Head coach Lincoln Riley took a long pause.
But, in this case, the long pause was a good thing. That’s because he struggled to name any position group which was falling behind the pack.
“It would be tough to single one out honestly,” Riley said. “It’s the middle of spring, there’s so much to get better, there’s a lot to be excited about. And there’s not a position group that I’m not really excited about right now.”
He added this was far from the case at this point last year, even if he expressed that.
“I don’t know if I could’ve honestly said [that] last year,” Riley said. “If I said it, I lied well.”
Many of the position groups had to be rebuilt from top to bottom, either to replace losses or improve the position group as a whole.
Tight end was one such position group, as it lost redshirt seniors Josh Falo to the NFL draft and Malcolm Epps to the transfer portal. USC recently announced the signing of five-star tight end Duce Robinson, which will help the position group, but he will not begin practicing until the fall.
To help the depth issues, the team moved sophomore Luke Otte and redshirt freshman Carson Tabaracci over to the tight end position. Otte was originally on the defensive line and Tabaracci was at linebacker before they made the switch to the offense.
“I just love offense. I feel like it’s a little bit more natural for me,” Tabaracci said. “It’s been awesome, I moved over and [the other tight ends] are taking me under their wing right away.”
Similarly to the tight end room, the offensive line had to replace the likes of redshirt seniors Andrew Vorhees, Bobby Haskins and Brett Neilon. Rather than bringing over players from the defense, the USC coaching staff rebuilt the unit through the transfer portal.
To date, USC has signed offensive linemen Ethan White, Jarrett Kingston and Michael Tarquin. Even with all the transfers coming in, redshirt senior Cooper Lovelace says there is no animosity in the group.
“We get along like nobody’s business. A lot of people on the outside of buildings think that it’s a problem when you got guys transferring in and out,” Lovelace said. “Here, there is no hostility. No [players not liking] each other behind the back. We’re one brotherhood.”
Even across the offensive line, the players are expected to learn multiple positions so they can play anywhere on the line.
“There’s no one-trick ponies in football,” Lovelace said. “The way they teach it is so you can know everything. They don’t just teach center. They don’t just teach right guard … They kind of teach everything so they can pit and pull and plug around any time.”
Moving players around to different positions has been a common theme throughout this spring. Players like junior Korey Foreman and redshirt freshman Devan Thompkins have been moved around on the defensive line in the offseason.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch did that all season last year with junior defensive lineman and NFL draft-hopeful Tuli Tuipulotu and might look to use many of his defensive players in similar hybrid roles this upcoming season.
Even though Lincoln Riley likes where his position groups are at, there is always room for player and position movement as the spring winds down and the team gets ready for the upcoming fall season.
“There’s a lot to unfold. There’s going to be so many more position battles and there’ll be a lot of different ebbs and flows with this group through the end of spring and obviously into the fall,” Riley said. “But it’ll be really interesting to see it all play out. And obviously we’re going to add the rest of our high school signees and probably a couple more transfers before it’s all said and done as well.”
The ending of spring ball is coming up for the football team, with their spring game on April 15. But what is not ending is Riley and Grinch working and tinkering with their players to put the best product on the field in the fall.