At USC, The Kids Are All Right
Welcome to USC football, 2010. Or, as it may soon come to be called, Freshman-palooza.
Partly because of necessity and partly because these kids are really good, a batch of highly-regarded freshmen can be seen regularly running amok at practice on Howard Jones Field.
It is no wonder, in an interview for a magazine story last spring, Lane Kiffin described the offensive part of his recruiting class as “maybe the best skill class ever.”
That sounds like hyperpole, until you begin watching Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles and Dillon Baxter and Christian Thomas, just to mention a few.
Baxter, you already know about. He tore it up in the spring, conjuring memories of you-know-who, the other gifted running back from San Diego. Then, this fall, Baxter gained notoriety for the wrong reason.
He was termed guilty of “violating team rules,” and has been suspended for the first game at Hawaii. While it remains to be seen if he learned his lesson, this much you should know: The Trojans are working him practice as if he’s a big part of the remaining 2010 game plan.
This kid is so naturally elusive, so brilliant an instinctive runner, Kiffin hasn’t hesitated to put him right into the regular tailback rotation alongside likely starter Allen Bradford and the most improved summer runner, Marc Tyler. Where is C.J. Gable, you might ask? At the moment, he seems to be running fourth, behind Baxter.
Ambles and Woods are the two touted receivers who have managed to live up to the hype. Woods, we all knew about. If you follow high school football at all, you realize he might have been the finest pass catching prospect of the past couple of decades coming out of Serra High in Carson. So far, in practice, he has looked that good, if not better, regularly catching bombs from Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain and appearing more dangerous all the time returning kicks.
Ambles was more of a mystery, arriving from Georgia with clippings that suggested he could have started for lots of teams in the SEC as a freshman. Well, when you see him, you understand. This guy is as smooth as the greens at Augusta and should eventually develop into a classic possession receiver.
Thomas is just one of a handful of good-looking first-year tight ends, and then there is Jesse Scoggins, a quarterback who certainly has a strong enough arm.
Defensively, get ready for the Nickell. As in Nickell Robey, who has a chance to be a) the surprise of this class, and b) the newest Coliseum crowd favorite. Robey is listed at 5-9, 165 pounds, and he doesn’t look that big. But once they blow the whistle at practice, No. 37 is everywhere, breaking up passes, making tackles, breaking big runs on the kickoff return team. To not only be here, but to stand out, at his Justin Bieber size, this kid has to be an exceptional football player.
In other seasons, even as promising as these kids look, they wouldn’t have collected much playing time. Other than a few spectacular exceptions, Pete Carroll’s roster was too deep during the golden years. Most of the first-year kids watched and learned.
But it’s different for Lane Kiffin. Because of the defections following the NCAA sanctions, this roster is the thinnest it has been in a long time.
That is discouraging for the coaches, but encouraging for the freshmen, many of whom will be thrown in there right away. You never know until they perform in games, of course.
And that would be cause for serious concern with most freshmen classes. But not this one.
At USC, this new, star-studded group of teenagers might have arrived at just the right time.