USC Trojans: Randall Telfer
Here is our list of the top five offensive and defensive players the Trojans need the most in 2014:
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.
2013 production: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns. Agholor also returned 18 punts for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns (19.1 average) and 10 kickoffs for 175 yards (17.5 average).
Why Agholor is important: This was a tough one, because there are a lot of players who could be (and are) difference-makers for the Trojans, be it Agholor, the aforementioned Williams, Randall Telfer, Hayes Pullard, Buck Allen, Max Tuerk, Su'a Cravens, etc.
But like Stanford’s Most Important Player, Ty Montgomery, Agholor is the type of player who can change a game on offense and on special teams. With his sure hands and twin V-12 engines … err … feet, Agholor posted the nation’s second-best punt return average with 19.1 yards. He also tied a Pac-12 record with two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal -- including a 93-yard return, which was the second-longest in school history.
Who plays opposite Agholor might still be up for grabs, with Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer (yeah, remember him?) among others in the mix.
So is it the running game that opens up the passing game? Or is it the other way around? With a burner like Agholor racing up and down the sidelines, he’s certainly going to draw the extra attention of safeties who might otherwise be focused on the box. And most reports out of USC’s spring session (including the practices witnessed by the Pac-12 blog) saw Agholor emerge as the team’s hardest-working player and team leader. Not a bad thing to have when transitioning to a new head coach. Doesn’t hurt that he was tutored by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
You could make a case for a lot of other players. And you'd be right. But with a potential Biletnikoff winner in Agholor, you certainly can't go wrong.
Other Most Important Players:
Agholor’s turn in the spotlight
After waiting his turn behind both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, junior Nelson Agholor looks primed to follow in their footsteps as the next great Trojans wideout. First showing promise as a freshman, when he gave brief glimpses of his ability as a dynamic playmaker, he took his game to another level last year, first as the No. 2 option to Lee, and then, when the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was sidelined for a portion of the season, as the go-to receiver.
With the Trojans’ no-huddle attack figuring to allow the offense to potentially run more than 80 plays per game, it’s a safe bet that Agholor will receive plenty of chances to shine as the team’s primary receiving threat, and with what he has shown it’s safe to say that he’s ready to seize the increased opportunity and run with it.
Who else steps up at WR?
While the Trojans do have a budding star in Agholor to rely on, in order for the passing game to really take off, Kessler is going to need to find some solid complements at wide receiver as well. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., the team does appear to possess better depth at the position than it did last season.
Right now, sophomore Darreus Rogers looks like the frontrunner to land the role of the No. 2 receiver. A big body with sure hands, he showed well as a freshman, making 22 catches, and he continued to improve his skills in the spring. If his development keeps on its forward path through this summer, big things could be in store for him in 2014.
Fourth-year junior Victor Blackwell is a veteran who has flashed at times as well, and there’s certainly room for him to become a bigger factor in the fall.
This unit will also receive a huge boost with the return of two players who missed the entire 2013 season due to knee injuries – fourth-year junior George Farmer and second-year freshman Steven Mitchell.
Farmer, who arrived at USC as one of the most highly touted members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2011, looked sharp this past spring as he eased himself back into action, providing hope that this might be his year to emerge. Mitchell showed a ton of promise a year ago before he went down. Now back in the swing of things this summer, he has been going hard and making big plays with great frequency during volunteer workouts.
George Katrib -- who earned a spot atop the depth chart in the spring -- Robby Kolanz , Christian Tober and Aaron Minor are some walk-ons who will provide depth, and then there’s a slew of talented incoming freshmen.
Adoree' Jackson might be the most intriguing addition to watch. A phenomenal athlete who starred on both sides of the ball at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, he took reps at cornerback during the first volunteer session that he participated in this past Monday, but Sarkisian has said that he will likely get a look on offense as well in the fall. In either case, he has the look of an instant impact performer wherever he lines up.
John “JuJu” Smith, Ajene Harris and Rahshead Johnson are other new arrivals who might be able to contribute early. Smith and Harris have stood out in the early goings this summer at wideout. Johnson, meanwhile, has been spending his time at corner.
Tight ends poised to flourish
With the success that 2013 John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins enjoyed in Sarkisian’s offense at Washington, there’s certainly reason to believe that the tight ends will take on a larger role in the passing game this year at USC than they did under the previous regime. Providing evidence of that, there did seem to be more passes headed their way this past spring. Although low on numbers, it’s a group marked by talent.
Xavier Grimble opted to take his talents to the NFL early, leaving fifth-year senior Randall Telfer as the unquestioned leader of the unit. With 22 starts and 44 career catches to his credit, he’s a dependable all-around option, but he missed the entire spring due to injury, and he hasn’t been spotted taking part in the team’s volunteer workouts so far this summer, so he’ll have some catching up to do in the new system whenever he does return.
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick already got his feet wet in the offense this past spring, making quite an impression as he took the bulk of the first-team reps. Catching virtually everything thrown in his direction, he quickly made a name for himself as a possible breakout candidate for the season ahead.
Without a ton of depth, incoming freshman Bryce Dixon should get a chance to make his mark early. Standing 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he’s an outstanding receiving threat who hauled in 63 passes during his senior year at Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure.
Walk-ons Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan, Connor Spears and Teddy Baker are others who could see time in the rotation. Willson, in particular, enjoyed a solid spring.
And at USC, where a new coaching staff with fresh ideas and philosophies has created an atmosphere where every team member is starting out with a clean slate, perhaps no under-the-radar player has made a more pronounced statement with his play this spring -- at least through the first three workouts -- than junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.
Showcasing sure hands and impressive athleticism to go along with a 6-foot-4 and 245-pound frame, Cope-Fitzpatrick -- who made just three receptions in his initial two seasons on campus -- seemed to reel in almost everything thrown in his direction during the first week of drills.
That much is certain. With Xavier Grimble and his 69 career catches now off to the NFL draft and the Trojans’ other talented 2013 co-starter at tight end, Randall Telfer, still being held out of action because of injury, Sarkisian has had no other choice but to rely on Cope-Fitzpatrick, and to the former Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney standout's credit, he’s answered the call.
“I feel a lot more focused than before,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said after practice Saturday. “Now that I’m going to be a junior, an upperclassman, I feel like I have the chance to position myself into a starting role. So, I’m really trying to push myself to fill that role and to fill the need of the team, and to just kind of put my head down and work.”
Cope-Fitzpatrick has also seen his responsibilities skyrocket as a direct result of the Trojans’ new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, which places an emphasis on making use of the tight end as weapon in the passing game -- something Sarkisian did with great success at Washington with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 2013 John Mackey Award winner.
For Cope-Fitzpatrick, the switch from former coach Lane Kiffin’s offense, which didn’t utilize the tight end as a receiving threat on a consistent basis, to Sarkisian’s offense was welcomed, to say the least.
In fact, the only negative for Cope-Fitzpatrick so far is that Grimble -- who, along with Telfer, played an important role as a mentor throughout the last two years -- isn’t around to reap the rewards.
“I’m upset my big brother, Xavier, isn’t back,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “I really wish that he came back so all three of us could enjoy the fruits of this new system. It’s very tight end-friendly. I’m excited, and I think the tight ends are going to do really big things.”
Come fall camp, the Trojans will also insert highly touted Class of 2014 signee Bryce Dixon into the mix, adding another exciting piece to a group that, in addition to Cope-Fitzpatrick and Telfer, will also feature walk-ons Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan, Teddy Baker and Connor Spears.
New tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo has already made a positive impression on Cope-Fitzpatrick. A former Huskies quarterback who also played for the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets before embarking on his coaching career, Tuiasosopo commands a special level of respect. Cope-Fitzpatrick was already very familiar with Tuiasosopo before he landed at USC as an assistant.
