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17 for '17: Chris Hawkins

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Our countdown of USC’s most intriguing players to watch in spring practice continues. Note: This is a list of guys who have the most to gain and are best positioned to do so.

For each player, we examine the depth chart, back story, outlook, key questions and how their role could swing in spring.

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16. CHRIS HAWKINS

Profile: 5-11, 185, redshirt senior

Current pecking order: He is the unofficial starting strong safety, though there are five others who could push him for playing time.

Background: Hawkins has had an interesting USC career. No safety has been more productive over the past two seasons. No player on defense has more experience. But here he is, entering his fifth spring and still looking to solidify his role. He was a key rotational player in 2016 — the staff even referred to him as a co-starter, although Hawkins doesn’t sugarcoat the fact he usually came off the bench and didn’t always see heavy action. He made All-Pac-12 honorable mention, less than two years removed from a switch to safety, which was brand new for the former cornerback.

Outlook: He is confident he’ll be a full-time starter this season, and he can establish himself as such in spring ball. This will be the smoothest offseason transition of his career. Consider: in 2013, he was an early enrollee; in 2014, he was coming off a redshirt season; in 2015, he moved to safety; in 2016, he missed spring practice while recovering from offseason surgery. While Marvell Tell is the only other returning safety to see significant action last year, Hawkins still has to prove himself to defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast in order to be more than a rotational player. His primary competition, at least initially, appears to be redshirt freshman Jamel Cook. Hawkins contemplated the grad transfer route this winter yet decided to stay put, in part to help lead a team seemingly on the cusp of a Pac-12 championship but also lacking seniors. "I want to be one of those guys that is the face of a program on the defense," was how he put it. With that, his contributions figure to extend well beyond the playing field.

Key questions: Does Pendergast see him as one of the top two safeties? How much can he improve in his fifth year? Will he be a captain?

Swing potential: He can be anything from a regular starter to the first defensive back off the bench, which basically sums up his past three seasons.

Discuss on Trojan Talk

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17 FOR '17

No. 17: Andrew Vorhees

No. 15: Jamel Cook

No. 14: Vavae Malepeai

No. 13: Clayton Johnston

Bonus: Michael Brown

No. 12: Daniel Imatorbhebhe

No. 11: Josh Fatu

No. 10: Jordan Iosefa

No. 9: Deontay Burnett

No. 8: Marlon Tuipulotu

No. 7: Roy Hemsley & John Houston

No. 6: Chuma Edoga

No. 5: Jack Sears

No. 4: Matt Fink

No. 3: Michael Pittman

No. 2: Jack Jones

No. 1: Vaughns, Imatorbhebhe & Jones

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