For the second time in three years, the USC assistant coaching staff is doing yeomen’s work recruiting without a head coach.
Somewhere between limbo and coaching for the next job, recruiting can appear simultaneously futile and very important. Uncertainty kills recruiting like a dash on strychnine in your salt shaker. Yet, the coaching staff continues to build relationships on the recruiting trail that could help them segue to a new job or solidify why the new head coach retains their services.
On the defensive side of the football, USC has five commits, not including Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian four-star athlete Michael Pittman and La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat four-star athlete Trevon Sidney. Both Pittman and Sidney who have the potential to play defense in college, but are being recruited as aside receivers by the current staff.
USC presently has Gardena (Calif.) Serra safety C.J. Pollard, Huntington Beach (Calif.) three-star defensive end Liam Jimmons, Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis three-star linebacker and Joseph Iosefa, La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat four-star athlete Trevon Sidney as truly solid commits.
Considering USC has areas of specific need on defense, it’s a small core group of dependable commitments. Pollard helps build depth at safety, which is a position currently requiring the services of walk-on Matt Lopes in addition to starting true freshman Marvell Tell.
However, USC will most likely need to replace Su’a Cravens at SAM linebacker and continue to add interior defensive linemen with five seniors on the roster. The Trojans’ future scheme may dictate the degree in which USC needs additional defensive tackles, but whether the next head coach stays with a 3-4 front or moves to a 4-3, USC only has five-to-six players capable of playing defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4.
Liam Jimmons is the only unequivocally solid commit that has been recruited to play defensive end for USC’s current scheme. At 250-pounds, he’ll need to redshirt and bulk up considerably to play in the three or four technique on the defensive line. In a 4-3, Jimmons would more than likely play the position he does in high school, which is a five technique defensive end. This is also where freshmen Christian Rector and Rasheem Green would play in a 4-3.
Wait And See
For the purpose of this feature, these are commits somewhere between signing with USC no matter what and those signing with USC as long as there are not drastic changes in the scheme or staff. Lakeland (Fla.) Gibson four-star defensive tackle Keyshon Camp and La Mirada (Calif.) three-star defensive end Keanu Saleapaga fit this category.
As stated above, USC needs defensive linemen despite the fantastic class they signed in 2015. Camp is a defensive tackle that will play in the three-technique in a 4-3 or the four-technique in a 3-4. Camp has already officially visited Michigan and has visits to Pitt, Oregon and Alabama still on the docket. Camp has stated since the firing of Steve Sarkisian that defensive line coach Chris Wilson will be a big part in his recruitment going forward.
|Keyshon Camp | Recruiter: Chris Wilson | Factor: Position Coach | Status: Soft Verbal|
Saleapaga is a five-technique, or strong side defensive defensive end, who could grow into being a defensive tackle. At 265-pounds, Saleapaga could easily carry another 15 to 20-pounds of weight in college. In a 4-3 defense, Saleapaga could start out immediately as a five-technique, but he will need time to develop as a player regardless of whether he plays defensive tackle or defensive end in USC’s defense.
There’s a chance Saleapaga could still officially visit Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State. It’s doubtful he commits elsewhere, but official visits can always complicate the process. Saleapaga is also raw, and his scholarship offer came after an impressive camp performance over the summer at USC. A new coaching staff would not have that evaluation opportunity, which could also impact his recruitment.
This is where the rubber meets the road with the current USC coaching staff. The Trojans have recruited by position the last two years, so position coaches have become that much more significant in maintaining communication with respective recruits. On defense, USC has to finish strong with at least one, if not two more defensive tackle commits.
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson has official visits set up with several of the nation’s top defensive tackles. That includes a January trip for Paramus (N.J.) five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Although Gary will be a long shot for USC to land, getting him on campus with a new head coach in place will have a lot to do with Wilson’s ability to recruit.
Houston (Texas) four-star defensive tackle Jordan Elliott is another target USC will host on an official visit. His trip was originally scheduled for Nov. 6, but that official visit date may be pushed back until a new head coach is in place.
|Jordan Elliott | Recruiter: Chris Wilson | Factor: Position Coach | Visit: January|
Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Hill four-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson is expected to be on campus at USC in the next few weeks. Jackson has USC and Auburn among his favorite schools.
