Robert Woods and Marqise Lee have battled injuries so far in USC’s fall camp, but on Wednesday, there wasn’t any sign of either of them slowing down, as the two each made spectacular catches for the Trojans at Dedeaux Field.
With Woods and Lee back in the fold and seemingly productive, the trickle down effect to the rest of the receiving corps can’t be overstated, as their health enables De’Von Flournoy, Nelson Agholor, George Farmer and Victor Blackwell to perform with less pressure.
The top duo’s production goes back to normal when healthy, and the quartet of receivers vying for the No. 3 role have less pressure as they’re not being forced into taking first team reps, which would have ultimately exposed them in a role where their lack of experience would show.
Flournoy and Farmer have been said to flourish of late, but their game experience is still questioned, considering they’ve caught just four passes at USC between them, all of which came with Lane Kiffin utilizing Farmer out of the backfield as a running back last season. The third option for Matt Barkley isn’t exactly a job that requires a full resume however, with the other talent and receiver and tight end making it easier for the depth receivers.
Woods and Lee are going to be magnets for the corners, and force safeties to commit to their deep routes, thus enabling the running backs, the tight ends and the slot receivers to find open field underneath for Barkley to hand off or check down to.
Without both of them healthy, the offense essentially collapses and reverts back to the early 2011 offense, predicated on the Barkley-to-Woods connection, which was overly predictable and created double teams and subsequently allowed defenses to snuff out the run. In that situation, the pressure for Flournoy, Farmer, Agholor or Blackwell to become last year’s version of Marqise Lee is enormous, and it’s a role that really can’t be delegated onto multiple receivers, given the effect that two potent receivers have on a defense, due to man and zone coverage schemes.
Though Lee still wore a yellow practice jersey on Wednesday, his health is looking good, as is the health of Victor Blackwell, who can now use the rest of camp to push the three guys ahead of him in the battle for the No. 3 spot.