- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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USC head coach Steve Sarkisian had plenty to celebrate this past signing day as the Trojans closed with a flourish to finish at No. 14 in Recruiting Nation’s class rankings. And while it’s a collection that is overflowing with talent at almost every position, here’s a look at the five prospects from the group of 19 who appear most poised to make an instant impact in 2014, taking into account the team’s current depth chart, in addition to the skill set that each player brings to the table.
DB/WR Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
5-foot-11, 185 pounds
Sarkisian noted last week that Jackson will start out on defense when he arrives on campus, so the stage is most definitely set for the elite standout to make a name for himself early at USC. With a glaring lack of healthy bodies at cornerback in 2013, the Trojans certainly had their struggles in pass coverage, so it stands to reason that Jackson, a lights-out athlete with unique playmaking ability, will receive every chance imaginable to step in immediately – just as Nickell Robey did back in 2010. In addition to Jackson, USC signed Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons to go along with current Trojans cornerbacks Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown, Devian Shelton, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson and cornerback/safety Josh Shaw, so it’s safe to say that Jackson is going to face plenty of competition, but he is the No. 9 prospect in the ESPN 300. Sarkisian has also left the door open for Jackson to contribute on offense and special teams, so there’s reason to believe that one way or another, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra standout will make his presence felt more sooner than later.
TE Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure)
6-4, 240 pounds
With Xavier Grimble opting to take his talents to the NFL and the Trojans possessing just two other scholarship tight ends in Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Dixon was one of USC’s most crucial signings. The No. 1 player at his position in the ESPN 300, he’s a dangerous receiving threat who hauled in 64 passes this past season, making him a perfect fit in Sarkisian’s tight end-friendly offense. A phenomenal all-around talent who also impressed the new coaching staff with the athleticism that he showcased in basketball, he has a clear path to playing time, with the capability of adding a unique dimension to the offense down the line.
WR/DB John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
6-2, 210 pounds
Smith is yet another in a large contingent of two-way stars that the Trojans landed in this class. Slated to begin his career on offense, where he garnered a reputation as a dynamic game-breaker on the high school level, he’ll be thrown into the mix as part of a receivers group that was down to just five scholarship performers following Marqise Lee’s jump to the NFL. Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers are the obvious front-runners to nail down starting jobs, with Victor Blackwell, George Farmer, Steven Mitchell and the other new additions also entering the discussion. But with the unique combination of size and speed that Smith brings, on top of the fact that the Trojans will be running more of an uptempo offense that figures to get a greater number of wideouts involved, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Long Beach (Calif.) Poly star to jump right in.
OL Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra)
A mid-year enrollee, Lobendahn has the potential to become a key piece of the puzzle for an offensive line group that lost some important members from last year’s team, most notably starting center Marcus Martin and right tackle Kevin Graf. Fortunately for the Trojans, Lobendahn can line up at just about any position along the line, and more than that, he’s also given every indication that he has the physical tools to succeed at the next level. At The Opening last summer, Lobendahn went up against the nation’s most sought-after defensive line prospects and more than held his own, emerging as one of the top five offensive line performers in attendance, all while taking reps at center, guard and tackle. USC is bringing in a phenomenal collection of offensive linemen in this class, including fellow ESPN 300 members Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, but Lobendahn gets the slight edge here with his versatility and the fact that he will participate in spring ball – a major factor in the lightning-quick development of safety Su’a Cravens and tailback Justin Davis last season.
DL Claudeson Pelon (Mesa, Ariz./Mesa Community College)
During his signing day news conference, Sarkisian referred to Pelon as an “immediate impact” athlete, and it’s easy to see why. The top junior college defensive lineman on the USC coaching staff’s radar, he has hulking size to go along with an explosive burst off the line and a nonstop motor. Another new addition who will participate in spring practice, he will push for significant time right away on the interior. With players such as Leonard Williams, Delvon Simmons, Kenny Bigelow, Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple, Greg Townsend Jr. and Pelon all in the fold, it’s safe to say that the Trojans will have a formidable defensive line unit at their disposal in 2014.
2dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller