The USC Trojans defense back unit have a lot of questions coming into the 2019 season. Last season the secondary depth issues due to injuries and transfers played a factor in their performance. The story for the Trojans now is replacing starters and experience in the secondary. Gone are safety Marvell Tell and cornerbacks A’jene Harris, Johnathan Lockett, and Isaiah Langley due to graduation while safety Bubba Bolden, Yikili Ross, Jamel Cook, and cornerback Je’quari Godfrey departed the program via transfer. Who will start at cornerback? What incoming defensive back will step up? Can the Trojans secondary stay healthy?
Cornerback: The cornerback position is currently up for grabs. The Trojans currently return five players at that position with three seeing any type of game time action at the position. Current favorites to start at the position are sophomores Olaijah Griffin and Greg Johnson. The duo saw playing time and on certain occasions started at cornerback. They both bring experience to the position which is needed. Expect both Johnson and Griffin to start on the outside week 1. Sophomore Chase Williams is our projected starter at nickel cornerback position. Williams was had a solid performance against Notre Dame last season. His versatility could mean he’ll rotate between nickel and safety.
Safety: The two safety positions are locked down by sophomore Talanoa Hufanga and redshirt sophomore Isaiah Pola-Mao. Both of the starting safeties sustained season ending injuries in 2018. The biggest question with both Hufanga and Pola-Mao heading in to the 2019 season is their health. Can the duo stay healthy? Hufangua is coming off another broken collarbone injury that sidelined him for close to 3 months. Pola-Mao is returning from a separated shoulder that he sustained against Stanford last season.
USC will have enough depth to rotate in the secondary, but they will also have a young group coming into the season. At cornerback redshirt senior Dominic Davis and redshirt freshman Issac Taylor-Stewart will compete to work their way into the rotation during fall camp. Taylor-Stewart was impressive during the spring, however he also battled consistency issues. Stewart will also be in the mix to compete for a starting spot. Former Florida Gators signee and 2019 cornerback Chris Steele transfers in to the USC football program, however his status for the upcoming season is still up in the air. If he is eligible to play this season then look for him to earn some rotation time during fall camp. USC also have three incoming freshmen in Adonis Otey, Max Williams, and versatile Briton Allen at the cornerback position. All three will most likely see playing before any decision is made on restarting them. Williams, who was recovering from a knee injury in high school last year, practiced with the team during spring camp and made some strides. The Trojans had JUCO cornerback/safety Jaylen Watson and freshman Trey Davis coming in, however they will both be departing from the program before even practicing with the team.
At safety redshirt senior C.J. Pollard will be the only veteran in the secondary. Expect for him to see some rotation time at safety this season in certain defensive packages. As mentioned Chase Williams will rotate from nickel to safety due to his versatility on the field. Once again the Trojans will have a lot of youth with incoming freshmen at the position. USC brought in three safeties in their 2019 recruiting class. Dorian Hewett, Jayden Williams, Kauluana Makaula all come in with a chance to be backups. Also keep an eye on Briton Allen and potentially Max Williams at safety.
Player to Watch
Sophomore Cornerback Olaijah Griffin
Olaijah Griffin will be one player to keep an eye on in the Trojans secondary. Last season Griffin saw time as a starter late in the season and played in 8 games at cornerback and special teams. The sophomore is expected to be one of the starting cornerbacks on the team. Griffin brings an edge to the position as he doesn’t back down from a challenge. If he can stay healthy and consistent then Griffin could see success this season and play a major factor in the Trojans secondary.