USC Football 2015: Previewing the Linebackers


The USC football linebackers are shaping up to be a dominant unit for the 2015 season with established stars and exciting new talent.

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Having preseason All-American Su’aCravens in the midst of the most diverse and deepest group of linebackers in years, only scratches the surface as to why opposing offenses should fear the impending challenges the Trojan defense will present this upcoming season.

An opportunity to improve upon a 3.8 rush yards per carry, 133 yards per game average, while playing with depleted numbers in 2014, is what makes this group of Trojan linebackers and defense as a whole, potentially dominant.

What We Learned This Spring:

The spring brought two things to our immediate attention, the sheer size and range of this group of backers, and the fact that depth is no longer an issue.

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

Replacing team captain and leading tackler Hayes Pullard will not happen over night, but this year, more so than others in recent history, the Men of Troy are properly equipped for a seamless transition.

Up for slew of preseason awards, Cravens seeks to build on what has already been a stellar career, at the hybrid-backer position, displaying the type of leadership you’d expect in a three-year starter.

With Jabari Ruffin using the spring to strengthen up and completely heal for the upcoming season, Scott Felix established himself as the starting rush end.

At the same time early enrollee Cameron Smith has taken his opportunity to gain additional reps and shined throughout spring, giving credence to the notion that he may be in line to compete for a rotational spot as a true freshman.

The Trojans also saw three-year starting middle linebacker Lamar Dawson return to action, after missing the previous season and a half due to injury, and despite the time off, has not missed a beat.

What Could Go Right:

The Men of Troy are healthy as fall camp nears, ensuring spirited competition among the linebackers.

Paced by Cravens and returning starter Anthony Sarao, the Trojan linebackers are easily the team’s deepest unit.

The return of Dawson to the middle, as well as Ruffin at outside backer, provides defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox with much needed experience, and the ability to mix and match his defenses to the explosive offenses of the Pac-12.

Scott Felix could make a leap forward akin to J.R. Tavai, which would yield great things for the USC pass rush in 2015.

That means the Trojans could have a two-deep worth of starting level players at their disposal.

The Trojan linebackers may indeed hold the fate of the 2015 season in their hands, yet the future couldn’t be any brighter for a defense which is rapidly becoming the “bully” Coach Sark envisioned.

Should Cravens deliver on the promise he has shown to become the best defender in all of college football, then this unit could approach 2008 levels.

After missing large chunks of time over the past two seasons, Ruffin and Dawson both appear poised for a breakout year, yet the speculation of whether they can remain healthy persists.

There are also concerns about Sarao’s health after an injury kept him out of spring camp.

Injuries to one or all of those players could drastically alter the Trojan’s depth and rotation, forcing inexperienced players into the lineup, hampering the ability to defend the high powered offenses they’re sure to face.

Though Osa Masina, Porter Gustin, John Houston and Smith enter with a ton of hype, their lack of experience would be a chink in the Trojan armor should too much pressure be put on them too quickly.

With a lot of improvement needed in the Trojan pass rush, stagnation from either Ruffin or Felix could set USC up for some disappointment as well.

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Projected Starters:

  • SLB – Su’a Cravens, John Houston, Quinton Powell
  • MLB – Lamar Dawson, Cameron Smith, Michael Hutchings
  • WLB – Anthony Sarao, Osa Masina, Olajuwon Tucker
  • RUSH – Jabari Ruffin, Scott Felix, Porter Gustin

Overall Strength: 9/10

While other positions have a wealth of potential boosting their overall strength, the linebackers hold an advantage in having both proven talent and top potential.

With Cravens at the top of the heap and what seems like the right mix of veterans and youthful talent, the Trojan linebackers stand as one of the most exciting units to see for the coming season.