Pac-12: USC Trojans
USC athletic director Pat Haden, who has a gay son, said Tuesday on Twitter that he will boycott the College Football Playoff committee meetings in Indiana this week in light of the state's newly passed "religious freedom" law that could come into effect in July.
I am the proud father of a gay son. In his honor, I will not be attending the CFP committee meeting in Indy this week. #EmbraceDiversity
— Pat Haden (@ADHadenUSC) March 31, 2015
Critics of the bill, which was signed by Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday, believe that it could be used by businesses and individuals to discriminate against members of the LGBT community based on those individuals' and those businesses' religious beliefs.
The law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Pence, however, said Tuesday that he has been meeting with lawmakers "around the clock" and wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the state's new religious-freedom law does not allow discrimination.
"It certainly wasn't my intent," Pence said.
Businesses and organizations, including the NCAA and the NFL, have voiced concern over the effect of the law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to Indiana.
This isn't the first time Haden has spoken out about his son or the importance of inclusion.
"This issue is near and dear to my heart as I have a gay son," Haden said in a blog on USC's website last March when asked about former Missouri football player Michael Sam and former NBA player Jason Collins, who are both gay. "I am so proud of him and love him to death. At USC, we are all about inclusion. We have many gay athletes here, and we welcome and appreciate them. We promote diversity not just in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity, but different points of view. ...
"We discuss changing the culture around USC from the standpoint of what can we do better. Appreciate and respect one another. And, treat each other with dignity and fairness."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.
That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.
"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."
Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.
"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.
With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.
The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.
"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."
His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.
"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."
In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.
"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.
"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."
Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.
It's probably not surprising the hullabaloo last week over the NCAA's dubious conduct during its judging of USC's football program didn't escape current Trojans.
USC players told the LA Times that they were aware of the reaction that was ignited last week when inflammatory emails and memos written by members of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions were unsealed in the Todd McNair defamation lawsuit against the NCAA. But, hey, what can they do other than try to get better at football?
"Turns out maybe we didn't deserve as much punishment as we got," linebacker Su'a Cravens told the Times.
As for the football part of football, USC's do-everything athlete, Adorre Jackson, is trying to keep on track because, of course, he's running track as well as going both ways.
And here are some observations from Week 3 of spring practices.
USC continued spring practice in scorching 91-degree weather Thursday, and optimism continued to emanate from the Trojan camp. For weeks, the national media has focused primarily on USC's stockpile of skill position talent, but Damien Mama -- who has shed nearly 40 pounds -- spoke about the offensive line's chance to be special in 2015.
USC is also excited about incoming tight end Taylor McNamara, who is transferring from Oklahoma to fortify a thin position group. One current member is walk-on Connor Spears, whose interesting story is documented here.
Much USC press has been focused on off-field issues this week. This Bruce Feldman podcast contends that the NCAA completely botched the Todd McNair case, leaving the Trojans holding the short end of the stick. Former coach Pete Carroll reacted to the recently released documents in the case, while athletic director Pat Haden penned some strong words in response to the unsealing.
We're in the midst of the NCAA tournament, that time of the year when upset wins (and losses, depending on one's perspective) define the month's sporting calendar. To mark the occasion, Ted Miller ranked the top 10 Pac-12 football bracket busters since the turn of the century.
Stanford's 24-23 shocker at USC was technically the biggest upset of them all -- the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs -- but which surprise was the most memorable?
Kevin Gemmell: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012
Of the “Pac-12” era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable upset than Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon in Eugene in 2012.
You had the Zach Ertz touchdown catch (or non-catch … talk amongst yourselves). You had a Stanford team adjusting to life after Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan making his first career road start and just his second start overall. You had an Oregon team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. You had Jordan Williamson’s Fiesta Bowl redemption and you had a Stanford defense that was downright brilliant.
Oh, did we mention that Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the country (coaches' poll)?
Stanford’s win busted the two-team BCS bracket wide open. And depending which lines you looked at, Oregon was favored by as many as 21.5 with an over-under of 64.5. The Cardinal couldn’t beat the Ducks the year before … at home … with Luck! … so why on earth would they do it on the road with a green quarterback?
Not only was the outcome surprising, but the way the game played out was equally unexpected. The previous three years, the winner had scored at least 50 points and the loser at least 30. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42. The next two years, Oregon won 52-31 and 53-30, respectively. The 2012 edition rewrote the playbook for how teams attacked Oregon.
Everything about that game was thrilling. And Oregon fans are probably still left wondering what would have been if De'Anthony Thomas had just thrown a block?
