Football

USC Football Media Day: As fall camp kicks off, Lincoln Riley’s puzzle is starting to come together

The Trojans hope to turn a roster of scattered parts into a cohesive championship contender.

A photo of Jordan Addison in a cardinal No. 3 USC jersey answering questions at USC football media day on Thursday.

When describing the makeup of his first USC football team back in the spring, head coach Lincoln Riley referred to the 2022 Trojans as “one of the most unique rosters in the history of the sport.”

When you look at the assembly of the Trojans’ roster, it’s easy to see what he’s talking about.

There’s quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Mario Williams, who are following Riley to Los Angeles after breakout freshman seasons at Oklahoma.

There’s junior wide receiver Jordan Addison and redshirt senior running back Travis Dye, veterans who departed rival Pac-12 schools to join a revitalized USC program.

There are mainstays like redshirt senior offensive linemen Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon, survivors of USC’s mass roster turnover this offseason who were protecting Sam Darnold at USC when Caleb Williams was a freshman in high school.

There’s redshirt junior Kyle Ford and junior Gary Bryant Jr., who previously shared USC’s wide receiver room with current NFLers Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London.

And that’s just on offense.

Thanks to the Transfer Portal and the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA after 2020, Riley was able to put together a roster unlike one that USC football has ever seen before in terms of its eclectic makeup.

But when you have a roster of that sort, inevitably, there are going to be questions about its cohesion.

As USC opens its first fall camp under Riley, however, that does not seem to concern neither players nor coaches. The puzzle pieces that the coach has assembled are starting to come together, and a clear picture is beginning to emerge.

“I think our team has done a good job of coming together quickly with the amount of transfers that we have gotten,” fifth-year offensive lineman Justin Dedich said. “We’re very fortunate [as an offensive line] to pretty much be intact … We all experienced the lowest of the low last year, and I think we’ve used that as fuel for this season coming up.”

“[Riley and his staff] came here to win, and that’s what it’s about at the end of the day,” redshirt junior receiver Tahj Washington said on his decision to remain at USC. “You can’t consider yourself a competitor if you leave for something outside of that.

“We all learn a lot from each other. We have a great group.”

Players and coaches all acknowledged that for this group to gel, everyone will need to embrace his specific role on the roster.

“You could be the janitor here, it’s not really taking a back role,” defensive backs coach Donte Williams said. “You just gotta make sure that you star in the role that you’re given. Whatever your job description is, just make sure that you star in that particular job, and do that to your best ability.”

The talent is obviously there. Now, Lincoln Riley’s puzzle is slowly but surely coming together.

It won’t happen overnight. There will inevitably be growing pains along the way — missing pieces, ones that don’t fit, ones that are in the wrong place.

But if USC is able to fully assemble it, the puzzle just might result in something for the conference and the country to reckon with.