“He’s great. I definitely see a lot of Raider in him, and being a Raiders fan, I’ve always liked that attitude growing up,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “He’s just a positive guy, and he pushes me and really wants me to succeed. It’s great to have that kind of support. I’m really learning a lot from him, especially when it comes to the complexities of the offense. He has a quarterback’s mind, so he’s really helping me with reading defenses.”
With the promise that Cope-Fitzpatrick has shown this month, there’s certainly reason for optimism when it comes to his future. But with only three practice sessions in the books this spring, he’s not about to get ahead of himself, and he freely admits that he still has much to learn and a whole lot more to prove as he makes a bid to take on an expanded role in the USC offense in 2014.
“I just want to continue to develop,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “One thing that I really want to work on is just getting the offense down, just really being on top of stuff so I can play that much faster. And then once I learn the offense, I can start critiquing the little things. But right now, it’s just about taking baby steps.”
Arizona: Terrence Miller was listed on the team's depth chart as a tight end, but he wasn't a traditional tight end. After catching 40 passes for 467 yards in 2013, he's out of eligibility. Former quarterback Josh Kern backed up Miller and is one of four tight ends listed on the roster.
Arizona State: Chris Coyle (29 catches, 423 yards, 4 TD) is a big loss for the Sun Devils and his primary backup, Darwin Rogers, also is out of eligibility. De'Marieya Nelson and Marcus Washington are the most experienced of the four tight ends on the roster, which will grow by one with the addition of recent signee Brendan Landman. Landman is expected to redshirt after playing left tackle during his senior year in high school.
California: There is no tight end position in Cal's offense, which was a factor in Richard Rodgers' early jump to the NFL. Rodgers was switched from tight end to wide receiver last season upon coach Sonny Dykes' arrival.
Colorado: Senior Kyle Slavin is atop the depth chart after catching nine passes in 2013. Sean Irwin played minimally as a freshman, but his role is set to increase. Three other tight ends are on the roster, including Connor Center, who did not play football in high school.
Oregon State: With Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith both returning, the Beavers arguably have the best tight end tandem in the conference. Hamlett had 40 catches for 364 yards and Smith added 25 for 343 yards. Kellen Clute (19 catches, 159 yards) also contributed to the passing game and Tyler Perry, who will be a fifth-year senior, is an important run-blocker.
Stanford: A one-time strength of the Cardinal, tight ends weren't a significant factor in Stanford's offense in 2013, but the staff is hopeful that an influx of new players will change that. Stanford signed No. 1-ranked TE-Y Dalton Schultz, and he'll compete for playing time immediately. Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper -- all well-regarded tight end recruits -- are coming off redshirts and will compete with Charlie Hopkins, who started three games last season.
UCLA: There is no traditional tight end at UCLA, but Y receiver Thomas Duarte, who was recruited as a tight end, is coming off an exceptional freshman season. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Orange County native appeared in all 13 games and tied a school freshman record with three touchdown receptions.
USC: Losing Xavier Grimble early to the NFL is a blow and just two other scholarship tight ends remain from last season: Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. One of the nation's top tight ends, Bryce Dixon, signed with USC, but he wasn't among the group of four early enrollees.
Utah: The Utes were the only school in the country to send two tight ends -- Jake Murphy and Anthony Denham -- to the NFL combine, though Utah listed Denham at receiver. Siale Fakailoatonga, a former walk-on, was Murphy's primary backup on the final depth chart, and he caught two passes for 18 yards in 2013. Harrison Handley redshirted last season after enrolling early last spring and is a candidate to compete for playing time.
