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.
(Ed. note: Neither Roy Hemsley nor John Houston were initially included on this list. I put the series on hold during the first week of spring for the specific purpose of adding players I might have overlooked leading up to practice. Hemsley and Houston fit the bill. Likewise, I removed defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, who was originally No. 3, because he is not participating in contact drills.)
7. ROY HEMSLEY & JOHN HOUSTON
Profiles: Hemsley (6-5, 310, redshirt sophomore); Houston (6-3, 220, redshirt sophomore)
Current pecking orders: Hemsley has been the first-team right tackle thus far in spring. Houston has been the first-team weakside linebacker.
Backgrounds: The pair arrived two years ago, Hemsley amid curiosity and Houston great expectations. The former possessed great size for an incoming freshman but initial forecasts that he was raw proved accurate. The latter was a consensus five-star prospect expected to contribute immediately, yet he lacked the physical maturity to do so. (Also worth nothing since it’s been confused over time: Houston was redshirting before not because he suffered a back injury midway through his first season.) Recruiting hype aside, Hemsley’s and Houston’s respective college careers have played out quite similarly. Neither really had a home position while playing for two head coaches, two coordinators and two position coaches during their first two seasons. They both redshirted in 2015 and played sparingly in 2016, although Houston was a regular on special teams. Teammates from their signing class and the following one had surpassed them on the depth chart by the end of 2016.
Outlooks: Hemsley has always moved well for his size. He’s at about the same weight as when he first joined the team, so he’s traded some meat for muscle. The real issues have been playing fundamentally sound and consistent. With Chuma Edoga moving to (and probably planted at) left tackle, right tackle has become the biggest question mark on the offensive line. Toa Lobendahn is sidelined for the spring, Nathan Smith is out until at least training camp and E.J. Price is not on the team (at least for now), making this Hemsley’s best opportunity to show he belongs on the front line.
The window is wide open for Houston as well. The two players responsible for nearly every snap at his current spot (Michael Hutchings, Quinton Powell) have moved on, and top competitor Jordan Iosefa has been at middle linebacker. While Houston earned his keep on special teams last year — he recorded 11 of his 16 overall tackles there — that’s not what he came to USC for. His game is predicated on athleticism and endurance. (He was credited with 413 tackles over his final three seasons of varsity football.) Perhaps that’s what we’ll see moving forward. He looks healthy and has added bulk.
It’s way too early to call anything at either position, but Hemsley and Houston getting the first crack at starting this year should build confidence in both. After waiting two years for their turns, the coaches are putting them in position to prove themselves. This spring, then, is a potential crossroads for each of them.
Hemsley — Is he a tackle? Is he one of the team’s two best tackles or a placeholder? Can he be reliable on an every-down basis?
Houston — What’s his best position in this defense? Is he better than Iosefa and Tayler Katoa? Can he stay healthy and begin to fulfill the promise he showed coming out of high school?
Swing potentials: Hemsley can win the job at RT or serve as a utility offensive lineman. Houston can win the job at WLB or likely end up a reserve inside linebacker.
17 FOR '17
Not a TrojanSports subscriber? Sign up and gain unlimited access to the most in-depth coverage of USC football and recruiting and our premium message board. CLICK HERE