Chris Claiborne not only knows the football tradition at USC, he was a part of it.
Donning the No. 55 at USC comes with expectations. Claiborne wore the number and went on to be a first-round pick who played nine years in the NFL in addition to winning the Dick Butkus award for being college football’s top linebacker in 1998.
So when Clairborne joined The Opening tour, his opinion on the 2018 linebacker performances last weekend at El Camino College carried a lot of weight.
“It was a very deep group, although I’m not sure where they all end up lining up in college,” said Claiborne. “I think there were a lot of WILL linebackers in this group.
“You had a couple of guys, like Bo Calvert, who you can see as an outside guy in a 3-4 right now. There was a lot of talent — a lot, a lot of talent.”
Perhaps one of the most talent-laden groups of linebacker in the past 10-years of the tour. With all of the top players in Sunday’s group being regional recruits, USC is a fixture in the race to sign several.
Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian four-star linebacker Bo Calvert, Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne four-star linebacker Raymond Scott and Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman five-star linebacker Palaie Gaoteote are all presently committed to USC.
“Calvert did well today, but I definitely want to see him in pads,” said Claiborne. “These camps are not always the ideal situation for players, and with him being more of a rush end type, I look forward to seeing him in pads.
“With Gaoteote, I definitely think he can wear 55. From what I’ve seen in person from when they played St. John Bosco to the camp, he plays with a lot of intensity.
“He is one of the top guys on a national championship team, which says a lot. The fact that he plays so hard makes him special. He makes so many plays chasing things down, playing the zone read in space and get his head around in coverage… he does a variety of things that open up opportunities for him to get on the field early.”
Raymond Scott won the positional MVP Sunday. At 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, his future position in the Trojans 3-4 base scheme has been debated since his commitment.
“I think he fits in well as a WILL behind a three-technique,” said Claiborne. “He’s an inside guy that can shoot the gap.
“He might be able to play MIKE as well, but I think in that defense USC runs, WILL is ideal for him. He’s covered up by the three-technique defensive tackle and that’s going to free him up to make more plays.
“He won’t have to take as many blocks on, which means his size and length aren’t as big of a factor.”
Palaie Gaoteote may be the most versatile linebacker of the group.
“He can play both, and in the nickel package, with teams running 12 and 11 personnel, he’s vital to a good defense,” said Claiborne. “You can be him over a tight end, over a running back or blitz him.”
Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei four-star linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu is another prospect hotly pursued by USC.
“Good player and those three or four guys we talked about are a very good group,” said Claiborne. “Those are the type of guys USC needs to win games and build depth.
“You never know how guys will climate to college ball, but ultimately, I think that’s four guys that would win a lot of games for USC if they can sign them all.”