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Is it a bit too early?
It has not even been a week after National Signing Day, but the question is looming:
Who's playing where next season?
Nine starters, including six seniors and three underclassmen, are leaving USC. There will be holes to fill out for each and one of those positions. With a new coaching staff to implement different defensive and offensive schemes the player's may have never seen before, it's going to interesting to see who starts where.
Lane has not hired an offensive coordinator, yet, but there is not many questions on the offensive side of the ball. The real questions will be looming on the defense. Taylor mays and Will Harris are gone and that opens up safety questions. USC has now added good depth in the linebacker position and that also raises questions of who will be playing outside linebacker given Chris Galippo and Jarvis Jones are set to fill in the middle. The ends have question marks as well.
Kiffin's first speech with the team put emphasis that each player will have a "clean slate". Though I would like to believe that, it's hard for me to see some players not start over others. Nevertheless; USC has a great amount of talent. With the right personelle to develop the players to reach their full potential, just like we've seen since Carroll came in, there should be no questions asked in that regard.
Kiffin knows talent and with the first test passed, getting the top recruiting class in the nation, his next is to help players reach the ceiling scouts projected would reach.
Here are my projected starters. As Spring comes along, I'm sure there will be changes made, but that for now is to be determined later... Let's take a look after the jump..
Feel free to add your thoughts!
FREE SAFETY (FS): Taylor Mays is gone. The leading tackler had mixed reviews this season as some might say he didn't show consistency throughout the season. His backup is Drew McAllister. D-Mac isn't as hard hitting as Mays, but his coverage skills is pouts him in this position. T.J. McDonald could very well fill this spot up with McAllister filling in at the strong-side. Then again, there really isn't much of difference per either side in the Tampa 2 scheme. For now, I have D-Mac starting at the free safety position.
STRONG SAFETY (SS): This position requires the most physical of the safeties to guard the offense's strong side, so T.J. McDonald would fill in this with this role. Though not as quick as Mays, T.J. still is athletically impressive. He's listed as 205 pounds, only he's really 220. Watch for the hits, he's one of the most explosive hitters in this team. He's also going to share this role with another impressive safety, Mr. Jawanza Starling.
CORNERBACK (CB): Is there any other position that is stacked with talent? However you put it, USC's corners all fast and their coverage skills shouldn't be much of a problem since our fastest players are in this position. With a class of safeties and corners coming in, it's hard to project who will start first. I would start T.J. Bryant over Byron Moore Jr on one side. Bryant has 4.4 speed and has size to handle physical receivers. Moore is the same, both cover well though I give the nod to T.J. The other side will be coveted by Shareece Wright. Saddened he didn't play last year as I thought our secondary would be a lot better with Wright starting.
WEAK-SIDE LINEBACKER (WLB, WILL): With the new addition of athletic linebacker Hayes Pullard, it gives depth in this position where it was sorely needed. Malcom Smith did a stellar job last season and no question he will be our starter this season with Shane Horton and Hayes Pullard backing him up. Look for Glen Stanley filling in as a back-up as well.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER (MLB, MIKE): Chris Galippo will have to put in some hard-work this off-season because the Tampa 2 is no picnic. Chris was excellent last year in the first half of the season, but regressed a little as the season wore on him a little and Jarvis Jones helped backed him up, but even Jones was injured himself. With Galippo and Jones in full health and conditioned, the opposing team will have a hard time running the ball.
STRONG-SIDE LINEBACKER (SLB, SAM): This position is intriguing because there are more than a couple of players that can fill in this spot. Devon Kennard was the second best defensive prospect of 2009 (could have been first if it he didn't tear his ACL) and recruited to be a defensive end, but found a home at SAM. However, Carroll used him at times at the leo position (also called "elephant"), which is a role for a versatile player who can rush the quarterback and drop to pass coverage. Though I would love to see Kennard play full-time at defensive end, he played rather well at SAM and I think he'll start in that position. Of course, when you have players like Marquis Jackson, Michael Morgan, and Glen Stanley, anything can happen in this position which will flow to...
DEFENSIVE END (DE): Everson Griffen would surely been spectacular to watch if he would've came back. With the NFL in his eyes, he decided to leave for a better oppurtunity. His wing-man, Nick Perry, didn't do to shabby either. Perry recorded 24 tackles which 9 accounted for sacks, so staple his name as a starter. Armond Armstead will probably begin on the other end, but that could change. Glen Stanley, Malik jackson, Marquis Jackson, and Wes Horton, and Devon Kennard are all capable of playing this position.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (DT): Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris will fill in this role as the depth is a bit thin. Fortanately, George Uko joins USC and will greatly add depth in this position. I'm looking for a breakout year for Harris.
NOSE TACKLE (DT): Jurrell Casey did a solid job and will start this year, book it. Hebron Fangupo helped Casey until he suffered a season-ending injury which didn't suit well for Casey, who slowed down a bit. An off-season will be much appreciated. I'm excited for the defense next season.
QUARTERBACK (QB): Matt Barkley. Enough said.
WIDE RECEIVER (WR): Ronald Johnson will be the biggest play-maker in the offense next season. His athleticism is unmatched with everyone else in the team and he vowed to be a better player next season. The number two receiver features many, but ultimately Brice Butler will be the starter. Apologies to De'von Flournoy, David "I'm not a receiver" Ausburry, and Travon "who?" Patterson. As for a slot receiver, any of the aforementioned would be more than suited for the role, but who's better than Kyle Prater? On third down, Barkley would be able to toss it to his new 6-5 receiver with freakishly large hands that would catch anything that's remotely thrown to him.
RUNNING BACK (RB): Will we finally get to see Allen Bradford with the most carries per game? I think so, I want him to, and you do too! Allen has showed us that he can be a beast when you want him to, so why not give him the most carries? He'll be backed by the quick C.J. Gable who will be out of the dog house and ready to prove himself. Don't forget the injury-prone Marc Tyler, remember him? Tyler was second best running back prospect in 2007. He never reached his potential due to his consistent injuries.
TIGHT END (TE): For me, this position is wide open. Of course, we all know Blake "I drop balls that could change the game" Ayles will get the starting position. Rhett Ellison will back him up with Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, and Christian Thomas filling in the depth chart. I expect all of these sharing playing time in 2010 with Grimble having the most to gain.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (OT): Though USC needed to add depth to a position who will lose Charles Brown and Jeff Byers, it was a relief to get a commitment from Seantrel Henderson to help. There are many unproven players who will be filling in Brown's and Byers' postions; nevertheless, they're talented. Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith are more than able to handle either right tackle or left with Khaled Holmes or Kevin Graf backing them up. Holmes and Graf are versatile players and are capable of playing right guard with senior Zack Heberer starting. So lets recap: Tyron Smith at LT, Matt Kalil at RT and Khaled Holmes at LG.
CENTER (C): Kristopher O'Dowd suffered injuries last season and was somewhat of a disappointment. Look for him to step up next season and backed up by the talented John Martinez.
All in all, USC has talent in about every position there is. Again, it is now up to Kiffin to help the player's use their talent on the field.
Is winning the Pac-10 title this year a stretch? With this group of players and the coaching staff assembled, it isn't.