Chat with Erik McKinney
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, WeAreSC blogger Erik McKinney stops by to chat some USC football.
McKinney is the recruiting editor for WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 2004.
Send your questions now and join McKinney every Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET!
Erik McKinney (5:00 PM)
Welcome everybody. Let's go ahead and get started.
Chris (Newport Beach)
Hi Erik, what to you think the number one lesson CLK and staff learned from the first year of scholarship limitations recruiting wise?
Erik McKinney (5:01 PM)
It's tough. This was the first time the staff has had to deal with the reduced numbers and we saw that they came up 3 players short of their goal. Recruiting is such an inexact science that when you are limited in ways that your competition isn't, it adds another difficulty level.
In 5 years who is the best player from this class?
Erik McKinney (5:03 PM)
It's tough to go away from Nelson Agholor because he is such a dynamic player on the outside, but I'll go with one of the big guys. Zach Banner has a chance to be special, but watch out for Max Tuerk.
Trevor (los angeles)
Hi Erik. Do you think USC's lack of proven depth on the D-Line could cause major problems against Oregon next year?
Erik McKinney (5:04 PM)
I don't know if there is a position with more questions than the interior of the defensive line. George Uko is going to have to step up in a big way, but next to him and behind him are relative unknowns right now. It isn't just a problem against Oregon. If you can't plug the middle of the line, you're going to struggle against any offense.
How good can Shelton be?
Erik McKinney (5:06 PM)
Devian Shelton was a really intriguing addition late in the process. He is just starting to play cornerback, so he is extremely raw there. But his physical ability is terrific and he has the height and aggression that USC coaches like in a corner. The staff wasn't going to reach late with any offers, so the fact that Shelton got one means Kiffin and company are sure about his ability.
RAY (LAS VEGAS)
Who has the inside track on becoming SC's starting LT?
Erik McKinney (5:08 PM)
I'd be somewhat surprised if Kevin Graf doesn't make the switch over to the left side this year. Zach Banner will get an opportunity there in the fall, but we've seen how tough that can be for a true freshman.
Does USC have a future d line first round pick?
Erik McKinney (5:09 PM)
Wes Horton has improved every year he has been at USC and I wouldn't sell him short on putting together a terrific senior season and entering that discussion. There is a lot of hope for Leonard Williams to become a dominant defensive lineman as well. But as it stands right now, any talk of a first round pick from this group would be purely speculative.
Out of all the high school running backs graduating this year isn't there even one still available who could help the Trojans next year?
Erik McKinney (5:10 PM)
Lane Kiffin said during his signing day press conference that the staff is finished with the 2012 class and will be moving onto 2013.
Chris (Newport Beach)
What position is loaded in California for the upcoming 2013 class? It's clear we need OL/DL help in addition to RB or QB in the next class.
Erik McKinney (5:12 PM)
The defensive backs look terrific in California this year. Maybe from having to go against all those great wide receivers last year. It's going to be a big year for safeties and cornerbacks in state. Max Redfield, David Price, Tyler Foreman and Hatari Byrd are a few safeties, and L.J. Moore, Johnny Johnson and Chris Hawkins are a few corners.
Moe (Orange County)
Who would you say USC top 5 recruit targets are for 2013?
Erik McKinney (5:14 PM)
The top of the list would be holding onto DT commit Kenny Bigelow. After that, USC has offered three California defensive standouts in Redfield, Su'a Cravens and Michael Hutchings. A top quarterback such as Max Browne or Hayden Rettig will be a priority and the coaches will scour the country to bring in the best tailback they can find.
Pietro (San Francisco)
It looks like the first big test will be the Stanford game on Sept. 15 in Palo Alto. Will USC be ready to win on the road that early, given that last year they had trouble in early road games?
Erik McKinney (5:16 PM)
After what happened last year, I don't think there is any need to question how motivated this team will be when they see Stanford again.
Anthony (Las Vegas)
Hey Erik, do you know any potential candidates that have been identified to fill the open coaching positions?
Erik McKinney (5:18 PM)
Still very early in the process for names to be coming out (outside of pure speculation). It will certainly be interesting to see where Kiffin goes with those hires.
Who is more likely to play the role of a Percy Harvin (RB/WR combo) this year Farmer or Ahgolor?
Erik McKinney (5:19 PM)
Farmer is helped both by being a year ahead of Agholor and also spending time at both positions last season. Farmer was definitely pressing during fall camp and then had to deal with the ankle injury. Had he been relaxed and healthy all year, there is no doubt he would have made an impact.
2 part question. How bad is the impact of the coaches leaving? Anything you can tell us about the search for replacements?