Ted Miller: Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002
I covered four of our top-10 upsets but for a myriad of reasons none left a bigger impression than Washington’s shocking 29-26 victory over third-ranked Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.
First of all, 2002 was an interesting year. For one, check out the preseason AP poll. Colorado is No. 7, Washington is No. 9 and Washington State is No. 11. Oregon and USC are Nos. 15 and 20. Yeah, that seems a bit weird. The Huskies imploded at Michigan in the season opener, tearing defeat from the jaws of victory, and never really recovered. Washington State bounced back from a loss at Ohio State to roll through the Pac-10, the signature victory over USC punctuated by a sliding Drew Dunning after he kicked the game-winning field goal. You might recall the Pete Carroll era at USC picked up after that.
Oh, and the Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price eras ended at Washington and Washington State after this season for very different reasons, though both would end up in a sort of coaching purgatory by the beginning of 2003.
As for the game, it was a remarkable back-and-forth affair, with a talented Huskies team finally playing to its potential against a Washington State team that was obviously much better. Yet you could feel Martin Stadium gasp with worry when Cougars QB Jason Gesser got hurt. If Gesser didn’t get hurt, the Cougs would have coasted home, but if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.
While the game was exciting for all four-plus hours, which included three overtimes, the ending and aftermath was most remarkable (here’s my column from after the game). It was decided by a controversial call that required referee Gordon Riese to explain himself on the field. That didn’t go well. Cougars fans started pelting the field with bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. It was an ugly scene.
That said, I still talk about this game with Huskies and Cougars alike. Everyone who witnessed has a take on it. Some Cougs tell me they still aren’t over it. And Huskies know that their program pretty much fell into an extended spiral down the toilet after this season. Their next winning campaign didn't come until 2010.
Chantel Jennings: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014
This was a pretty easy choice for me for two reasons.
First, it’s the only upset on the list that I saw in person. And let’s be honest: As great as it is to watch games from the comfort of your living room with friends, it doesn’t come close to being able to see the thing in real life.
Second, it was the second straight year this happened. It’s like the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Only it’s “Upset a team once, it’s surprising; upset a team in back-to-back years, and it doesn’t seem like much of an upset anymore.”
Would we even be having a debate like this if any of the other upsets had happened twice in a row? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve broken loose if Stanford had beaten USC again in 2008? (Instead, the Cardinal lost by 22.) Or, what if the Beavers came back in 2009 and beat up on the then-fourth-ranked Trojans again? (They almost did, only losing by six.)
Hands down, those would be memorable, right? Because there’s something so great about that moment in which an upset or a second upset spurns a rivalry and the game is never the same. Every junior on Oregon’s roster this season is going to be telling the freshmen and sophomores about how they’ve never beaten the Wildcats in the regular season. Every senior is going to be telling the underclassmen how they want to leave Eugene without the stigma of allowing Arizona to be a stumbling block in the regular season. The difference between avenging a loss and making the same “mistake” twice is something that never leaves these players.
If Oregon had come back and smacked Arizona last year during the regular season, that wouldn’t be the case.
David Lombardi: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007
This was my first foray to the Coliseum, and it happened to feature the largest point spread (41) ever overcome in college football history.
I spoke with only one optimistic Stanford supporter before the game, and that happened to be Jim Harbaugh's fiancée (now wife), Sarah.
The USC dynasty was flying high -- the Trojans still had two more Rose Bowl championships on the way, including one later that season. It seemed as if Stanford hadn't advanced past its 1-11 nadir the year prior. In fact, a week before their trip to Los Angeles, the Cardinal had been blown out 41-3 at home by Arizona State. To further stretch out a long injury list, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure during the week. So Stanford threw skinny sophomore backup Tavita Pritchard to the lions of the Coliseum for his first career start.
Just a few months earlier, Harbaugh had already verbally chest-bumped Pete Carroll, who was then the bully on the Pac-10 block. "We bow to no man, we bow to no program here at Stanford University," the Cardinal's new coach had said to conclude a war of words between the two men, which began when Harbaugh publicly speculated on Carroll's future at USC.
In short, all context suggested that the Trojans would administer a beatdown to put Harbaugh and his overmatched squad in its place.
At halftime, though, USC only led 9-0, and the crowd booed the home team off the field after Stanford had stuffed a fourth-down attempt at the goal line. That was the first in a series of dominoes that fell the Cardinal's way.
