Fall Preview: Running Backs

Healthy, experienced and hungry is probably the best way to describe USC's loaded backfield in 2009.It seems to be the theme every year for the Men of Troy, but once again the Trojans are stacked with a talented and diverse group of running backs. So how do you find the right rotation?

Healthy, experienced and hungry is probably the best way to describe USC's loaded backfield in 2009.

It seems to be the theme every year for the Men of Troy, but once again the Trojans are stacked with a talented and diverse group of running backs.

Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler all have the ability to be big-time tailbacks, and redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal created a lot of buzz with his performance this past spring.

Having so many playmakers at one position is a "problem" that all coaches would love to have, but the question remains, how do you find the right rotation?

Senior Stafon Johnson is the top all-around back in the Trojans' stable and should receive the most carries this season. He has shown throughout his career at USC that he has the vision and instincts to be one of the better inside-runners in the country as a well as enough speed to be a home run threat.

Johnson has added some muscle to his upper body this offseason and looks poised for a big senior campaign.

Joe McKnight is feeling very good heading into Fall Camp. So good in fact, that he has asked the coaches about the possibility of playing both ways.

There is basically no chance that Carroll would put one of his top offensive weapons on the defensive side of the ball, but it shows just how confident and healthy McKnight is this offseason, which is very encouraging.

The elusive tailback showed signs of his big-play ability last season averaging 7.4 yards per carry but was limited much of the season by nagging injuries.

After being called "the biggest underachiever in the Pac-10" by the Sporting News, McKnight said he is determined to quiet his critics in '09.

"I have a chip on my shoulder. I am going to let it be known that I have a chip on my shoulder and come in here with a whole different mindset and just try to takeover," McKnight said. "That's how I have to be."

After watching his performance during the offseason workouts, we have McKnight pegged as a player ready to have a breakout year.

Behind Johnson and McKnight is where the rotation gets complicated.

C.J. Gable has 18 career starts, the most of any USC tailback, but only received a combined nine carries in the final two games of the season after experiencing some fumble problems.

Gable wasn't pleased with his role in 2008 and nearly left for the NFL. Since that time, the redshirt junior from Sylmar has refocused on football and has had a solid offseason.

Allen Bradford was unquestionably one of the breakout stars of spring practice in 2008, but injured his hip early in the 2008 season and was forced to redshirt.

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound tailback has had a solid offseason and is in tremendous shape heading into Fall Camp.

Bradford has the size and strength to take over the power back role and be used on third-and-short and goal line situations.

There is no question that sophomore Marc Tyler has a very bright future at USC, and he made his case for playing time with a solid showing during the spring. The 6-foot-0, 220-pound tailback can really do it all, and could end up the best of the group by the time he leaves USC, but whether or not he will have a major role in 2009 remains to be seen.

The wild card of the group is Curtis McNeal. The redshirt freshman really opened eyes with his spectacular performance during spring practice.

The undersized tailback made defenders look silly all spring with his elusiveness and deceptive power. McNeal could be a real weapon on special teams and look for the Trojans to get him the ball in space.

With everyone returning on the offensive line coupled with the tailbacks that we talked about above, the Trojans have the potential to have a dominant ground attack in 2009, if they are willing to commit to the run game.

Best All-Around Back: Stafon Johnson
Best Pass Blocker: C.J. Gable
Power Back: Allen Bradford
Most Elusive: Curtis McNeal
Future Star: Marc Tyler
Breakout Potential: Joe McKnight


Joe McKnight is looking to quiet his critics in '09. (Paul Pinner Photo)


*Discuss more on the SCPlaybook.com message boards

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com



USCFootball.com Top Stories