USC defense feels confident heading into spring game

The spring game on Saturday will feature the return of several veterans and the debut of an elite recruiting class.

Alex Grinch is talking to a player in a cardinal helmet and white jersey with gold pants. Grinch is wearing a black hat with a gray sweatshirt.

Although the sun wasn’t shining during USC’s last spring practice on Thursday, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts made a surprise visit and was a source of light and energy himself. He may have rubbed off on junior quarterback Caleb Williams, who looked flawless when leading 10 other offensive team members in a practice drive without defenders toward the start of practice. But that was it from the offense — all eyes during the remainder of practice were on the defense.

Player energy levels were high in anticipation of the upcoming spring game.

“Looking at it from a year ago to today, it’s a completely different room,” inside linebackers coach Brian Odom said. “The confidence in that room is a lot more than what some people might think.”

Four-star freshman linebacker Tackett Curtis, who head coach Lincoln Riley previously called the best linebacker in his class, has been a standout recruit.

“The thing that you learn about Tackett that is pretty unique is, you had a good idea of what his best was, but how consistently he’s close to his best. That’s the one thing that separates him from a lot of other people. He’s consistently close to his very, very best,” Odom said. “He’s progressed a lot this spring camp. He’s very physical, he’s got a unique knack to find the ball, he’s a competitor, he’s fearless.”

Senior linebacker Mason Cobb, who transferred from Oklahoma State, has also set high expectations.

“That guy was born to play inside linebacker,” Odom said. “His movements are exactly what you want as an inside linebacker. He’s quick, he’s got a lot of twitch to him, he’s very physical and he’s extremely competitive.”

Equally as important as the transfers during spring camp has been junior linebacker Eric Gentry’s progress. Sidelined during spring camp because of an ankle injury, the veteran has done everything in his physical capability to help the team.

“We were doing one-on-ones and you could literally see [Gentry] in the back making the move and putting his hands up, just having a lot of energy,” redshirt senior linebacker Shane Lee said. “He’s been even more encouraging, and you can definitely see it and feel it.”

As for other returning players, coaches have noted several players who have put on significant amounts of weight since last season. And, according to coaches, it’s not hindering the players’ performance.

“People that add weight on all of a sudden lose speed,” defensive backs coach Donte Williams said. “You don’t see that out of any of [our players].”

Recruiting has also played a major factor in raising USC’s expectations. 247Sports ranks the Trojans’ 2023 recruiting class No. 7 in the nation.

“The biggest thing is the competition across the board at every position,” Williams said, “and there’s even competition amongst the coaches when it comes to recruiting.”

As much as the Trojans look forward to Saturday’s spring game and the start of next season, it is tough to forget the tough consecutive losses to Utah and Tulane to finish last season. But coaches are using last season as a learning experience.

“It’s a mark of any great leader who can be able to look in the mirror, identify some things and then be able to challenge, inspire and motivate those around you to do better,” Odom said.

The spring game will take place on Saturday at noon. This game will feature the returning faces from last season as well as some of the new and hyped-up recruits entering this season.