Every single break proved instrumental in the upset. Trojan quarterback John David Booty, who remained in the game despite breaking his finger, threw four critical interceptions. Richard Sherman (yes, that Richard Sherman, still a wide receiver playing for Harbaugh and not Carroll back then) converted a do-or-die fourth-and-20 by a millimeter or two.
That set the table for the decisive fourth-and-goal fade, in which Pritchard found Mark Bradford -- whose father had recently passed away -- for the score that pushed Stanford to a 24-23 victory. The Cardinal had sucked the air out of the Coliseum in a shocker that might have cost USC a national title shot in 2007 and ignited the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry.
Will Be Making My College Choice April 3rd! @ Ocean Lakes High School 6pm... Anyone Can Come, No Charge Decision, Decisions, & Decisions.=— Levonta Taylor (@iamlevonta) March 24, 2015
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.
On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.
On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and a leader in interceptions.
We tackled offensive trios for the North and the South on Tuesday. This morning, we looked at the defensive situation in the Pac-12 North, which looks to be a rebuilding adventure across the board. Here's a glimpse at the Pac-12 South, which looks like it may be in better shape than the North. There also seems to be some defensive parity across the board in this division, so keep that in mind when considering these rankings. There's no clear standout.
The skinny: The Utes will certainly miss Nate Orchard's beastly productivity (18.5 sacks, 21 TFL), but this strong defensive machine looks to keep on churning. Norris led last year's team with 116 tackles -- the next most productive player after Orchard accumulated only 61. Utah will turn to Dimick (10 sacks, 14.5 TFL) to pick up some pass-rush slack, while Paul's four interceptions paced the roster in 2014.
The skinny: To begin, let's establish that Scooby Wright alone delivers the statistical output of an entire three-headed monster: 163 tackles, 19 TFL, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2014. It's remarkable to realize that Parks' 81 tackles -- second most of Arizona's returners -- were less than half of Wright's total last year. The safety did also contribute two interceptions, as did Denson at cornerback. With Jared Tevis and Tra'Mayne Bondurant both gone, the secondary must pick up slack to round out the Wildcats' new three-headed monster.
3. Arizona State
The skinny: The Sun Devils are coming off a topsy-turvy season on defense, but the bet here is that Todd Graham's maturing unit will show much more consistency in 2015. Simone has gone from walk-on to ASU's leading returning tackler and critical defensive glue. Fiso will likely have to improve upon his 11 tackles for loss from last season to help this unit overcome the pass rush loss of Marcus Hardison. Brown brings back three interceptions.
The skinny: Though leading tacklers Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard are gone, plenty of exciting talent remains at USC. Sarao, now a senior, is the leading returning tackler on a balanced defense. Cravens is a true Swiss Army knife -- he's effective both in the secondary and at linebacker, evidenced by the fact he led the Trojans in both tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (3) last season. Jackson is still looking for his first career pick, but we're betting that comes soon, as his playmaking ability is not in question.
The skinny: This troika is tasked with filling the shoes of Eric Kendricks, perhaps the nation's most dependable tackling machine (145 last season). Jack is the unit's leading returner (87 stops in 2014), while Hollins led the Bruins with nine sacks as a sophomore. UCLA should benefit from the experience that Adams brings at cornerback. Remember that he housed two interceptions last year, and both returns were electrifying.
The skinny: The Buffs seem confident that they'll make major improvements to their atrocious run defense in 2015. That'll require a unit-wide effort originating from the front seven. But trio above represents an integral core of statistical production. Olugbode is Colorado's leading returning tackler, McCartney paced last year's team with 4.5 sacks, and Thompson recorded all three of the Buffs' interceptions in 2014.
And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!
- What if Rich Rodriguez had been a basketball coach instead? (Point guards release a collective "phew" that he isn't).
- Todd Graham has high hopes for the Sun Devils.
- Some key position battles raging at California.
- In case you missed it on the blog yesterday, Colorado and TCU have inked a home-and-home.
- Former Duck Darron Thomas is still hoping the NFL will call.
- The Beavers have extended an offer to a three-star tight end.
- Sort of Stanfordy ... Jim Harbaugh is looking for the next Andrew Luck, but knows he probably won't find him.
- How’s the recruiting battle in LA going? A little something for UCLA and USC fans ... since you guys share so well.
- Dennis Dodd does a great job breaking down the newly-unsealed NCAA emails from the Todd McNair case.
- Utah opens spring ball with some position battles to keep an eye on.
- Phil Steele’s spring guide is loaded with good info. Washington fans might be particularly interested in page 6.
- Any Washington State fans remember James Hasty? He was just hired as a high school head coach.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.
