Figuring out rookies who'll get on the field

The list is longer than we thought it would be. What do you think?

Lots of attention this week for the arrival at USC of the nearly complete roster from the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Lots of possibilities. Lots of athletes. Lots of big bodies.

But how much immediate opportunity is there to play? Even for this talent.

After all, in the final year of NCAA sanctions when the Trojans dressed as few as 48 originally recruited scholarship players for a game, just eight freshmen (with 58 starts among them) were major contributors out of 11 overall.

Is there any reason to think that number goes up in 2015? And when we say that number, we don't mean as a starter but in the rotation every week and on the field.

So it probably won't go up . . . at least that was our first thought. Not with 16 starters back, and all those freshmen from last year noted above.

Not with more than a half-dozen talents like Lamar Dawson, Kenny Bigelow, Jabari Ruffin, Tre Madden, Chad Wheeler, Greg Townsend Jr. and Jordan Simmons coming back after missing most or all of 2014.

So here we are. Big-time talent, numbers and athletic bodies coming into a program that finally has some depth. How does that work out? Who of these freshmen will play?

And for our purposes today, how many of them?

Last year would seem to be a good guide on the top end -- eight major contributors, 11 in all, as the high water mark. Although when you start doing the math, you realize that may be the low end.

Maybe this all changes because more players play. The rotations are deeper. And the numbers of newcomers go up despite the competition ahead of them.

So how to get there to how many rookies will rock the fall? And who to get there with?

One qualifier: Some of this is out of control for the incoming newcomers. At some positions, there are just too many ahead of them and too many coming in. You can only play so many.

But for those not on our list, don't take it as gospel. We're sure at least someone, or maybe more, will break through in ways we couldn't imagine. This isn't to downgrade anyone, just to say here's how it looks now in midsummer.

Six veteran D-linemen make it hard to pencil in a freshman there especially with guys like Rasheem Green and Jacob Daniel coming in off senior year knee injuries.

But on the offensive line, which had its influx of newcomers last year and presents an all-veteran cast this time around, we can make the case that the technically proficient Chuma Edoga and the NFL-proportioned Roy Hemsley, both in early for the spring, will be in the rotation. They will be. Which is why Jordan Simmons is now a nose tackle.

So that's two. But for the first of our "new" newcomers to make the list, Iman Marshall has shown us already he can live up to the hype. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds with the feet and hips and toughness to play press coverage and the speed to catch up deep, Biggie will be on the field.

And that will free Adoree Jackson for more time on offense. Not a minor motivation for Matshall to move in here.

And as Bryce Dixon proved last year, there's always room for a tall, athletic tight end even if he is a freshman. Tyler Petite, a 6-5, 235-pound smooth route runner with excellent hands, takes another of our first-year spots for the fall.

The toughest position to call is linebacker, inside and outside, where 17 veterans, six with starting experience and another half-dozen walkons who have shown they can play, await four tall and talented newcomers. No way to call this one.

Cameron Smith got here this spring and the 6-3, 240-pound throwback hasn't looked like a freshman, especially in coverage. He almost has to see the field.

That leaves the trio of Osa Masina inside and Porter Gustin and John Houston outside. How good would this Trojan team have to be to keep them off the field? Start with special teams. No more will you see senior starting middle linebackers like Hayes Pullard having to cover punts and kickoffs.

We think Gustin, because he's on the outside with his 6-5, 250-pound frame and athleticism, may have the easiest path here. But watching Masina in just his one workout and Houston since he's been here most of the summer and they look like they belong out there.

But if it plays out that way, we're already at eight true freshmen on the field. But where to now? Sure, it's easy to say the two freshman quarterbacks will sit and wait behind Cody Kessler and Max Browne, just as the D-linemen will.

And not having seen the three freshmen not here -- DT Kevin Scott, WR/CB Isaiah Langley and O-lineman Clayton Johnston -- we'll put them on hold as well.

But what to say of wide receiver Deontay Burnett, the slim, speedy, tough blueshirt from Serra who is making every play that comes his way this summer? With Ajene Harris sidelined with hip surgery, Deontay has a definite shot. So that makes nine newbies.

And for the purpses of keeping this simpler, we're not going to count the newcomers transferring in -- tight end Taylor McNamara from Oklahoma and the junior college wide receiver pair of Isaac Whitney and De'Quan Hampton, all of whom will see the field.

So for those keeping score at home, that's nine true rookies and three transfers and we've yet to get to the rest of the secondary and the offensive backs.

So here we go. It's hard not to see Ykili Ross with his offense/defense No. 35 all his own, not on the field somewhere, most probably at safety. He's our 10th true freshman.

We'll give Marvel Tell a year to let his body catch up with his frame that has him closer to 6-3 than his listed 6-2. He's a player too.

But now for the other really tough position to say there may not be room for them to play -- running back. Although it's more than that for these three guys who all can catch the ball and turn upfield with it in a hurry.

On his four practices thus far, Dominic Davis has put himself on the field for us with his hands, his speed and his confidence with the ball in his hands.

And Aca'cedric Ware is bigger, stronger and tougher than we'd imagined for the Texan. Picture him as a slightly heavier, a bit more muscular Nelson Agholor type athlete.

Ronald Jones is the somewhat unkown quantity here with his later arrival. The other Texan is taller than we pictured, as well, and comes in on video with the best credentials of the three with his speed, power and open-field skill set. Hard to see him sitting out.

So where does that get us -- 13 true freshmen among 16 newcomers with the ability to fight their way into games. That's more than we thought we'd come up with when we started this.

And maybe more than there should be considering 53 players who saw action and 28 from the season-ending two-deep return. But there it is.

More than last year. And more than we figured on. But it's easy for us to say it. Now they have to do it.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


USCFootball.com Top Stories