Could USC Football Cope With Losing Bryce Dixon?

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Spring camp got off to a rough start for USC Tuesday when it was revealed that sophomore tight end Bryce Dixon missed the opening practice because of a “student-conduct issue.”

Though there are conflicting reports about Dixon’s status, some reports claim he has been dismissed from the team while a USC spokesperson maintained that he is still on board, at the very least he appears to be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

USC was already set to enter the 2015 season with just three scholarship tight ends available. Besides Dixon, junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was the only other tight end on the spring roster, with incoming freshman Tyler Petite due to arrive in the fall.

Of course, the Trojans are no strangers to this kind of situation regarding their tight ends. Last year on the first day of fall camp, Cope-Fitzpatrick was declared academically ineligible, leaving USC with just Dixon and Randall Telfer to pick up the slack.

Unlike last year however, Steve Sarkisian will not be able to lean on Telfer, a veteran with years of experience.

Instead, the Trojans may have to get creative to replace a player who was expected to have a major role in USC’s offense despite limited production in 2014.

Even though he had just 14 catches for 198 yards, Dixon is USC’s third leading returning receiver. His four touchdowns last year are second among returning receivers as well.

While he is away from practice and if he is ultimately dismissed, how could USC cope with Dixon’s absence? Here are some ideas.

Work With What’s There

Though Cope-Fitzpatrick’s experience is limited, with just three catches in his USC career, the junior tight end was a force during spring practice last year and possesses enough talent to step up as the main man.

Apr 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (88) during the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is much for Cope-Fitzpatrick to prove. Still, USC’s tight ends were not pass catching machines in Sarkisian’s first season. It might be disappointing for the Trojans to go through another year without at least trying to replicate the Mackey Award-winning form which made Austin Sefarian Jenkins a star under Sarkisian in Washington, but he would not need to reach that level to replicate the production Telfer had last year.

If Cope-Fitzpatrick can reach that threshold, Petite could slot into the same role Dixon fulfilled as a freshman and the Trojans will not be terribly worse off at the position.

The X-factors are Columbia transfer Connor Spears and former Serra quarterback Caleb Wilson, the son of defensive line coach Chris Wilson who is expected to join the Trojans in the fall. Both walk-ons could become major contributors for USC and alleviate some of the concerns surrounding the position.

Utilize Two-Way Players

When Sarkisian teased the idea of linebacker recruits Porter Gustin and Osa Masina getting a look at offense, it seemed fairly far-fetched that they would actually see time at tight end despite the roster listing them in that position.

Now that idea has some legs.

Both players have the size to compete at tight end. Gustin was actually considered a viable tight end recruit in high school while Masina has experience on the offensive side of the ball having played running back.

Athletes as gifted as Gustin and Masina are often capable of succeeding in whatever situation they’re thrown into, so there’s little doubt that they could pull it off with USC in such need.

The issue is their future so clearly being projected at linebacker. One or both could be in the running for early playing time on the defensive side of the ball and complicating their positions could stunt their progression on that side of the ball.

Of course, Sarkisian and company already have a successful two-way case study in Adoree’ Jackson, so it would be no surprise if they pulled it off again with this pair of freshmen.

This option is not available until Gustin and Masina make it to campus in the fall, but it could be a viable solution if Dixon’s absence stretches through the season.

Re-Purpose the Fullbacks

USC boast two senior fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner, both of whom saw decreased involvement offensively in 2014.

Sarkisian appears uninterested in utilizing the fullback as the Trojans used to with the likes of Stanley Havili. Instead, they fit in as blockers rather than offensive weapons.

Dixon’s absence could be the impetus to reevaluate that strategy.

In order to find production elsewhere, either Vainuku or Pinner could be utilized as H-backs, with the ability to stay home and provide and extra blocker or take off on a passing route.

Vainuku, in particular, makes perfect sense for this shift. While he did not catch a pass in 2014, he has 17 career receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown to his name.

What say you Trojan fans? How would you like to see USC cope with the absence of Bryce Dixon?

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