WeAreSC staffers discuss how the Trojans will fill the holes of the players who departed for the NFL draft.
1. Which hole is in the best shape to be filled?
Garry Paskwietz: Based on what we saw in spring the wide receiver group looks to be in good shape, led by JuJu Smith and Steven Mitchell. These two appear to have the potential of being the kind of duo that the Trojans had in the past with Mike Williams-Keary Colbert and Dwayne Jarrett-Steve Smith. And there are others in the mix too as Darreus Rogers had a steady spring, Isaac Whitney impressed as a JC transfer, and there is the part-time presence of Adoree' Jackson.
Johnny Curren: Wide receiver. With the loss of Nelson Agholor, the team’s leading receiver in 2014, as well as George Farmer, there was some real concern when it came to USC’s wide receiver corps heading into the spring. Those worries were eased in a hurry as Smith, Mitchell, Jackson, Rogers, Ajene Harris and Whitney combined to have a very productive five weeks of practice. The emergence of Mitchell, in particular, really had an impact, and with the way that Smith capped the spring off, I think there is definite reason for optimism when looking at this unit.
Greg Katz: No doubt in my mind that the wide receiver unit is fully capable of replacing Agholor. There are a number of explosive receivers such as Mitchell, Smith and Jackson who can do major damage. If the ball is spread around the yard enough, it will open up some big plays in 2015.
2. Which hole is the biggest concern?
GP: The concern on the interior defensive line comes with the unknown factors of who will be available in fall. Obviously it’s going to be tough to replace Leonard Williams, but the outlook could be brighter than expected if all the available bodies are healthy and ready to go. Unfortunately, the Trojans practiced in spring without starter Antwaun Woods and key reserves Greg Townsend Jr. and Kenny Bigelow. The health of those three, to go along with Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon and Cody Temple, is a big key if the Trojans hope to see a solid rotation in the middle of the line.
JC: The most concerning hole that needs to be filled is at the defensive end position previously occupied by Williams. With Woods, Townsend Jr. and Bigelow sidelined this spring, the interior defensive line, as a whole, was glaringly low in terms of depth, and while Pelon did perform well at that spot at times, he didn’t always do it on a consistent basis. I think that the Trojans likely need some other players to add depth there, and just in general, USC needs more production up front than what we saw this spring. The five highly touted incoming freshmen will definitely help.
GK: I want to say middle linebacker because the Trojans are inexperienced in both talent and leadership qualities with the departure of Hayes Pullard. However, that being said, I tend to think the lack of depth and experience at tight end could be a huge concern and put a crimp in the plans of Steve Sarkisian, both in the passing game and blocking for the run game. If Bryce Dixon is truly gone, it really opens a void at tight end.
3. Which hole could have the biggest impact on the 2015 team?
GP: Tailback might not seem to be the most obvious choice, but the fact is that the Trojans are losing a guy in Buck Allen who was responsible for almost 2,000 all-purpose yards last year and there is some uncertainty about how that production will be replaced. There are a lot of good candidates with Justin Davis being the one available scholarship tailback who was able to take part in spring. Davis looked strong, but it remains to be seen if he is ready for the bigger role. Will Tre Madden be recovered from a toe injury? Will fullback Soma Vainuku get a longer look, or will one of the three incoming freshmen play a role right away?
JC: Tailback. With the Trojans possessing an offensive system that still places an emphasis on establishing a strong ground game, the ability to find an effective replacement for Allen will obviously play a huge role in determining just how efficient the offense will be in 2015. With Madden limited, Davis stood as the lone scholarship tailback available this spring, and while he certainly showed a lot of promise, it was hard to get a really good read on him due to a noticeable lack of live tackling during 11-on-11 periods. He, along with Madden, will compete with incoming freshmen Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones II and Aca'Cedric Ware in fall camp, and we could also see Vainuku mixed in there.
GK: I am thinking the loss of All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams is potentially a major impact. The Trojans were able to do so many things because of the presence of “The Big Cat.” When Stanford comes to town in the third game, we’ll find out just how big a void there is along the defensive line when the Cardinal starts pounding with the running game to set up the pass.