Erik McKinney (5:22 PM)
I don't think the coaches leaving can be considered "bad." You always like to keep your staff whole, but it's a part of football and it's understood that it happens. The players USC has at the positions (as well as the history) should make it an inviting place for a potential replacement. Still early in the process for any names at this point.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who should SC be more worried about in 2 years, Chip Kelly and Oregon, or Stanford after their monstrous offensive line and Barry Sanders JR mature?
Erik McKinney (5:24 PM)
You have to be impressed with what Stanford coach David Shaw did on the recruiting trail this year. That offensive line class is remarkable. It doesn't seem as though either program will fade away any time soon, but I think Oregon's offense is tougher to match up against.
Luis D. Gonzalez (Rialto)
How much does a position coach affect the production of a player? Robert Woods and Marquise Lee seem to me that will be just fine with anybody coaching them. If anyting sign me up and I'll take the credit in molding them into All Americans.
Erik McKinney (5:26 PM)
It's usually a matter of the player being able to click with the coach mentally. I don't think Ted Gilmore should get 100% of the credit for the years Woods and Lee turned in, but you could also see how comfortable they were playing for him because they completely understood what he was asking them to do. He was a terrific coach for his one year at USC.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Will Christian Thomas and Xavier Gimble get more balls thrown their way in 2013? Both are a mismatch and capable of being a valuable security blanket/outlett for Barkley.
Erik McKinney (5:27 PM)
It was an impressive season for the two tight ends, but with so many offensive weapons, it becomes a question of how many hands you can keep happy. I do think they will continue to have an impact on the game this season because Kiffin understands how to create matchups with tight ends that help the quarterback and receivers.
Matt (Los Angeles)
Erik, what do you see as the biggest need positions for the 2013 class? D-line, Safety, and RB jump out to me.
Erik McKinney (5:29 PM)
Quarterback is in the mix as well, but those three spots are certainly at the top of the list. It wouldn't be surprising to see two running backs, two safeties and a handful of defensive linemen -- specifically defensive tackles -- in the 2013 class.
How do you see the SC coaches address the D-Line situation? Who you think will open the season? IS Tavai the real deal and what are his numbers right now?
Erik McKinney (5:31 PM)
Tavai was terrific last season and might be ready to make the jump in his second year. It will be interesting to see where Leonard Williams shakes out on the line. He is being brought in as a defensive end, but a move to tackle might not be out of the question. It would be huge if either Christian Heyward or Antwaun Woods stepped up during spring ball to provide some real depth.
Are their any high 4 stars- 5 stars DL in the West (namely CA) next year?
Erik McKinney (5:32 PM)
Defensive ends Kylie Fitts (Redlands East Valley) and Eddie Vanderdoes (Placer) are two of the top defensive linemen in the state. Plenty of time for some other names to join them, but both have the frame to play right now.
Tall Tree (Palo Alto)
Any chance that Agholar plays running back next year?
Erik McKinney (5:33 PM)
I don't think it's completely out of the question. Nobody thought George Farmer would end up there last season. Agholor has said he will play wherever the coaches put him. He's a natural receiver, but could help a depleted backfield.
Do you think USC will take to Linebackers again? Cravens and Hutchings look amazing! (I would love both but its not a position of need)
Erik McKinney (5:35 PM)
I don't think there is a chance that any school would pass up adding Cravens and Hutchings. They are natural outside linebackers, but they also both have the athleticism to play safety.
With all the de-commitments littering college football these days, what do you think the chances are that Kenny Bigelow will end up signing with USC next February?
Erik McKinney (5:38 PM)
I think they are pretty good, but you're right, it's almost more likely that any player will decommit at some point during the process. Bigelow really hit it off with Ed Orgeron and that relationship won't change. He also doesn't have the home school draw keeping him in Delaware. After committing, he immediately said he would start recruiting for USC, so he's certainly saying all the right things at this point.
How will the transition between position coaches and incoming freshman competition effect the development of the young USC linebackers?
Erik McKinney (5:40 PM)
I don't see any real issues at this point. The young linebacker really clicked with Joe Barry, so it will be interesting to see what kind of relationship they build with his replacement. They also understand that it wouldn't be playing football at USC if you weren't fighting somebody for a starting spot. Scott Starr is already on campus and the starters -- Pullard, Bailey, Dawson -- have taken to his competitive edge.
MJ (Davis, CA)
Who is most likely to get the reps at Fullback next year?
Erik McKinney (5:42 PM)
It is set up pretty nicely for Soma Vainuku right now, but he'll get a big push from Jahleel Pinner in the fall. I can see both of them taking reps next season.
Erik- I don't see why CLK doesn't just make Sammy Knight the full time secondary coach. The players seemed to have responded to his knowledge of the game, considering he's a former Pro Bowl player!