Wilson and area recruiter, Tee Martin, have teamed up in recent months to also made in-roads with Gardena (Calif.) Serra five-sat defensive end Oluwole Betiku. While Betiku dropped USC from consideration before committing to UCLA, he has since de-committed from the Bruins and unofficially visited USC twice. Betiku is now considering an official visit in January.
Betiku’s main reason for dropping USC from consideration was the Trojans’ 3-4 defensive scheme. Betiku wants to play weak side defense end in a 4-3, so a change in defensive scheme would create an immediately shift in the five-star’s recruitment toward USC.
|Antwuan Jackson | Recruiter: Chris Wilson | Factor: Position Coach | Visit: Nov. 28
But as mentioned, defensive linemen are only one need for USC on this side of the football. Replacing junior linebacker Su’a Cravens, who is expected to declare for the NFL Draft in January, is another recruiting issue that needs to be addressed.
USC lost the commitment of Torrance (Calif.) North five-star linebacker Mique Juarez. The long time commit had been contemplating a de-commitment for months, but there is still a good chance USC makes a run at him before he inks a letter of intent. Juarez could play inside or outside linebacker, so scheme is not a deal breaker here.
Juarez’s lead recruiter has been Tee Martin, who offered him a scholarship back when Lane Kiffin was still head coach at USC. That relationship will keep USC involved, but playing time is the major factor in Juarez’s recruitment. Juarez is being looked at as a SAM linebacker in USC’s current 3-4 scheme, so he is earmarked as replacement for Cravens.
|Mique Juarez | Recruiter: Tee Martin | Factor: Playing Time | Visit: TBD|
The Trojans have freshman John Houston redshirting this season, and a change to a 4-3 would likely bring Uchenna Nwosu into the mix for the SAM linebacker spot. Quinton Powell backs up Cravens now, but he would benefit from a fresh start at WILL linebacker in a 4-3 under scheme. There is also the potential for freshman Osa Masina to play SAM linebacker in a 4-3 front.
But if USC continues to run a 3-4, the Trojans will continue to search for a Cravens replacement in 2016. In that respect, a new head coach and staff could reveal paths previously undiscovered on the recruiting trail for USC. Many of the region’s top outside linebackers are committed elsewhere.
At defensive back, scheme will make less of an impact, but it’s also a position where USC needs numbers. Secondary coach Keith Heyward has made a habit out of closing strong with the top prospects on USC’s board two years running. Three of the four players USC signed last February at defensive back have played major minutes this season, with Iman Marshall starting at cornerback.
In fact, three out of the four defensive backs Heyward recruited in 2015 have also started games for USC. With only C.J. Pollard committed, the success of the 2016 class will depend a lot on how USC closes.
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly five-star athlete Jack Jones and Elk Grove (Calif.) Franklin four-star safety Lamar Jackson have been the top two targets on USC’s board at defensive back since last fall. Jackson is a mid-year graduate, so he will most likely take his official visit Nov. 28 or in December. Jones will commit on signing day, so he will have full knowledge of how the coaching search at USC pans out. Jackson are very close with Heyward and has detailed USC's plan for him at safety.
|Lamar Jackson | Recruiter: Keith Heyward | Factor: Position Preference | Visit: Dec. 11
But USC will need at least one, if not two more cornerbacks in this class. Madison (Miss.) Germantown four-star cornerback Nigel Knott will officially visit USC in January. Another target USC made headway with is Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro four-star athlete Byron Murphy. Heyward was reported to have visited Murphy two weeks ago.
Scout Midwest Analysts Allen Trieu reported last week that USC also visited with Penn State commit LaVert Hill. The Detroit (Mich.) King four-star cornerback remains a solid commitment to the Nittany Lions, but the consensus is that he will eventually take official visits at the end of the year.
The Core of Continuity
The make up of USC’s next football coaching staff is still an unknown, but in many instances there is carry over from one staff to the next. For better or for worse, the core group of USC’s recruiting class will be impacted this transition. Projecting that core group for 2016 is difficult, but on the defensive side of the football, th names above will be the ones that emerge.