Newcomer Notebook: Getting Bigger

Former Narbonne safety Uchenna Nwosu is transforming his game and body to play the linebacker spot at the line of scrimmage for USC

Three man fronts often require big linebackers, and big linebackers are what USC is developing with Uchenna Nwosu, Olajuwon Tucker, Malik Dorton and Don Hill.

Tucker, Dorton and Hill came to USC with size at 225-pounds, 235-pounds and 240-pounds respectively. However, Nwosu was looked at as a safety coming out of Narbonne High School last year.

“We thought he had a frame to put on weight because he is young, and he still is young,” said linebacker coach Peter Sirmon. “I think in the next two years you can see that guy gain another 25 or 30-pounds.”

Nwosu is currently listed as 210-pounds on the official USC roster. One look at the true freshman outside linebacker this week put his accurate weight closer to 225-pounds.

Still, Sirmon did’t want to say exactly how big Nwosu is or how big he wants him.

“So much of that is dependent on how much time they spent in the weight room in high school and how much their body is done developing,” said Sirmon. “I’m not big on assigning a player on a certain weight.

“There’s a certain performance factor that comes into play as well. I want guys to feel comfortable at a playing weight.”

Nwosu is unique to the group as he is the only freshman that did not play near the line of scrimmage in high school. On the flip side, Hill, Dorton, and to a lesser extent, Tucker, all played defensive end at the prep level.

While they’re all outside linebackers in USC’s system, there is a difference between the rush ends and the strong side (SAM) outside linebacker spot.

“We’re trying to rotate those guys in drills right now,” said Sirmon. “Some of them will be down with the linemen and then some will be up with me in seven-on-seven. The main thing for us is creating depth.”

Linebacker Jabari Ruffin understands the transition it takes physically to play at the line of scrimmage.

“I think Buddha and Uchenna have been really good,” said Ruffin. “Those two guys are in our meeting room and I think once they get bigger or stronger they will be excellent for us.

“At the SAM linebacker spot it’s important to be rangy and to get those linemen off of you. But at the same time, you have t be quick on your feet and cover guys. It’s important to be aggressive, which Uchenna already possesses naturally.”

While neither coach nor players really wants to single out stand out performers the first week of practice, Nwosu and Tucker are the two names buzzing around camp at the linebacker position.

“Uchenna has been hitting guys out here,” said Ruffin. “He’s been setting the edge and taking on full backs. Even against Randall Telfer, who is probably one of the best tight ends he’ll face, Uchenna does a good job.”

Tucker played outside linebacker and defensive end at Serra High School after mostly playing tight end as a underclassmen. His transition has been watched closely by senior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard.

“Playing outside linebacker in high school, he already had to master the technique of playing against linemen and being physical,” said Pullard. “That’s the same moving inside.

“There’s different footwork involved, but Coach Sirmon can tweak that early. He is also around me, Mike Hutchings and Anthony Sarao all day watching film. So when you see him in one-on-ones, you see him copying our moves.

“He’s all ears and you see him doing the little things to get better. That’s perfect for a young linebacker.”

Tucker is showing his peers he can play inside by listening and playing fast.

“He is showing great lateral movement, and of course, having played outside, he knows how to blitz the pass and get up field,” said Pullard. “Shoot, his pass drop isn’t great, but it will improve over time.”

Freshmen Rush Men

Development and improvement are words consistently used to describe the freshmen linebackers in camp. But with Dorton and Hill playing with their hand on the ground in high school, it’s a multifaceted position at USC.

“Malik is a young guy just trying to figure things out,“ said Sirmon. “He’s show some flashes of athleticism, but that’s another guy growing and getting better. We’ll have to see how he develops in camp and then make some assessments.

“We try to identify guys by their different body types,” continued Sirmon. “We see them for what they can be rather that what they are. Buddha is extremely long — like that Gumby type of body. Another guy that in two or three years, he’s going to be a big man.

“Right now he is showing good versatility and he has good hips. He is showing he can run and make some plays in space. He’s picking it up too, and he has to start somewhere. We have him at that Will linebacker spot, so we’ll see how he does and then reassess what his strengths are and go from there.

“With Don Hill, it’s just good to get him out here playing again. He’s not all the way back yet, but he’s learning and competing. The biggest benefit for him was getting in during the spring, so he could be there in meetings.”

Hill is coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, which caused him to miss most of his senior season and all of last spring at USC. This week was his first week back in gear.

“It’s great to play football again,” said Hill. “I’m just learning and enjoying myself everyday.

“Getting to my playbook early last spring definitely helped with that. Right now I can just focus on my body and my health. I’m getting 50-percent of the reps and my body feels pretty good, but I’m not quite back to where I was before.”

Like Dorton, Hill is playing the rush end position as opposed to SAM linebacker.

“It’s a hybrid position, so it’s a very versatile position,” said Hill. “I can line up like a linebacker, with my hand on the ground, three-yards off the ball, blitz… it’s really fun because you move around.”

Pullard, the defensive team captain, had an analogy to represent the disposition of the freshman class in the locker room. 

“These new guys are like tea cups,” said Pullard. “They’re quiet, they’re humble and just looking to the veterans to pour tea into their cups, so they can get as much knowledge as they can.”

Practice News and Notes:

  • Trojans hit the Coliseum Thursday and then landed back on campus with full pads Friday. Jacksonville (Fla.) wide out Tristan Payton made both practices and committed officially to USC Friday.

  • No freshmen start with the first team offense to begin practice. Defensive backs John Plattenburg, Adoree Jackson and Jonathan Lockett do start with the second team. On offense, Damien Mama lines up at right guard, Jordan Austin at right tackle and Viane Talamaivao at center with Bryce Dixon at tight end. Juju Smith also gets reps at wide out with the second team to begin practice.

  • Nwosu continues to show flashes on defense with a greta open field tackle in space.

  • Jackson and Juju Smith have another good one-on-one battle during seven-on-seven play Friday. While Jackson has won a majority of these battles, Smith was the victor Friday with the catch and stiff arm on Adoree.

  • Damien Mama moves to first team right guard in the first 11-on-11 session of practice. As Mike Hutchings comes off the field, he remarks, “Man, once Mama gets his hands on you, it’s over.”

  • Lockett has a few good plays in the team period, deflecting a slant pass and then breaking up a pass on the curl route.

  • In the second team session, Adoree Jackson drops a short dump pass and appears to tweak his ankle or foot. Jackson limps to the sidelines afterward.

  • Plattenburg gets first team reps toward the end of practice as a safety. Keith Heyward has to line him up and shadow him each play, but he does get a few reps with the ones.

  • Ajene Harris catches a few ball in the team period after a really good showing at the Coliseum Thursday. Receiver coach Tee Martin goes on to say that Harris has really surprised him with just how much Harris has been able to process in the first week of practice.

  • Of this freshman class in camp, Steve Sarkisian says, “You don’t notice them. You usually notice freshman because they screw up.”

  • On the development of tight end Bryce Dixon, Sarkisian says, “That guy is a weapon. He is a hard match up for linebacker because he can run at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds.” Top Stories