The Return of Tailback U

As the Trojans gear-up for 2008, look for valuable contribution from a pared-down, super talented tailback group. Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford should anchor a strong backfield this season. More inside.

The Return of Tailback U

Tailback U, Part-Two

For the better part of four decades, USC was known as "Tailback U". Four Heisman Trophy winners: Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen ran out of the backfield in the 1960's through the early 1980's. Add to that list, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, Jon Arnett, Clarence Davis and others, the title was apropos. Through the later 1980's and the 1990's Tailback U fell on hard times.

The 21st century saw a rebirth. Along with Pete Carroll came a resurgence in the offensive backfield. Starting with Justin Fargas, Malaefou McKenzie and picking up steam with Lendale White and Reggie Bush, USC's tailbacks began to make some noise again.

The 21st Century Tailback

In 2007 there were 10 high school All-Americans in the USC backfield, and in 2008, a more depleted backfield will showcase some 6 star-quality tailbacks.

Returning to the field will be C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight. Each of these backs could be a feature back. Gable, who was a starter two-years ago, suffered injuries in late 2006 and early 2007. Still, Gable is a coaches' favorite and has sure hands and a high yards-per-carry average.

Johnson, who struggled in his freshman season, burst onto the scene in 2007, ripping off impossible 20 yard carries at a consistent rate. Midway through the season, Johnson had established himself as a go-to runner, but unfortunately suffered a foot injury that slowed him down toward the end of the season.

Joe McKnight established himself as a break-away runner as a freshman in 2007. Used as an all-purpose back, McKnight readily lines up as a receiver or is frequently an option out of the backfield as a receiver or tailback.

Looking toward 2008, it is clear that these three backs have established themselves and have the trust and faith of the coaches. To start off 2008, these backs will be looked upon to get the ground game going for the Trojans.

Beyond the Obvious

Throughout this past Spring, Allen Bradford showed coaches that he is a worthy back, determined to contribute in 2008. Coach Carroll commented that since the Rose Bowl, Bradford has played determined and made a commitment to contribute.

To many observers and insiders, Bradford made in-roads during Spring Camp. Bradford got many opportunities during the Spring, but Carroll has stated in the past, Spring is the time for the younger players to show coaches what they can do. Bradford did that.

What is not so obvious, as Coach Sarkisian noted, Johnson worked on his pass blocking and receiving skills, and Gable worked on rehabbing after surgery. Sarkisian stated that coaches know that Gable and Johnson can run, so they worked on other parts of their games. For all the hard work and show stopping moves Bradford displayed in the Spring, Fall Camp and game situation will determine Bradford's level of contribution this season.

Bradford has shown that he is a capable back, but there are factors, including rotations, fall camp and game-time situations that will determine his contributions this Fall.

About the Others

A pair of backs, redshirt freshmen Broderick Green and Marc Tyler will be competing for playing time as well. Bigger backs, particularly in Green's case, may compete for short yardage and specialty type situations. Both backs are coming back from injury, Green had a foot injury which saw him redshirt in 2007 and Tyler who suffered an injury in his senior season of high school sat out the year as well.

Coach Todd McNair says he also expects incoming freshman, Curtis ‘Moody' McNeal to develop and contribute in this star-studded backfield. 2008 will show a slightly less crowded backfield than 2007, but will be just as, if not more talented.

Projecting the Rotation

The obvious rotation as it stands, will look like, (1) Stafon Johnson, (2) C.J. Gable, (3) Joe McKnight (all-purpose) and (4) Allen Bradford. All four backs should see significant minutes in the fall. Green and Tyler will look to establish themselves this fall.


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