Free of sanctions, USC bulks up at receiver position

Free of sanctions, USC bulks up at receiver position
Nelson Agholor, celebrating a 93-yard yard punt return for a touchdown against California, became a primary offensive weapon last season for the Trojans. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

USC, mired in NCAA sanctions since 2010, will finally have a full 25-player recruiting class next year.

But the Trojans already appear on their way to a possible stockpile at one position for the upcoming season and beyond.


When the Trojans complete spring practice with a scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday, four scholarship receivers will be on the field, another will return from injury in the fall and four freshmen will arrive this summer. Several walk-ons also have impressed during spring practice.

"We're starting to build some depth," receivers coach Tee Martin said.

During the last four seasons under former coach Lane Kiffin, the Trojans relied mainly on receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, with Nelson Agholor emerging as the next go-to wideout.

Woods, USC's all-time receptions leader, is preparing for his second NFL season. Lee, the Trojans' all-time receiving yardage leader, is projected as a possible first-round pick in next month's NFL draft.

That leaves Agholor as the leader of the Trojans' receiving corps.

Sophomore Darreus Rogers made an impact last season and juniors George Farmer and Victor Blackwell showed improvement this spring.

Farmer, who was sidelined last season because of knee surgery, should be at full strength by training camp. Redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell also is on track to return from knee surgery in the fall.

Adoree' Jackson of Gardena Serra High, John "Juju" Smith of Long Beach Poly, Rahshead Johnson of Long Beach Cabrillo and Ajene Harris of Crenshaw will be top newcomers.

"When we get all those guys back, plus the influx of these freshmen, I think it will be a really good group," first-year Coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian has replaced the Trojans' pro-style offense with the fast-paced, no-huddle scheme he adopted last season at Washington.

Though starting quarterback Cody Kessler will operate almost exclusively from the shotgun or pistol formations, Sarkisian has described the offense as "run-first," pointing to Bishop Sankey's 1,800-yard season for the Huskies in 2013.

But Agholor and others will play a major role in the passing game.

Last season as a sophomore, Agholor caught 56 passes, six for touchdowns.

"For me, it's all about staying consistent," Agholor said this spring. "And I think if I'm consistent, the rest of my teammates will stay consistent and we'll have a great receiving corps."


Rogers caught 22 passes last season. Lee and Agholor have said that former Carson High star possesses the best hands on the team.

Along with learning the new playbook, Rogers spent much of spring studying Agholor.

"You've got to read coverages, and know if they're disguising or they're out there in that coverage," Rogers said. "It's something I've been working on."

Farmer, who had knee surgery last May, played with abandon and showed some of the form that made him such a highly prized recruit coming out of Serra. Blackwell also made big plays in several practices, but Sarkisian said he was seeking more consistency.

Mitchell, the former Mission Hills Alemany star, suffered a season-ending knee injury during a summer workout on USC's campus in 2013. He participated in a limited role at the start of spring practice before trainers and coaches shut him down.

"You know he's explosive and he's fast," Martin said. "And he has unbelievable awareness."

Jackson, Smith, Johnson and Harris have observed spring workouts and are expected to be in attendance Saturday at the Coliseum.

Sarkisian has said the Trojans would run about 100 plays and that there would be live tackling for at least a portion of spring finale, which begins at 3 p.m.

But Sarkisian does not want to put the receivers or any other position group at risk heading into summer.

"I want to see a healthy team walk off the field," Sarkisian said, "and we continue to build toward fall training camp."