Questions raised for USC Rising Stars

Before national camp events like The Opening Finals in Beaverton (Ore.) where NIKE flies in athletes from all over the country to compete on a single stage, the USC Rising Stars Camp was the event the best players in the country flocked to at their own expense.

This week, USC is reaching far and wide to once again flex its muscle as a national recruiting juggernaut.

The USC Rising Stars Camp has become a mecca for top recruits nationwide for the past eight years. This year will be no exception with players coming from several regions of the country to compete.

For the Trojans’ coaching staff, the Rising Stars Camp is about reinforcing current notions in recruiting and discovering new facts about the talent pool that will flood Howard Jones Field Wednesday. Rising Stars can help answer many of the questions raised during spring evaluations, which is when a vast majority of scholarships offers are produced.

The first question eagerly awaiting resolution from this week’s camp revolves around one of the Trojans' wide receiver commits. Sight unseen, Saraland (Ala.) three-star wide receiver Velus Jones verbally committed to USC.

How good is Velus Jones?


While Jones film from his junior season is solid, it can’t be viewed without contrasting and comparing it to the game film of wide outs in Southern California. Jones did not attend any of The Opening Regional Camps, nor has he attended any other national events this spring.

Is Jones so talented that USC must go into the heart of SEC country to secure his signature come February? It’s a legitimate question that Trojan fans have not stopped asking since he committed in April.

On the flip side, this will be Jones first trip to Los Angeles. While he may indeed prove to be a scholarship level athlete for USC, Jones will need to evaluate L.A. as his future home for the next four year.

La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat wide receiver duo Trevon Sidney and Tyler Vaughns will also be at Rising Stars this week, so there will be plenty from a performance standpoint to compare and contrast. Also expected to make the trip is Citra (Fla.) four-star wide receiver Freddie Swain.

Swain recently cut his list to seven college choices, which included Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan, USC, Georgia, Miami and South Carolina. An unofficial visit to USC on his own dime certainly raises his profile with the Trojans moving forward.

Rising juniors Terrell Bynum, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Amari Rodgers will also be in attendance for the camp, so the class of 2017 will be in town to possibly steal the show from the seniors. At one time, Rising Stars was called the Rising Seniors Camp.

Can USC go south for defensive linemen?


Defensive linemen are always at a premium in the Pac-12, and in the 2016 recruiting cycle, there are few prospects holding scholarship offers from USC locally. Thus, USC is going to get some questions answered about its out-of-state crop of defensive tackles and defensive end this week.

USC will host Lakeland (Fla.) four-star defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, Cedar Grove (Ga.) defensive tackle four-star Antwuan Jackson and Houston (Texas) four-star defensive tackle Jordan Elliott at Rising Stars. All three players have confirmed they will be on campus for multiple days, which will give the Trojans' coaching staff the ability to gauge their interest level in the program.

Camp currently calls USC his No. 1 college choice, while the Trojans have Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina to beat for Jackson. Elliott committed to Houston after de-committing from Baylor this spring. That suggests distance will play a big factor in his recruitment, yet Elliott’s childhood dream school was USC.

The Trojans are also expected to host Panama City (Fla.) four-star defensive end and Florida State commit Janarius Robinson and Houston (Texas) rising junior defensive tackle Marvin Wilson on campus as well, so the defensive front will be well represented nationally.

Attendance, by itself, will give USC a better grasp of where they stand for each player, so the question will be which prospect fits in best with the city, school and team the most.

Will USC get a look at Asiasi as a tight end?


Concord (Calif.) De La Salle four-star Devin Asiasi can certainly play tight end at the high school level, but weighing 270-pounds at The Opening Regional in May, will his body develop beyond the point where his physical talents are wasted at the position?

Asiasi says he does not expect to perform at the Rising Stars Camp, so perhaps this question cannot be answered this week. However, with so much talent on the field, any player with a hint of competitive nature may find it hard not go out for a few drills.

Rising Stars is one of the few events where players not only compete in position drills, one-on-one drills and seven-on-seven, but they have also had a chance to participate in full team drills in previous years. It would be a great evaluation opportunity for the staff and a chance for Asiasi to run block and catch passes in the Trojans' offense.

Can Fink shine in the system?


Glendora (Calif.) quarterback and USC commit Matt Fink has been relatively quiet this offseason. Attending both The Opening Regional and Trendsetters Quarterback Camp, Wednesday’s work out at USC will be geared toward finding his strengths and weaknesses within Steve Sarkisian’s scheme.

With Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton on his hip all day long, Fink’s passes will be focused and his ability to process plays will be tested. Unlike Trendsetters or even The Opening Regional, Fink will have a quantity of reps with some quality receivers. Obviously, running the football, which is one of Fink’s strengths, won’t be fully realized in the camp beyond testing. But it will be good to evaluate his ability to run the read option in a team setting.

Can Mique Juarez match expectations?


The Torrance (Calif.) five-star linebacker earned his scholarship offer from USC at last year’s camp. It was then the Trojans' coaching staff was convinced that Juarez was too good to wait on. Fast forward a year and Juarez is considered one of the best linebackers in the nation.

This will be an opportunity for USC to rekindle that spark which prompted Juarez to commit in January. But also another opportunity to see Juarez work specifically as a field side linebacker in a 3-4 system. It’s a position USC is developing in the mold of junior Su’a Cravens, who came to USC as a five-star high school safety.

Juarez is good, but will he take the position to another level at USC? Without full pads, linebackers are handicapped in non-contact camps, but playing in space is crucial for a field side linebacker, so Juarez’s ability to operate in team drills will further cement his reputation or quell the hype. Juarez will line up across from USC linebacker commit Daelin Hayes for the first time. Hayes is slated to play rush end for the Trojans opposite of Juarez.

Who will emerge at cornerback?


USC will take at least two cornerback in the 2016 class. Long Beach (Calif.) Poly five-star athlete Jack Jones and Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola four-star cornerback David Long are both options who do not plan on camping at USC this week, although an unofficial visit is not out of the question either.

Pittsburg (Calif.) four-star Jordan Parker, Scottsdale (Ariz.) four-star Byron Murphy and Starksville (Miss.) four-star Nigel Knott are. Knott confirmed Monday that he will fly into L.A. early Tuesday. Certainly, the chances of USC landing a prospect from Mississippi with scholarship offers from almost the entire Southeastern Conference are never thought to be good at face value.

At the same time, not many of those players fly to USC on their own dime to work out for the coaching staff. Knott has pro football in his blood with his father and brother having seen time in the league, so that does set him apart from a recruiting stand point.

Parker is committed to UCLA, although he lists several reasons why he intends on not only camping at USC but officially visit later in the year. Murphy camped at Washington last week and is still a tough read recruiting wise. Texas A&M is thought to be his favorite school, but by no means a clear and decisive frontrunner.

Will Thomas Graham get an offer?


Corona (Calif.) Roosevelt junior cornerback Thomas Graham is one of a handful of underclassmen who come to Rising Stars Wednesday to earn a scholarship offer. Graham had previously said he would not camp at USC, but as a life-long Trojan fan, the opportunity to step on campus from the prospective of a USC football player was too much to pass up.

However, Graham may not be as eager to commit on the spot as he was a few months ago. With scholarship offers from Cal, Arizona State, UCLA, Oklahoma and Washington, Graham originally contemplated making a commitment at the end of May. A USC scholarship offer would mean a lot, and while it may not result in an instant commitment, it would be hard for Graham to turn down. 

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