USC Football: Wide Receiver No. 3 Battle Isn’t as Important as It Seems



Fall Camp for the Trojans has revolved around who will play behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at wide receiver. But despite the need for more depth behind the two All-American talents that USC has, the reality is that the battle for who becomes No. 3 is far from being the most important story line in camp, due mostly to the concept that the Trojans will need more, and have far more than three receivers to achieve their goal of winning a national title.

Freshman Nelson Agholor said it best on Monday afternoon at Dedeaux Field, when the 19-year-old met with the media for the first time since arriving at USC earlier this summer. “We’re going to need more than three guys, I can promise you that,” said Agholor. “We want to take everybody that’s in that group.”

He’s exactly right, although for a different reason: it’s not solely about wide receivers.

When the Trojans were winning national championships and Pac-10 titles under Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart had a slew of receivers to throw to out the backfield and at tight end. Sure, there were tandems like Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, but depth receivers like Chris McFoy were always overshadowed by supplemental threats which included Dominique Byrd, Reggie Bush and David Kirtman.

The way the Trojans’ offense has been in the last decade, a dynamic third receiver is a luxury that the Trojans haven’t really needed. Consider that in 2005, Chris McFoy had just 17 catches, and all of the receivers not named Jarrett or Smith combined for just 31 catches, or 10 percent of the team’s receptions.

The 2005 offense was the ultimate Lane Kiffin offense, and yet wide receivers as whole only accounted for 58 percent of the receptions, due to all of the pass catchers the Trojans had in the backfield and at tight end.

Under Kiffin in 2010 and 2011, wide receivers had 71 percent of the catches in each season, with David Ausberry and Brandon Carswell catching 20 and 18 balls respectively as the third receiver.

This year’s offense has so many weapons, including two extremely talented tight ends, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, that the race for who gets reps as the third receiving option is a battle that won’t make or break the USC offense.

There is more talent on the depth chart of USC receivers than we’ve ever seen, even more so than 2008, when the Trojans’ third receiver, Ronald Johnson, had 33 catches, the most since Karrem Kelly had 46 in 2002.

Plus, consider that Agholor told the media on Monday that playing wideout at USC is all about learning concepts and adapting to all three receiver postions: the x, y, and f. That has to dilute the importance of the No. 3 receiver even more.

The depth is going to take away catches in the stat book, but it should maintain freshness on the field. Woods, Lee, Grimble, Telfer, Farmer, Flournoy, Agholor and Blackwell have to eat, and when you consider that the Trojans will feature a speedy pass-catching fullback in Soma Vainuku out the backfield, there’s just an abundance of pass catchers that the receivers battling for No. 3 don’t have the pressure they would be under in difference schemes and with different personnel around them.

Lane Kiffin will be Lane Kiffin and play his favorite guys more than maybe they should, but given all of the talent that the Trojans have, USC isn’t going to live or die on who exactly is catching other than Woods and Lee, and if Agholor or Blackwell play well enough in practice to earn their shot, they’ll get it.

Now, ask about who’s going to start at either tackle spot given health and performance in camp, and that’s a different story, with a different level of importance.