Erik McKinney (5:43 PM)
There is a lot to be said for what Sammy Knight did with the secondary last year after stepping up just a day before the season started. I don't know if there would be a lot of opposition to your suggestion, but Kiffin has shown that he will explore every option with these searches.
Chris (Hermosa Beach)
Who do you see as the breakout player on each side of the ball next year?
Erik McKinney (5:46 PM)
That's a tough answer on offense, considering just about everybody who touched the ball last season is coming back. I think George Farmer get comfortable and finds his way into the offense. Defensively, I think Lamar Dawson is ready to go at middle linebacker.
JRNoblin (Long Beach, Ca)
Wouldn't you just write Tavai's name in right now at the other DT spot next to Uko? Seems like Tavai played very well last season.
Erik McKinney (5:47 PM)
My guess is those two take the first snap of spring ball.
Chuck (Newport Beach)
Erik, you're among friends so it's OK to speculate on the new assistant coaches. Would Kiffin take another run at Dat Nguyen?
Erik McKinney (5:49 PM)
Clay Matthews Jr. would be a very interesting hire as a linebacker coach. Tough to argue with what Sammy Knight did with the secondary last year, and if Robert Woods is leading the charge to being Keary Colbert in as the wide receivers coach, I'm not going to stand in his way.
Chris (Hermosa Beach)
Seems like our standard recruiting practice is to go for a lot of big fish that announce on signing day, however, that strategy slightly backfired this year when we missed on dodson/peat/shittu/murphy and couldn't fill the class. Do you see the staff pushing for more early committments now a la Texas?
Erik McKinney (5:51 PM)
This staff is very aggressive in trying to pick up early commitments from players they have targeted. They just don't make as many early offers to local players. We saw in the spring when offers when out to guys like Jahleel Pinner, Max Tuerk and Jabari Ruffin, they all jumped on them immediately. This staff likes to use their spring evaluation days to get a good look at recruits. But once an offer goes out, they definitely push for immediate commitments.
It seems as if people think that after Barkley leaves for the NFL, that USC will just not be that good!! I completely disagree! I feel as if this team can be very good for a while! What are your thoughts?
Erik McKinney (5:53 PM)
It's natural to think the team will take a step back when Barkley leaves, just as people are assuming the same with Stanford this year. Kiffin certainly has the program pointed in the right direction though, so it's easy to understand why a lot of USC fans feel the sanctions won't derail the Trojans.
Matt (Los Angeles)
Who are the top 2 or 3 RB's in this class and who does SC have the best shot of signing?
Erik McKinney (5:55 PM)
There are the usual out of state studs who have offers from USC, but we haven't really heard any early buzz in terms of interest in the Trojans like we did with Agholor last year. In state, Justin Davis is a guy to watch with interest in USC. Zachary Green and Craig Lee would be very interested in the Trojans with an offer as well.
Chris (Hermosa Beach)
Who will be doing return duties for punts and kickoffs? After seeing Robert Woods playing hurt for most of the year, is it safe to say he will be relieved of those duties? Seems like a great way to get young athletes like Farmer, Seymour, Agholor and others the ball
Erik McKinney (5:58 PM)
I go back and forth with this. On one hand, there isn't a real need to change things up, as Nickell Robey was solid on punts and Woods and Lee form the best kickoff return unit in the conference. But like you said, why not give Woods a break if Farmer can step in on kickoffs? It's all about ball control for Kiffin, so he won't go with somebody he doesn't trust holding onto the ball -- which is always the biggest hurdle in throwing a true freshman out there.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Who is #2 on the depth chart behind Barkeley right now?
Erik McKinney (5:59 PM)
Wide open heading into spring in terms of the backup quarterback. Max Wittek has looked terrific though, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he jumps ahead. But that battle is going to be one to watch in the spring.
Are injury and an adequate replacement to protect Barkeley's backside the only obstacles to Matt running away with the Heisman?
Erik McKinney (6:01 PM)
Tough to say what plays into the vote each year. Andrew Luck did everything right last season, but Robert Griffin came on so strong at the end. I think Barkley enters the season as the frontrunner, and that's not a bad place to be.
Chris (Hermosa Beach)
Never too early for 2013 questions! A lot of buzz that USC looks good for some 5-star west coast talent, namely Browne, Cravens, Hutchings, Redfield and obviously Bigelow. Care to throw out any bold predictions on our early chances with some of these guys?
Erik McKinney (6:03 PM)
Would not be shocked at all if USC wound up with all five of those guys. I think Redfield is probably the safest bet. Cravens and Hutchings are becoming good friends and they will have plenty of impact as recruiting leaders for the 2013 class.
Erik McKinney (6:04 PM)
Thanks everybody for the questions. WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz will be back next week, same time, to answer your USC questions.