Last year’s Regional Opening in Oakland may have proved to be more stacked than its big brother in Southern California. This year’s camp should again host a wide array of talent with several top players from Southern California headed north to display their skills.
Two of the biggest names at quarterback Sunday will be Honolulu (Hawaii) four-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and San Clemente (Calif.) three-star quarterback Jack Sears. Tagovailoa was the Trojans No. 1 target at the position, but he committed to Alabama earlier this month.
While not classified as a dual-threat quarterback, Sears ran a 4.77 40-yards dash at the Opening in Los Angeles. That was faster than Bishop Gorman five-star quarterback Tate Martell who was clocked in at 4.82.
Sears' testing numbers won’t be of interest Sunday. Instead, his arm strength and accuracy will be scrutinized against Tagovailoa. Sears and Tagovailoa will both be competing for a spot at The Opening Finals. Tagovailoa struggled at last years’s regional camp in Redondo Beach (Calif.), but did not attend this year’s camp.
In February Sears' camp performance was not enough to earn an invitation to The Opening Finals, so both he and Tagovailoa come into this weekend with something to prove. On the recruiting front, Sears remains tight lipped about his scholarship offer from USC and has stopped talking to the media about his pending decision on a college altogether. Most believe USC, UCLA and Washington are his front-runners with a decision date coming before September.
Antioch (Calif.) five-star running back Najee Harris is already committed to Alabama, but most do not expect the state’s No. 1 rated player to sign with the Crimson Tide. Harris will see a good, but not great group of linebackers Sunday.
Leading the way will be Oakland (Calif.) four-star Addison Gumbs. While tall and lanky, Gumbs has shown good coverage skills as an inside linebacker during the passing circuit. While there was talk Gumbs was a UCLA lock as recently as April, our sources have been confident that USC is still under serious consideration from the Army All-American linebacker.
Gumbs is clearly the most intriguing linebacker prospect expected to perform at Sunday’s camp that USC is recruiting for the 2017 class, but 2018 linebackers Palaie Gaoteote of Las Vegas (Calif.) Bishop Gorman and Merlin Robertson of Gardena (Calif.) Serra are guys to watch as well.
Both sophomores have scholarship offers from USC and both play surprisingly well in space for their size. While Gumbs probably has the best chance of slowing down Harris in coverage, we expect Gaoteote and Robertson to hold their own.
The other potential running back target for USC at the Oakland Regional Opening is actually listed as a defensive back. Kirkland (Wash.) four-star athlete Salvon Ahmed is being recruited by USC to play offense, but the 5-foot-11, 185-pound four-star can play all over the field on either side of the football.
Still an underrated player by most, Scout ranks Ahmed as the nation’s No. 10 athlete overall. Whether he plays safety or running back, Ahmed should shine in the camp environment.
Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Stanford are among USC’s greatest competition for Ahmed. USC has maintained a good relationship with him as Trojan assistant coach Johnny Nansen has been recruiting Ahmed since he was at Washington. While he doesn’t have a set date to commit, Ahmed said he could make a decision as early as a few games into his senior season.
The defensive line will be an important group for USC recruits with three main targets performing Sunday. Las Vegas (Nev.) four-star defensive tackle Greg Rogers, South Jordan (Utah) four-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele and Sacramento (Calif.) four-star defensive end D.J. Johnson have all been heavily recruited by the Trojans coaching staff.
Rogers performed well at last year’s Los Angeles (Calif.) Opening Regional, so expectations are that he will completely dominate the offensive linemen at this year’s Oakland Regional. Tufele has been tucked away in Utah, where it’s harder to get national exposure. Having said that, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound four-star is still ranked as the nation’s No. 4 defensive tackle by Scout.
For both players size is the biggest question going into the camp. A 280-pound sophomore can easily grow into a 310-pound junior over the course of a year. Will both Rogers and Tufele maintain their gap techniques as defensive tackles, or will one of them grow into nose tackle?
Rogers and Tufele are both very high on USC, so it’s plausible this camp showcases the better part of the Trojans 2017 defensive line class.
While on the subject of position, D.J. Johnson is another recruit whose position will be scrutinized Sunday. Johnson is a defensive end, but whether he can play standing up remains to be seen. He is listed on the camp roster as a defensive lineman, so like Oluwole Betiku a year ago in Oakland, Johnson could put his hand in the ground and focus on his pass rushing skills. Also like Betiku, Johnson could see his ranking soar after the camp.
Offensive linemen like El Cerrito (Calif.) four-star Aaron Banks will try to block Johnson. Banks and Stockton (Calif.) four-star guard Popo Aumavae are the only offensive linemen with USC scholarship offers coming into the camp, so it’s a group with little depth. USC is thought to be among Aumavae’s favorite schools, but the Trojans' focus will be replacing Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler at offensive tackle before resupplying the interior line.
Wide receiver versus defensive back one-on-ones are always a highlight of a non-contact camp, but the Oakland Opening Regional will be all about tight ends Sunday. Tight end will be one of the deepest positions to watch, and for USC, a crucial position for recruiting.
Roseville (Calif.) tight end Jimmy Jaggers, Sacramento (Calif.) tight end Josh Falo, Westlake Village (Calif.) tight end Colby Parkinson and Danville (Calif.) tight end Erik Krommenhoek all have scholarship offers from USC.
Parkinson is committed to Stanford, Krommenhoek’s parents both went to UCLA and Jaguars and Falo are both up for grabs and the Trojans want two tight ends in the 2017 class. In a camp setting, the focus will be on what tight ends can legitimately separate from coverage. Falo, while possibly the best athlete of the bunch, had a subpar performance at the Passing Down Best of the West Tournament in April.
While Jaggers looks more like a blocking tight end than a receiving one, he is one of the more aware and skilled route runners of the group. Tight ends will work against linebackers and defensive backs in this camp, so it will be interesting to see who does well against which position.
The defensive back position in California is a good one for 2017, but the majority off talent in this group has already been on display at the Los Angeles Regional. Orange (Calif.) four-star safety Brandon McKinney and Bellflower (Calif.) sophomore Jaiden Woodbey will both make their way up north for the camp.
McKinney is a long time USC fan, and while the Trojans appear to be in a good place for his commitment, he isn’t tipping his hand publicly on where he wants to go. McKinney is very active in the seven-on-seven circuit, so his testing numbers may be of more interest than how he performs in drills.
Fresno (Calif.) four-star cornerback Jaylon Johnson has been pursued as hard by USC as any defensive back in the 2017 class. However, questions still remain whether Johnson is a pure cornerback, or a safety who can play nickel back in sub packages. Johnson will get to test his coverage skills against Las Vegas (Calif.) three-star wide receiver and USC commit Randal Grimes.
Although Grimes is rated as an athlete by Scout, he showed last Saturday at the Adidas SoCal Invitational that he has the speed and agility to be a legitimate wide receiver in college. In a mediocre group of wide receivers, Grimes should have a chance to get open both figuratively and literally Sunday.