USC Football: Hayes Pullard Can Play MLB, But Trojans Need Dawson



Hayes Pullard has done everything Lane Kiffin has asked of him. He impressed last season when put at weakside linebacker in camp, excelled during the season, and now has spelled Lamar Dawson successfully in camp at middle linebacker, while a calf injury has made Dawson questionable for the season opener against Hawaii. But despite Pullard’s strong play at the ‘mike’ during camp, the Trojans would be dealt a major blow to have to play him in the middle, as it would force another unproven player, Anthony Sarao, to suit up in an already dinged up front seven.

Going into the season, the Trojans’ defense appeared to be one of the underrated strengths of the team. But an injury to Devon Kennard really took away a lot of senior leadership on the defensive line, forcing Kiffin to turn to sophomore J.R. Tavai at defensive end, along with two defensive tackles, Antwaun Woods and George Uko, that weren’t in the mix to start a year ago at this time.

For the Trojans to have a strong front seven, rivaling Utah and Stanford in the conference, they need all of the experience and quality play that they can get, which begins and ends with the linebackers. Last season, Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey were co-leaders on the team with 81 tackles, both earning Freshman All-American status, while Lamar Dawson turned in a season worthy of an Honorable Mention.

Now keep in mind that Sarao is in the same place that Bailey and Pullard were a year ago, entering his redshirt freshman season, with a year of practice under his belt. But given the Trojans’ issues of depth and lofty aspirations, a loss of Dawson would be crucial, and giving USC three new starters in the front seven, and a fourth (Uko), who is still improving at the three technique.

Also of note, is that by going with Pullard in the middle, Kiffin is essentially saying that Sarao is ahead of Scott Starr. Starr came into USC as a strongside linebacker out of Norco, but moved to the middle in spring camp as an early enrollee. He’s had an up and down camp to be sure, highlighted by a two-interception performance in the Trojans’ second scrimmage this past Sunday.

Had Starr been playing up the expectations of Kiffin however, the move of Pullard inside would just be an experiment as opposed to a looming reality.

In the end, with eight days until the Trojans suit up against Hawaii, there’s plenty of time for things to change, and amble time for Lamar Dawson’s calf to improve or worsen.