Hosting their first official visitor of the season, the Trojans coaching staff is ready for their push toward signing day 2017.
Currently rated No. 18 nationally in recruiting, USC fans are wary of the mediocre rating among some of its commits. USC currently has 15 commitments in the class of 2017, only one of of those commits having a five-star rating in Fontana (Calif.) Summits running back Stephen Carr.
Projecting wants and needs on the recruiting trail in spring is often a futile practice. Transfers, draft eligible player development and recruiting itself shift how each position is pursued in a given class. A good coaching staff constantly self evaluates its own roster in an effort to maximize its depth.
Flipping a quarterback
USC now knows it needs a quarterback in the 2017 class. That was a question raised in the spring, but with the impending transfer of Max Browne, the question is now answered. On queue, USC hosted San Clemente (Calif.) four-star quarterback Jack Sears on campus Saturday. Sears remains committed to Duke, and while his low key recruitment suggests that Durham (N.C.) maybe be a better fit for him off the field, the Trojans unequaled success in putting quarterbacks in the NFL goes a long ways.
USC is still recruiting Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis School four-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as well. Tagovailoa is committed to Alabama, but he has plenty of family in Southern California still making USC a home away from home. USC should get an official visit from Tagovailoa, but it remains to be seen when that will happen. Tagovailoa said he “might” graduate early from St. Louis High School over the summer, but there has been very little stated about his progress in doing so lately.
More, bigger up front
Increasing the quantity of targets in the trenches has been a clear mandate by USC head coach Clay Helton. Although the Trojans’ current group of committed linemen is not littered with four and five-stars, USC does already have three commits on the offensive line going into November. With the transfer of E.J. Price at offensive tackle, it assures USC will set its sights on landing a full class of five offensive linemen.
The good news is that 2017 is a deep class for offensive linemen regionally for USC. Additionally, USC can dangle the starting spots of Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner in front of any offensive tackle wanting to play early.
Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon five-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson has USC among his top two choices and Aledo (Texas) four-star offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga is considered to favor USC at present date. Adding those two prospects alone makes a full, and very good offensive line class for the Trojans.
Trojans fans are even more worried about the talent being recruited on the defensive line. The numbers here are always harder to come by because the West Coast produces less “ready-made” 300-pound interior defensive linemen. With that said, USC only has three starting spots to fill up front on the defensive line each season. And if you have watched the Trojans play you can see that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has really only used two down linemen for much of the year as his base defense.
USC currently has two defensive line commitments. Both Round Rock (Texas) three-star defensive end James Lynch and Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay defensive end Jacob Lichtenstein are considered interior defensive linemen for USC. While both players are only three-star prospects, a platoon of defensive line reinforcements is not expected to come with a host of five-star talent.
USC hopes to sign five interior defensive linemen in the class of 2017, so it will be a balancing act of stacking marquee talent with players that can develop within the system. Where will the marquee talent come from?
The best player on USC’s board that will officially visit after the season is South Jordan (Utah) Bingham five-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele. USC, Michigan, Utah and Ohio State make up Tufele’s four favorites. Pasadena (Calif.) Maranatha three-star athlete Terrance Lang is another highly prized recruit on the defensive line despite his ranking. Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View four-star defensive tackle Greg Rogers will announce a commitment next week. Many see him choosing between USC and UCLA.
USC will also receive official visits from the likes of Houston (Texas) Episcopal five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, Forsyth (Ga.) Mary Persons four-star defensive end Malik Herring, Portland (Ore.) Westview three-star defensive tackle Brandon Pili and Montgomery (Ala.) Jefferson Davis three-star defensive end Alec Jackson.
The mission here for USC is to close strong this season and add another marquee option to the list. Bodies are important to a defensive line rotation, but the Trojans have to find a superstar to build the class around. Preferably, USC would like to sign two Scout300 prospects in 2017 at this position and that will be a challenge.
Versatility creates options
With the Trojans' defense running a 2-4-5 defensive personnel package almost exclusively this season, the hybrid linebacker position has been utilized to the fullest. The Trojans have both the SAM and Predator linebacker position on the line of scrimmage pass rushing. At the same time, both of these positions requires athletes that can play the run in space.
The board at this position is full of potential prospects, and because it’s a hybrid position, blurs the number count of wants and needs. USC has two potential commitments at outside linebacker in Pago Pago (A.S.) Leone four-star Juliano Falaniko and Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral four-star Hunter Echols. Falaniko projects as a SAM linebacker, if not a WILL linebacker in USC’s system. Echols will play Predator and become another pass rush option behind Porter Gustin and Oluwole Betiku.
