On the first day of USC's spring semester, redshirt junior linebacker Hayes Pullard tweeted that he will return for his final season of eligibility.
For head coach Steve Sarkisian, this is welcome and exciting news.
Five other draft-eligible juniors have already elected to leave early for the NFL draft, all in positions of need for the Trojans. The fact that Pullard has chosen not to follow in their footsteps is a good sign for Sarkisian, as USC will be light on experienced veteran athletes in 2014.
Pullard led the team in tackles in 2013 with 94 and has been a very important member of USC's defense since he started seeing playing time in 2011. That year, he earned Freshman All-American first team honors.
Despite the fact that NFLDraftScout.com listed Pullard as the 11th-best player at his position, the junior linebacker has decided it is in his best interest to get one more year of college experience under his belt. This is probably for the best: As well as Pullard has played for USC, he lacks the game-changing plays that would elevate his draft stock. He has six sacks and two interceptions throughout his three years as a starter, so he will need to get those numbers up in 2014 if he wants to move up the draft boards.
Aside from the leadership and experience he brings to the Trojan defense, the fact that Pullard will suit up in cardinal and gold next year is important for the recovery of fellow linebacker Lamar Dawson.
As Mike Piellucci of 247Sports.com notes:
Hayes Pullard coming back to school is huge for USC, both for leadership and to lessen the urgency on Lamar Dawson's recovery.— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) January 13, 2014
Dawson went down for the season in October after suffering a knee injury, and will continue to recover throughout the spring. Thanks to Pullard staying, there is no need for Dawson to rush the healing process in the interest of stepping up for the team. Furthermore, younger linebackers like Michael Hutchings, Jabari Ruffin, Scott Starr, and Quinton Powell will be able to continue learning on the practice field before being thrust into the spotlight on Saturdays.
Pullard is poised to have a standout senior season, despite the fact that a coaching change will definitely incur some growing pains throughout the spring.
Now that he has made his decision official, Sarkisian is just waiting on word from cornerback Josh Shaw and redshirt sophomore running back Buck Allen.
Jacob Freeman of NeonTommy.com shed some light on what could be going on there:
Was told in December that all USC players but Hayes Pullard in draft contention would declare. So far, that's true with Josh Shaw TBA.— Jacob Freedman (@Jacob_Freedman) January 13, 2014
If true, Shaw should be the next Trojan to come off the block, but the fact that he has yet to make a decision suggests how unsure he still is of his fate.
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