football

17 for '17: Jamel Cook

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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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15. JAMEL COOK

Profile: 6-3, 185, redshirt freshman

Current pecking order: He sits among a handful of reserves vying to be in the starting lineup and perhaps poses the biggest threat to displacing Marvell Tell or Chris Hawkins.

Background: The cousin of former Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook arrived amid some serious fanfare after USC managed to flip his commitment from the Seminoles on 2016 signing day. He suffered a foot injury last summer that sidelined him for training camp and about half the season. He redshirted but likely wouldn’t have had he been available from Day 1. Coach Clay Helton was saying as late as October that he wanted to play Cook, only he wasn’t really healthy until November. Cook was a defensive playmaker in high school and showed flashes of that while working with the scout team this past fall. He worked his way up to the second team defense late in the season.

Outlook: Cook seems to fit exactly what the staff is looking for in its defensive backs. (His profile resembles those of incoming safeties Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao, much more than his fellow safeties do.) He’s long, rangy, athletic, a fluid runner and has solid ball skills. His time in Clancy Pendergast’s system (and outside of the scout team) was pretty limited last year, so his handle of the playbook remains to be seen. You also wonder if he was ever able to practice at full speed. Even so, his potential was obvious. He’ll need to make a big impression this spring, before Bolden and Pola-Mao join the team in summer. Things figure to be competitive at safety even without the newcomers. John Plattenburg has a lot of experience and will be looking to get back in the rotation in his final season. Matt Lopes is in a similar boat. Ykili Ross was mostly relegated to special teams in 2016 and will be anxious to earn a bigger role in Year 3. C.J. Pollard redshirted last year. That’s nine scholarship players for two (maybe three) spots.

Key questions: How good is he? Can he stay healthy? Can he play nickel?

Swing potential: Cook could find himself anywhere from a starter to buried on the depth chart.

Discuss on Trojan Talk

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17 FOR '17

No. 17: Andrew Vorhees

No. 16: Chris Hawkins

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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