It may be just the second week of March, but USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has already set his sights on one of the biggest battles looming for the Trojans in 2014.
One word: Depth.
The NCAA sanctions technically end this summer, but the scholarship reductions which tried desperately to cripple USC in 2013 will remain through the year. Limited to a maximum scholarship roster of 70, due to NFL departures, transfers and retirements, Sarkisian will need to employ every trick in the book to keep his team as whole as possible.
One such trick has emerged early this spring and will likely remain an emphasis throughout the offseason.
As sophomore safety Su’a Cravens put it, they’re working on “man skills.”
What are “man skills,” you ask? The ability to play multiple positions.
“Spring is about developing the players, not just one dimensionally. It’s about allowing guys to do more than one thing,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “All of our receivers are learning every position right now. The DBs are learning multiple positions, [as are] the linebackers.”
Considering the versatility that runs rampant through the roster, the strategy makes perfect sense.
“When you don’t have all the depth that you like to have, the way to compensate for that is if somebody does get injured you have multiple guys that can go play that position,” Sarkisian elaborated.
Consider Josh Shaw, who will suit up as a cornerback this spring. Shaw is and has been the poster child for the kind of depth Sarkisian refers to — a natural safety who has worked as a bandaid for a thin cornerbacking corp two seasons in a row.
Then there’s J.R. Tavai, whose abilities could theoretically land him in any position on the defensive line as needed even though he starts out the year as an outside linebacker.
Cravens himself can play both safety positions, linebacker or even offense if called upon.
In the fall, more players with similarly varied skill sets, like Adoree’ Jackson and Juju Smith, will arrive.
“For us that’s what the spring is about, teaching our guys the schemes really really well and then developing them individually so that when the fall rolls around, regardless of what setbacks it might appear that we have, we can have really quality players go in and play different positions and not fall off anywhere.”