Gerard Martinez |

Previewing the Trojan targets at The Opening Los Angeles

USC will have recruiting targets at every position of The Opening Regional Sunday in Redondo Beach (Calif.).

The 2016 Regional Opening in Los Angeles proved to be a solid camp led by star players at the skill positions. The 2017 Opening Sunday should provide an even better array of talent across the board. 

Following the Trojans’ junior day Saturday, the camp will host two dozen prospects with USC scholarship offers in hand. USC commits Bubba Bolden, Stephen Carr and Thomas Graham will all be on hand to perform. The Trojans lone 2018 commitment, Matt Corral will also participate in drills. 

Corral will compete against several nationally recruited underclassmen quarterbacks, including Newbury Park (Calif.) sophomore Cameron Rising, Mission Hills (Calif.) sophomore Brevin White, Bellflower (Calif.) sophomore Re-Al Mitchell and Santa Ana (Calif.) freshman J.T. Daniels

Of course, Las Vegas (Nev.) junior quarterback Tate Martell will be the headliner of the camp. While much of Martell’s strengths will go untested as a dual-threat quarterback Sunday, the will still have a chance to show off his great release and surprisingly good arm. Martell isn’t a big quarterback in stature, but the Texas A&M commit makes a lot of big plays for Bishop Gorman. 

Martell will attend USC’s junior day with almost a dozen other Bishop Gorman players Saturday. While he remains an Aggies commitment, USC remains a contender for his signature. 

Fontana (Calif.) junior Stephen Carr will spotlight the running back position. Although it is hard to measure the abilities of running backs in a non contact camp, it will be interesting to see how Carr has developed physically over the year in comparison with the likes of Ontario (Calif.) four-star athlete Nathan Tilford. While Tilford could end up playing several positions in college, he is expected to perform as a running back Sunday. 

West Hills (Calif.) sophomore running back T.J. Pledger is another top player to watch for USC. Pledger is only 5-foot-9, 180-pounds, but he runs with aggressiveness and incredible fortitude. His finesse skills in space will be tested Sunday.

Last year’s camp was stacked with wide receivers, and while 2017 may not be quite as deep with wide outs, it may be a better class in terms of quality talent at he very top end. Hawkins School junior five-star wide receiver Joseph Lewis was as good as any player at his position last year. Best described a slightly less refined, yet bigger and faster version of Javon McKinely, Lewis has the potential to perform well in drills and test off the charts. 

Lewis will hope to earn an invitation to The Opening Finals with several smaller speed receivers vying for that same honor. Corona (Calif.) Centennial wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey has yet to really explode at a national event, but he is pound-for-pound one of the most explosive players in the country with the pads on. 

Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral junior Jamire Calvin, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco junior Terrell Bynum and Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei junior Osiris St. Brown are all wide outs with excellent quickness in space. While they don’t have the size of Lewis, each will try to turn heads running the 40-yard dash. 

Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde wide out Bryan Thompson could end up seeing his stock rise the most out of the group. USC recently began contacting Thompson and have been pushing hard for an unofficial visit this past week. Another underrated player to watch will be Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian junior Nick Pickett. Although Pickett is slated to play wide receiver Sunday, he has been impressive playing safety on the seven-on-seven circuit. 

Tight end is expected to be a weak position with several players opting to participate in the Oakland Regional Camp in May instead. Of the small group, Antelope Valley (Calif.) tight end Moses Robinson-Carr is the most intriguing in the 2017 class, while Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman sophomore Brevin Jordan could make noise in the 2018 class.

In 2016, USC had two offensive linemen at the camp and both ended up signing with the Trojans. This year, the camp has a deeper pool of offensive line talent, but only Vista Murrieta offensive lineman Chuck Filiaga and St. Johnson Bosco offensive lineman Wyatt Davis

Both players are road graders in the run game, so Sunday’s camp is an opportunity for Filiaga and Davis to show their footwork in pass protections. Can either play offensive tackle at the next level, or are both really elite interior linemen? In general, the camp will more than likely be ruled by guards and centers. 

On the defensive line, Cathedral defensive end Hunter Echols is sure to give blocker a handful off the edge. Echols, who unofficially visit USC Saturday as a UCLA commit, is one of the more skilled pass rushers on the West Coast. In a non-contact environment with no pads, Echols should have a bog day speed rushing a lot of plotting interior offensive linemen. 

In a 3-4 scheme, Echols is a hybrid defensive end-linebacker unlike Las Vegas (Nev.) four-star defensive tackle Haskell Garrett. Already committed to Ohio State, Garrett also made USC’s junior day event Saturday. Garrett and Los Angeles (Calif.) four-star defensive tackle Martin Andrus should provide some great one-on-one match ups for Wyatt Davis and Chuck Filiaga. 

With Echols playing defensive line, the linebacker position may be the weakest of the camp at face value. Although sophomores like Narbonne linebacker Raymond Scott and Merlin Robertson could end up dominating, the only featured 2017 linebacker in attendance will be Redlands (Calif.) East Valley junior Jaelan Phillips. Recently offered a scholarship by Alabama, Phillips will be returning from a visit to Stanford Sunday. 

Although USC is not currently recruiting Phillips very hard, expect that to change as time goes on. Long Beach Poly linebacker Joshua Brown is another big body at the position. Brown is a thumper as a linebacker, so the non-contact camp setting will force him to showcase his weaknesses rather than his strengths.

Defensive back is clearly the strongest position of the camp. It will be a stage for a half dozen prospects holding USC scholarship offers, including Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) duo Thomas Graham and Jaylon Redd. 

Graham has been absent from the seven-on-seven circuit this year, spending his time running indoor track instead. If he runs the 40-yard dash Sunday, all eyes will be on whether the added time in track has proven fruitful. Graham is one of the few players at Sunday’s camp who can post a legitimate 4.4 40-yard dash time. 

Graham will also play next to fellow Trojan commit Bubba Bolden. The corner position is stacked at this camp, but Bolden should stand out as a safety prospect Sunday. Bolden is one of a handful of players that have a realistic chance of earning a Opening Finals invitation. 

Los Angeles (Calif.) Hawkins junior athlete Greg Johnson is certainly one of those players. The Army All-American selection will get to match his skills against Calabasas (Calif.) five-star cornerback Darnay Holmes. Holmes enters the camp as the highest rated player in California, so he will have a target on his back throughout the day. 

That will play out in one-on-ones versus the wide receivers, but it will also determine whether a host of other defensive backs deserve their own scholarship offers from USC. This includes players like Orange (Calif.) safety Brandon McKinney, La Mirada (Calif.) cornerback Elijah Hicks, Pasadena (Calif.) cornerback Elijah Blades, Los Angeles (Calif.) cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and many more. 

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