JuJu Smith is one of the new signees for USC, and aside from his skill set, he brings much-needed depth to the program
Steve Sarkisian had two primary goals for USC during the 2014 recruiting cycle: shore up depth across the offensive line and do the same in the secondary. Come national signing day, Sarkisian more than delivered on that promise. With five incredibly talented O-line prospects and seven athletes that can play in the secondary, the Trojans suddenly have a bevy of talent at positions of the greatest need.
As Sarkisian is a Pete Carroll disciple, he knows a potent and exciting offense begins with the offensive line, and due to injuries and depth issues, the Trojans just haven't had a great one over the past few seasons.
That all changes with this new recruiting class.
Aside from the flashy skill-position athletes, the Trojans signed heavy hitters in Viane Talamaivao (6'3", 310 lbs), Chris Brown (6'4", 290 lbs), Jordan Austin (6'6", 275 lbs), Toa Lobendahn (6'3", 293 lbs) and the aforementioned Mama (6'4", 370 lbs). Any of these guys could suit up and start early according to Sarkisian, and that's a Godsend as the Trojans lost a lot of depth this offseason.
USC lost its most experienced veterans—center Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz—to graduation and the NFL draft. That leaves just Max Tuerk, Chad Wheeler and Aundrey Walker as returners with experience, though Jordan Simmons, Nico Falah, Khaliel Rodgers and Zach Banner also pepper the depth chart.
With so little reliable experience, the Trojans need all the help they can get. Sarkisian certainly found it in the new crop of athletes he signed.
Of the bunch, perhaps the Uce Crew trio—Lobendahn, Mama and Talamaivao—is the most poised to make an immediate impact. Lobendahn is the most flexible of the three and he can lend his skill set wherever needed. Be that at tackle, center or guard, we can expect he will be competing for a spot in the starting rotation as early as this spring. Then there's Mama and Talamaivao, a pair of guards with tremendous run-blocking abilities and a tenacity on the field USC has been lacking up front for some time now.
For USC, bringing in so many talented and nearly game-ready offensive linemen was critical to Sarkisian getting his offense started on the right foot. His next challenge is developing them into the studs they are expected to become.
As far as the returners are concerned, Sarkisian has said those who were injured last season will be ready to go by the fall, which really gives the newcomers an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition. Should everyone stay healthy, the Trojans will have 12 able bodies competing to get into the rotation, which means Sarkisian should really be able to field the best offensive line possible.
And that's just on the O-line. In the secondary, USC now has the bodies to have a competitive defense against the pass.
With Jackson, Smith, Jonathan Lockett, Rahshead Johnson, John Plattenburg Jr. and Lamont Simmons joining the ranks, the Trojans now have six new cornerbacks on the depth chart. Granted, a few of these guys will likely lend their talents to wide receiver—another position hobbled by depth issues—but the ones that stay on the defensive side of the ball bring talent and strength to the defensive backs corps.
Currently, USC has only safety Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw as reliable, experienced returners in the secondary. Kevon Seymour really stepped up and showed his growth as the season went on, as we can expect that he will have a larger role in the secondary come the fall. After him though, USC has the talent in guys like Ryan Henderson, Anthony Brown, Devian Shelton, Leon McQuay III, Ryan Dillard and Chris Hawkins, but neither the health nor the experience.
Should everyone be 100 percent by fall camp, the position battles in the secondary will be riveting. Like with the O-line, there is now enough talent and depth across the corps to see the Trojans can have their best options on the field at all times.
Jackson, Smith and Lockett are perhaps the three newcomers Trojan fans are most excited about, but the combination of any of them with a healthy Shaw, Cravens, Seymour, Hawkins and McQuay would be a formidable one.
While he was at Washington, we saw Sarkisian develop athletes of a lesser pedigree into household names. At USC he will be expected to go above and beyond that, given the talent he now has on his hands.