USC veterans and new faces are looking to drastically improve the defense during the offseason

Transfer portal stars are fitting in perfectly while returning Trojans continue to improve.

USC football players walk on the field. They are wearing gold pants, white jerseys and cardinal helmets.

The Trojans returned to the practice field Thursday on a warm and sunny afternoon after a wet and rainy day on Tuesday. This is the type of weather that new faces from the transfer portal were expecting.

One of USC’s most notable pick-ups from the transfer portal was redshirt senior edge rusher Jamil Muhammad. The former quarterback turned edge rusher out of Georgia State has already made his presence known at practice. So far he has been enjoying his time in L.A. and has embraced every challenge practice has thrown at him.

“First couple months have been great, just getting here and adjusting to a brand new way of life as far as football and expectations,” Muhammad said. “It’s been pretty strenuous, but I am up for the challenge.”

Although Muhammad has taken advantage of his short time with USC so far, he wasn’t certain USC was his next stop.

“Honestly, I didn’t,” Muhammad said, responding to a question about if he knew he would eventually end up at USC. “I knew it would be something big. I had faith in myself, in my game, and what I did at George State. I knew something was in the writings and I was just excited to see what it was … Never in a million years did I think I would be standing in Los Angeles, but everything works out.”

One key factor in Muhammad’s game that gives him a competitive edge is his time playing quarterback. He believes his quarterback knowledge translates well to playing with junior quarterback Caleb Williams because he can see what Williams is doing and why he is doing it, which helps during the team drills at practice.

“He makes a lot of ridiculous decisions at the line and for me to still process that and still understand what’s coming, I think that comes a lot from my former quarterback intellect,” Muhammad said. “It’s another thing I’m grateful for because it is another thing that lets me play faster.”

Muhammad’s work has not gone unnoticed as outside linebackers coach Roy Manning has been very pleased with his practice performance.

“This kid is all business, very serious, no messing around. Now that he is here, he is exactly what we expected out of him,” Manning said. “Getting to the quarterback is a big focus this year and you can see it easily on film that he can bend and turn tight corners.”

Manning also noted that he has seen a lot of improvement already with the defense.

“It’s really refreshing,” Manning said. “These guys are taking a big step and having more bodies. You can never have enough pass rushers. That’s what separates a lot of teams. We do a lot of cross training to get edge guys ready.”

Manning and the rest of the coaching staff are highly aware of what they want to fix from last year.

“I think we had a bunch of missed opportunities when we got to the quarterback,” Manning said. “If you go back and watch the film, it’s not exactly getting there but finishing. One of the big things we saw on film was not getting under control. We are focusing on attacking the quarterback.”

While the new stars look promising, returning players such as redshirt freshman defensive lineman Devan Thompkins and redshirt freshman defensive back Zion Branch can also see their play improving.

Thompkins has been putting in a lot of extra work to up his game whether that is through watching film or hitting the weight room. His strides in the weight room have been enormous as he put on thirty pounds since last season.

“I have a lot more strength,” Thompkins said. “My speed went down a little bit, but I got it back to where it should be. In the beginning, they told me I need to develop a lot more, and it was tough at first, but I just listen to everything they tell me to do and trust them.”

Branch was hurt last season and did not get to see the field at all. He has been working hard ever since to be back and has learned a lot while getting to know each of the secondary positions in depth.

“I feel like I can just help all around,” Branch said. “Being able to watch the defense really just helped me see a vision of where I can contribute. Really wherever the coaches need me I feel like I can fill their spots.”

When asked what the coaches expect of the defenders, Branch listed a few key areas the coaches are focusing on shoring up this offseason.

“Bonding together, playing together as a unit, improving on something every day,” Branch said. “The coaches have really taught us a lot this offseason. I feel like there should be a big difference from last season to this season.”

Fans of the Trojans have been clambering for an improved defense and with the new players and emphasis on defensive improvement, it seems like there’s a strong possibility fans will get their wish next season.