On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.
On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.
We're breaking it down by division. We tackled the offensive three-headed monsters from the North earlier today. Now it's time to move on to the Pac-12 South, which features plenty of firepower and plenty of question marks.
The skinny: Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Wildcats' surge to the top of the treacherous Pac-12 South was their youth at the skill positions. Solomon led the offense as a redshirt freshman, Wilson bowled over defenders as a true freshman, and Jones led the team in receiving as a sophomore. That entire nucleus returns in 2015, and it looks like more quality depth could be layering the receiving corps -- Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, and DaVonte' Neal come to mind. But the main point remains: Arizona returns a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver, and a developing quarterback who handled his inaugural campaign well. That's a three-headed monster that can flex its muscles in 2015.
The skinny: There should be plenty of offensive confidence oozing out of the desert come fall. Bercovici showed plenty of dependability last season, so Todd Graham isn't waking up in cold sweats because of Taylor Kelly's graduation. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are confident enough in Richard's running abilities to move versatile weapon Foster to the slot. Richard racked up 478 yards on 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year old, while Foster already caught 62 passes while also serving as the primary running back last year. With Jaelen Strong's 1,165 receiving yards gone, Foster's position shift makes sense, and ASU has gunpowder in all three of its offensive cannons.
The skinny: Kessler will be in the early Heisman Trophy discussion thanks to the gaudy numbers he posted in 2014 (39 touchdowns, five interceptions), but the Trojans do have to replace his two most influential sidekicks. Running back Javorius Allen (1,489 yards) and receiver Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards) are both taking lavish production with them to the NFL draft. Sure, the Trojans have been recruiting well enough to power through those losses, but doing so won't be a cakewalk. Davis and Madden are expected to share backfield duties (there are promising true freshmen coming, too), while Smith returns 54 catches. There's work to do at USC to make this troika as effective as it was last year, but the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- it's brimming with potential.
The skinny: Brett Hundley is gone from this mix, but the Bruins can take solace in the fact they return the Pac-12's rushing champion. Perkins' 1,575 yards on 6.3 yards per carry led all conference backs last year, and there will be big weight on the junior's shoulders as a new quarterback takes over. Jerry Neuheisel or Josh Rosen must develop rapport with Payton, who emerged as Hundley's favorite target in 2014. That'll be the key in ensuring that Perkins again enjoys running room in 2015.
The skinny: This is an intriguing trio for a Colorado program that's eager to turn a bevy of heartbreaking losses into 2015 wins. A hemorrhaging run defense might have been the primary culprit in the Buffs 1-11 finish last year, but Liufau's conference-worst 15 interceptions also cannot be overlooked. If he does a better job avoiding these mistakes, Spruce and an improving run game should be ready to roll. Spruce's 106 catches led the Pac-12 in 2014, while Colorado's rushing efficiency has bettered from 3.1 yards per carry in 2012 to 4.1 last year. Powell, a 230-pound bruiser, led a committee of backs at 5.3 yards per carry.
The skinny: The Utes have Booker, a 1,512-yard name that'll be tossed around in early Heisman discussions, but there has to be significant worry beyond his position. For one, both prospective quarterbacks struggled throwing the ball last season, and their road doesn't look to be getting any smoother. With Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson, and Westlee Tonga gone, the Utes are losing two of their top three receivers and their most productive tight end. Scott is the leading returning target while prized junior college transfer Deniko Carter will be counted on to produce immediately. There's potential there, but at this point, questions outweigh answers. Booker is the workhorse with a hefty load on his shoulders.
You talkin' to me?
Colorado has finished their spring game, so we're in a slight Pac-12 practice lull while basketball is in the spotlight. But the avalanche of 11 other spring games is creeping closer. Here are some links from around the conference:
- Rich Rodriguez has netted the commitment of a three-star running back.
- The Arizona State staff says that it needs an improved Mike Bercovici at quarterback in 2015.
- A recap from the latest Cal football spring practice, courtesy California Golden Blogs.
- More on the life and death of former Colorado lineman Ryan Johanningmeier.
- Oregon kicks off spring practice in less than a week. Here's a preview.
- Details have been announced regarding Oregon State's spring game on April 18, while the Beavers have grabbed another 2016 commitment.
- Last week, Stanford coach David Shaw spoke about his former boss and a young quarterback prospect named Jameis Winston.
- As UCLA gears up for spring practice, here are some Bruin Bites.
- The latest USC football morning report from the Los Angeles Times.
- Five burning questions about Utah football -- answered.
