USC Football

USC Scoop's Early 2020 Depth Chart: Defense

June 16, 2020

With new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando at the helm, USC’s defense could look very different next season. And while Spring Football would have gone a long way in determining a potential depth chart, USCScoop’s Marc Kulkin and Josh An take a look at who the starters could be for the Trojans in 2020.

Defensive Line

Josh An

Starters: Jay Tufele, Marlon Tuipulotu, Brandon Pili

Back-Ups: Jacob Lichenstein, Caleb Tremblay, Connor Murphy, Nick Figueroa, De’Jon Benton, Trevor Trout

I’ll go with three lineman here under the assumption that Coach Orlando keeps his 3-3-5, 3-4 defensive scheme. If this scheme is implemented, I want to have my three most disruptive lineman on the field to free up the linebackers so I’ll go with Tufele, Tuipulotu, and Pili. Tufele and Tuipulotu are locks in my opinion, but if Pili is unable to take a leap it will be interesting to see if he can be unseated by someone else or if Drake Jackson stays as a lineman.

Marc Kulkin

Starters: (NT) Marlon Tuipulotu, (DE) Caleb Tremblay, (DT) Jay Tufele

Backups: (NT) Brandon Pili, (NT) Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, (NT) De'Jon Benton, (NT) Trevor Trout (DE) Jacob Lichtenstein(DT) Connor Murphy OR Nick Figueroa

New defensive line coach Vic So'oto will have more talent to work with at USC than he had while working his magic at Virginia in the same capacity.   Should similar or better results materialize in Los Angeles, with BETTER athletes and talent, then the Trojans defense has the ability to be one of the better units in the country.  The DLine group is experienced and has a lot to prove to their new position coach.

The key for this unit will be staying "relatively" healthy over the course of the season which has been a challenge.  If players like Tremblay and Connor Murphy can step in and fill the void left behind by Christian Rector, the rotating of players should allow for active and violent play.

Trojan fans know the potential of this unit, now they just want to see some consistency.

Player to keep an eye on who could have a huge season is Jacob Lichtenstein.  He is bigger and stronger than I've ever seen him...they key is staying healthy.


Josh An:

Starters: OLB Drake Jackson, MLB Jordan Iosefa, OLB Palaie Gaoteote

Back-Ups: Solomon Tuliaupupu, Kana’i Mauga, Hunter Echols, Abdul Malik-McClain, Ralen Goforth, Juliano Falaniko

Drake Jackson has a shot at being USC’s best defensive player in 2020 and if he isn’t on the defensive line, I think he’d be inserted as the B-backer whose primary role is to rush the passer, one of his best traits. The other linebacker spots are tricky as the MIC linebacker has many possible candidates to fill it. I’ll go with Jordan Iosefa for now because while he isn’t the most flashy playmaker, he’s a more veteran player who I trust to play his role. Again, it will be interesting to see if Palaie Gaoteote, who I have starting at the other linebacker spot, is moved there instead and if a younger player can unseat Iosefa and can show consistency after flashing signs of excellence in his freshman season.

Marc Kulkin

Starters: (OLB) Drake Jackson (MLB) Jordan Iosefa (OLB) Palaie Gaoteote

Backups: (OLB) Hunter Echols (MLB) Solomon Tuliaupupu OR Ralen Goforth, (OLB) Kana’i Mauga OR Eli'Jah Winston, OR Abdul Malik-McClain, Juliano Falaniko.

Until we get a chance to see this group up close more and see where the players are lining up including their official position designations, I'm going to stick with the outside and middle labels.  Spring practice was going to be a tryout so to speak, now we'll have to wait until summer workouts begin.

As a freshman, Drake Jackson, proved his mettle playing along the Dline. In 2020, Jackson, will be moved around allowing his athleticism to take on more responsibilities.  The addition of Jackson to the linebacker unit adds just one more big playmaker roaming the second level.  

The outside backers will only be as good as the middle backers allow them to be.  The "MIKE" has been one area where consistency has been an issue. Most of the problems stem from the lack of depth resulting from injuries to Solo and Iosefa.  With a healthy return of those two the opposition will have something else to plan for,

Todd Orlando is the Trojans defensive coordinator and he will also handle the linebacker coaching duties and he also has a strong support staff of former Trojan linebackers he can turn to for additional coaching support.

The bottom line - If the Trojan defense is going to make a difference the LB unit will have  to improve it's production on the field.

Keep an eye on Ralen Goforth in this group.  The sophomore is emerging as a team leader off the field as well as on the field.


Josh An

Starters: Olaijah Griffin, Chris Steele OR Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Greg Johnson, Talanoa Hufanga, Isaiah Pola-Mao

Back-Ups: CB Dorian Hewett, S Chase Williams, CB  Jayden Williams, Nickel Max Williams, S Briton Allen

Competition for playing time is going to be fierce in 2020 particularly at the outside cornerback spot. Olaijah Griffin, Chris Steele, and Isaac Taylor-Stuart all played well in starting roles and it will be interesting to see who Donte Williams decides is ultimately best for those positions. At nickel, while Greg Johnson was the primary starter, Max Williams flashed potential in short spurts, and maybe the coaching staff ultimately decides it would rather have Steele, Taylor-Stuart, or Griffin at that spot instead. It will be interesting to see how these battles plays out in the fall and if Coach Williams decides to shake things up. 

Safety is more straightforward as Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga have a chance to really raise their NFL Draft stock with strong 2020 seasons. Craig Naivar has a strong track record for development so I expect them to be a strength of the defense. If injuries plague them again, I would imagine Chase Williams and Briton Allen would be the most likely players to fill those holes.

Marc Kulkin

Starters: (CB) Olaijah Griffin or Isaac Taylor-Stuart, (CB) Chris Steele, (Nick) Greg Johnson, (SS) Talanoa Hufanga, (FS) Isaiah Pola-Mao

Backups: (CB) Dorian Hewett, (CB) Jayden Williams, (CB) Adonis Otey, (SS) Chase Williams, (FS) Briton Allen, (Nickel) Max Williams

There was little attrition from this unit, with only C.J. Pollard moving on so Trojan fans should anticipate big production from this group.  Last year the secondary was young and inexperienced. This year, the group is older, more experienced and will be under the tutelage of Coach's Donte Williams and Craig Naiver. Both coaches bring a ton of fire and passion to the room which is full of NFL caliber players. Now it's up to the guys to get them to the next level.

The starting unit does not lack for talent, however, neither does the group behind them looking for opportunities. The safeties have two potential All-Americans in Hufanga and Pola-Mao roaming the middle and if they can stay healthy for an entire season, they may earn those honors.  When healthy, Pola-Mao has proven to be the ball hawking safety needed, and Hufanga is one of the most instinctual and physical safeties in the country who has to be accounted for on every snap.

If there is one player to keep an eye on from the secondary group who could make a move, I would suggest, Max Williams.  Don't let his size fool you.  What Max lacks in height he makes up for with his physically.

Tags: Football
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