Washington: John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins' departure for the NFL was expected, and how the Huskies replace him will be an interesting process. Clearly, there's not a one-man solution for what they'll lose with Seferian-Jenkins, but the combination that the returning players provide is a nice mix of different talents. Michael Hartvigson and Josh Perkins have the most experience at tight end, but they should receive a push from Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu. Daniels, a highly-regarded receiver recruit who switched to tight end, was a special-teams standout in 2013 as a freshman, while Ajamu redshirted.
Washington State: Washington State didn't list any tight ends on the roster last season, but early enrollee Nick Begg will start his career listed there. The long-term plan for Begg is likely elsewhere.
What storyline will you be most interested to follow in spring ball?
Johnny Curren: I’m most interested to see how the new up-tempo offense that USC coach Steve Sarkisian plans to install comes along, and how the current Trojans players adapt to playing in it. Sarkisian has stated before that although fast-paced, it will still essentially be a pro-style, run-first offense, but there are still bound to be several significant differences from USC offenses of the past, and there are plenty of questions heading into the spring that won’t begin to be answered until the team hits the practice field. Will one of the quarterbacks -- Cody Kessler, Max Browne or Jalen Greene -- prove to be particularly adept at directing the new attack? Will the quarterbacks be asked to run more? Will more of an emphasis be placed on throwing to the tight end, as Sarkisian did at Washington, and will Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick thrive in the potentially expanded role? Will we see more wideouts involved? Will the fullback really be utilized? Most importantly, though, will it all result in an offense that is more explosive, and in the end, more productive? In less than a month we’ll start to find out.
Greg Katz: The O-line gets top billing here, especially the center position, which is key with the early departure of All-Pac-12 center Marcus Martin to the NFL draft. The candidates or position changes as it pertains to center could be fascinating because it could lead to a domino effect. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers, who should be a prime candidate for either center or guard. Another sidebar to the offensive line, of course, is the arrival of new coach Tim Drevno from the San Francisco 49ers. Watching his readjustment to college players and what’s available to him should be worth watching at spring practice.
As for an overall view, with a new system and terminology, the logical advantage for returners such as left tackle Chad Wheeler and right tackle Max Tuerk is starting experience. Tuerk, however, is one to keep an eye on to see if he stays at right tackle and is not moved to center. Rehabilitation for guards Jordan Simmons and Aundrey Walker make spring progress tough, but it should make for interesting competition to see how the available bodies fit into Sark’s “puzzle pieces.” What you see in the spring might not be the offensive line you see in the first game against Fresno State.
The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.
What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.
Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.
Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.
The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.
Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.
The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.
Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.
Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.
Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.
Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC
The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.
Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC
The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.
Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.
Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
One more year! I'll see you guys next fall! Merry Christmas Trojan Family! #fighton— Randall Telfer (@RandallTelfer) December 25, 2013
The move is a boost for the USC offense under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, as Telfer is an experienced and talented player who is known for being a good blocker and dependable pass catcher. Telfer has 44 career catches for 451 yards and 10 touchdowns but was limited to only six catches for 78 yards and one score in 2013 due to injuries.
The Trojans now await a final decision from Xavier Grimble, another draft-eligible junior tight end. Grimble has given indications that he will likely stay at USC, but no final decision has been made yet. Grimble was third on the USC receptions list in 2013 with 25 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
At Washington, Sarkisian coached 2013 Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
USC will also return Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick as a third-year junior tight end in 2014.
Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.
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The award winners:
- Most Valuable Player: Allen
- Most Inspirational Player: outside linebacker Devon Kennard
- Trojan Way Leadership Award: Kennard, linebacker Hayes Pullard
- Linemen of the Year: center Marcus Martin (offense), defensive end Leonard Williams (defense)
- Perimeter Players of the Year: Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (offense), cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Dion Bailey (defense)
- Special Teams Player of the Year: fullback Soma Vainuku
- Service Team Players of the Year: quarterback Conner Sullivan (offense), linebacker Nick Schlossberg (defense)
- Jack Oakie Rise and Shine Award (longest run): Allen (80 yards vs. California)
- Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award (overall academic achievement): Kennard
- Bob Chandler Award (underclassman with outstanding athletic ability, academic achievement and character): quarterback Cody Kessler
- John McKay Award (underclassman with the most competitive spirit): Agholor
- Joe Collins Walk-on Award: tailback Taylor Ross
- Courage Award: tight end Randall Telfer, wide receiver Marqise Lee
- Lifters Award: Kennard, offensive tackle Chad Wheeler
- Team Captains: Lee, Pullard, Kennard, Martin
Dinged up with ankle and shoulder injuries, it seemed like the tight end never got his chance to get going in USC's pass offense.
