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10 takeaways from USC's spring football season

What did we learn from USC football's spring practice sessions and the team's spring game?

USC wrapped up its spring camp on Saturday with the program's annual spring game. The Trojans defense beat the offense 42-34.  

5 standouts from USC football's spring game

Here are ten takeaways from USC's spring camp.

1. If the team stays healthy, this year's offense will be among Lincoln Riley's best ever

USC's first team offense with Caleb Williams under center played only three snaps against the first team defense last week. Three plays was all it took to go 75 yards and score a touchdown. 

Let that serve as a precursor to the fall — this Trojans offense has the potential to be generationally good. 

And no, that's not an overreaction from one series of a spring game.  

Riley's offense is at its best when a strong run game sets up the pass, and USC's personnel is set up perfectly to do just that. With an offensive line bolstered by a couple of impact transfers, very deep and competitive running back and wide receiver rooms, a five-star tight end on the way and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, the Trojans offense has all of the pieces needed to average well over 40 points per game. 

In Riley's eight seasons as an offensive coordinator and head coach at the Power Five level, his offenses have been graded in the top ten every year by PFF. From 2016 to 2018 when Riley had Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray playing quarterback at Oklahoma, his offenses graded out as the best in the country averaging 45.8 points per game. USC should be at that level this fall. 

The only current concern with USC's offense is a lack of upperclassmen depth on the offensive line. That should be addressed this month in the transfer portal though. 

2. Here's an update on USC's depth chart on defense

Jack Sullivan and Kyon Barrs started on the interior of the defensive line in the spring game and Solomon Tuliaupupu, Anthony Lucas and Jamil Muhammad rotated on the edge with the first group. If USC lands Georgia transfer Bear Alexander, he will most likely take up one of those interior defensive line spots in the fall. Including Alexander, that's six players for four starting spots, but I don't envision any member of the above group needing to have a big fall camp to see the field. That's the top group. 

If healthy, Stanley Ta'ufo'ou, Tyrone Taleni, Dejon Benton, Sam Greene, Romello Height and Solomon Byrd are the most likely candidates to rotate in on the defensive line. True freshman defensive end Braylan Shelby will be a wildcard. He hasn't enrolled yet, but was USC's highest rated 2023 recruit on defense.

At linebacker, USC started Mason Cobb and Shane Lee in the spring game. That seems like a pretty good bet for who will start against San Jose State in August. Eric Gentry, one of last year's starters along with Lee, had ankle surgery in the spring and will be working back to full health. It's possible he supplants Lee prior to the season starting with a strong fall camp. Cobb seems like a starter lock. Raesjon Davis and Tackett Curtis are both behind Cobb. 

There's still competition to come at cornerback. Ceyair Wright and Domani Jackson started in the spring game. Wright seems like a good bet to start in the fall, but Christian Roland-Wallace and Jacobe Covington, who had two picks in the spring game, will push Wright and Jackson. Nothing is set in stone. This is a position that could see a lot of rotating. 

The nickel spot still doesn't have a certain starter either. Jaylin Smith took the majority of first team reps there over the past few weeks and he started in the spring game. Latrell McCutchin started in the Cotton Bowl in January and began last season ahead of Smith on the depth chart. McCutchin was hurt and missed the end of spring camp — he'll certainly push Smith when he's healthy. Zion Branch could also factor in here when he gets to 100% health. 

For more on the safety position, let's head to the next takeaway...

3. USC needs someone to step up at safety

The USC staff looks set on Bryson Shaw starting ahead of Max Williams alongside Calen Bullock. Williams, who started 13 games a year ago, largely struggled last season, but Shaw did too when he was on the field. The second safety spot was a weak point on USC's defense. 

In order for the Trojans defense to make the jump necessary to compete for a national title, the second safety position needs to be better. If Williams or Shaw struggle again, perhaps freshman Christian Pierce or Branch takes over. I view the second safety spot as an x-factor this fall. 

4. Miller Moss will most likely back up Caleb Williams

Moss outperformed true freshman quarterback Malachi Nelson in the spring game and had been taking reps with USC's second offensive unit all camp. Nelson hasn't been totally healthy after having shoulder surgery prior to enrolling and I think the injury has had more of an effect on his play than people think. Add all that up and Moss sure looks like Williams' backup. 

5. Get used to seeing Raleek Brown line up in the slot

Brown didn't play until late in the spring game, but he certainly made his presence felt once he got on the field. Brown caught four passes for 69 yards including an impressive jump ball snag against Jackson along the right sideline.

It's my belief that Brown didn't play until late because he's still learning the slot receiver position after moving over from running back. I also think Riley was holding back a little with his play calling and that Brown could still line up in the back field from time to time during the season. Brown had one carry in the spring game on a reverse that lost yardage.

Look for Brown to be used as a Swiss army knife this fall. Just because he's playing a new position, doesn't mean he won't have a role. 

6. Mason Cobb was "born to play inside linebacker"

One of the more interesting post-practice media sessions this spring came after USC's 14th practice. That's when inside linebackers coach Brian Odom, after raving about freshman Tackett Curtis, said that Mason Cobb was "born to play inside linebacker."

"His movements are exactly what you want as an inside linebacker," Odom said. "He's quick. He's got a lot of twitch to him. He's very physical and he's extremely competitive...There's not a lot of highs and lows with him. He's pretty consistent in what he does. He approaches the game the right way. It's been good to have a veteran guy who's had some success at this level in the room."

After the spring game, Cobb was asked what it meant for his his coach to say he was "born to play inside linebacker" and he gave an interesting answer. 

"Coming from a family where I had five older brothers, we were always fighting," Cobb said. "I was seven years younger than the closest one and I was always trying to fight those older brothers. It's always been about competition for me. I grew up nasty and always fighting so that's how I play."

7. Buy stock in freshman running back Quinten Joyner

With multiple lengthy runs including a 26-yard touchdown, Joyner had the best spring game of any of the freshman early enrollees. He looked like he could factor into the running back rotation this fall due to how hard he runs and how difficult he is to tackle. Fellow freshman tailback A'Marion Peterson also stood out with a 7-yard touchdown run and a 23-yard carry where we hurdled a defender in the game.

"The true freshman running backs are amazing," USC running back MarShawn Lloyd said. "I tell them that every day. They're really, really good backs. They don't even seem like freshmen to me. They're still getting the playbook, but they're very hard workers and it's only up from here for them."

8. Defensive linemen Sam Greene and De'jon Benton have positioned themselves to see the field in the fall

Both Greene and Benton recorded sacks in the spring game and participated for all of spring camp. These two aren't going to be starters, but Greene at rush end and Benton on the interior can provide valuable depth for the Trojans. 

9. They aren't big needs, but transfer portal help on the offensive line and defensive line could go a long way

USC is actively recruiting Houston offensive lineman Cam'Ron Johnson and Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander from the transfer portal. If USC can add two offensive lineman and two defensive lineman from the portal this window, they'll be very well stocked heading into the fall. 

10. Expect Eddie Czaplicki to punt and kick off and Denis Lynch to kick field goals this fall

That's how USC played things in the spring game and I don't see any reason for that to change once the season starts.