USC Football: Will Silas Redd or Curtis McNeal Dominate the Backfield More?
Team unity and cohesion is an incredibly important component to any championship aspirations the USC Trojans may have for the upcoming year.
So when Lane Kiffin and his staff pulled off a personnel coup by persuading Penn State running back Silas Redd to come west to play for the Trojans, many naturally wondered what would happen to the team's chemistry.
How would USC's incumbent tailback, Curtis McNeal, respond to the challenge of his new teammate Redd perhaps taking some (or more) of his carries?
McNeal, who took over the starting position several games into the season, solidified his hold at tailback by rushing for over 1000 yards despite that late start.
Showing his increased maturity over the years, McNeal immediately embraced the arrival of Redd, and in doing so, showed his commitment to the overall good of the team.
But now that Redd has arrived, who will take over as the most dominant running back for the Trojans?
Cases can be made for both talented runners, and this slideshow will look at those arguments as we play armchair coach for determining who deserves to tote the rock most for this aspiring championship team.
Curtis McNeal Should Open as the Starter
Regardless of how impressive Silas Redd is in fall camp, look for Curtis McNeal to start the 2012 season firmly entrenched as the Trojans starting tailback.
This is because McNeal not only was a 1,000-plus yard back last year, but he did most of his damage later in the season.
As 2011 ended, there was no doubt that the small but powerful McNeal had established himself as the rightful starter going into this season.
In addition to his production on the field, McNeal is also far more familiar with the Trojans playbook, and along with that comes the understanding of blocking responsibilities and other components beyond running the ball.
In fact, don't be surprised if fall camp breaks and Redd isn't listed third behind D.J. Morgan, especially if Morgan continues to impress as he has so far this summer.
In the Beginning, McNeal Will Get the Majority of the Carries
How the season unfolds at running back will largely depend on how healthy Curtis McNeal remains throughout the season.
At the beginning of the season, McNeal will likely carry the rock at running back, with both Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan helping share the load in rotations.
But if McNeal, whose diminutive size at 5'8", 190 lbs. is not suited for 25-30 carries a game, has health issues, Redd and/or Morgan will find themselves thrust into greater roles for the Trojans.
And as the season wears on, how well McNeal holds up will dictate the carry distribution for the year, especially later on.
As the Season Wears On, Look for Redd to Share the Load
As stated before, health will be a determining factor as the running back workload shakes itself out in 2012 for the men of Troy.
Understanding this, running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu will look to share the carries by working a McNeal/Redd rotation that divides more of the carries and looks to the "hot back" at any given time to establish a rhythm.
This should occur within the first four to five games into the season and will, of course, depend on Silas Redd's continuing mastery of the playbook, including blocking assignments as a last-gasp protector of quarterback Matt Barkley.
By 2/3 the Way Through the Season, It Won't Really Matter Who Is Starting
All things considered, if everything goes right, Curtis McNeal should be able to hold on to his starting tailback position throughout the season.
But by game eight or so, it really won't matter.
Long ago, the Trojans will have established their offensive identity, and if the pundits are right, it should be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators who have so much to deal with as they attempt to slow down the cardinal and gold juggernaut.
As desperate attempts to reign in the Trojan passing game translates into gaping holes for McNeal and Redd to slice through, those charged with stopping Matt Barkley and crew will have to pick their poison, and both running backs will benefit regardless of who starts.
Keep This in Mind: Versatility Will Not Be a Factor in Who Plays More
Some running backs are rushing specialists; others make pass-catching their forte.
Still others combine both attributes to form a versatile "do-everything" back who can contribute both facets of offensive capability.
Neither McNeal or Redd fits that mold, however.
In two years of college ball, Silas Redd has caught exactly 13 passes for a grand total of 67 yards.
Meanwhile, Curtis McNeal has been even less effective catching the ball, with only three lonely passes in his ledger which went for a paltry 19 yards, all in 2011.
Unless one or both backs suddenly find themselves as pass-catching outlet options coming out of the backfield, that ability will not be a motivation in deciding rotations.
Of course, there is another portion of versatility that is extraordinarily important, and that is blocking.
In this area, both are capable, and this won't differentiate one from the other either.
X-Factors in the Form of Other Backs Will Also Dictate the Rotation
Lost in this discussion of McNeal vs. Redd for the position of dominant back is the role of other players theoretically in the mix.
In fact, the true X-factor in the Trojan stable of running backs may very well be speedy D.J. Morgan.
By far the fastest of the Trojan tailbacks, Morgan has the ability to go the distance any time he touches the ball.
Unfortunately for Morgan, though, he also has a proclivity to put the ball on the ground, which has hindered his playing time while at USC.
If Morgan can break a few long ones and maintain ball integrity in terms of holding on to it, he can take carries away from both McNeal and Redd.
Also, guys like Buck Allen and fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner may surprise the coaching staff and garner more carries than anticipated.
By the End of the 2012 Season, McNeal and Redd Will Be a 2-Headed Monster
As the long 2012 season unfolds, the necessity to keep Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd fresh will mean that both of these dynamic runners will be splitting their carries almost evenly.
By the end of the year, entering into the Trojans' BCS bowl game, look for rotations to be split into segments that feature opportunities for each back to be most effective.
In some cases, that may require one back to be brought in by series of plays, or perhaps even by featuring a back for a quarter or a half at a time.
The rhythm that allows each back to fall into a groove will be more of a determining factor by the end of the year than the actual number of carries they are allowed.
In other words, by the end of this college football season, the "hottest back" will be the one featured most of all.
But overall, who will that be?
Who will dominate the USC backfield more, McNeal or Redd?
Unlike a few years ago, Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd are not the Trojans' version of "Thunder and Lightning," who took the form of Lendale White and some other guy whose name escapes me at the moment.
That is because both McNeal and Redd are similar kinds of backs, and their rotation will not feature a power back contrasted by a speed burner.
So if contrasting styles are not the prime motivation for determining which of these two capable backs dominate the backfield, what is that factor, and ultimately, who will that back be?
When all is said and done, Curtis McNeal will get the most carries of the two.
Primarily, that will be because of the familiarity that McNeal will have of the offense over Redd, especially in the beginning of the season.
However, by the time the big games start, the ones that matter most, both McNeal and Redd will be supplying headaches for USC's opponents, almost in equal doses.
And that will spell double trouble for the opposing defense.
Just the way Lane Kiffin planned it.