With a career-high six catches for 46 yards, the 6-foot-5 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman product provided quarterback Cody Kessler with a big, steady receiving option to lean on in the Trojans' 47-29 victory over Colorado.
“It just felt good,” said Grimble, a fourth-year junior. “I always like to stay ready for whenever my opportunity comes, and it came. They called my number a few times, and I was able to make the plays.”
With USC tight ends averaging under two receptions per game as a unit heading into the contest, the production of Grimble, and Randall Telfer -- who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass -- was somewhat of a revelation.
According to Grimble, offensive coordinator Clay Helton has always wanted to utilize the tight ends more as receiving threats, but he simply couldn’t because the group has been wracked by injuries virtually all season long.
But with Grimble feeling the best he has in a while, in addition to the improved health of Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, there are reasons to believe that last weekend’s performance might just be a primer of things to come.
“It’s been a rough season for myself and the other tight ends,” said Grimble, who has amassed 21 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown in 2013. “We’ve been injured a little bit, and it affected our place in the passing game. It’s not that Coach [Helton] doesn’t want to use us. We just haven’t been up to full speed. And now that we’re back and getting fully healthy, I definitely think there will be more balls coming our way.”
That's exactly what Grimble wants.
“I love catching passes and being physical with the defense,” Grimble said. “Just creating a different piece in the offense as a big target who can move well.”
Still, Grimble knows that as a tight end in USC's pro-style offense, he's just as valuable to the team for his blocking abilities, and it's a job that he's grown to enjoy over the course of time.
“As I got older, I kind of noticed that a pancake or finishing someone off on a block is almost just as good as catching a ball,” Grimble said. “I get a thrill out of it.”
Grimble hopes to follow up his strong performance last weekend with another one this Saturday when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA at home in the Coliseum. It’s a matchup that will pit him up against a pair of highly regarded outside linebackers for the Bruins.
“They’ve got some good players over there,” Grimble said. “They’ve got Anthony Barr, who’s probably a top-10 pick, and Myles Jack. They both play on the end so that’s going to be a big challenge for me, and I’m excited for it. I’m always ready to go up against whoever the top guys are. Those are the type of guys that I’m supposed to be going against.”
And with memories of the Trojans’ 38-28 loss to UCLA in 2012 still fresh in his mind, it’s a game, and a test, that can’t come soon enough.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Grimble said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”
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Just ask longtime observers and historians of Trojans football and they can’t recall a time when the Men of Troy were in such a vulnerable tight end state. Injuries have decimated the Trojans depth at a position that has its own storied history with the likes of Bob Klein, Charles “The Tree” Young, Hoby Brenner, Jim Obradovich, Paul Green, Scott Galbraith and 2007 Mackey Award winner Fred Davis.
It’s no wonder that without juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer manning their familiar blocking tight end positions, the Trojans could manage only 30 yards on the ground and were limited in receiving options.
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WeAreSC staffers gives opinions on topics related to Trojans football:
The Trojans have been hit hard by injuries at certain position groups. If you could take one player and move him to a depleted position, who would it be and why?
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“After reviewing the film, there were some outstanding efforts by our guys. ... We felt that the penalties hurt us at the end, and put us in a bad position on third down ... too many penalties and too many mistakes put us in crucial situations.
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