In light of sweeping changes made at USC in the past few weeks, Trojan Nation should be pleased with head coach Lane Kiffin’s tenure so far. Kiffin, who prematurely left his head coaching gig at Tennessee to fill the sudden vacancy left by Pete Carroll, was able to prevent a mass exodus of premier talent from USC following Carroll’s sudden flight for the NFL. Additionally, Kiffin and his recruiting team have also ushered in a very impressive class of incoming freshmen for the upcoming 2010 season.
Given the departure of several key members of the offense and defense from Southern Cal, Kiffin and recently rehired recruiting guru, Ed Orgeron, needed to address glaring holes on both sides of the ball.
Gone are, to name but a few, All-American safety Taylor Mays, embattled running back Joe McKnight, All-Conference wideout Damian Williams, defensive end Everson Griffen, and backup quarterback Aaron Corp, who will transfer to Richmond. The Men of Troy, like most college football programs this time of year, will have to address depth and personnel issues at virtually every position.
However, the additional challenge Kiffin, Orgeron, and Co. face is the possible flight of 'SC recruits in light of the coaching turnover. Below is a breakdown of notable Trojans leaving USC football, followed by the verbal commitments from the 2010 Trojan recruiting class that are already reportedly headed to Heritage Hall.
Gone: Taylor Mays (Safety), Will Harris (Safety)
Incoming Recruit: Dion Bailey
For all of the bonecrushing hits he laid on receivers running crossing patterns, Taylor Mays had occasional misadventures in pass coverage. While Mays left a Ronnie Lott-esque legacy with his intimidating linebacker-in-the-secondary presence, the Trojans will need their 2010 starting free safety to be equally capable of batting down a deep ball as de-cleating a receiver.
Will Harris’ big-play ability will also be missed. If Harris hadn’t returned two interceptions against Arizona State, one for 55 yards and a touchdown, USC would have lost four of their last five regular season games, and may have missed a bowl invitation altogether.
Dion Bailey (Lakewood, CA), was ranked the No. 7 safety recruit by Scout.com, and is a smaller version of Mays, in that he flies to the ball like a linebacker. However, his 4.45 speed suggests that he will be more effective in deep coverage. At 6’1”, Bailey can also measure up as a wide receiver, but the Trojans will likely need him more on defense.
Gone: Joe McKnight (Tailback), Stafon Johnson (Tailback)
Incoming Recruits: DJ Morgan, Dillon Baxter
Stafon Johnson became a source of inspiration for his teammates during his recovery from the grisly September throat-crushing accident that prematurely ended his career at Southern Cal. However, Johnson was invited to participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 30, and will get a chance to shine for pro football prospects in spite of his injury, which he is recovered from. Johnson's absence from the Trojan backfield helped to open up a window of opportunity for other talented tailbacks, like Allen Bradford, who established himself as a reliable back as 'SC heads into 2010.
Even though McKnight had a year of eligibility left, the writing was on the wall for him to leave ‘SC. Not only will his tarnished legacy be mired in scandal, given the much-publicized fiasco with his, ahem, “girlfriend’s” sport-utility vehicle, but his pro football stock has also likely peaked. If he performs well at the NFL combine in February by posting a 40-yard dash time of under 4.5, he could be the latest Trojan to secure a multi-millionaire draft pick come April, despite getting the university into hot water with the NCAA (Read: OJ Mayo & Reggie Bush).
Speak of the devil, Trojan fans may be treated to Reggie incarnate, should DJ Morgan (Woodland Hills, CA) follow through on his verbal commitment to USC. As a versatile, stop-on-a-dime running back capable of carrying, catching, or returning the ball, Morgan will surely evoke memories of No. 5, if the ACL tear he suffered last fall heals by next September.
Dillon Baxter (San Diego, CA) is another multi-faceted threat with the graceful gait and vision of a running back, and is blessed with soft hands so that he can also line up as a wideout. Only occasional ball security issues can prevent him from being a standout player at the college level.
Gone: Damian Williams (Wide Receiver)
Incoming Recruits: Kyle Prater, Robert Woods
The most explosive playmaker for USC over the last two years, Damian Williams would be dearly missed if the Trojans weren’t one of the most effective recruiting machines in college football. Southern Cal landed two top-10 wideout recruits that could provide a lot of scoring in the next few years.