- A Washington football mailbag tackles the Huskies' quarterback competition.
- Washington State needs a new director of player relations.
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I am blessed and honored to say that I will be announcing my college commitment at Santa Margarita High School at 2:45pm on March 26th.— kj costello (@kj_costello) March 20, 2015
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Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.
- The Wildcats wide receiving corps should be strong again.
- Speaking of receivers, ASU feels like it's got a pretty good stable as well.
- Some post-practice thoughts and analysis from Cal.
- Some good Colorado football Qs and As from Kyle Ringo's chat.
- Highlights from Marcus Mariota's QB Camp with Jon Gruden.
- Oregon State is keeping its eye on this JC cornerback.
- A preview of Stanford's pro day.
- UCLA loading up on linebackers.
- Former USC running back Reggie Bush is headed back to the West Coast.
- Would Eric Rowe be a good fit in Baltimore?
- Jake Browning could make an instant impact for Washington.
- Connor Halliday is on this list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the draft.
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With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.
Today, we move to the defensive side of the ball and we're starting with the defensive backs. For the sake of time and avoiding headaches, we're going to just separate this into three groups -- the defensive backs, linebackers and defensive line. For teams that have certain hybrid positions and players, we put them into which of those three categories we thought they best fit. If you don't like how we did it, feel free to complain here.
UCLA: The Bruins' secondary will miss the versatility of Anthony Jefferson (72 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 interception, 8 pass break ups), but UCLA has some good talent and depth built up, too. The Bruins return starting corners Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau, as well as both of their back ups in Priest Willis and Marcus Rios. Adams and Moreau were both top-10 tacklers for the Bruins last season, but it’d be nice to see both play a bit more consistently, specifically Moreau, who really stepped up at the end of last season. But, that’s what the spring is for -- getting back to those basics and learning to play better as a unit consistently. It gets interesting at safety for the Bruins where they have Tahaan Goodman, who stepped in for Randall Goforth last season and finished with 46 tackles, and Jaleel Wadood, who had a fantastic freshman season, finishing as the Bruins’ fifth-leading tackler. Those two could be the lead candidates for starters but don’t count out Randall Goforth, coming off surgery on both shoulders, who’s expected to be back though Jim Mora hasn’t given any official word on him yet.
USC: Let’s start with the corners, where the Trojans are in excellent shape, returning both Adoree’ Jackson (who would like to win the Thorpe and Heisman at USC) and Kevon Seymour. Both Jackson and Seymour finished last season with 49 tackles apiece, and with the starting spots basically locked down, Steve Sarkisian will probably spend the spring looking at the options behind them. Expect Chris Hawkins, Jonathan Lockett and Lamont Simmons to get the most run here.
Both Hawkins and Lockett have taken reps at safety this spring, too, but that’s more to build depth than anything else since the Trojans return both John Plattenberg and Leon McQuay III. Earlier this month USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said that this is a big spring for McQuay and we expect the same is true for Plattenberg, as both need to prove they can play consistently at a high level. Plattenberg started six of the Trojans’ final seven games -- half at free safety and the other half at strong safety -- so he needs to keep that momentum moving forward. These two seem pretty sure bets as the two top safeties coming into the fall but they’ve got to do more than prove they’ll be the best out of spring practice. With stud safeties Marvell Tell’s and Ykili Ross’ enrollments on the horizon, Plattenberg and McQuay need to be as many steps ahead as possible in order to keep those starting spots next fall.
Utah: With as much nickel as the Utes played last season, they’ll want a lot of competition in the secondary this spring as they look to replace Davion Orphey, Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen. Dominique Hatfield will enter the spring as a near lock for one of the corner spots after finishing with 38 tackles, one interception (which was a pretty important interception) and nine pass break ups last season. The other front-runner for a starting spot would be Justin Thomas at nickel. He tallied 37 tackles and one sack in 2014. Opposite Hatfield, the other cornerback spot will be fun to watch as Ahmad Christian, Tavaris Williams and Boobie Hobbs battle it out (with Thomas playing a factor as well). Cory Butler, the No. 2 juco corner in the ESPN JC 50, won’t be here this spring so other players need to try and get a leg up on a kid who looks like he could be an instant contributor.
At safety the Utes get a boost with the return of Tevin Carter, who was granted a medical hardship for last season. Competing with him at safety will be Marcus Williams, the player who filled in for him in his absence. Those two will be joined by Jason Thompson (who came over from quarterback, because that position group certainly has enough competition as is), Andre Godfrey and Austin Lee, which gives the Utes some pretty good competition at safety.