USC Football: Can the Trojans Afford to Play JuJu Smith at Receiver in 2014?

Rick McMahanSenior Writer IFebruary 18, 2014

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On Feb. 5, the USC Trojans made national headlines by signing a quartet of highly regarded recruits to national letters of intent.

Among those players were 5-star prospects, Damien Mama, Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith.

For those who follow the program, it is fairly certain where Mama (offensive line) and Jackson (primarily at cornerback) will play.

For Smith however, where he winds up playing is not quite so evident.

Though Smith made his reputation at safety, he has professed a desire to play receiver for the Trojans and this is likely where he will start out in 2014 according to ESPN's Blair Angulo (subscription required) and's Greg Biggins.

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And make no mistake about it; Smith will make a fine receiver for the Trojans.

But can USC afford to play him on that side of the ball?

The fact of the matter is that going into 2014, USC will have four scholarship safeties available and one of them (Josh Shaw) may wind up at cornerback, the position he starred at in 2013.

That leaves Su'a Cravens, Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III, all great players but for a physical defense, this is a unit light on bodies.

Meanwhile, although the receiving unit is not deep by any means, the Trojans will have seven scholarship players at their disposal (Darreus Rogers, Nelson Agholor, Steven Mitchell, George Farmer Jr., Victor Blackwell, Ajene Harris and Rahshead Johnson) and two walk-ons (Aaron Minor and Robby Kolanz), both of whom saw some playing time in 2013.

That makes nine players total to play the two to three receiver spots at any given time on offense as opposed to the three to four players to play two spots on defense.

Which brings us back to the original question...can USC afford to play JuJu Smith on offense?

Of course, some might argue that the receiving corps will count on two players (Farmer and Mitchell) coming back from significant injuries and four other players (Harris, Kolanz, Johnson and Minor) are either true freshmen or walk-ons.

And those arguments have merit to be certain.

But based on numbers alone, it would seem that Smith's value—at least at first—would be at safety, the position he starred at as a prep player.

Still, there is another scenario which may be considered by head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

It may very well turn out that Smith gets a shot at playing both positions, which is exactly what is expected that Adoree' Jackson will be provided an opportunity to do.

Jackson will see extensive time at cornerback but he will also get a long look at receiver—most likely at the slot position.

Is this the plan for Smith as well?

It could be, but whatever the coaches deem necessary will be predicated first on roster needs and if so, it may be that Smith finds himself in the defensive backfield before he ventures over to the offensive side of the ball.

But wherever he winds up, USC—and their fanbase—should be awfully happy he is wearing the Cardinal and Gold while doing it.


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