USC Football: 9 Backups Critical to the Trojans' Success in 2014
One of the recurring themes in reviewing USC's prospects for a successful season in 2014 is the lack of depth found on its roster in terms of scholarship players.
Indeed, given the ramifications of three years of scholarship reductions—courtesy of the NCAA's sanctions relative to the Reggie Bush fiasco—USC does find itself with a roster that is woefully thin in some critical areas.
Because of this, the Trojans will depend on good health in 2014 and, in addition to that good fortune, they will need steady play from the second-string players who are backing up the starters.
This slideshow will look at these important players and the role they will be counted on to fulfill as the Trojans embark on the Steve Sarkisian era.
While all of the players—walk-ons included—are important to the success of the Trojans this year, here are some of the most critical backups for USC in 2014.
Victor Blackwell (Wide Receiver)
We will have to see how the depth chart shakes out from the fall practice sessions, but it seems very likely that redshirt junior wide receiver Victor Blackwell will be the third pass-catcher backing up either Nelson Agholor or Darreus Rogers.
Blackwell is a 6'0", 190-pound wideout who has shown a lot of potential but whose issues with consistency has held him back thus far in his Trojan career.
A good fall camp should seal his position as the first receiver in the rotation but look for a now healthy George Farmer to battle Blackwell for pecking order in the unit.
Max Browne (Quarterback)
From a potential standpoint, there aren't a lot of college quarterbacks—starter or otherwise—who can match what redshirt freshman Max Browne brings to the table.
Standing 6'5" and beginning to fill out that NFL frame, Browne has an excellent arm and the kind of football acumen coaches dream about.
In fact, many will argue that Browne should be the starter. While they might have a point, the guy whose opinion counts, Steve Sarkisian, disagrees, and because of that Browne will have to bide his time for an opportunity at a later date.
Nonetheless, young Max is only one play from inheriting the leadership mantle for the team, so his ability to do just that makes him a very important backup.
With the departure of tight end Xavier Grimble to the NFL after last year, USC suddenly found that unit woefully lacking in depth, with returning co-starter Randall Telfer representing one of only two scholarship players at the position.
Fortunately, junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the other and he is a budding superstar combining great size and soft hands to form a package that many think is good enough to start regardless of Telfer's availability.
Whether Cope-Fitzpatrick is better than Telfer is the coaching staffs call but what is certain is that he will be crucial to Sark's penchant for running two tight end sets. So either way, he will see a lot of playing time in 2014.
Claude Pelon (Defensive End)
The defensive line took a big hit when Kenny Bigelow tore his ACL (more on that later). Because of this, there is a good deal more uncertainty about how the defensive line will be constituted than before Bigelow's injury.
Prior to the injury, it was assumed that Scout.com 4-star defensive lineman Claude Pelon would back up defensive end Delvon Simmons, but now a reshuffling of the defensive line assignments might be in order.
No matter where he plays, the talented Pelon will be counted on to provide quality minutes in the 2014 rotation.
Gerald Bowman (Safety)
Because USC has only three scholarship safeties on its roster, Gerald Bowman might be the most valuable backup on the roster (or maybe not, as we shall see later).
A tremendous hitter blessed with great speed, Bowman is likely to back up Su'a Cravens at strong safety but will have to be versatile enough to slide in at free safety should anything happen to Leon McQuay.
Regardless of where he plays, Bowman will have to be ready to play significant minutes for USC in 2014.
Greg Townsend Jr. (Defensive Line)
Greg Townsend Jr. came to the Trojans in the class of 2011 as a much touted Scout.com 4-star prospect from Beverley Hills High School in the California town of the same name.
Blessed with good size and an NFL pedigree courtesy of his father (Super Bowl defensive end Greg Townsend), the younger Townsend was expected to make an immediate impact with the Trojans. But it has yet to work out that way due to injuries and inconsistency.
Now Townsend has an opportunity to make up for lost time as he will be counted on to provide quality minutes in the rotation spelling All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
The redshirt junior has the talent to make a difference. Now it's time to show it on the field of play.
Scott Starr (Linebacker/Defensive End)
Former Scout.com 4-star middle linebacker Scott Starr will now put his hand on the ground as a rush defensive end spelling J.R. Tavai in 2014.
Starr has tremendous strength and quickness and his determination to get to the ball-carrier will serve him well as he transitions to a position that will require him to provide penetration in opponents' backfields.
Look for Starr to have a very productive year as a significant part of the rotation in 2014.
Chris Hawkins (Cornerback)
The plan is to start redshirt senior Josh Shaw at cornerback. If this is indeed the way it plays out, then former Scout.com 4-star player Chris Hawkins will be the guy given quality minutes to back him up.
However, as mentioned before, the Trojans need safeties. If the versatile Shaw winds up there, look for the talented Hawkins to start opposite Kevon Seymour sometime in 2014.
Either way, Hawkins will be counted on to provide quality minutes this year.
Cody Temple (Defensive Lineman)
As mentioned earlier, the defensive line will undergo some changes with the injury to Kenny Bigelow. The most important of those changes is that oft-injured defensive tackle Cody Temple will now be asked to back up starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods.
Temple has always shown the potential to be an impact player but health issues have kept him from finding his way on to the playing field for the Trojans.
Now finally healthy and up to 315 pounds, Temple has an opportunity to play significant minutes in the rotation. Because of this, Temple may be as critical a backup as there is on the roster.
Conspicuously absent from this list are the backups for the offensive line and the running backs.
This is because the offensive line remains a work in progress, as specific assignments will be identified in the fall.
As for the running backs, a rotation featuring Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis will shake itself out at the start of the season and all of them (and perhaps others) will see the playing field with regularity.
There are other backups not featured in this slideshow and their omission should not be construed as diminishing their importance or contributions.
Indeed, it will take all the players on this roster—from the walk-ons to the starters and everyone in between—to take the Trojans where they want to go in 2014.
And don't be surprised if someone totally unexpected steps up to provide valuable minutes for USC this year.
That's what teamwork is all about.
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