Spring Preview: A whole lot of receivers

By the numbers, the pass-catching bodies are there for USC. That's pretty much the way it's always been at wide receiver but despite some losses, maybe enough at tight end.

From Mike Williams, who got things going early for Pete Carroll, to Keary Colbert, Steve Smith, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and now Juju Smith-Schuster, they have always been there for USC – in the 21st Century for certain.

Wide receiver U., you might say. And it’s no different today. No position going into the spring has the kind of depth from veteran talent like JuJu to big, strong, impressively athletic early-arriving freshmen like Josh Imatorbhebhe and Michael Pittman Jr.

Two issues here. How to distribute the football after JuJu gets his? And who to distribute them to after a season in which 18 different Trojan receivers made catches.

That’s a big part of what we’ll be looking to see from an evolving Tee Martin/Clay Helton/Tyson Helton/John Baxter (for the tight ends) passing game and where it's headed. Stay tuned.

JuJu of course comes first. A leader on and off the field, a workhorse in organized and players-run sessions, JuJu is hard to overlook as a leading All-American candidate after catching 89 passes for 1,454 yards (104 yards a game) and 10 TDs. How he hooks up with a new quarterback will be something to watch.

But just as important could be how the rest of the field shakes out. You have the veterans – the change-of-direction specialist Steven Mitchell Jr. with 37 catches and the good-hands-guy Darreus Rogers who had 28 – and seem to have always been in the mix.

And second-year guys like the acrobatic Deontay Burnett and the speedy slot guy Dominic Davis, who will be in the mix after freshman seasons when they combined for 17 catches.

Dominic won't be in the mix much in the spring, however, as he joins Adoree' Jackson on the track. And even though he's not listed as a receiver, Adoree' did manage to catch 27 passes for 414 yards and two TDs including one of 83 yards. Again, his integration into the new offense may have to wait until the summer.

Throw the athletic Ajene Harris in there as well after coming back from double hip cartilage surgery in August that cost him his sophomore season after an injury-shortened freshman season.

Then you have the senior junior college transfer pair of De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney who caught 23 passes between them as they adjusted to big-time college football. Both have the tools to contribute.

A walkon of note is 6-3 junior Jackson Boyer, who got a good deal of playing time at North Carolina before transferring to USC last fall.

And then there are those two freshmen who do not look like freshmen. Imatorbhebhe is built like JuJu but with a stratospheric vertical that broke the Nike gauge last summer as it registered 47 inches and the 6-5 Pittman, who may have some collarbone issues to deal with but we’ll know more as the spring develops. Don’t count either of them out as they usher in the next wave of Trojans wide receivers.

The numbers for tight ends, much the way it’s been in recent years, don’t much look like those of the wide receivers. In the last year, USC has lost Bryce Dixon, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and most recently walkon Connor Spears. Spears carried USC through the spring and summer after the defection of Dixon and Cope-Fitzpatrick until the late arrival of the all-around skills of Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara and the good hands of freshman Tyler Petite.

Grad student and former O-lineman Cyrus Hobbi remains after a year of working on his tight end skills but after a redshirt freshman season, Caleb Wilson is taking his athletic receiving skills across town to UCLA where a scholarship awaits. His tuition-free ride to USC ended when his father, D-line coach Chris Wilson, was let go and he’s now with the NFL's Eagles.

The big spring news from the tight end spot with the return of the top two – McNamara and Petite – is how does the search for H-backs go for a Trojan team without fullbacks. Right now, the top candidate there would seem to be athletic 6-4, 230-pound Florida transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Josh’s older brother, who sat out last fall.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Jackson Boyer, Jr.

Deontay Burnett, So.

Dominic Davis, So., TB-WR

Ajene Harris, So.

De’Quan Hampton, Sr.

Josh Imatorbhebhe, Fr.

Adoree’ Jackson, Jr., CB-WR-RET

Steven Mitchell Jr., Jr.

Yoofi Quansah, Jr.

Darreus Rogers, Sr.

Michael Pittman, Fr.,

JuJu Smith, Jr.

Isaac Whitney, Sr.

TIGHT ENDS

Tyler Petite, So.

Cyrus Hobbi, Grad student

Daniel Imatorbhebhe, RFr.

Taylor McNamara, RJr.

Fifth in a series of fall position previews for the 2015 Trojans. Next: The D-line.

Here's the spring practice info:

*** The dates of USC’s 2016 spring football practices are: March 8-10-12-22-24-26-29-31-April 2-5-7-9-12-14-16.

*** Spring practice times: Tuesday and Thursday practices at 3:30 p.m., Saturday practices at 10 a.m. (except the April 16 Spring Game at 3 p.m.). All practices will be held on Howard Jones Field/Brian Kennedy Field on campus, except for two practices at the Coliseum (March 26 and the April 16 Spring Game).

*** All of USC spring practices will be open to the public for viewing from a designated area on the east side of Howard Jones Field (north of Goux’s Gate) or from the south stands at the Coliseum.

. *** USC's Spring Game will be Saturday, April 16, at 3 p.m. in the Coliseum. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door (or online on USCTrojans.com).

*** USC's Pro Day is March 23 at 10 a.m. on Loker Stadium’s Cromwell Field. It is closed to the public.

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

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