Now that spring football practice has come to an end, the Trojans won’t take the field again to prepare for the 2019 season for two months. There’s no shortage of questions surrounding the team; the way it bounces back from last year’s disappointing season may define the program for years to come.
Though little more than a month of spring football doesn’t make the answers to those questions much clearer, it does give a better idea of what to expect from some of the younger team members.
Throughout spring ball, a number of early-enrollee incoming freshmen on both sides of the ball made strong cases for playing time in the fall. With the loss of so many veterans to the draft, the freshmen’s ability to step up and contribute will be perhaps the most critical factor in the coming season.
Defensive back Briton Allen, a late flip from Georgia Tech, found his way into plenty of reps this spring as a result of the numerous injuries hampering the secondary. Allen performed impressively when thrust into the fire at cornerback in the early practices — a departure from his usual safety position. Though his technique and footwork in coverage have a ways to go, Allen’s raw football instincts and aggressiveness showed up regularly.
Allen continued to play well once he was moved back to safety, a position where the Trojans sorely lack depth. With the loss of so many veteran players in the secondary and the injury woes of many that remain, Allen’s versatility could make him a crucial player in the fall.
Outside linebacker and defensive end Drake Jackson was perhaps the biggest shining star of spring ball. Jackson already looks the part of a Division I edge rusher, standing at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds and having been compared to USC legend Leonard Williams by head coach Clay Helton. Jackson carries that frame with tremendous athleticism, showing a rare burst off the line of scrimmage along with a special quickness in moving off of blocks.
Jackson showcased his raw physical ability during the spring showcase, where he made a ridiculous one-handed interception at the line of scrimmage and proceeded to run it back for a touchdown. Jackson has been one of the most disruptive players on the Trojan front seven throughout the spring, and seems likely to have a big role to play come fall.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Kedon Slovis has been a pleasant surprise for the Trojans. The Arizona native came into the spring with few expectations other than to be the fourth-string quarterback, yet his strong play has caught the attention of everyone in attendance.
Slovis showcases a natural understanding of the timing necessary for throws in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s system, as well as refined touch on his passes. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, and his mobility is limited. However, his ability to quickly make reads and put the ball where and when it needs to be makes him worthy of notice at the position. Although it’s highly unlikely he wins the starting job, his ability to run the offense smoothly provides the Trojans with more security at signal caller — something a team always needs.
Fellow offensive newcomer wide receiver John Jackson III has been one of the most fun players to watch throughout the spring. From the first week of practice, Jackson has looked like he’s played in this offense for years. His route running is smooth and sudden, with exceptionally clean breaks that allow him to create separation with ease. His natural athleticism, sound hands and route-running ability made him a favorite target throughout spring ball, regularly making plays against the first team defense.
Though the receiver room is crowded with an incredible amount of talent, Jackson’s performance so far should earn him the opportunity to fight for a bigger role in fall camp. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the field regularly once the season begins.