USC Football Spring Camp Review: Linebackers


Linebacker was among the most intriguing positions for USC football heading into spring practices. Unsurprisingly, the position offered some of the biggest storylines of camp.

Su’a Cravens remains the headliner at strongside linebacker at the close of spring. The junior ended any talk of a return to safety by keeping his weight at linebacker levels and dominating from the position in nearly every aspect.

Still, the spring game proved Cravens will still be deployed as a hybrid, with the ability to hug the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher or drop back as a deep safety as needed.

So dominant was Cravens’ spring, Steve Sarkisian penned him in as a First Team All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

If Cravens’ performance was the least surprising in the unit, the ascension of Lamar Dawson at middle linebacker turned the most heads.

Dawson missed all of 2014 and half of 2013 recovering from a knee injury. In that time, Anthony Sarao established himself at the weakside linebacker position, casting doubt on the fifth-year senior’s ability to reclaim a starting job. Despite the departure of Hayes Pullard, few talked about Dawson as a reliable option to replace the defensive captain in the middle.

Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith (35) at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

That is exactly what Dawson managed to do during a stellar spring camp.

Praised for making big plays in big moments, especially during Sarkisian’s finish challenges at the end of practice, Dawson was listed as the starting MIKE linebacker before the Spring Game.

Of course depth charts are often a zero-sum game and Dawson’s emergence at the position left Michael Hutchings, last year’s back up and the heir apparent to Pullard, on the outside looking in.

Shifted over to WILL as a result, Hutchings battled with Olajuwon “Budda” Tucker for the opportunity to back up Sarao once he returns from the minor foot injury which kept him out of camp.

Tucker and Hutchings were marked as co-starters on the end of spring depth chart, but the former worked his way into first team reps by the final week of camp.

Rounding out the starting positions, Scott Felix put in a solid spring to claim the top job at rush end. However, Jabari Ruffin was kept out of contact this spring as he finishes his recover from last year’s ACL tear and will offer competition from the No. 2 spot in the fall.

Competition for starting jobs aside, other Trojan linebackers used the spring to propel themselves into the rotation picture.

Quinton Powell may be behind Cravens at the SAM, but the junior made great strides during camp as he looks to increase his role with the Trojans beyond special teams.

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Early enrollee Cameron Smith also impressed unexpectedly at middle linebacker. The least heralded of USC’s four incoming linebackers, Smith established himself as the clear No. 2 behind Dawson with a strong first spring.

Looking forward, the Trojan linebackers appear fairly settled. A starting line up of Cravens, Dawson, Sarao and Felix could very well be the one which starts the season against Arkansas State.

There are, however, three players set to arrive in the fall who could change the entire composition of the group. Osa Masina, Porter Gustin and John Houston will no doubt strengthen the linebacker corps even further. They could also make much of what we learned this spring moot.

Which incoming linebacker is most likely to shake up the starting lineup this fall?

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