see the field this season somewhere. If we had to pick, we say that would be at safety.

One incoming freshman here for the spring is another in a long line of Serra alums at USC, C.J. Pollard. But Serra isn’t the only Trojan connection for C.J., son of two Trojan alums – former DB Marvin Pollard and mom, Pam.

Six walkons add serious depth to the DB position led by junior safety Matt Lopes, who saw serious playing time before a foot injury ended his season and will be expected to do the same this season. The others are Kevin Carrasco, Joe Harding, Deion Hart, Jalen Jones, Jonathan Labonty and Davonte Nunnery.

Here’s what we had to say about Matt, our No. 52 player: “The redshirt junior from Palos Verdes got off to a great start with 11 tackles the first two games but a broken foot knocked him out of the second half of the season. Technically a walkon, he's scholarshiped as the son of USC senior associate AD Steve Lopes but the big-hitting Lopes is no one's idea of a walkon just trying to hang in there. He can hang."

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Kevin Carrasco, Jr., CB

Joe Harding, So., S

Deion Hart, Sr.

Chris Hawkins, Jr., S

Adoree Jackson, Jr., CB-WR-RET

Jalen Jones, So., CB

Isaiah Langley, So., CB-WR

Jonathan LaBonty, So.

Jonathan Lockett, Jr., CB

Matt Lopes, Jr., S

Iman Marshall, So., CB

Leon McQuay III, Sr., S-CB

Davonte Nunnery, So., S

John Plattenburg, Jr., S

C.J. Pollard, Fr.

Ykili Ross, So., S-CB-WR

Marvell Tell III, So., S

Eighth and final in a series of fall position previews for the 2016 Trojans.

Here's the spring practice info:

*** The dates of USC’s 2016 spring football practices are: March 8-10-12-22-24-26-29-31-April 2-5-7-9-12-14-16.

*** Spring practice times: Tuesday and Thursday practices at 3:30 p.m., Saturday practices at 10 a.m. (except the April 16 Spring Game at 3 p.m.). All practices will be held on Howard Jones Field/Brian Kennedy Field on campus, except for two practices at the Coliseum (March 26 and the April 16 Spring Game).

*** All of USC spring practices will be open to the public for viewing from a designated area on the east side of Howard Jones Field (north of Goux’s Gate) or from the south stands at the Coliseum.

. *** USC's Spring Game will be Saturday, April 16, at 3 p.m. in the Coliseum. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door (or online on USCTrojans.com).

*** USC's Pro Day is March 23 at 10 a.m. on Loker Stadium’s Cromwell Field. It is closed to the public.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com. #USCSpringBall16


USCFootball.com Top Stories