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WeAreSC mailbag (7-7 edition)

by Garry Paskwietz

In this edition of the mailbag we talk class of 2015 linebackers, position switches, Adoree’ Jackson role and more:


How are our LB’s doing? Seems I recall we had a great recruiting year with Smith, Masina, Gustin, etc. Have they turned out to be what we expected? How does our LB crew compare with some of Pete’s years?

I think you have to say the first year was better than expected for the freshmen linebacker group. Three of the four played, and one of them was the first freshman ever to lead the Trojans in tackles, to go along with a three interception game against Utah. The performance by Cameron Smith raises the overall grade for the linebacker group but Porter Gustin also did well and is expected to be one of the true playmakers on the defense this year. And Osa Masina will be in the mix at inside linebacker, with the potential to have a good year. John Houston’s status is discussed later on in the mailbag. As for comparisons with Pete years, it was a very good start but we have to wait a little more before we can accurately judge against some of those units.


The roster hasn’t been this well off in years and that makes for high hopes as the new season approaches. Which leads to my question: do you see any change in Adoree’s role on offense this season? As tempting as it is to give him looks on O, there are are plenty of well respected athletes on offense now. Further to that, he seemed like he didn’t progress so well on defense last year (not sure if that is true, just my perception).

It’s so hard to answer that because we haven’t seen Adoree’ practice under this offensive braintrust yet. My guess is that he still has a role on offense with a set number of plays but it may not be as much as last year (you’re correct in noting other available playmakers). On defense, I expect to see an improved Adoree’ this year for a few reasons. One is that he will be playing in a Clancy Pendergast coached defense (huge difference) and I think an experienced Iman Marshall on the other side of him will have an impact too. I also think the fact that he took his shot at the Olympics will help focus him on his football future in what will quite possibly be his last year playing for the Trojans.


Hi Garry, it has been mentioned that we have seen almost everybody in the summer throwing sessions so far, including incoming freshmen. Will there be any new arrivals for Fall camp, and do you expect any position switches to become permanent or remain a summer experiment?

There will be a new placekicker when Michael Brown arrives as a blueshirt.

As for position switches, I really want to see where things go with Khaliel Rodgers on defense. I do recognize how valuable he can be on offense if he is needed as an experienced center, but there’s a real chance he won’t be needed if Toa Lobendahn and Nico Falah are there. As of now, I would be willing to keep Khaliel on defense as long as one of those two are available, if we’re down to Cole Smith then maybe Khaliel goes back if Cole just isn’t ready yet. But the longer we can look at Khaliel on defense I think it could turn out to be a nice move. He’s got a fire hydrant body, he plays with a lot of aggressiveness and he’s a veteran guy who is putting his ego aside to potentially help the team.

And I think the Ajene Harris move to corner should be permanent, if it isn’t already. There are other playmaking options at slot receiver while Harris is needed more as one of the top 4 corners in the rotation, and one who looks very comfortable at his new spot.


Hey GP. Do you know ANYONE who likes the proposed model for the Coliseum remodel?



Joseph Lewis Recruitment, Hi GP, I see that Joseph does not even mention SC in his video interview. Is SC still recruiting him hard? It seems he is leaning towards Nebraska.

It depends on which interview you listen to. He’s talked in plenty of interviews lately about taking an unofficial visit to USC (and UCLA), and he’s been a regular presence on-campus at USC spring ball and the Rising Stars Camp, even if he didn’t take part. I’m not saying there aren’t other suitors, he seemed to really enjoy the trip to Nebraska for their camp, but I do think the Trojans and Tee Martin will be in the mix to the end.


Does John Houston have a definitive role (bigger body ILB, more athletic OLB)? Similar to Powell, seems like his body will determine his options. Garry, do you see Houston playing a significant role this season, or will this be more of his RS season that he missed a good portion of last season? He was such a big name and an elite recruit, but seems to be falling back in the depth chart. Not all Fr. can have an impact, I’m sure his day will come.

Right now it would surprise me if John played a major role this year, in part because his development has been slowed by a back injury and also because there are several guys ahead of him on the depth chart who can play a role. In addition to Cameron Smith, who is set as one starter, you’ve got Hutchings, Powell, Tucker and Masina, and so far Houston hasn’t shown enough to leap any of them. I think he’s one of those guys who could play OLB at some point but for now the coaches have him inside, and if everyone stays healthy it could end up being more of a developmental year for him than anything, and there would be nothing wrong with that (he could use a year getting bigger if he’s going to stay inside).


