USC is a destination of higher learning for talented individuals the world over, but it’s also home to a highly skilled football team. Incoming students this fall will be joined by a group of skilled football recruits. Fall 2014 Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Euno Lee and sports editors Will Hanley and Aubrey Kragen discuss the potential impact of the incoming freshman class.
1. Which freshman recruit do you think has the best shot to make a big impact in his true freshman season?
WH: Tight end Bryce Dixon has a real chance to make a statement as a freshman this season. Dixon is a highly coveted four-star recruit out of St. Bonaventure-Ventura, where he caught passes from future USC quarterback Ricky Town. Though high school statistics are hit-or-miss, Dixon’s are impressive: He picked up 740 yards on 63 catches from the tight end position as a senior. With Xavier Grimble’s departure and senior Randall Telfer’s nagging knee injury, the Trojans were left with junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick at the position this spring.
Cope-Fitzpatrick has only caught three passes over the past two seasons, and most of his playing time has come on special teams. Dixon’s size (6-foot-4, 230 lbs.) is already comparable to Cope-Fitzpatrick’s (6-foot-4, 255 lbs.), and the freshman will put on weight rapidly with a college weight program. Though Dixon will be behind when he enrolls in the fall and Steve Sarkisian’s new offense will likely cut out the two-tight end sets often seen under Lane Kiffin, I predict that Dixon is too much of a weapon not to be used immediately. And it must be mentioned that the last tight end coached by Sarkisian, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, was the second player at his position selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
2. Which 2014 recruit is the most exciting for USC fans?
AK: Defensive back Jonathan Lockett might provide a spark to the Trojan secondary just like safety Su’a Cravens did as a true freshman last year. Lockett, who was a four-star recruit out of Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei, did it all in high school, spending time at cornerback, wide receiver and returner. Though he might not see much playing time as a freshman, the 2013 Prep Star All-American will learn from senior defensive back Josh Shaw and junior corner Kevon Seymour and has the goods to bolster the long tradition of Trojan stars out to come out of Mater Dei.
WH: This answer seems obvious -— and it is. Adoree’ Jackson is a once-in-a-generation athlete who will immediately contribute in multiple ways. Jackson, who hails from Marqise Lee’s Serra High School in Gardena, California, is a consensus five-star recruit and ranked by many as the best defensive back in his class.
Jackson’s freakish athleticism and versatility draw favorable comparisons to former LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu, while his pure speed is reminiscent of former USC safety Taylor Mays. Jackson, who is an Olympic hopeful in the long jump, will certainly be a kick-returning weapon for Steve Sarkisian at some point. If there is a hole in Jackson’s game it would be his height, which at 5-foot-10 might prevent him from covering some of the Pac-12’s bigger pass-catchers. Jackson could make up for this with pure physicality; he is a hard-hitter who will be deployed as a surprise edge rusher at times. Either way, expect some exciting moments from Adoree’ on multiple sides of the ball in the years to come.
3. Which 2014 recruit has the most to prove coming into USC?
AK: Quarterback Jalen Greene has the most to prove as a freshman, if he ever gets the chance. The three-star recruit out of Serra-Gardena took third-team reps as an early enrollee and looked more mobile than his competitors in redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler and redshirt freshman Max Browne, but much less accurate. Though he might not see time on the field this season, Greene must show up in practice to prove himself worthy of eventually succeeding or surpassing Browne, lest he suffer the same fate as former Trojan quarterback Max Wittek.
WH: John “JuJu” Smith will have to fight to make a name for himself in what is becoming a crowded secondary. Smith played safety at Long Beach Poly, and has the size (6-foot-1, 206 lbs.) and pedigree to immediately start at nearly every school in the country. But Smith will have to usurp either redshirt senior Gerald Bowman or sophomore Leon McQuay III, both of whom saw playing time in 2013, for a starting role at safety. It will not be any easier for Smith at cornerback, where Jackson, junior Kevon Seymour and senior Josh Shaw will all see playing time. Aside from Jackson, Smith is the Trojans’ only five-star recruit, and he will certainly make a large impact down the line. Still, it will take an impressive effort from the Long Beach native in fall camp to earn a starting role.
EL: Athlete Adoree’ Jackson. The hype surrounding Jackson’s decision was one of the major storylines during the recruiting season, but the 5-foot-10 defensive back will have to establish his physicality at the collegiate level to add to his fantastic hip flexor control and five-star speed to be an impact player.
4. What do you anticipate will be USC’s biggest personnel needs in the coming season?
WH: USC football was lucky not to be stuck with any gaping personnel holes after the 2013 season. With the departures of center Marcus Martin and guard John Martinez, however, the team did need to add depth on the interior offensive line — which it was luckily able to do.
Junior Max Tuerk will likely slide from guard to center, opening up both starting guard positions. Early-enrollee Toa Lobendahn, a four-star freshman from La Habra, California, claimed one of the spots in the spring. Opposite Lobendahn during the spring was redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers, but both will face heat when highly touted freshman Damien Mama (St. John Bosco, Bellflower, California) arrives in the fall. With that fierce competition, along with three returners in senior Aundrey Walker and redshirt sophomores Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler at tackle, the Trojans’ offensive line should be strong in 2014.
AK: To follow up last year’s breakout campaign, redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen and the Trojan rushing corps will need to deliver for USC. Redshirt junior Tre Madden and sophomore Justin Davis are both coming back from season-ending injuries and will need to stay healthy in order to provide a balanced offensive attack for the Trojans. With the departure of sophomore Ty Isaac, USC would have done well to recruit a running back to increase the depth of the position this year and for years to come.
EL: At a school where wide receivers were perennially the strongest in the Pac-12, as well as the nation, it’s a bit startling to see Nelson Agholor as the Trojans’ only proven deep threat. The Trojans are becoming very thin at wide receiver and the corps of sophomore Darreus Rodgers and redshirt juniors George Farmer and Victor Blackwell will have to establish themselves as legitimate threats through the Trojans’ aerial attack. The Trojans are sure to do more damage through the passing attack this season with the improvement of quarterback Cody Kessler’s throwing mechanics and another offseason building a rapport with his receivers. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian might not be as pass-happy as earlier Trojan offenses under former head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley, but the Trojans need to firmly establish the air attack to space out opposing defenses and keep them honest.