It is not all that common for a team to have one truly outstanding college fullback. It is even more uncommon for a team to have two amazingly talented fullbacks, both of whom have the ability to run, catch, and block. In USC's case, both Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell demonstrated truly remarkable talent when healthy and given the chance to contribute. Now that USC has lost both of these guys for the season, the Trojan offense has to overcome that loss.
Amazingly, I actually think that the Trojans will come up with yet a third star. By all reports, Stanley Havili is a superb freshman who has the ability to run, catch and block, not unlike the two guys he is succeeding. I believe that USC will utilize Stanley, in much the same way they had planned to utilize the two injured guys. Obviously his ability to block and know the offense is somewhat less than his predecessors, but if Ryan Powdrell was a quick study, there is no reason to think that Stanley can't handle the job as well. Freshmen have been given as much as they can handle since Pete has been here, so I have to believe that process will continue with a great talent like Stanley.
When using Mike Brittingham, there will certainly be some limitations, but he is a smart, tough kid who can be a reasonably effective blocker at times. To keep the defense honest, I would not be surprised to see Mike also get an occasional carry or ball thrown to him. As for Luther Brown, I think he will be a non-factor unless yet another injury hits the current kids.
And of course, I also think SC will utilize more 2 and perhaps 3 tight end sets. SC is blessed with guys like Dale Thompson, Fred Davis, Jimmy Miller and the great young talent, Anthony McCoy. If any team can overcome the loss of a Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell, USC is just that squad.
The Trojan offense has such a variety of plays and formations that we could, if we had to, go an entire game without a fullback. But, with that said, the fullback position has been a very productive weapon in recent years and on many running plays has been crucial to their success. Therefore, developing a competent fullback is important and I expect the coaches to do that methodically and successfully.
So, I anticipate seeing a lot of three WR formations and 2 TE formations. Neither needs a FB on the field. Sprinkled into this pattern, look for Stanley Havili and Mike Brittingham to be on the field at fullback in very controlled situations. The coaches will want to see how well they can perform and this playing time will provide them with the experience they will need to grow into the full scope of the position.
As we've seen with other new players, the coaches tend to bring them along gradually. That works with quarterbacks and I expect it to work at fullback also. As for the production generated by the offense in general, I don't think we'll see even a bump. This system has too many options already built into it for the loss of a fullback to crash it.
Looking at Stanley Havili's upside for the future, I think the sky is the limit. I watched him in fall camp and I was very impressed. His high school record was outstanding. I think we are fortunate to have him and fortunate that he is enthusiastic about playing fullback. The way I look at it, if he were on other Pac 10 teams he would be competing for the starting tailback position.
While the Trojan offense won't exactly struggle after the loss of Ryan Powdrell, it sure won't be easy to replace him. Neither Stanley Havili nor Mike Brittingham are physically ready to perform the duties of a straight lead blocker for 60 minutes, and the fullback position was nonexistent for the entire Nebraska game, post Powdrell injury. Stanley Havili has been thrown into the offense this week and will turn into arguably the Trojans' most dangerous threat out of the backfield, but he won't help the running game in the same way Powdrell or Hancock could. And until he's able to take on blocks on a consistent basis, I'd look for the Trojans to continue to utilize sweeps to both sides of the field (as they did after Powdrell went down against Nebraska), in order to use one of those big guards as a fullback. Also, I'd expect Allen Bradford to start getting some serious carries between the tackles, especially if Chauncey Washington doesn't play this weekend. Bradford is both physically and emotionally ready to make a big impact and is probably the tailback most able to move the pile without the aid of a true blocking fullback. Of course, that's not taking anything away from C.J. Gable, Emmanuel Moody or Stafon Johnson.
This is the type of coaching challenge our staff seems to relish and, more often than not, when they have been faced with similar challenges in the past they have found a pretty good solution. Last year when we lost Terrell Thomas and then John Walker to injuries at corner, Pete Carroll simply moved Josh Pinkard over from safety in a move that many wondered about at the time. Now, the losses of Hancock and Powdrell leave us with no experienced fullbacks and no real obvious choices to move players from other positions. Luthur Brown got a quick look this week but it doesn't look like that will be a realistic option. For now, we will go with Mike Brittingham and Stanley Havili and it will be interesting to see the kind of adjustments the coaches make to take advantage of the skills these two players bring to the table. Brittingham is a solid and efficient player who can be a good blocker but is not going to be much of a weapon with the ball in his hands. Havili, on the other hand, has a world of potential as an offensive threat but he still has some developing to do. Let's face it, with two senior fullbacks ahead of him Stanley was planning to redshirt this year, bulk up in the weight room and report to spring ball next year ready to claim the position for the 2007 season. Well, those plans didn't exactly work out and we need Stanley now. My guess is that he will turn out just fine. He had some plays during fall camp that were absolute eye-openers when his burst of speed or ability to run over a defender were on display. He's got a real physical presence to his game and you get the sense that he is one of these guys who is a quick learner. Hopefully that is the case because his time is now and the coaches will do everything they can to help put him in positions to succeed.