The Trojans have lost five underclass players to the NFL draft this year with more announcements coming. The WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following topics:
1. Does Hayes Pullard stay or go?
Garry Paskwietz: I’ve gone back and forth on this one but right now it sure seems as if there is a good chance he will leave. I can list a lot of reasons for him to stay -- to be a four-year starter, a two-time team captain and one of the most respected leaders to get the Trojans through the sanctions, which is a pretty special role. But Pullard has also accomplished a lot already and perhaps he thinks it is time to leave. We shall see.
Johnny Curren: If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have predicted that Pullard would stay, but Trojan after Trojan declaring for the NFL draft as of late, an obvious trend has developed that I don’t necessarily see stopping. So, I’m going to say that he’ll follow suit and go. A three-year starter who has served a vital function on the team not only as a sturdy performer, but also as a team leader, his loss would deal an absolutely huge blow to the defense. But with a new coaching staff in place, and the fact that he’s just one semester away from graduating potentially serving as key factors, it’s certainly a very real possibility.
Greg Katz: Originally, the thinking here was that Pullard would stay, but with his buddies departing, the possible reluctance of starting over with a new defense, new terminology, new defensive coordinator and the change in the team roster, I think he will leave. Obviously by not having an announcement by now shows that he must be in a real struggle to decide what he wants to do.
2. Which of the five announced departures is the most critical loss?
GP: It’s tempting to say Marcus Martin since his loss is felt in so many ways along the offensive line, but I’m going to go on the other side of the line with George Uko. It may seem odd to say Uko considering the Trojans still have an All-American on the interior of the D-line with Leonard Williams but Uko would have given USC the best pair of interior guys in the country, and they would have been starting next to each other for the third straight year. You simply can’t replace that kind of experience and chemistry at such a key spot. The Trojans have depth so they will still be strong in the middle but the potential was there to be dominant, and that doesn’t happen too often.
JC: The most critical loss has to be Martin. As we saw in 2012 when Khaled Holmes went down, the center position is one of the most vitally important spots on the entire team. Making matters worse, there is no clear-cut favorite prepared to take his place. It’s crucial that USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. find a reliable starter to fill Martin’s shoes, and the upcoming slate of practices this spring should go a long way in determining that. More than just his playing ability, however, Martin will also be missed because of his value as a leader, and someone else is going to have to step up into that role as well.
GK: The loss of Martin is the most critical. He was just starting to come into his own at center as his All-Pac 12 status would suggest, and he was also a very bright individual and a true leader of the offensive line. It also hurts that there is no clear-cut backup at the moment. Whenever an offensive line is good, it usually starts at the center position and this will be a great challenge during spring ball.
3. Which of the open spots will see the top new performer?
GP: The departure of Dion Bailey will open the door for Su'a Cravens to assert himself as a dominant performer in a similar ballhawking fashion as Bailey. It remains to be seen exactly where Cravens will line up in the Justin Wilcox defensive scheme but, much like Bailey, Cravens has the versatility to succeed in multiple spots so it will simply be a matter of finding the best role in this defense.
JC: I think that with the departure of wide receiver Marqise Lee, Darreus Rogers is more than primed for a breakout season as the potential starter lining up opposite Nelson Agholor. A big and physical athlete who caught everything thrown his way in practice, as well as in the limited opportunities that he received during games, he’s given every indication that he’s prepared to take on a bigger role. And with Sarkisian installing more of an uptempo offense, there’s reason to believe he could put up some very impressive numbers in the fall.
GK: Lee’s decision to enter the 2014 NFL draft will open the door for Rogers. It would be nearly impossible to replace Lee’s production, but Rogers can do some things that are of elite nature. A lot, of course, depends on the new offensive system, which may actually turn Rogers into a more dangerous receiver. On the surface of it, Rogers looks to be the top performer who can contribute immediately if he can stay healthy.