Prater (Hillside, IL) is a 6’5” beast who still needs to physically flesh out a bit. While his condor-like wingspan and contortionist flexibility are but only two of the positive qualities that had college scouts from South Bend to Tuscaloosa drooling, Prater could become a household name in Heritage Hall if he plays as big in cardinal and gold as his size would indicate.
Robert Woods (Gardena, CA), ranked a lofty No. 7 overall on the ESPNU top 150 recruits, is one of the fastest athletes to come out of this year’s high school crop. His soft, yet capable hands enable him to catch almost any pass that is thrown his way, but he needs to focus a bit more on building his strength and ability to play physical against bump-and-run defenders. Not only is Woods USC’s most prized recruit (according to the ESPNU list), but he can play safety as well.
Gone: Jeff Byers (Center), Charles Brown (Left Tackle)
Incoming Recruit: Giovanni Di Paola
If USC has one particularly glaring need headed into National Signing Day, it’s at offensive line. Only three starters from 2009 will return to protect quarterback Matt Barkley and open holes for the running game; but sophomore Matt Kalil and senior Kristofer O’Dowd should serve as formidable replacements while Ed Orgeron and his recruiting staff continue to scour the nation for the size and strength to replace stalwart center Byers and left tackle Brown.
Giovanni Di Paola (Ventura, CA) is considered the No. 4 center by Scout.com with his incredible balance, quick feet and aggressive playing style. However, at a ”scrawny” 254 pounds, Di Paola will need to beef up a bit to prepare his body for the pounding it will take at the Division One college level.
Gone: Everson Griffen (Defensive End)
Griffen, like McKnight, sees his NFL draft stock as high as it’s ever been, so he’s skipping his senior season to go pro. USC has yet to recruit a top-flight defensive end to replace Griffen on the roster. Devon Kennard (Phoenix, AZ) looks like a potential in-house candidate to fill Griffen’s shoes, but needs to improve his speed (4.8 40-yd time) to flourish as a dominant defensive end.
Gone: Aaron Corp (Quarterback)
Incoming Recruit: Jesse Scroggins
It’s not difficult to understand why Corp bailed on USC to transfer to Richmond. The frustrated quarterback was unceremoniously demoted to backup QB in favor of a then-18 year-old true freshman in Barkley with barely a week left until the season opener last year. When Corp finally received a chance to start, he faltered in his shot at redemption when he replaced an injured Barkley against Washington. Regardless of the departure of Pete Carroll, who aligned himself with Barkley, Corp sought greener pastures in an environment outside the pressure cooker of Los Angeles.
Jesse Scroggins (Lakewood, CA) is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 6 signal caller in the 2010 recruiting class. He is a physically and mentally gifted athlete with the poise to lead his team into battle. Scroggins can make big plays downfield with his feet as well as his arm, but he needs to fine-tune the amount of touch he puts on some of his passes. Regardless, Southern Cal, who hasn’t seen a mobile quarterback since Rodney Peete, would benefit from the addition of a dynamic quarterback like Scroggins. However, Barkley, firmly entrenched as the starter, isn’t likely to be going anywhere for at least two years.
Gone: Anthony McCoy (Tight End)
Incoming Recruit: Xavier Grimble
Although McCoy will be missed by ‘SC fans and coaches for his size and athleticism, the Trojan recruiting team hit pay-dirt by getting a verbal commitment from Xavier Grimble (Las Vegas, NV). The 6’5”, 245-pound tight end will provide a sizable target in the red zone, and is also an excellent blocker. Rated No. 31 on the ESPNU top 150, and widely considered to be the best all-around TE advancing to the college ranks this year, Grimble will look to make an immediate impression on Southern Cal coaches as soon as he suits up.
Gone: Josh Pinkard (Cornerback), Kevin Thomas (Cornerback)
Incoming Recruit: Demetrius Wright
Although Pinkard’s and Thomas’ size, speed, and experience will be missed in USC’s defensive backfield, Demetrius Wright is a big, intimidating cornerback with a penchant for jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and playing a physical brand of football. Unfortunately, Wright can occasionally get beaten downfield if the wideout he defends gets past him and gains separation.
