2016 Wants and Needs: Defense

As the University of Southern California football team enters 2015, the Trojans scholarship roster moves closer to a full 85 men. With 23 scholarships available for the 2016 class, USC will likely have another deep and balanced class. USC will lose three starting interior defensive linemen, at least one starter at linebacker and one starter at cornerback after this season.

In this recruiting feature, we will evaluate future roster spots on defense with an early glance at the 2016 talent pool. Several story lines will break down each position, surmising needs with context.

Jumbo athletes and hybrid defenders

The Trojans will run a 3-4 base scheme with the outside linebacker position giving the defense the ability to morph in and out of various fronts. In 2014, USC began recruiting a four linebacker scheme for the first time.

In 2015, USC signed two potential impact players at the position in Porter Gustin and John Houston. Gustin will play the Rush position, which is a conversion of the LEO defensive end spot in Pete Carroll’s 4-3 under scheme. At 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, Gustin exemplifies the position from a physical standpoint.

Big enough to tee-off with his hand on the ground in a three point stance against the run, yet agile enough to play away from the line of scrimmage in coverage, Gustin is best described as a jumbo athlete. Houston will play the Field or SAM linebacker spot. The position is currently manned by Su’a Cravens, who may test the waters of the NFL Draft next year.

Junior Quinton Powell, sophomore Uchenna Nwosu and junior Jabari Ruffin are also potential SAM linebackers on the roster. It’s a position that reflects a transforming depth chart with various levels of skill and physicality.

With USC starting four linebackers in its base defense and still recruiting the right personnel for the current scheme, the Trojans will attempt to follow a great 2015 class with another great 2016 class. The Trojans have a commitment from Ann Arbor (Mich.) four-star outside linebacker Daelin Hayes, who at 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, could play SAM or Rush for USC.

Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive end Oluwole Betiku continues to see his stock rise as a hybrid athlete. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Nigerian native began playing organized football his sophomore year and lined up all over the defensive line last season for the Cavaliers. Betiku appears to be a well-defined Rush linebacker prospect because of his natural strength and growth potential.

USC also has the commitment of Torrance (Calif.) four-star linebacker Mique Juarez. However, at 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Juarez could project at safety or WILL linebacker. Athletically, Juarez compares favorably with Cravens in that he is a very versatile and dangerous skill player at the high school level on offense.

  • Need: 2 OLB | Want: 2 OLB
    Prospects: Darrian Franklin, Curtis Robinson, Josh King, Davir Hamilton

    Finding an inside man

    USC finally signed a prototypical inside MIKE linebacker in Cameron Smith last February. A strong, downhill enforcer, Smith comes in as a freshman at 6-foot-2, 240-pounds this spring. USC will also have Michael Hutchings and Olajuwon Tucker back for 2016, while graduating Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao.

    At WILL, USC will give in-coming freshman Osa Masina some run inside the tackle box. At 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, Masina could be a difference maker at inside or outside linebacker for USC, but he will start out playing WILL. It will be difficult to find a prospect with his size and versatility in the 2016 class. Clovis (Calif.) five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly is the best player overall to project at the position, while Bakersfield (Calif.) four-star linebacker Krys Barnes is also a top target.

  • Need: 1 ILB | Want: 2 ILB
    Prospects: Lokeni Toailoa, Mique Juarez, Joel Dublanko, Bryce Youngquist

    The 300-pound plus club

    USC will lose its entire returning three-man front in 2016 - a year after losing Leonard Williams to the NFL Draft. Acknowledging the two year recruiting cycle, the Trojans haul of signing four interior defensive linemen in Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel, Noah Jefferson and Kevin Scott was step No. 1 in revamping the depth chart for the 3-4.

    In the process, USC got bigger up front, which was crucial in being able to play a one-gap defense. All four of its 2015 signees weigh in at, or more than 300-pounds. The Trojans want their defensive ends to play at 285-pounds and upward, while they must still stalk the recruiting trail for 320-pound plus nose guards. Very few of those exist West of Texas, and this cycle’s defensive line class in general has few quality defensive tackles to choose from locally.

    Thus, it’s no surprise every defensive line prospect USC has offered a scholarship to in the 2016 class is from outside the region. Unfortunately, none of the players USC has offered a scholarship to is a slam dunk to seriously consider moving out West. Of course, losing three starters on the defensive line coupled with Leonard Williams being a top three pick in the NFL Draft may help lure a big time out of state prospect.

    Of course, the success rate for USC in scholarship offers versus defensive tackle commits commits from the Southeast is about 0.0008. Hammond (La.) five-star defensive tackle Ed Alexander put USC in among his top three college choices after he de-commit from LSU last season. USC might as well be in his top 33 because there’s little chance Alexander leaves Louisiana for college. However, out West, there’s always a chance a player like Concord (Calif.) De La Salle tight end Devin Asiasi could develops into a defensive line prospect. Asiasi is hovering around 270-pounds, so he could outgrow his current position and be better suited for defensive end.

  • Need: 3 DL | Want: 4 DL (2 NG, 2 DE)
    Prospects: Rashan Gary, Derrick Brown, Boss Tagaloa, Kendell Jones

    Safety in numbers

    The defensive back position will not be as deep in 2016 as it was in 2015, but it still looks like a solid year across the board for secondary talent. USC wanted to sign five defensive backs in 2015, but ended up signing four. No complaints as the Trojans signed the best four possible players available at the position in Isaiah Langley, Marvell Tell, Ykili Ross and Iman Marshall.

    Three of those four freshmen can play cornerback, and with Kevin Seymour being the only significant loss in 2016, USC really just needs to sign one good player at that position. USC will recruit nationally to start, but look for the very deep 2016 receiver class to help supplement the talent pool at defensive back. Clovis (Calif.) West wide out Darian Owens, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola wide out David Long and La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat wide out Trevor Sidney are good examples of offensive prospects who may be better served playing defense in college.

    Safety is the position USC will need more numbers at. With only four safeties on the depth chart in 2016 and Leon McQuay being a senior, the Trojans will push for a three man class. Again, the total number of safeties taken in 2016 could be masked by how many wide receivers USC signs. The Trojans are already heavily recruiting Texas for safeties, with Brandon Jones and Deontay Anderson getting scholarship offers last fall.

    Serra High School has both C.J. Pollard and Brandon Burton as safety prospects, so unlike at defensive tackle, USC has some solid local options to build from.

  • Need: 4 DB | Want: 4 DB (1 CB, 2 FS, 1 SS)
    Prospects: Shurod Thompson, Byron Murphy, Levonta Taylor, Treyjohn Butler

    Punting is winning

    USC has the scholarship numbers to sign a punter in the 2016 class as well. Punter Kris Albarado will be a senior this year, so while Steve Sarkisian hasn’t invested quite as much as Lane Kiffin did to special teams, it is plausible USC uses a scholarship on a kicker. There is the slight possibility that USC signs a long snapper to the scholarship roster, but that is more likely to happen in the form of a walk-on gaining a scholarship in fall camp. The trojans may also rely on freshman center Cole Smith to handle long snapping responsibilities as well.

  • Need: 1 ST | Want: 1 Punter
    Jerry Fitschen, Kyle Thompson, Jacob Roberts, John Hilfer

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