When you open the season with a marquee opponent, young players have to grow up fast and take more a leadership role. Sophomore Marvell Tell III is being tasked with that challenge this offseason for USC.
“I'm working on taking more of a leadership role in the defense,” Tell said. “Over the spring, I got more vocal as I became more comfortable with defense. Just trying to help us be successful. I've got to run things back there in the back end.”
Despite having a middle-of-the-season, four-game layoff after breaking his collarbone, Tell had a successful freshman campaign. He came back from the injury and eventually usurped some older candidates to take one of the Trojans’ starting safety spots for the Pac-12 championship and bowl games.
A career-high 88 snaps played in the season finale propelled him into an all-important offseason. Tell seems to have solidified his hold on the position despite a new defensive coaching staff being hired. One of the team’s most consistent performers during spring practices, Tell has quietly become a fixture with the first team.
The rangy 6-foot-3, 190 pounder is playing the free safety position sitting over the top of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense. Pendergast has told Tell he needs him to be a playmaker after he had 36 tackles and four deflections as a freshman. His instruction to Tell:
“Follow your technique and trust in your abilities and just go play...go ball.”
For Tell, the summer focus is on learning, repeating and perfecting technique while enhancing the defensive communication throughout the entire unit. The workouts have been a continuation of the spring even though the players haven’t been able to have the same amount of contact with the coaching staff.
“We haven't seen them in a little while, but it's going well. We love to have them around. Coach [Ronnie] Bradford brings that confidence, that humor to the defensive back group, which is what you need. You need to be a little loose at DB. It's good.
“Coach Pendergast is a funny guy as well. At the same time, they are both serious about what they do. They put us at a high standard.”
Every coach has his own tactics. Bradford has implemented some technical changes with how the Trojans defensive backs will cover, but Tell said that was to be expected.
He is comfortable with the adjustments that have been made and thinks the rest of the position group is similarly taking the changes in stride.
“We're all versatile players. A lot of us can play safety or corner or nickel.”
That is one of the tactical advantages the Trojans hope to work in their favor when they play the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 1.
“Alabama, who?” Tell said, feigning ignorance as a smile spread across his face. “I'm just playing. Ft's a faceless opponent. I don't care who comes out there, I'm going to come out to play whoever it is.”