Trojans feature explosive talent at skill positions

first_imgFor a group that was characterized by a superstar and a supporting cast last year, the USC skill position group this year will feature more of an ensemble.The most noteworthy departure from the group is that of Marqise Lee. Lee, the second-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 NFL Draft, set or tied 17 USC records between 2011 and 2013, as well as five Pac-12 records. In 2012, he set the record for most receptions in a season with 118, most receiving yards in a season with 1,721 and most receiving yards in a game with 345 when the Trojans fell 39-36 at Arizona on Oct. 27. Lee won the Biletnikoff Award that year as the best receiver in the country, finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and expectations were high for him going into his junior year.Many expected Lee to declare for the draft at the end of the year and fall somewhere in the first round. Having three head coaches, two play-callers, two quarterbacks and various injury problems prevented him from reaching 100 percent. His receptions and receiving yard numbers were cut by more than half from the year before, with only 791 yards over 57 catches.Despite the drop-off, Lee still led the team in receptions in 2013. His 3,655 career receiving yards are most all-time at USC, and his 248 career receptions are second.If there is a new star in the skill position group, this year’s will be junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Agholor led USC in receiving yards and touchdowns last year with 918 and six, respectively.Agholor may also see a drop in numbers as he becomes the top target and opposing teams match their best defensive back against the wideout. But there are plenty of other options redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler will have to throw to besides Agholor.The two other noteworthy returning targets are sophomore Darreus Rogers, who hauled in 22 catches for 257 yards, and redshirt junior Victor Blackwell, who caught four passes for 49 yards. The more important returning duo, however, may be the two highly touted receivers coming off of season-ending injuries last year.Redshirt junior George Farmer and redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell both missed all of last season with knee injuries but look to make a big impact this season at the wide receiver position. Farmer played sparingly in 2011 and 2012, while Mitchell’s season will be his first as a healthy player. Farmer caught four passes as a freshman and one pass his sophomore year.First-year head coach Steve Sarkisian praised Farmer and the rest of the receiving corps at Pac-12 Media Day.“[Farmer’s] in great shape,” Sarkisian said. “Out of the knee brace, in a really good frame of mind. I’m hopeful George is going to play the way he looks like he can play, because he’s still the fastest guy on our team after the knee surgery. He’s still a big, physical guy with a really good skill set. If George plays the way he’s capable of playing, that’s a really good tandem when Nelson Agholor’s on the other side. And you have Darreus Rogers, throw in a Steven Mitchell, that group is really talented, plus some young players coming up.”Sarkisian said some of the defensive players on the roster might even get some work in at receiver. Five-star recruit and incoming freshman Adoree’ Jackson, who starred on both sides of the ball at Serra High School in Gardena, California, is the most notable of these potential two-way players. Primarily a defensive back, he has gotten reps in practice as a running back and receiver.“[Adoree’ is] a very talented young man,” Sarkisian said. “He’s an explosive athlete, a world-class long jumper. He can run. He can do a lot of things.”Sarkisian also mentioned that fellow defensive back Rahshead Johnson, an incoming freshman and four-star recruit, may play receiver. JuJu Smith, another five-star recruit signed by Sarkisian, primarily plays linebacker but may also play as a receiver.The versatility doesn’t stop there, as many of the running backs got in on the receiving game last year as well. Redshirt juniors Javorius “Buck” Allen and Tre Madden both had more than 200 receiving yards last year. Four of Madden’s 15 grabs went for touchdowns while one of Allen’s 22 ended in the end zone.While they’ll certainly be options again in the passing game, the two will likely carry the weight of the carries on the rushing game. Sarkisian promises that the team will run the ball a lot on offense, and the options don’t end at Madden or Allen in that department.Allen led the team last year with 785 yards, 14 touchdowns and 5.8 yards per carry. Madden led the team with 138 carries, three more than Allen, and recorded 703 yards with three scores.The unit loses Silas Redd, who signed with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent after graduating, and Ty Isaac, who transferred to Michigan to be closer to his ailing mother. Redd ran for 376 yards on 81 carries, both third most on the team, and scored one touchdown. Isaac’s 40 carries and 246 yards were fifth-most on the team, and he recorded two touchdowns.Justin Davis also returns at running back. His 53 attempts and 361 yards were fourth-best on the team, and his six touchdowns trailed only Allen. What’s more impressive is that Davis accomplished that in only seven games before an ankle injury ended his freshman season.Another back returning to the mix is D.J. Morgan, a redshirt senior who also missed last year with a knee injury. Lastly, walk-on redshirt freshman James Toland IV may play a minor role in the offense if the depth is tested.Sarkisian cited his coaching history as proof that the Trojan running game will be impressive this season.“Our guy last year at Washington rushed for over 1,900 yards, so I believe in running the football,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to run the football. We’re a run-first football team. My five years as a head coach I’ve had a thousand-yard rusher every year, so I don’t suspect that will change this fall.”Sarkisian has also demonstrated success developing tight ends, demonstrated by Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.The Trojans lost Xavier Grimble to the draft, but return senior tight end Randall Telfer, who caught six passes for 78 yards and a touchdown last season. Junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was expected to step up this year, but was recently ruled academically ineligible for the season, giving senior Chris Willson and true freshman Bryce Dixon the opportunity to step up at the tight end position.Though it may not be the case for the rest of the team, the skill positions do have plenty of depth if injuries force backups into a larger role. If the unit can avoid any more injuries, defenses across the Pac-12 will have to prepare for a lot of different assignments.last_img

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