Each day seems to be getting worse for the Trojans.
Three days after prized Notre Dame commit Eddie Vanderdoes announced he would transfer to rival UCLA, multiple sources confirmed USC lost freshman wide receiver Steven Mitchell for the season after he tore ligaments in his knee this past Friday.
Injuries are never a good thing, especially for the cardinal and gold, but this one particularly stings. For starters, along with fellow stud receiver George Farmer’s season-ending knee injury, Mitchell’s absence leaves only five scholarship wide receivers on the roster for the 2013 season.
For a team already dealing with depth issues due to scholarship and roster restrictions, USC finds itself suddenly top-heavy at what was once its arguably strongest and deepest position.
After stars Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, the remaining three receivers combined for just two catches for 30 yards in 14 combined games last season. One, freshman Darreus Rogers, didn’t even practice with the team until late December due to academic issues.
The lack of receiver experience coupled with a new starting quarterback puts more pressure on Lee and Agholor to perform. If opposing defenses can successfully blanket those two, there could be trouble.
Second, Mitchell’s skill set was the perfect complement to the athletic, big-play abilities of Lee and Agholor, and his loss eliminates an entire dimension of the Trojan passing game.
Often described as shifty and quick, the 5'11" wideout was expected to excel in head coach Lane Kiffin’s offense as a slot receiver, mostly coming over the middle in shorter routes while Lee and Agholor went for the longer play. Think of current Tampa Bay receiver Steve Smith during his Trojan days, with a little less speed.
Now that Mitchell’s season is done, USC doesn’t have a receiver whose natural position is in the slot. All of the other receivers are big and fast, but lack the agility and elusiveness in open space that Mitchell brings.
Most importantly, this injury can permanently affect a player’s career. Keeping Mitchell’s aforementioned strengths in mind, he needs to have strong, healthy knees in order to have the elite cutting ability that makes him so hard to tackle. If the tears don’t heal properly, he could be dealing with them for the rest of his collegiate career.
Chalk up another tally on USC’s ever-growing list of issues as they approach the fall.