An Introduction to USC's Running Back Committee
Year in and year out, people wonder how all of the five-star recruits deal with the reduced playing time, competition, and shared spotlight they endure to play at USC.
There are two parts to the answer:
1) They don't deal with it well, and end up transferring (read: Emmanuel Moody and Vidal Hazelton).
2) They realize that they're going to get their turn, and compete like it's gameday at every practice. In doing so, they seem to make each other better and stronger.
Let's take a look at all of the players in USC's backfield for the 2009 season.
Stafon is coming off a 2008 when he led the Trojans running attack with 705 yards. He is easily capable of 1,000 yards rushing in 2009, but it all depends on how many snaps the other five tailbacks steal away. He was used in regular rotation with CJ Gable last year, even though the two have different running styles.
Johnson runs through people much more than the other SC backs, conjuring up memories of LenDale White (although Johnson is much more athletic and significantly quicker than Bush's old counterpart).
Stafon is at the top of the end of the spring depth chart, and is in a good position to take the Trojans into the 2009 campaign. Look for him on SportsCenter this season breaking tackles and running through opponents' defensive backfields.
The most-hyped offensive recruit since Reggie Bush, McKnight has shown flashes of brilliance, and equal doses of immaturity and poor decision-making for balance. Trojan fans are still waiting for No. 4 to live up to his high-school highlight reels that were all the craze on YouTube.
Whomever USC's QB turns out to be, if McKnight can stay healthy, he will be a top target as a runner and a receiver, both out of the backfield and split to the sides.
McKnight spreads a defense like Reggie Bush, as you have to account for him on the field no matter where he goes. His explosiveness could catapult him into the national limelight should he breakout this year.
It's hard to choose a favorite when looking at the Trojan running backs, but CJ Gable holds something special for SC fans—he played a major role in proving that USC's backfield was in good hands after the departure of LenDale White and Reggie Bush, the "Thunder and Lightning" duo that ran over opponents from 2003-2005.
CJ was the starter in 2006's season opener against Arkansas, where he performed well. After injuries and reduced playing time, he took his place in the Trojan TB rotation in the last four games of 2006, and hasn't relinquished his spot.
He's a mix between Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight—not quite as speedy as McKnight, and not quite as punishing as Johnson—and that takes nothing away from his individuality.
There is literally no drop-off between Gable and Johnson. The Trojans can essentially play at full speed the entire game. While one rests, the other performs.
It remains to be seen how well Bradford has recovered from season-ending hip surgery in 2008, but this redshirt junior certainly has the ability to make an deafening impact.
Originally recruited by USC as a safety, he made the jump to TB in his freshman season. He is a threat both as a receiver and a runner, and regularly looks to level defenders if they get in his way.
As with any of the other Trojan backs, Bradford has the abilities to start at any other school, and his performance could earn him regular snaps at TB this season.
Marc Tyler came to USC on crutches after breaking his leg during his senior season of high school. He should consider that a fortunate accident, forcing him to take a redshirt year, and giving him a chance to stagger his eligibility.
As a sophomore in the 2009 campaign, Tyler will compete for playing time—but as in last year, he will probably get most of his repetitions in the third and fourth quarters when USC brings in their second and third strings.
It's important to note though, that when USC's second and third string performers are on the ball, they're usually facing the opponents first string, giving them invaluable experience on the field.
He was a two-way player in high school, earning a barrage of scholarship offers to play on both sides of the ball before choosing to run it for the Trojans.
Rumors around town are that this Venice local, the smallest of the bunch, is packing a huge punch. The coaches have been giving the younger guys the ball as much as possible in the offseason allowing them to make their individual mark.
As always, Carroll will be loyal to the guys who've earned their playing time, but look for McNeal to find his way into games, especially if the Trojans have a commanding second half lead. The coaches all rave about his talents and his work ethic, and we all know from past experience that the Trojans have no problem giving reps to freshman.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Heard is licensed under Creative Commons.