LOS ANGELES -- Three weeks ago Tre Madden was earning rave reviews as a reserve linebacker for the Trojans. Today, the news that he will miss the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his left knee is a blow to the running back position.
It’s amazing to think how quickly fortunes can turn for a team and a player. There were high expectations for Madden’s role on the defense heading into spring and he looked great during the opening week of practices. The coaches had a need at running back, however, and they saw something in Madden that made them think he would succeed in the switch.
You can’t say with any certainty that Madden would have been a major contributor for the Trojans in the fall -- after all we only saw him for seven practices at running back before he got hurt. But the potential was clearly there.
Madden took quickly to an offensive role with a combination of size and speed that was proving to be very effective. More than anything, he seemed to have the instinct for offense, which should come as no surprise considering his success as a Wildcat quarterback in high school.
Kiffin often referred to his natural “forward lean”, a trait that allowed a 226-pound back to serve as the kind of hammer that Kiffin wanted in his backfield. There was even some work with the Wildcat as well. Those plans for Madden will now need to be scrapped, at least for the upcoming season.
So where do the Trojans go from here?
There is once again a lack of depth at tailback, with Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan as the only scholarship backs who have been available this spring. Buck Allen has missed most of spring with a hamstring injury, but he was able to get out to practice this week and do some limited individual drill work. Ideally that would lead to a return to the action sometime soon.
Allen offers an option that the coaches would love to see work out. He’s got some size and could be the most likely candidate of the tailbacks to fill the power back role vacated by the loss of Madden. To this point, however, Allen has not shown anything to the coaching staff in practices, so there is no clear sense of his ability to contribute.
There are other options available if needed. The starting fullback -- Soma Vainuku -- was a 2,000-yard rusher in high school and is a big load with the ball in his hands. Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu talked prior to spring about the possibilities of using Vainuku in a single back role, and he has shown some ability as a receiver this spring as well.
A pair of incoming freshmen could also get a look. Jahleel Pinner has the ability to play either tailback or fullback and he has some power running ability. Nelson Agholor has been targeted by Lane Kiffin for an “offensive” role that will primarily focus on wide receiver but will include plays out of the backfield. There’s no reason the tailback role couldn’t be expanded this year for Agholor to help fill a need -- the wide receiver group is plenty stocked to withstand the loss -- and there are some who believe running back might be the best spot for Agholor anyways.
The shame of the injury for Madden and the Trojans is that the position switch seemed to be working for both parties. Madden had a terrific team-first attitude about the move, as he was also excited about the Wildcat and the potential of playing in the backfield once again with his youth football and high school teammate Pinner.
The Trojan coaches loved the fact that Madden had a little “something” to his running style, a physical element they really liked. Now Madden will undergo surgery and begin the rehab process while the Trojans begin to search for another option at running back. Such is the reality of college football when injuries happen and the team must move on.