During the Pete Carroll era the Defense was nothing short of terrific at take-away’s. I remember guys like Grootegoed causing and recovering fumbles, as well as getting picks. A lot of things go into a defense becoming so proficient at turnovers. As you look at this years defense, can you name any player who you think can become “that guy” who is always around the ball, causing and getting turnovers? Certainly Cam Smith showed his wares last year, but any others come to mind?

I’ll give a bit of a surprise name in Uchenna Nwosu. I’ve been impressed with the way he’s taken over the starting OLB spot from day one under Pendergast and he’s consistently made plays around the ball. Uchenna learned behind Su’a and his ballhawking ways, and now it’s time for him to play a bigger role. I also think there are some natural candidates in the secondary, led by Adoree’ and Biggie at corner and Tell at safety.


I also wonder if the search might be on for a second fullback this fall, especially since the staff went to the trouble off adding it back into the mix with Reuben Peters?

No sign of it yet, and I don’t know that there is a need as long as Peters is healthy. The fullback will be a part-time role, so maybe there are 15-25 snaps per game, and Peters should be able to handle that. One guy who I think could offer an interesting option at some point is Vavae Malepeai, he’s got some decent thickness right now and you have to imagine he is only going to get bigger. I still say he reminds me of Malaefou MacKenzie, who made the transition from tailback to fullback during his USC career.


Garry to me Oregon is the tell all game of the season. If this team can field a defense that can beat a team like Oregon then they should contend for a Pac 12 title. Do they have the speed and athleticism to beat the Ducks this season?

That game is certainly one of many in consideration for tell all game of the year. The encouraging news, at least on paper, is that Clancy Pendergast has a good history against the Ducks, and this Trojan defense should match up better against speed and athleticism teams such as Oregon as opposed to power teams like Alabama and Stanford.

901 Club

What are Garry (and the others that answer the mailbag) most excited to see in the 2016 season?

Clay Helton has talked often about how he wants to emphasize physicality in the trenches as a foundation of his program, and I would very much be excited to see that and the impact it would have on the entire team.


I think it is safe to say our offense is expected to be the strongest side of the ball due to the wealth of talent and depth. However if we find ourselves watching our defense keep us in games and our offense playing below our expectations (which are high at this point) I personally believe we have a coaching issue. What are your expectations of our offense and key offensive improvements you will be watching for this year?

As noted above, the physical nature of the offensive line will be so critical this year, and I hope to see great strides in that area. I watched the 4th quarter of the 2015 USC vs UCLA game the other night including the long 11 play, 10 run drive to close things out, it was a thing of beauty and I would like to see more of that please. Along with the line, one of the biggest improvements I think we will see is the use of the tight end. We’ve got three good ones, and they are being thrown to a lot in summer workouts.


We’ve heard that the move of Rodgers to D-line is a good idea because of the depth at Center, but what depth are we talking about? Currently, USC has Nico Falah, last year’s third stringer, and Cole Smith, a freshman who hasn’t played a snap. Toa Lobendahn will be lucky to make it back at all this year, and luckier still, to be anywhere in the same ballpark as 100%, if he does make it back. Can you explain the thinking on this?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to move a guard over, instead? Why, for example, hasn’t Jordan Simmons, who’s already spent a lot of time on the defensive side of the ball, part of the discussion? Have his knee injuries taken him out of consideration?

As noted above, I think the center spot can spare Rodgers if Lobendahn and Falah are available, and I’m more optimistic about that than you appear to be. Toa got hurt basically in the middle of last year so I’m not looking at it that he would be lucky to make it back this year at all, but you’re right in that you can’t exactly count on his return, especially early in the season. Falah offers an interesting option as a veteran guy who had the benefit of being the first string guy all spring and now into the summer workouts. Callaway sure talked as if he liked what Nico did, so I’m not counting him out as a potential option at all. And if there is a point where the coaches just don’t like what they see they can always move Khaliel back over, and as a veteran it would be less of a problem for him, especially if he continues to get some work at center as practices go along, which he said is a possibility.

As for Simmons moving back over, my read is that Kenechi Udeze was around last year when Jordan tried d-line, and if Kenechi thought he could be a benefit it would happen.

Garry Paskwietz
Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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