Image Courtesy of USCFootball.com
Jersey number 55 at USC. There is not much more you need to say after that. It is universally understood that the bearer of that number on the Trojans’ roster is a great one. To be a member of Club 55 means that you are an elite, sure fire future NFL player. If you pull that jersey over your shoulder pads, you better be able to live up to the great expectations that comes with it. We are talking Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Chris Claiborne, and Keith Rivers. All of the aforementioned players were top 9 NFL Draft picks after collecting All-Conference and All-American honors while at Troy. The newest member of Club 55 is sophomore middle linebacker — or Mike — Lamar Dawson.
Dawson was given the honor of wearing the jersey as a freshman by head coach Lane Kiffin and he saw it as motivation. He broke into the starting line-up the final four games of the 2011 season and now is the unquestioned starter as spring ball winds to a close. There is a lot that he will be responsible for as the Mike in Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” defense. It is key that the Mike have above average speed, have a high football IQ, be physical, and be an excellent tackler. These are all qualities that he has shown in his young collegiate career.
The success of the defense will rely on his ability to diagnose offenses pre-snap and then make the necessary calls to adjust the defense. In short he will need to be an extension of Monte Kiffin on the field. With speed in the 4.5 range, he has the speed to get deep in the hole to cover the inside vertical passing routes, which is key in the Tampa 2 defense. A speedy Mike is needed to turn the basic Cover 2 into what essentially is a Cover 3 taking away deep routes in the middle of the field.
At 235 pounds he has the size and physicality to be a punishing run stopper in the mold of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hardy Nickerson and Shelton Quarles. With the front four getting up field and wreaking havoc on the blocking schemes of opposing offensive lines, Dawson should have plenty opportunities for unimpeded runs at ball carriers. Grasping the defense should allow him to get to the ball faster as it will make it easier for him to play fluidly, play without hesitation, and play instinctually. This is important due to his area responsibility which could be anywhere from the line of scrimmage defending the run to 20 yards downfield covering a receiver.
In the era of high powered offenses, it is still true that defense win championships. Whether or not the Trojans have a championship defense will be largely dependent on the play of the Mike. To put it another way, the play of Dawson will have a significant impact on the 2012 campaign. The annual Spring Game should provide a glimpse of the progress he has made as he heads into his second year in the system. I look forward to the big things to come in 2012 and beyond as Dawson continues to grow into his role as the key to the defensive scheme. After all, he is wearing 55, we shouldn’t expect anything less than great from him. I am confident that he is up for the challenge.