“Wherever he’s going to play to help us win a National Championship, is where he’ll play.”
That’s what USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said on Wednesday’s Signing Day Spreecast live chat. He was referring to defensive back Lamont Simmons specifically, but that statement could be applied to more than a few of the newest Trojans.
After all, the watch word when it came to USC’s signing day was, without a doubt, versatility.
Versatile players highlight the 2014 class, for good reason.
On Thursday, Steve Sarkisian revealed that five-star human highlight reel Adoree’ Jackson will start his Trojan career on the defensive side of the ball. Before that, during his Wednesday press conference, the USC head coach announced that John “Juju” Smith, another five-star and elite playmaker, will line up on offense in the fall.
Jackson and Smith headline the class, but they also epitomize the nature of the group as a whole.
Both could star on either side of the ball, which is an invaluable factor on a team with major depth issues.
The Trojans will likely start the season with 71 scholarship players. After academic casualties and inevitable injuries, USC will likely sit somewhere in the 60s when it comes to available scholarship players by the season opener against Fresno State.
Last year, numbers dwindled even further as the season wore on. Cornerback and wide receiver were particularly hard hit, so it should be no surprise that both positions became a focus of the 2014 recruiting cycle.
It was more than that though. The Trojans did not target wide receivers and cornerbacks. They looked to kill both birds with one stone
“We needed more receiver, DB body types, one for offense and defense, but also for special teams,” Sarkisian said in his signing day press conference.
On top of Jackson and Smith, the 2014 class features WR/DB types like Rahshead Johnson, Jonathan Lockett, Lamont Simmons and Ajene Harris. Nearly all of them could legitimately play both ways.
The versatility strategy doesn’t end in those position groups either.
Malik Dorton is listed as a defensive end slash outside linebacker. Don Hill is an outside linebacker slash defensive end. John Plattenburg is a cornerback who was graded by ESPN as a safety. Uchenna Nwosu was introduced as a linebacker but was graded by 247Sports as a safety as well. Olajuwon Tucker was ranked by Rivals as the #11 weakside defensive end, while USC presented him as a linebacker.
In short, nine of the 19 signees in 2014 are listed by either USC or recruiting services in multiple positions. When you consider the five scholarships Sarkisian spent on offensive linemen — many of whom are similarly flexible when it comes to position — the vast majority of USC’s class present the coaches with a multitude of options regarding their fit on the team.
The ability to shuffle positions as needed will be essential as the Trojans navigate the final season of roster limitations and the repercussions that will remain even beyond this year. Having players with body types that allow them to play wherever they are needed could be the difference between a struggling for a bowl birth and battling for the Pac-12 title.
USC’s final sanctioned class had the lowest star rating, yet it may be the most valuable of the three because versatility will carry the Trojans forward out of sanctions.