USC Now mailbag: Recruiting, expectations and replacing Leonard Williams

USC Now mailbag: Recruiting, expectations and replacing Leonard Williams
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams performs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 22. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Mailbag, revived!

Good to see everyone is starting to come out of winter hibernation.


It seems that new offensive line coach [Bob] Connelly's statements about never playing a freshman could have a fairly profound negative effect on the excellent recruiting job 'SC has been doing. To make such a broad, knee-jerk statement could be what sends some future All-Americans to other programs where they might be better utilized. Why recruit the best linemen, yet tell them they're not good enough to have a shot at playing for a year?

-- Don Green, Merced, CA

I raised my eyebrows when Connelly made the statement because it is rare to hear a coach say he flat-out doesn't do something. Especially when it plays into the minds of recruits, who often want to believe they could be the exception.

For those of you who missed it, here's what Connelly said:

"As an offensive line coach, I don't bring freshmen in to start and, hopefully, once you get over that probationary status and our numbers are where they need to be – which we are really close now – in the real world, you have a guy, bring him in, redshirt him and then he has an opportunity to play as a redshirt freshmen, as a great one, or a redshirt sophomore and you still get three quality years."

Now, it’s important to note that those comments were made in Connelly’s first group interview with reporters covering USC. So he might have been a bit nervous.

But most recruits do not want to hear that it is a foregone conclusion that they will come in and sit on the bench as a freshman.

However, multiple coaches have said that the offensive line is a position players grow into physically and mentally and that playing freshmen there is not ideal.

Connelly made that point in a direct statement.

It could scare off some recruits. It could challenge others to prove him wrong – unless it’s a rule that he really won’t bend on. But you can be sure that Coach Steve Sarkisian will never tell a recruit he absolutely won’t play as a freshman.

Do you think Steve Sarkisian is at an advantage or disadvantage having had such a great recruiting class so early on and being high on college football polls?

-- Paolo Ayala

Those are two different questions.

The top-ranked recruiting class is great for the roster, if the players develop, and for public perception. The only way it hurts Sarkisian is if the team doesn't win enough, in which case fans and media will ask why USC isn't winning with its talent.

The preseason media expectations are a disadvantage. USC finished 9-4 last season, which is fine for a team led by a first-year coach.

However, with some media outlets expecting USC to make the College Football Playoff, it sets the Trojans up for a letdown. Don't forget, they must replace standout players Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard, Nelson Agholor and Javorius Allen.

Who will replace Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard as the heart and soul of the defense? Leonard Williams was so vital to the line because he was unstoppable and versatile enough to play anywhere along the line. Pullard was willing to help every player and lead the defense by example with his play on the field and his life off of it.

Who do you predict will be the freshmen on offense, defense, and special teams that will shine and possibly make freshmen All-America n lists?

-- Alan Yamashiro, class of '77

Alan, you ask the toughest question of the mailbag.

Leonard Williams can't be replaced. He is a consensus top-five pick in the NFL draft – many analysts have said he is the best overall prospect. A player like him doesn't come around often.

There's no one on the roster who comes close. It will have to be a team effort to fill Williams' role.

Pullard, a four-year starter, also will be difficult to replace. Su'a Cravens is preparing to start his third season and second at linebacker. Lamar Dawson, Scott Felix and Anthony Sarao are upperclassmen who should be capable of leadership roles.

Freshmen predictions. Well, safe to say it probably won't be an offensive lineman.

Linebacker Osa Masina and defensive back Iman Marshall could be standout players on defense. On offense -- ask me again a couple of weeks into fall camp.

Question for Justin Wilcox: Will USC blitz more and generally play a more aggressive style of defense in 2015? Many USC fans feel that USC made it too easy on opposing offenses with our extremely conservative defense in 2014.

-- Eddie

Eddie, this isn't Justin Wilcox's inbox.

You want me to ask Wilcox for you? Okay. Stay tuned.

I'm thinking George Farmer jumped the gun in leaping to the NFL but are the Seahawks interested in signing him? They need someone AS special as he is.

-- Roger, Coarsegold, Calif.

Farmer obviously thought the decision to leave USC was better than the option to stay.

He had a couple injury-plagued seasons and then made the most of limited opportunities last season.

He ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at USC's Pro Day, a time that probably earned him workouts for a few teams.

I would not be surprised if the Seahawks look at Farmer, though it is impossible to say if he is a player they would be interested in signing. Pete Carroll does seem to have an affinity for NFL personnel who have USC ties.

Questions about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.