Is Aca’Cedric Ware in danger of being passed over? Just how solid is Porter Gustin’s starting spot? RoT’s USC football mailbag seeks answers.
Now that USC football spring camp is halfway through, it’s natural for eyes to turn to the new pecking order across positions.
This week, the focus lands on running back and outside linebacker, where position battles are and aren’t taking center stage.
Let’s open the mailbag…
QUESTION: Could Aca’Cedric Ware get passed by both Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr because of injury? — Xayveon
ANSWER: It’s a definite concern at this point. Ware’s history of lower body injuries can’t be ignored.
He showed great promise as a sophomore, posting 100-yard games against Arizona and Oregon, but missed most of the rest of the season with a nagging ankle injury.
This spring, it’s another ankle problem which has him sitting out.
All the while, Malepeai has thrived, taking first team reps because of Ronald Jones II’s absence due to injury as well. Jones will hold the starting role when healthy, but Malepeai has made his case for plenty of playing time with his all-around ability.
Like Ware, Malepeai is a proficient pass blocker who can be relied up on for any down. He can run the ball hard in the trenches, but also possesses deceptive speed to hit the outside.
Meanwhile, Carr’s exceptional pass catching ability out of the backfield could help him carve out a role for himself once he arrives in the fall.
In terms of seniority, Ware does have an edge. He’s an ideal replacement for Justin Davis from a leadership and reliability perspective. The coaches know they can trust him to do his job. But like Davis and Tre Madden before him, the injuries always seem to catch up.
For now, expect Ware to be second on the depth chart when he’s available, just don’t bank on that availability.
QUESTION: Why is Porter Gustin’s starting spot so “solid”? — El Cordobes
ANSWER: USC is replacing several starters on defense this year, but Gustin is definitely not one of them.
In fact, he’s one of the bigger “sure things” for the Trojans on defense entering the 2017 season. So the fact that he missed the first couple of weeks of spring camp while recovering from hand surgery is no great concern.
Yes, Oluwole Betiku is an intriguing prospect behind him and the sophomore performed well with the first team in Gustin’s absence, but it doesn’t appear that he’s a danger to No. 45’s starting spot for the time being.
Betiku is still learning the game, his role in it and how to get the most out of his impressive physical gifts. Gustin has already established himself in this scheme and should be ready to take it up a notch as a junior.
Last year, Gustin led USC in tackles for loss by some margin with 13 — he had a tackle for loss in each of the Trojans’ final six games. He was also second in sacks with 5.5 behind Rasheem Green’s six and second in total tackles, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention and sophomore All-American honorable mention.
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That’s a good return for someone in his position. In Clancy Pendergast’s 2013 defense, Morgan Breslin and J.R. Tavai combined for 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks in the Predator role.
Gustin wasn’t always perfect, especially when teams challenged him to contain the outside, but that’s an issue that every player at the position will face.
In short, his spot is solid because he’s done enough to earn his place and the would-be challengers behind him aren’t quite there yet. And if they get there, that’s a good thing. What’s better than a little competition?
QUESTION: Do you think Helton is the right guy going forward? For some reason I’m still not convinced. — Lee
ANSWER: It’s completely understandable to wonder. After all, Helton himself isn’t satisfied with what he accomplished last season. That was the first thing he talked about when spring ball kicked off.
There was skepticism when Helton was hired and no doubt he has answered some of those questions.
Is he a competent head coach? Absolutely.
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In 2016, USC started poorly, but finished strong. The ability to improve from game to game across a season is a sign of good coaching. So Helton gets that plus in his corner.
Going to Washington and knocking off the Huskies — another plus. Rallying back from a deficit against Penn State — yet another plus.
However, the Trojans were picked to win the conference ahead of last season, and they didn’t do that. They certainly weren’t in the mix to win a national title.
There is wide gulf between being a competent coach and a title-winning one. Ultimately, that is the measure by which Helton will be judged as a head coach.
And it’s why, I suspect, that you’re not convinced. I’m not either.
Until Helton leads the Trojans to a Pac-12 championship, the jury will remain out. Considering the talent that continues to flock to USC, anything less means the coaching staff isn’t getting enough out of the players they have at their disposal.
Still, as the original question, the answer right now is yes. He’s the leader of this team. He’s compiled a staff which inspires confidence. His players want to play for him. He’s done enough so far to suggest that the future could hold brighter things.