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USC cornerback Greg Johnson drops plan to transfer, says he’s ‘just happy to be here’

USC cornerback Greg Johnson drops plan to transfer, says he’s ‘just happy to be here’
USC redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson catches the ball in front of wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown during practice Thursday at Howard Jones Field. (Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

USC held its fifth spring football practice Thursday afternoon at Howard Jones Field and when it was over redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson talked about his decision to stay at USC after withdrawing from the NCAA transfer portal.

“I talked to my teammates and coaches and I’m past it now.… I’m just happy to be here and looking forward to getting better every day,” said Johnson, who started the first four games in 2018 but underwent shoulder surgery in November. I learned a lot from the guys who were here previously, and I’m like the older guy now so I’m trying to motivate the young guys every day.”

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The team’s depth at defensive back has been a concern throughout camp given what they lost to graduation, and Johnson joins Talanoa Hufanga, Isaiah Pola-Mao, CJ Pollard and Olaijah Griffin as players not able to practice fully for various injury reasons this spring.

“I can’t press or use my hands … but I rehab everyday,” said Johnson, the only cornerback on the roster who has started a game. “My shoulder feels good. I’m just focused on getting it stronger. No, no contact all spring but I should be cleared in June.”

All three quarterbacks were effective, as JT Daniels threw touchdown passes to Tyler Vaughns and tight end Josh Falo, Matt Fink had scoring throws to Matt Hocum and Falo, and Jack Sears tossed scoring strikes to Michael Pittman and Amon-Ra St. Brown, though he also had a pass intercepted in the end zone by Pola-Mao.

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Connor Murphy ended the spirited practice by knocking down a pass from Daniels to earn hugs and high-fives from defensive teammates and coaches.

“I think this is my breakout year, I’ve been sitting behind some of the greats like Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin,” the 6-foot-7, 268-pound Murphy said. “I’m going into my fourth season now, fast and free, absorbing all the knowledge, getting better behind the scenes, so I’m coming out to play now. Now guys are coming up to me for advice and it feels good. I’m pretty much playing a true defensive end and I’m way more explosive. Coach Clancy’s plan was to get all guys playing as fast as they can, and that’s what we’re doing. I know the playbook like the back of my hand so I’m able to play multiple positions.”

Ranked 15th in the AP Poll preseason rankings, USC tied for third in the Pac-12 South Division in 2018 and finished a disappointing 5-7 — the Trojans’ first losing season since 2000 in their final year under Coach Paul Hackett.

Secondary coach Greg Burns is excited about the enthusiasm his players are showing in practice.

“Our guys play with intensity, they like being out here and that’s a sign of a good team, they like to practice,” he said. “It’s the players. It’s your job to create your own energy because you’re going to be the one on the field in a game and me yelling on the sideline isn’t going to get you going. Our kids love football.”

Burns sees major strides from a patchwork secondary with little experience:

“With Isaac Taylor-Stuart, I see improvement in his mechanics, Greg is challenging receivers a little bit more, taking chances getting out of his break and going for the interception. Talanoa is consistent … he’s the model guy. Chase Williams? I saw some mistakes he’s got to correct. [Safety] Briton Allen had a good game today. He’s banged up a little, he’s a little sore but I loved seeing him show up on a big back and attacking the hit.”

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