Predator is the position which gives USC’s defense versatility. With Jabari Ruffin and Don Hill off the roster next season, USC may take two more outside linebackers in this class, but if Uchenna Nwosu returns for his senior season, the Trojans could make do with just one more commit.
USC is digging in to make a run at Redlands (Calif.) East Valley five-star defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who will be a December graduate. Phillips says he remains 100-percent committed to UCLA, but the Trojans coaching staff hasn’t gotten the memo. USC continues to grind on the trail for Phillips with the ultimate goal of securing an official visit.
Phillips projects at the Predator spot for USC, but has the athletic ability to play SAM or gain weight and grow into a 3-4 defensive end. In 2013, Pendergast played Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin at SAM and Predator. Certainly, continuing to run a 2-4-5 would call for bigger, rangy outside linebackers who can take on blocks at the line of scrimmage. Another under the radar name to continue to watch here is Mobile (Ala.) St. Pauls Episcopal four-star defensive end Ryan Johnson.
Short line at inside backer
At inside linebacker, the target list remains fairly bare of marquee talent. USC has the commitment of Portland (Ore.) Madison three-star linebacker Daniel Green, but with the graduation of Michael Hutchings and expulsion of Osa Masina, USC does need a second commitment at the position. Austin (Texas) Westlake four-star linebacker Levi Jones favored USC for a while, but his interest waned when the Trojans started losing games at the start of the season.
This is a year when a juco transfer would be welcome by USC, but outside Dodge City (Kan.) four-star Gary Johnson, the junior college ranks lack a lot of impact players at linebacker. So, as stated in May, this is a position that has a need, but few options at present date.
Names on top of names
At defensive back, USC only loses one starter in safety Leon McQuay III. However, running a 2-4-5, the Trojans will likely want to push its number of commits beyond Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern three-star safety C.J. Miller and Tampa (Fla.) Plant four-star athlete Juwan Burgess. In fact, Miller could even play cornerback, so this is a position where USC will continue to be aggressive.
USC should be able to secure official visits with Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe four-star safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman four-star safety Bubba Bolden, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro four-star safety K.J. Jarrell, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy four-star safety Grant Delpit and Loganville (Ga.) five-star athlete Deangelo Gibbs. USC is recruiting Los Angeles (Calif.) Augustus Hawkins four-star athlete Greg Johnson more as a corner, but he also has potential to play safety in college. Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian four-star cornerback Deommodre Lenoir is also a name that could come back into the fold for USC.
This is another position where winning and gaining some momentum at season’s end could help land a player or two USC was on the outside looking in for earlier in the process. Isaiah Pola-Mao specifically favors USC and Washington. A win Saturday for the Trojans may be a nudge for Pola-Moa in USC’s direction.
The same can be said for cornerback. There are still a long list of names USC will host on official visits. Altogether, USC would like to take at least four defensive backs in this class. With a commitment from Lynwood (Calif.) three-star Wylan Free in the bag, the Trojans hosted an official visit from Brenham (Texas) Blinn Junior College cornerback Kendall Sheffield last weekend.
Sheffield officially visited USC back when he was a recruit coming out of Missouri (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall High School. He signed with Alabama and promptly transferred this past summer. Sheffield still has three years of eligibility remaining after being in competition for a starting job at Alabama last spring. At USC, Sheffield would be looking to take over a potential starting role left behind by Adoree Jackson, who is draft eligible.
Best of the rest
If USC has some scholarship spot available, running back and tight end are two positions that will need some attention. As of now, the only other running back USC appears ready to take in addition to Stephen Carr is Najee Harris. The No. 1 player in the country still has interest in USC and will likely officially visit before he graduates in December. Harris is a bit of a long shot for USC, but they have become his best option for staying close to his family on the West Coast.
The tight end position has a more pressing need in terms of numbers. USC will only have three scholarship tight ends on the roster once Taylor McNamara graduates in 2017. That does not include the addition of Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista three-star tight end Erik Krommenhoek, who appears very solid in his commitment to the Trojans. Either USC thinks Las Vegas (Nev.) Desert Pines three-star wide out Randal Grimes may grow into a tight end or they have another prospect tucked away that they like. Four tight ends on the roster is simply not enough to have a run-first oriented offense.
Lancaster (Calif.) Antelope Valley tight end Moses Robinson-Carr unofficially visited USC a few weeks ago and remains in contact with the Trojans. USC should also get an official visit from Sacramento (Calif.) Inderkum tight end Josh Falo. Robinson-Carr remains committed to Oregon while Falo was once considered a lean toward the Ducks.
Regardless, a second tight end or a second running back in the class of 2017 may come down to the best available player on the board. While the Trojans need to bolster their numbers at a position like inside linebacker, if the talent pool simply isn’t there, it’s these positions that may get a second look.