USC Football Spring Camp Preview: Linebacker


The linebacker position could provide the most fluid and intriguing battles on the field when USC football kicks off spring camp on March 3.

Returning starters: Anthony Sarao (Sr.*), Su’a Cravens (Jr.), Scott Felix (Jr.*)Returning players: Lamar Dawson (Sr.*), Charles Burks (Sr.*), Jabari Ruffin (Jr.*), Michael Hutchings (Jr.), Quinton Powell (Jr.), Uchenna Nwosu (So.*), Olajuwon Tucker (So.), Malik Dorton (Fr.*)Newcomers: Cameron Smith (EE)Departures: Hayes Pullard (Sr.), J.R. Tavai (Sr.)

The Trojan linebacker corps returns a bulk of players, but loses two of its most important figures for 2015.

Hayes Pullard leaves a gap four years in the making at middle linebacker while J.R. Tavai opens a spot for a new primary Trojan pass rusher.

With USC bringing in a talent group of incoming freshman in the fall who will be looking to fill those holes, spring camp could not be more important for the already present players in this squad.

Su’a Cravens may be the only returning starter with any clear sense of job security, though his positioning, either at strongside linebacker or safety, could be in flux and will no doubt play a major role in the composition of USC’s entire defense.

Assuming he remains at linebacker, his job this spring will be to continue the job of bulking up he started in 2014. Perhaps even more importantly, he, Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon could work on finding ways to keep him more consistently involved throughout games.

Middle linebacker remains the biggest question mark in the biggest group with Pullard’s departure.

Michael Hutchings is the heir apparent but his cameo against Boston College when Pullard was suspended for a half left something to be desired.

Hutchings will face competition from early enrollee Cameron Smith, who will be looking to make an early impression with his spring head start.

The x-factor in the middle is the returning Lamar Dawson, who missed half of 2013 and all of 2014 with a knee injury. While Dawson had nailed down the weakside linebacker starting job before his injury, Anthony Sarao has firmly established himself there over the past year. Moving the No. 55 to the MIKE could allow them to start alongside eachother instead of in competition with one another.

Sarao should be fairly uncontested at the WILL after a solid year of starting experience there, though he’ll have to stay on his toes with John Houston set to arrive in the fall.

At rush end, Felix has the starting experience and decent enough production to be penciled in as the full-time starter by the end of spring.

RELATED: Five players with the most to prove during spring camp.

However, Jabari Ruffin should be back on the field in 2015, presenting a clear danger to his starting aspirations.

Of course, if Cravens moves back to safety, Ruffin will be the favorite to slot back into the SAM position.

Should Cravens remain at linebacker, however, Ruffin would be a contender to lock down the rush end position, which he played in 2013.

Since Ruffin will be held out of contact during camp, Felix’s battle will mostly be with himself as he works to establish enough of an edge over either Ruffin or any freshman challengers like Osa Masina or Porter Gustin who come down the line.

Battle to watch: Hutchings vs. Dawson vs. Smith

Who has the most to gain? Smith is in his first semester as a Trojan and he enters with far less expectations on him than other linebackers in the 2015 recruiting class, which would make a rise to the starting job that much more impressive.

Who has the most to lose? Felix should be the starter at rush end by the end of spring. If he isn’t, something has gone very wrong.

More from Reign of Troy