Monday, July 12, 2010
Examining the transfers
By Pedro Moura
Just over four weeks have passed since the NCAA announced sanctions on the USC football program that included a two-year postseason ban and a loss of five scholarships a year. Shortly after they were handed down on June 10, perhaps the biggest sanction-related question turned to transfers.
Essentially, would USC experience a mass exodus of players taking advantage of the NCAA-instituted free-transfer policy for juniors and seniors, or would the Trojans stay Trojans and stick together as a team?
So far it's been somewhere in between, with five players choosing to transfer. Of course, none of the five — linebackers Jordan Campbell and Jarvis Jones, defensive end Malik Jackson, safety Byron Moore and now fullback D.J. Shoemate — were starters. But each of them, and Jackson and Shoemate especially, were key depth pieces for USC's present and future.
But how important were they?
Let's break them all down, player by player and in chronological order.
1. Campbell -- The first player to transfer, Campbell essentially used the sanctions as an opportunity to escape a situation where he had found himself in coach Lane Kiffin's doghouse. He even said so: "I decided to transfer because it was a blessing in disguise," he said last month. "The opportunity to go to any other school that I wanted to without sitting out a year -- that was awesome."
A reserve linebacker, Campbell was a solid special-teamer and provided depth on the defense, but was never a likely long-term starter.
2. Jones -- Another linebacker, Jones was also another special case. He was largely thought of by the USC coaching staff as a potential starter -- former linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. compared him directly to Brian Cushing -- but injuries got in the way when Jones sprained his neck on Halloween Night at Oregon last season. He missed the rest of the year and was never cleared by team doctors, so he chose to transfer to Georgia, where he will reportedly be cleared to play.
Jones must sit out the 2010-2011 season as the NCAA's free-transfer policy does not apply to him.
3. Jackson -- The reserve defensive end was USC's first true loss, as he was the first player likely to earn significant playing time in 2010 that decided to transfer. Jackson had been an obvious part of the Trojans' defense during his two seasons at USC but failed to break through at any point and earn a starting job at one of the end spots.
Instead, he was bound to spend the 2010 season spelling fellow junior Armond Armstead.
4. Moore -- A redshirt freshman, Moore last week decided to transfer to Los Angeles Harbor College, a junior college. He had the talent to stick at USC but sometimes appeared to lack a sense of confidence in practice, and he had been largely outshined by other defensive backs in his recruiting class. In fact, it's possible that three of USC's four starters in the secondary next season will be from the class of 2009 — safeties Jawanza Starling and T.J. McDonald and cornerback Torin Harris.
Moore found himself behind all three of those players as he shuffled between safety and cornerback during his one-year tenure at USC, but as a talented player the Trojans will still miss him for depth purposes.
5. Shoemate -- Although not a starter, Shoemate was clearly the planned successor to one of the nation's top fullbacks in senior Stanley Havili. The problem was, of course, Shoemate never wanted to play fullback. He committed to USC after his sophomore year at Servite High School (Anaheim, Calif.) as an athlete and was shoehorned into playing wide receiver in fall camp as a true freshman. Midway through that 2008 season, he was switched to fullback and he never moved away from that position for the next year-plus.
To fill his spot, the Trojans will likely need to utilize incoming freshman Soma Vainuku (Eureka, Calif./Eureka) to back up Havili and prepare to start in 2011. A three-star recruit, Vainuku doesn't possess the pure speed Shoemate had but appears to be a vicious blocker. Problem is, Vainuku
And then there's Seantrel Henderson. The nation's top-rated offensive tackle, the 6-foot-7, 295-pound behemoth committed to USC on Signing Day in February and signed the next month, only to never actually appear at USC for the start of the summer session with the rest of his classmates (except for Vainuku and linebacker Glen Stanley, of course, but we'll get to that on another occasion).
A controversy ensued, as many predicted, and Kiffin released Henderson from his letter of intent last week. Three days later, Henderson signed with Miami, leaving the Trojans with no incoming tackles and a gaping hole on the offensive line. What would have Henderson have meant for the 2010 Trojans?
Two things: a dominant lineman to compete with Matt Kalil for the starting spot at left tackle, and depth. Now, if either Kalil or right tackle Tyron Smith go down with an injury, the Trojans will be forced to resort to players who have never logged significant snaps in a game situation.
In fact, depth is the real issue with all of these transfers. As we said, none of the five transfers were likely starters this season. But the interesting thing about football — and college football, especially — is that a backup in September can easily be a starter by November or December.
When players start to get hurt, Kiffin's squad will feel the hurt of the transfers, and, accordingly, the sanctions. Until then, the effects should be minimal.