LOS ANGELES -- There is a new era underway at the USC receiver position and it revolves around speed and the ability to make plays.
For as long as Lane Kiffin has been associated with the Trojans -- both as an assistant coach and head coach -- he has recruited and played “big” receivers such as Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett. Kiffin seemed to know how to use the bigger receivers, especially in complement with a “smaller” receiver on the other side such as Keary Colbert or Steve Smith.
In 2011, the Trojans offense featured a different type of attack. With Robert Woods set at one starting spot, many USC fans came into the season anticipating either Brice Butler or Kyle Prater emerging as the other primary receiver due to their size. Instead, it was true freshman Marqise Lee who exploded onto the scene to give the Trojans a rare duo of explosive talent at the receiver spot.
Once Lee really settled in and took over as a dominant big-play receiving threat within the offense, Kiffin found a play-calling groove that allowed the unit to take off. Opposing defenses weren’t able to focus as much attention on stopping Woods for fear of Lee going deep at any time. Both players were also more than capable of taking a short pass and turning it into a long gain, the ultimate example of the explosive play that Kiffin strives for in his offense.
With the roster moves of the past week, it appears Kiffin is looking for more of the same in the future. Gone are Butler and Prater -- two bigger receivers who were never known for their ability to gain yardage after the catch -- while George Farmer has been moved back to receiver after spending the second half of this past season at tailback.
Farmer figures to enter spring ball as the odds-on favorite to earn the No. 3 receiver role. His physical skills are well documented, especially his speed. If there is any player in the receiver group who is going to keep pace with Woods and Lee, it is Farmer. He made it clear that he preferred to move back to his natural spot of receiver and he should be ready to compete after adjusting to the college game as a freshman. The departures of Butler and Prater clear the path for Farmer to take the primary backup spot, and it will be his to lose during the spring.
Another player with game-breaking abilities who could be ready to get into the mix is Victor Blackwell. His skill set fits with what Kiffin wants to do, as Blackwell is definitely the kind of guy who can break a big play on his own with his quick bursts and impressive moves. Blackwell played exclusively on the service team during his redshirt freshman season, and his performance improved as the year went along.
De’Von Flournoy had yet to catch a pass in his USC career and suffered through a frustrating 2011 season, with little playing time after struggling in fall camp. His game is based on speed, however, and if there is ever a time for him to make a move, this spring would be it. Flournoy -- who will be a junior in 2012 -- needs to stake his claim now if he hopes to be in the rotation because Darreus Rogers from Carson (Calif.) High School arrives in the fall. Rogers has the kind of physical skills which could allow him to earn immediate time.