One of the biggest questions for USC's defense going into next season is who will replace star safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Hufanga led USC in tackles (62), interceptions (4), forced fumbles (2), and had three sacks on the 2020 season. He ranked third nationally in interceptions, 19th in tackles, and 16th in forced fumbles. To add, Hufanga had an interception in four consecutive games this season, and was the first Trojan to do so since 1996.
Hufanga declared for the 2021 NFL Draft after spending three seasons with the USC Trojans, which creates some holes defensively, but also opens up opportunities for younger players.
The Trojans have some options when it comes to filling this void but Clay Helton believes that the team will "mix and match" players until they can find the perfect fit.
"It's always hard to fill the shoes of a Talanoa, I mean All-American and [a] very unique and special player. Whoever gets him in the NFL is going to win the lottery - because they are getting such a high quality person and player" said Helton during media availability on Saturday.
"We really invested in [bringing in new talent] and being able to bring in Xavion Alford who has [one] year of college [experience] under his belt. As well as signing three freshman whether its Xamarion [Gordon], Anthony [Beavers Jr.], [or] whether its Calen [Bullock]."
Helton went on to say, "You've got the opportunity to mix and match some kids in there that I think are talented. In some areas they have an even greater skillset than Talanoa [Hufanga]. They are very athletic men. We will mix and match here over these [next spring] practices."
USC returns with Max Williams, Chase Williams, Greg Johnson, Isaiah Pola-Mao, Briton Allen, Jordan McMilian, and Tommy Maurice. New additions to the safety position are Anthony Beavers Jr., Calen Bullock, Xamarion Gordon, and Xavion Alford.
Helton spoke highly of redshirt junior Chase Williams on Saturday, who saw action at safety and special teams in 2020. Last season he appeared in five games and started once against Washington State. He had four tackles and one fumble recovery against the Cougars.
"He is a kid that has a lot of experience and has a chip on their shoulder and has had a great spring and I can't wait to watch him. He's had two great first practices." [Helton]
As spring ball continues to progress more clarity on Talanoa Hufanga's replacement should become more evident. USC will conduct their first full pad practice on Saturday, and both Clay Helton and Todd Orlando expect to have more clarity once physical drills kick off.
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