The USC Trojans had a lot of issues last season that resulted in a disastrous 7-6 finish after starting the year No. 1 in the AP Poll. If you ask Lane Kiffin, the problem was his defense so the team has taken some drastic steps to change that for 2013. Incoming freshman and early enrollee Su’a Cravens could use that transition to step in and be a major factor next fall.
With Monte Kiffin stepping down after the season and defensive captain T.J. McDonald moving on to the NFL, new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will be looking for a playmaker that he can move all over the field in his flexible, hybrid 3-4 style of defense. Having a fresh, athletic, intelligent and mature freshman in spring practice to mold into his guy, Pendergast could do some great things with Cravens.
He will have some competition for playing time, however, as seniors Demetrius Wright and Gerald Bowman both return but there is little in the way of experience behind them thanks in part to the NCAA-imposed scholarship sanctions. The lack of depth, along with the fact that everyone will be learning the new defense together this spring, makes it even more likely that Cravens will find his way onto the field for meaningful minutes next fall.
Many people are drawing comparisons between Cravens’ game and his ability to start right away to another recent California-based recruit in the Pac 12 in Shaq Thompson of the Washington Huskies. Thompson was able to make a significant impact in his first season in Seattle, recording 74 tackles with three interceptions while playing multiple positions all over the field to accommodate a young, deficient defense.
Cravens could fill the same kind of role for Pendergast’s defense. While the Murrieta, California, native doesn’t have the cover-skills that Thompson did heading into his freshman season, he still has shown a nose for the ball and can make plays given the opportunity. He’s also well-suited to toughen up the Trojans’ run defense, which ranked No. 58 in the country last season, giving up 4.1 yards per rush.
By getting onto campus early and participating in spring practice, Cravens has given himself the opportunity to make a name for himself quickly next fall. If he can take advantage of the opportunity, he’ll quickly become one of USC’s defensive leaders for years to come.