Where USC stands at defensive back entering 2020

No position group embodied USC’s youth movement last season more than the defensive backs. It was full of freshmen and sophomores, not a junior or senior to be found. Sometimes that age and inexperience came back to bite the Trojans.

But everyone is back for 2020, a year older and more experienced. Here’s a look at where USC stands at defensive back entering the new season:

On the roster

The new Trojan defense under coordinator Todd Orlando will call on the safeties to be the quarterbacks of the defense, tasked with getting their teammates in formation. And safeties will be asked to play downhill and make plays all over the field.

USC’s two returning starting safeties, Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao, fit this bill well. Both are known for their football IQs, and both are known for their ability to make big tackles in the backfield.

Hufanga, who is getting some first-round hype in mock drafts, was second on USC in tackles last season despite missing three games. Pola-Mao was third while leading the team with four interceptions.

Behind these two at safety is Chase Williams, who has bounced around from safety to nickelback throughout his career. He started four times as a redshirt freshman and made 29 tackles. Sophomore Briton Allen returns after playing in 11 games as a true freshman, while Kaulana Makaula is coming off a redshirt year.

At outside corner last year, USC rotated between Olaijah Griffin, Chris Steele and Isaac Taylor-Stuart.

Griffin, now a junior, led the group with nine passes defended despite struggling through back spasms for much of the season. He was named to the Pac-12 honorable mention for his efforts. Steele was able to step on the field as a true freshman and hold his own with 35 tackles and five deflections.

Taylor-Stuart’s status for the start of the 2020 season is in question after he had knee surgery after tearing ligaments in the bowl loss to Iowa. He was expected to miss all of spring.

Behind that trio are Adonis Otey, Jayden Williams and Dorian Hewett, all of whom are in their second years at USC. Hewett played some safety in addition to corner last year, playing in 10 games with one start.

At nickelback, junior Greg Johnson is the returning starter with seven career deflections and two interceptions to his name. He is backed up by redshirt freshman Max Williams, who played in four games while being hampered with ankle injuries last year.

On the way

USC did not sign any defensive backs in the 2020 class, but has three DBs committed for 2021: Warren safety Xamarion Gordon, Narbonne corner Anthony Beavers Jr. and Muir corner Calen Bullock.

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