An imposing force at the inside linebacker position, sophomore Cameron Smith is ready to add to his list of accomplishments after what was a successful freshman year. Any doubts about him needing time to adjust to the college game were quickly put to bed, and now in year two, he looks to prove that he is not just a flash in the pan.
After enrolling at USC early in the spring of 2015, Smith got right to work and quickly found his niche within the defense. He started at the position for the first ten games of the season, before a knee injury late in the season derailed his campaign. Recording 78 tackles, a sack, three deflections, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions, he was all over the field, showing his versatility and instincts for the football.
Smith recorded 10 tackles in three contests he played in. On September 19 against Stanford, he recorded 12 tackles (six solo, six assisted), one of the only bright spots in a losing effort for the Trojans as they were defeated 41-31 at the Coliseum.
Two weeks later, he did it again against Washington as he recorded 12 stops (eight solo, four assisted) as the Trojans lost a 17-12 thriller. On the road against Notre Dame, he again had another great contest, tallying 11 (four solo, seven assisted) but his efforts were not enough as USC fell once again by a 41-31 margin.
However, just as it seemed he was finding his groove, he hit a bump in the road. The knee injury derailed what was otherwise a fantastic season for Smith. At the time of the injury, he led the team in tackles and interceptions. This marked the first time since records were first kept in 1954 that this feat was accomplished.
For the season, he would finish with the 78 tackles (45 solo, 33 assisted) as well as a sack and six pass deflections.
His efforts did not go unnoticed, particularly nationally. In addition to winning the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the year accolades, he also was a 2015 USA Today, ESPN.com, Sporting News and 247Sports Freshman All-American first teamer. He made 2015 All-Pac-12 honorable mention and Phil Steele’s All-Pac-12 second team.
For the program he won the John McKay Award, given to the underclassman with the most competitive spirit.
What can Smith bring to the Trojans in 2016? For one, his versatility will be a tremendous asset. He can function as a run-stopper, quick-footed pursuit tackler, and pass defender all throughout the course of a game. He can give offenses fits with his multifunctional skillset and is the type of player that is hard to gameplan for.
Secondly, he gives them a player who has a ball-hawk mentality. In that way, he reminds me a bit of Luke Kuechly when he was at Boston College. Luke always knew where the ball was and stepped up to make a play. Once he read the play, he would pursue the ballcarrier and make the tackle. Smith is comparable in that regard. He showed excellent play recognition at various points throughout the 2015 season and I expect that to continue in 2016.
With that in mind, I expect him to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and finish the season with at least 90 tackles, two sacks and five pass deflections. Smith has a motor that allows him to be a playmaker and I expect Trojan fans will see a lot of that in 2016 as he looks to wreak havoc for opposing offenses.