With fall camp slated to begin Monday, we'll be examining a few lingering storylines the Trojans must sort out as they begin preparations for the upcoming 2012 season. In part two of five, the emergence of sophomore linebacker Lamar Dawson is examined.
Lamar Dawson is a quiet one. He doesn't like to talk -- to the media, at least. The sophomore linebacker is infamous for giving terse answers when interviewed. Good luck getting more than a couple sentences.
But the Kentucky native has a chance to speak this season with his play on the field as he assumes the starting middle linebacker role. Chris Galippo held the starting job for eight games in 2011 before Dawson won it, making USC's starting linebacking corps all freshmen, featuring other first-year players in Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey.
And for the Trojan defense, big play will be needed from all three-sophomore linebackers, especially Dawson.
As Trevor pointed out yesterday, the front-four is young with shallow depth. That's the team's biggest hole. Should the line not apply substantial pressure in run defense or in pass rush, then Dawson will be in charge with guarding the middle of the field, enforced with stopping the runner or playing the middle passing lanes. The man who was assigned No. 55 his freshman year will have to step up.
With Galippo gone to the NFL, redshirt junior Will Andrew is the only returning force of the inside linebacking corps in addition to freshman Scott Starr. Senior Dallas Kelley only appeared in two games during the 2011 season but missed all of spring ball. Really, Dawson has the most game experience of that crew.
His arrival to Southland was much hyped because he was recruited out of SEC country; his talent filled a position of need; and, the coaches honored him with the 55. When Dawson finally took the field against Colorado, he tied for the second-most tackles. He didn't have a clear coming out party beside the fact that he was playing. But with four starts as a pure freshman, Dawson has plenty of potential to realize.
But production on the field is not the only thing Dawson must improve for the 2012 campaign. As it is often said, the Mike linebacker is "the quarterback of the defense." Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey are the leaders on defense, particularly the secondary. In Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2, the middle linebacker has added responsibility, including the need to drop back into coverage, a weakness of Dawson's during his recruitment. Plus, after this season, both McDonald (senior, leaving) and Robey (draft eligible) could both leave. The defense will need a new commander. Why not Dawson?
He has had the good fortune of learning from Galippo as well as his peers in Pullard and Bailey. But for the Trojan defense to make a leap in the face of an inexperienced defensive line, Dawson's play is essential.
If his game improves to the level of Pullard and Bailey -- or surpasses it, even -- it won't matter how much he says after practice. He wouldn't have to say a peep.
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