When coaches look at the depth chart, they are simply looking for their best 11 to put on the field. Who has experience? Who has the talent? Who shows up in practice? Who can lead us to a championship? When all these questions are being asked and answered, no coach around that table is looking for the freshman as the answer. Putting a freshman out there as a starter on offense or defense is nail biting, but has very well worked out for teams.
Now lets go more in depth and look at the defensive side of the ball. Putting a freshman out there on an island at defensive back or in the front seven as a linebacker, can come with a lot of pressure. You have to understand there will be those "freshman mistakes" no matter what, big eyes trying to grasp everything, and plenty of opportunities to coach up the young pup. Despite the scary negatives that can cost a game, you also have some advantages if given the chance. Freshmen are alive at all times, they are fresh body, spark plugs, and athletes that will run sideline to sideline to get a piece of the action. If plugged into the right defensive scheme and are given space to go out and play, you can find success in your freshmen player. When you zoom in even closer on our freshman starter, lets take a look at the success within the linebacker position.
Guys that have started at linebacker in the recent years have found success in great playing college careers. Names like San Jose State's ex-linebacker Keith Smith, University of New Mexico's Dakota Cox, and my favorite University of Arizona's Scooby Wright. You might be asking yourself: "Trajuan why are they so important?" and my answer is simple. These three linebackers I named are or will be four-year starters and have been named Freshman All-Americans. These backers have also either led the nation in tackles or tackles per game. That leads us into sunny Southern California where we focus on freshman starting inside-linebacker, Cameron Smith.
Cameron Smith is not an out of this world athlete. Standing at 6'2 245lbs in the middle of this Trojan defense, Smith doesn't possess ultimate speed or a big time vertical jump, but the inside backer has a work ethic that has been noticed by the coaching staff. Cameron is the first freshman linebacker to debut in his first game as a starter since 1978. Smith shows why he is a starter on the field, leading Cravens, Woods, Simmons, and company in defensive stops this year with 30 and 19 solo tackles.
Smith has shown his progression in his first four games, including a 12 tackles performance against Stanford. Despite costly mistakes versus the Cardinal, Smith grew up and put in a lot of work in the film room. This past weekend against Arizona State, Wilcox used Smith in bringing additional pressure and Smith rang the bell, finishing with five tackles including a sack. Smith has had those "freshman stunts" on the field but has not let them affect his gameplay, he seems to always make up for it and play with consistency. This helps especially playing at inside backer, having to make calls, adjustments, and critical decisions. When Cameron Smith plays more like a seasoned ball player with the drive to make plays sideline to sideline, he helps build the culture within this talented defense.
With players like Su'a Cravens, Delvon Simmons, Kevin Seymour, Antwaun Woods, and others with experience, it is kind of easy to get lost in the shuffle. With a linebacker crew that continuously switches out players, you can usually find Smith and Cravens on the field for the majority of snaps. Smith is a player that you can rely on but also can coach. He produces on a weekly basis and doesn't seem to make the same mistakes repeatedly. With Smith showcasing accountability and the talent to be an every down backer, Wilcox has a four-year starter on his hands.
Cameron also has plenty of talent around him and a mentor to help him through his freshman hardships as a starter, with fellow All-American Su'a Cravens assisting him along the way. With Smith emerging and helping other players around him improve, do not be surprised to see a All-American in the making.
Cameron Smith has the skill set and work ethic to follow a long line of USC linebackers headed to the NFL. Smith is on track for a 90-tackle season performance, which can make him a candidate for Freshman All-American. With that on his plate along with a tough Pac-12 schedule, Smith can definitely find himself growing rapidly as a player and leader among this Trojan team.