football

17 for '17: Clayton Johnston

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Tim Heitman-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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13. CLAYTON JOHNSTON

Profile: 6-6, 285, redshirt sophomore

Current pecking order: He is among a handful of options USC will consider for left tackle.

Background: Johnston was originally a blueshirt, which is irrelevant now but was still a newer concept when he came on board in the fall of 2015. His slightly delayed start ensured he would begin his career at the bottom of the depth chart, but given the presence of Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner, USC was simply being strategic with its handling of Johnston. The Trojans ultimately wouldn’t have had him sign if they didn’t want him. After redshirting his first year, Johnston gradually worked his way up to the second team in practice. I use italics because practice reps are not always indicative of what the staff would do in a game. When Banner was down for a couple games last season, Jordan Simmons (not Chuma Edoga) got the starting nod at right tackle, although the two basically split time there. Johnston spent the majority of last year at left tackle, where Wheeler almost never came off the field. Aside from a couple of cameos on special teams, Johnston played tackle in just one game last year, and it was on the right side.

Outlook: Left tackle couldn’t be more wide open. While Johnston figures to get his fair share of reps this spring, it’s hard to say who exactly he’ll be competing with. Edoga and Chris Brown both have a bit of game experience at left tackle, although not much; Nico Falah, Jordan Austin and Roy Hemsley practiced there in previous years; Andrew Vorhees joined the team just two months ago; Toa Lobendahn and Nathan Smith will be sidelined; E.J. Price isn’t currently on the team (though that might change in the coming months). As for Johnston, he’s healthy, he has pretty ideal size, he’s been touted in the past for his pass protection and he’s going into Year 3, which is about when most linemen are ready to contribute. If I had to guess, he’ll be the first-team left tackle to begin spring. Whether he stays there and for how long will be up to him, at least for now. It goes without saying how important this development is to the overall success of the team.

Key questions: What’s his best position? How far is he from being game-ready? Is he the best option at left tackle?

Swing potential: He has a real shot of winning a starting job. He could also end up a reserve who doesn’t see the field.

Discuss on Trojan Talk

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17 FOR '17

No. 17: Andrew Vorhees

No. 16: Chris Hawkins

No. 15: Jamel Cook

No. 14: Vavae Malepeai

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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