To prepare for the start of the 2012 USC campaign, we’re doing position-by-position previews of the Trojans’ roster all this week. We began Monday with quarterbacks and continued Tuesday with running backs, Wednesday with receivers and tight ends, Thursday with offensive linemen and Friday with defensive linemen.
Today, we look at the linebackers.
For each position, we’re starting with a projected current depth chart, going off the end-of-spring depth chart as released by Lane Kiffin, and discussing what needs to be resolved by Sept. 1.
1. Dion Bailey, redshirt sophomore
2. Tony Burnett, redshirt senior
3. Marquis Simmons, redshirt junior
4. Jabari Ruffin, freshman
1. Lamar Dawson, sophomore
2. Scott Starr, freshman
3. Will Andrew, redshirt junior
4. Dallas Kelley, senior
1. Hayes Pullard, redshirt sophomore
2. Anthony Sarao, redshirt freshman
There is an imbalance of sorts in this corps, but it's nothing to be alarmed about.
USC has a ton of young talent at linebacker and will have a ridiculous three-deep at each spot in 2013 when weakside-'backer-of-the-future Michael Hutchings enrolls and joins junior starters at every spot and younger backups everywhere.
But we're talking about this year now. So here's the current outlook.
For some reason, there's a perception that Bailey outperformed Pullard in 2011. If anything, Pullard outperformed Bailey, as the Crenshaw product proved to be more consistent and a better tackler than the Lakewood native. But Bailey's the one starting the season with all the preseason accolades.
Expect that to change in a matter of weeks. As for the middle slot, it's nice that Dawson got four starts under his belt at the end of last season, but he's not quite experienced yet, so it's reasonable to wonder how well he'll play at the start of the this year.
Also a potential concern: his health. He was bothered by a few relatively minor things last year and had to miss four games because of them. What happens if he gets similarly hurt this year?
Starr, the true freshman, might be the technical No. 2, but it's doubtful that he'd be the first guy to come in for Dawson. Andrew, a former walk-on, has proven capable of spot play and is probably the true backup right now.
Kelley is probably the least-known scholarship player on the entire USC roster. A juco transfer, he logged time in only two games late last season but burned any possibility of a redshirt. Based on his small potential to play this season, it'd make sense to redshirt him, but the Trojans will more than likely play him a limited amount to move on and use the scholarship elsewhere.
At this point last year, Simmons was tied with Bailey in the battle to start on the strong side. But injuries derailed him, as they have most of his USC career. He's still an impact special-teamer, though.
Ruffin was listed as a middle linebacker on the end-of-spring depth chart, but it seems unlikely he'll be there next week, so we put him on the strong side. Sarao was one of the more impressive redshirting freshman last season.
Burnett's now onto his third position at USC but could help a lot in nickel packages.
Next come the defensive backs.