Kicking back, resting aches and pains has not been the standard for this year's football team. Friday, Coach Pete Carroll canceled practice for Day 13 of Fall Camp. Carroll perhaps sensed the team deserved a rest after a grueling first 12 days and a well-played intra-squad scrimmage Thursday. This gives us pause to contemplate the status of the current lineup of running backs.
Earlier this week, Emmanuel Moody decided to transfer from USC, in search of more playing time. Even without Moody, this arguably, may still be the most talented assembled group of running backs on one team. Chauncey Washington, Hershel Dennis, Desmond Reed, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Emmanuel Moody, Allen Bradford, Broderick Green, Marc Tyler and Joe McKnight. The list reads like a who's who of high school running backs turned college players. But there is a question mark here. This group, each, in their own right were stars in high school. None, with the exception of Hershel Dennis, have proven their skills over time on the college gridiron.
Who's Still on the Roster
Bradford was recruited as a safety but moved to the tailback position in his freshman year. After a series of injuries at the fullback position, he spent much of last season as a fullback. This gave him valuable game experience in the backfield, and allowed him to develop his blocking and receiving skills. Highly touted as a high school senior, he was an All-American and a Scout 5-star rated recruit in 2006.
Dennis is the elder statesman in this group of elite running backs. He arrived as part of the heralded "Poly Four," (Dennis, Winston Justice, Darnell Bing and Manuel Wright) in 2002. In 2003, Dennis was the starting tailback in front of Reggie Bush, Lendale White and Chauncey Washington. While starting all games in 2003, Dennis rushed for 661 yards on 137 carries. With the emergence of Bush and White, he was relegated to the back-up role, playing in nine games before tearing ligaments in his left knee, ending his season. Dennis is a quick back, and is looking to return to form after sitting out the last two seasons with injuries. In his senior year in high school, Dennis was an All-American and received a Scout 4-star ranking as the 12th rated running back in the country.
Gable is a swift running back with the ability to catch the ball. As a freshman in 2007, Gable started five games, for the season he had 434 yards on 111 carries and nine receptions for 90 yards. He did exceptionally well as a kickoff return man with 16 returns for 434 yards. Another high school All-American, Gable was a Scout 5-star recruit, as the #4 safety in America.
Green is a big, bruising tailback, in the mold of Lendale White. At 6'1" and 230 lbs. this true freshman looks to make a mark in the backfield this year. After sitting out the first two fall camp sessions while awaiting NCAA clearance, Green has begun to make himself noticed with seven carries for 60 yards at Thursday night's intrasquad scrimmage. A high school American, Green was a Scout 4-star running back, ranked 12th at his position nationally.
Johnson is a good sized back, with speed and elusiveness. As a reserve tailback in 2006, he had 3 carries for 17 yards in brief appearances. Johnson was known as "the forgotten tailback" in this group of stars. He has battled injuries and appears to be making coaches notice him with a very solid camp thus far. A high school All-American, Johnson was a Scout 5-star recruit ranked 2nd in the nation as a tailback.
McKnight is a heralded high school phenom from the state of Louisiana. He is a super quick, super fast multipurpose tailback who can line up as a wide receiver or return kicks and punts. The comparisons to Reggie Bush, albeit premature and maybe unwarranted, are inevitable. In the days McKnight has spent in Fall Camp, he has dazzled and impressed. A high school All-American, McKnight was a Scout 5-star and the number two recruit in the country in 2007.
Reed is an undersized but lightening quick running back who can find seams in the opponent's defense. Arriving at USC in 2003, Reed redshirted and started to turn heads in the 2004 season. In 2004 he appeared in all 13 games, running for 173 yards on 31 carries, returned 7 kickoffs for 150 yards, had a 16-yard punt return, caught 3 passes, completed a 55-yard pass and made 5 tackles. Reed was named Special Teams Player of the Year. In his sophomore year, he continued to impress, but his season was cut short by a devastating knee injury suffered at Notre Dame. Another high school All-American, Reed was a Scout 3-star recruit ranked 43rd in his position.
Tyler is another big, powerful running back, one of three heralded running backs that signed with the Trojans in the 2007 class (along with Green and McKnight). In his 4-year career, at Oaks Christian High School, he had 5,443 yards on 431 carries, 1,645 receiving yards, 8,000 all-purpose yards and 123 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Tyler suffered a broken leg before completing his senior season. Tyler was a Scout 5-star, ranked 2nd in the nation behind McKnight.
Washington is another hard running, punishing tailback, who gains extra yardage through strength and determination. He is a sentimental favorite, as he had to struggle through two years of academic ineligibility in 2004 and 2005. Rather than quitting the team or giving up on his struggles, Washington battled his way back to the field in 2006, ironically, in the classroom rather than on the gridiron. He was USC's leading rusher in 2006 despite fighting of nagging injuries. A high school All American in 2002, Washington arrived at USC alongside Lendale White, Reggie Bush and Desmond Reed. Many thought Washington was the best running back in that class, but he suffered ankle injuries, which hampered his play. Washington was a high school All-American, Scout 4-star ranked 7th nationally in his position.
What Does This All Mean?
Despite losing Emmanuel Moody, the USC backfield is still loaded with talent. Some may recall tailback Michael Coleman, a large running back also transferred after Spring Camp. While it appears that the Trojans have lost a pair of very good running backs, this natural attrition may help ease the competition overload at tailback. For sure, it puts some needed breathing room in a crowded backfield.
There are still nine very talented running backs on this roster. Chauncey Washington, Hershel Dennis and Desmond Reed are all seniors and will depart after this year. The congestion will then be at an end. This opens the door for Pete Carroll to recruit new running backs.
Pete Carroll will name the starting rotation in about two weeks. If history repeats itself though, the incumbents will get a slight nod, but the position is truly open for anyone who stands above the rest.
Over Spring and Fall Camps, a couple backs have set themselves apart from the others. Washington has had a nice Fall Camp and has trimmed his weight, he looks a step quicker. Dennis had a great Spring Camp and looked like the number one back at that point, but has been held out for most of Fall Camp. Stafon Johnson has had a very good camp and the coaches have taken notice. In limited action, Green and McKnight have shown flashes of brilliance.
Pete Carroll has shown over the last seven years that he will reward hard work, performance and team loyalty. He has also shown he will share duties amongst two or three backs. Certainly, Carroll will give everyone a chance and freshen will be given the ball if they perform. Possible lineup:
1) Chauncey Washington - starter
2) Hershel Dennis - if healthy, will share significant time
3) Stafon Johnson - earned respect this Fall
4) C.J. Gable - dependable back
5) Joe McKnight - will line up as tailback, receiver, and special teams
6) Allen Bradford - versatile back
7) Desmond Reed - will be used mostly as a return man but will get looks in backfield
8) Broderick Green - short yardage situations, will perform "Thunder" duties
9) Marc Tyler - probable redshirt