USC Football: 8 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices
As USC transitions back to a full roster, Steve Sarkisian and his staff will have to look for help replenishing a very thin depth chart in 2014.
To that end, even precocious true freshmen must be scrutinized to see if they can offer assistance this year.
Fortunately for the Trojans, last year's recruiting class offers an abundance of very talented athletes who would like nothing better than to contribute to this edition of the men of Troy.
This slideshow will take a look at this class of incoming freshmen and identify those players who have an opportunity to see the field of play for USC this year.
While some of these youngsters will undoubtedly find themselves taking a redshirt year, others will need to grow up fast in order to help the Trojans sooner than later.
So without further delay, here are the young Trojans who must shine in fall practice so they can help USC when the season starts and their efforts really count.
Damien Mama, Offensive Guard
It is no secret that USC needs help on the offensive line and certainly any contribution they can get from 247Sports 4-star offensive lineman Damien Mama would go a long way toward addressing that need.
However, there are a couple of considerations that must be evaluated when pondering the 6'4", 350-plus pound guard's possible contributions in 2014.
First, of course, is Mama's ability to soak up the playbook as a true freshman, but that holds true for any first-year player.
What is different about Mama though is that as a Mormon, he intends to only play one year before taking his two-year Mormon mission, as per Reign of Troy's Alicia de Artola.
Can USC afford to get comfortable with an offensive lineman who will give them a year and then take off for two?
Mama only has the fall practice sessions to convince the coaching staff of the viability of that scenario.
Jonathan Lockett, Cornerback
There was a time when USC was in desperate need of cornerbacks, but that doesn't appear to be the case in 2014.
With potential All-American Josh Shaw on one side and any number of solid guys (Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown, Chris Hawkins) on the other, the Trojans seem set at the position.
Now, among others, including Adoree' Jackson, Lamont Simmons and John Plattenburg, you can add 247Sports 4-star cornerback Jonathan Lockett to the mix.
But why include Lockett in this slideshow?
Because so far in the players-only run practices, Lockett has exhibited tremendous athleticism and savvy at the position, and he may very well be capable of contributing this year.
Now, he has to convince his coaches of that in these fall practice sessions.
Claude Pelon, Defensive Lineman
It is generally agreed that the defensive line is one of USC's strengths in 2014, and that is due in no small part to 247Sports 4-star defensive lineman Claude Pelon.
Pelon enrolled early and made the most of his spring practice session, showing excellent skills both inside and out on the defensive line.
At 6'4", 275 pounds, Pelon made his presence felt in the early practice session, and if he follows that up with a strong fall, he should have done enough to find some serious playing time in 2014.
Viane Talamaivao, Offensive Lineman
As stated before, offensive line will be the unit that will be under the microscope for the Trojans in 2014.
As such, offensive line coach Tim Drevno will be looking for as many contributors as possible, and that includes the youngsters such as Viane Talamaivao.
A 247Sports 4-star prospect coming out of high school, Talamaivao is a 6'3", 300-pound lineman whose versatility—along with his nasty mean streak—would certainly be an asset for the Trojans this year.
Given the circumstances, a strong fall camp could translate into playing time for Talamaivao in 2014.
Toa Lobendahn, Offensive Lineman
OK, stop me if you have heard this before: USC needs offensive linemen in 2014.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they are in possession of a very good one in Scout.com 4-star guard Toa Lobendahn.
Lobendahn enrolled in time to participate in the Trojans spring practice and served notice that he would be a big part of the O-line sooner rather than later.
Now likely a part of the rotation, Lobendahn needs to have a strong fall session to cement his name in Drevno's 2014 game plan.
John 'JuJu' Smith, Athlete
Labeled an "athlete" as a 5-star prospect by 247Sports, John "JuJu" Smith will likely contribute on the offensive side of the ball—at least at the beginning of the season.
However, one of the benefits of carrying that athlete label means that Smith could conceivably wind up in the defensive backfield as safety is another position in which the Trojans could use some help.
Supremely athletic, Smith will contribute in 2014, and he will have the fall practice sessions to help his coaches figure out exactly where that will be.
Bryce Dixon, Tight End
Offensive line is not the only unit that the Trojans lack depth in, as the tight end group is also of concern.
With Xavier Grimble's ill-advised jump to the pros, USC's tight end group suddenly became vulnerable in 2014 with only Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick having any experience at the position.
Because Sarkisian likes to run two-tight end sets on occasion, it is incumbent on 247Sports 4-star prospect Bryce Dixon to assert himself in the fall session.
Dixon has good size at 6'4", 220 pounds, but he will have to find a way to add more bulk and prove to the coaching staff that he can block in addition to his sterling pass-catching abilities.
Adoree' Jackson, Cornerback
In a recruiting class that contained many gems, some consider 247Sports 5-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson the crown jewel of them all.
Like JuJu Smith, Jackson will be given a long look on both sides of the ball, and don't be surprised if he gets some return duty on special teams as well.
Extraordinarily athletic and blessed with legitimate 4.4 40 speed, Jackson is a game changer wherever he plays, but he will only have these fall practice sessions to help his coaches figure out exactly where that will be so he will have to be on his game from practice No. 1.
While the eight players profiled in this slideshow will need to impress the coaching staff in the fall session of practices, they are by no means the only freshmen who will be vying for playing time in 2014.
Players such as offensive tackle Chris Brown, linebacker Olajuwon Tucker, wide receivers Ajene Harris and Rahshead Johnson, cornerbacks Lamont Simmons and Plattenburg, defensive end Malik Dorton, and safety Uchenna Nwosu all have the talent to see the field of play this year as well.
Even the players not mentioned in this slideshow, such as offensive tackle Jordan Austin, quarterback Jalen Greene and defensive end Don Hill, could make some noise although all three are likely to take a redshirt this year.
In the meantime, USC's coaching staff will cast an observant eye toward the youngsters and hope that several can contribute this year.
Whether or not they can remains to be seen, but what we know for sure is that they will have only a few practices to make their case for playing time in 2014.
Nothing like a little pressure to motivate a young player to reach for the stars.
Or so they say.
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