With all of the talk, hype and controversy about the running game this season it is nice to see some good stories about the players that we will be watching closely. Last season Stafon Johnson was the goat of the running backs. He came in with an attitude of entitlement and dreams of greatness that quickly earned himself a long stay in Pete Carroll's doghouse. We have all heard how he done a complete turnaround this season, e was not to be deterred and was more than willing to fight for his chance to earn a starting job on this team.
It was important enough for him to find a way to be in the mix. Like Emmanuel Moody Johnson also missed spring practice with an injury but Johnson was not to be deterred.
Coach Pete Carroll said Johnson had a "great camp. He was very serious about it. He still has things he needs to improve on, but his play day after day has been really good."
That's a far cry from last season when Johnson's inconsistencies in the backfield landed the freshman on the scout team, where he spent most of the season.
But he didn't complain. He didn't take his shoulder pads and go home. Instead, Johnson stuck it out, continued to work hard, and by the end of the season had shown significant improvement. Good enough, in fact, to record three carries for 17 yards in a brief appearance against Stanford last season.
Now, despite an offseason shoulder injury that forced him to miss spring practice, Johnson is in the mix.
Johnson did sick it out and his hard work is about to pay off. The running game is a big question and we need someone to break free from the logjam and separate themselves from the pack. This year is the year for some one to break out. With Stanley Havili healthy in the fullback role this is a great opportunity to see some good things. Goodman at #2 at FB is a bit of a surprise as some, including me, thought Adewale was the guy to back up Havili. Allen Bradford and Broderick Green will also get some reps but I think its safe to say that Johnson, with Washington hurt, will get the call. He has a few things to iron out but I am stoked that he has made a complete change.
Joe McKnight is in a totally different situation, as he will be used as a multi-purpose weapon and I don't really see things breaking out for him until the 2nd half of the season when he is comfortable with the offense. I don't want to use any sort of Reggie Bush type similarities because we have not seen him play a down in a real game yet and that is unfair. McKnight is explosive no doubt but I think Carroll and Sarkisian really want to get the traditional running game anchored down. Yes, they will take advantages of certain situations to showcase McKnight but the key to success this season is to have running game perform better than it did last season. Once that happens Look Out! The field will start to open up. Chauncey is the #1 back and he has earned it but he needs to get healthy and he has two weeks to be ready for Nebraska. Once he finally got on the field last season we saw a glimpse of what he can do. He has had his issues with injuries but his veteran leadership will be key to keep the running backs motivated regardless of who gets the call. Hershel Dennis will also help fill that role as a sixth year senior.
The problem with all the hype out there is that the story is incomplete. We have talked about the need for depth in the past but some really don't understand how important it is at USC. Guys are going to balls to the wall and that means you will get some injuries so you need competent back-ups. That is why these guys compete so hard for the stating job. At some places where the depth chart is thin the featured back will get most of the snaps but the coaching staff will also take it easy as to not hurt the star player. Darren McFadden is a stud and he will get most of the reps but because he is a proven commodity I would suspect that they aren't killing him like the guys at SC kill each other in practice for playing time. Only the strong survive.
It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff uses a little more situational substitution instead of a running back by committee. Have they designed plays and formation with a particular player in mind? I know they have done it with McKnight but that doesn't count, as we knew that one was coming. What about CJ Gable, we know he is a competitor and wants to get the ball. The problem last season was that we had ALL new faces in the backfield, sure Chauncey was experienced but with his missing so much time due to academic issues he was no more polished that a new freshman, people seem to forget that. This year is different, every one figures to play somewhere within the game plan but now we have some sophomores who can show the freshman what its all about, that is why Johnson, Bradford and Gable are so important to the running game. I feel better about the running game this season, better than I did last year though I am still not sure about some things until the injury situation works itself out. Someone really needs to step up!
We will find out in 5 days.