Gone: Jordon Congdon (Kicker)
Congdon was solid as USC’s placekicker, hitting 12 of 16 field goals and making all 41 of his PAT attempts in 2009. As Congdon is set to graduate, it is still unclear whom the Trojan coaching staff will appoint as his replacement. USC hasn’t fostered a tradition of prioritizing kickers in their recruitment process, so it will be interesting to see who steps up to take Congdon’s job next season. Currently, the only kicker currently on the ‘SC roster is junior college-transfer Joe Houston (Redondo Beach, CA).
The top recruits that are still undecided, but USC has a shot at signing:
Chaz Green —OT
Owamagbe Odighizuwa— DE
Out of the above-mentioned recruits, USC most needs to target Henderson to address their offensive line attrition. Easier said than done, as Henderson is arguably the most sought-after prep tackle in the nation. If Henderson signs elsewhere (which wouldn’t be a surprise), Kouandijo or Green would both be solid fallback options, although they don’t play at the elite level that the 6’8”, 338-pound Henderson does.
As the Trojans could surely use another defensive end, they would be well served to go hard after Jeffcoat and/or Odighizuwa. To sign one of them would be most helpful; to sign both away from other schools would be a coup.
Although Southern Cal didn’t recruit cornerbacks extensively, the coaching staff feels they’ll have enough existing talent to defend the pass. Shareece Wright, Torin Harris, T.J. Bryant, and Byron Moore are all talented holdovers from 2009 who have experience playing in USC’s system, so Kiffin and company chose to focus on other positions for recruitment purposes.
Last but not least, Vainuku provides a bruising presence at fullback that would open up holes in the running game. Stanley Havili, while extremely talented, is more explosive when he carries the football as opposed to when he blocks for the tailback. Should Vainuku play his home games in the Coliseum next season, Trojan fans could experience a return to the days of “Tailback U” after Vainuku puts a hat on would-be defenders.
Which top recruits got away:
Ronald Powell (DE / Florida)
LaMarcus Joyner (CB / Florida State)
Tony Jefferson (LB / Oklahoma)
Ja’Wuan James (OT / Tennessee)
Sharrif Floyd ( DT / Florida)
Joshua Shaw (CB/ Florida)
The loss of Powell stings for ‘SC. Not only are the Trojans in the hunt for a gifted defensive end, they missed out on a legitimate talent in Powell that grew up practically in their backyard.
Joyner is from Florida, and reportedly wanted to play closer to home. Regardless, his skill set would have been a nice fit for USC.
Jefferson passed on three Pac-10 schools (UCLA and Arizona are the other two) to join the Sooners. That said, he shouldn't be a problem for Southern Cal unless OU and ‘SC meet in a bowl game down the road.
James would have looked good in cardinal and gold anchoring the offensive line. However, as he is a Georgia native, he seemed to target primarily SEC schools.
Floyd briefly considered becoming a Trojan, but the opportunity to become a Gator and play for Urban Meyer was too great for him to pass up.
Shaw is a physical specimen of a defensive back from Palmdale, CA who chose to play his college ball in Gainesville. If you’ve ever lived in Palmdale, you’d want to play as far away from home as possible, too.
Given that National Signing Day (Feb. 3) is still almost a week away, it is still a little early to thoroughly assess the 2010 Trojan recruiting class. Although USC could use an additional offensive tackle and center, the student-athletes that Team Kiffin (Lane and his father, newly appointed defensive coordinator Monte), Orgeron, and the rest of the Trojan coaching staff have assembled in the meantime looks promising, especially on offense.
Between Prater and Woods, Grimble, Morgan, and Baxter, the Trojans have continued to stock supreme talent to surround Matt Barkley as he continues his maturation in returning USC to the top of the recently very competitive Pac-10 conference.
Based on their current crop of recruits on paper, one might infer that the Trojans focused their attention primarily on offense, and critics may suggest that they will need to spend the next six days diligently recruiting defensive targets who can help to ensure that the outcome of a game doesn’t rest solely on the leg of their kicker, whoever that may be in 2010.
If Southern Cal doesn’t get additional help to replace Griffen at defensive end, their pass rush may suffer, which will place additional pressure on their secondary. Unless USC secures commitments from a couple more talented cornerbacks and safeties, we could witness some shootouts, starting in Hawaii on Sept. 2.
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