USC Football

USC Scoop's Early 2020 Depth Chart: Special Teams

June 24, 2020
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To put in bluntly: special teams at USC have simply been unacceptable for the past few seasons. This season, USC hired Sean Snyder away from Kansas State in an attempt to improv this much maligned unit.

USC Scoop’s Marc Kulkin and Josh An examine who Snyder could choose to help give USC an edge on this side of the ball.

Marc Kulkin:

In order for the USC Football team to be a championhip caliber program, all three facets of the team need to provide production.  One area where USC has struggled the last couple of seasons has been on Special Teams.   An enigma wrapped up in a mystery is the best way to desribe the ups and downs of this unit, and after last season’s results changes were made following the Holiday Bowl.

A lot has been talked about with the off season changes to Clay Helton’s staff, including bringing in perhaps one of the best, if not THE best Special Team’s coaches in the country, Sean Snyder.  The son of legendary Kansas St. head coach Bill Snyder, Sean, learned from one of the best who always made sure the Wildcats had good to great special teams production.  

Coach Snyder arrived at USC and immediately made it be known during his introductory press conference,  I don’t allow 10 guys or the field, or nine for that matter,” Snyder said. “We’ll do a lot on the sidelines. We’ll have some help with collecting personnel and making sure we have everybody ready to go. So we do have a process with that. But that’s just something that’s not acceptable.”

Music to my ears!

Place Kicker(s)

The Trojans have a lot of legs they can lean on with this group and they’ve needed each one too over the years.  Injuries have ravaged the kickers, and while the production from (RS) junior Chase McGrath kicking the field goals and extra points has been well above average, staying healthy has been a chore.   Chase should be able tp hold onto the starters role as the team’s place kicker although there is plenty of support behind him if needed.

Under Coach John Baxter, the Trojans used a kick off specialist and (RS) senior Michael Brown who has perhaps the strongest leg of the returning kickers shared those duties with junior, Alex Stadthaus last season.   Joining the room for 2020 is early entry arrival, Parker Lewis, who will eventually be looked upon to take over the kicking duties.  The question is, will new coach Snyder maintain the everyone plays rotation, or will coach Snyder look for a kicker who can handle both kicking FG’s & PAT’s duties as well kicking off? 

Field Goal Kicker

Josh An: Chase McGrath’s career has had some of the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. A year after hitting the game-winning FG against Texas in the Coliseum, he suffered a season ending ACL injury against the Longhorns in Austin a year later. In 2020, the former Mater Dei bounced back in a huge way - he converted on 82% of his attempts(14-17), including 4-6 from 40+ yards out. Special teams wasn’t great last year, but McGrath was a bright spot throughout and I would be surprised if he lost his spot.

Kick-Off Specialist

Josh An: Last season, USC finished as the worst kickoff coverage team in college football, ranking last out of 130 teams in return yards allowed. Part of that is USC’s lackluster kickoff coverage, but the kicker can’t be exempt from these issues as well, as USC finished near the bottom in total kick returns allowed as well. While Michael Brown and Alex Stadhaus handled those duties the last few years, true freshman Parker Lewis, who drilled 82% of his kicks as touchbacks in high school, enters the picture and I would love to see what he could do early on. 

Kick Returner

Marc Kulkin:

Starters: Greg Johnson and Kenan Christon

It’s been a who’s who of talent standing on the goal line attempting to return kicks for the Trojans...so much talent and yet so little return for the time invested.  Every now and then a Trojan would make a huge play giving the fans a taste of what could be, however, inconsistency was always served in big portions.

With no spring ball to fall back on I can only speculate and project who I would like to see returning kicks.  Johnson with the ball in his hands is a physical guy with enough speed and the ability to make the defender miss...and Kenan Christon is pure speed.  Greg has hinted he would like the chance to play more than just defense, and be a play-maker with the ball in his hands...here’s the opportunity.  

Christon just needs to be on the field more and the sophomore is now a year older and physically bigger.  Just give him a crease and strike up the band!

Behind Johnson and Christon, Coach Snyder, has a big stable he can choose from beginning with Stephen Carr, as well as newcomers, Gary Bryant Jr. and Josh Jackson.

Josh An: With Velus Jones no longer in the fold, it will be interesting to see who Coach Snyder decides to put in the endzone alongside Stephen Carr(if Carr remains one of the specialists). Sophomore running back Kenan Christon is a candidate, however, one name I would like to see get an opportunity is the speedy freshman phenom Gary Bryant Jr., who is already one of USC’s fastest players and already has experience returning kicks at Centennial.

Punt Returner

Josh An: Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St.Brown split the duties here last season and did fairly well, but personally I would rather not have two of USC’s best receivers put in this position. Here’s another spot where Christon and Bryant Jr. could take over and have their explosiveness come through.

Marc Kulkin:

Starter(s): (RS) senior Tyler Vaughns & junior Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Not only are Vaughns and St. Brown two of the team’s best athletes, they also start at wide receiver.  More than likely this will remain the staus quo until Coach Snyder feels more comfortable with someone else back there looking up while 9-10 guys are charging at you Braveheart style.  There is enough depth and talent to give the staff the versatility to keep guys healthy and taking un-necessary hits.  Punt Returner would be another position where the new freshmen Bryant and Jackson can make an immediate impact.

Punter

Josh An: I know it might be hard to believe given he averaged just 41.2 yards per punt, but I really believe Ben Griffiths can improve tremendously in his second season. To me, it always felt like he was always holding back and its up to Coach Snyder to unleash the former Australian football player’s talents in year 2. Behind Griffiths are walk-on Will Rose and Michael Shahidi.

Marc Kulkin:

Starter: Ben Griffiths

The sophomore from down under may have a “custard arm” as he put it, however, he also has a leg capable of flipping the field regardless of he’s kicking from.  Last season was an adjustment for the former Australian Rules football player and Griffith’s is looking to build off the new experience and show why the media was gushing about his practice performances.  It will be up to Coach Snyder to help Ben find his rhythm.

Looking for a chance to punt if Griffiths was for some reason unable to perform are Will Rose and Michael Shahidi.  As a side note, I’ve seen, Parker Lewis, punt the ball...he will be the back up should it be necessary.

Long Snapper 

Starter: Damon Johnson

Marc Kulkin:

Johnson will be USC’s long snapper for a fourth season as a 2020 senior.  The guy is perfect.  You never hear his name mentioned during the game...nor should you.  It means he’s doing his job.  Last season, Johnson, took his craft to the next level and forced the public address announcer to say his name when he chipped in on a couple of tackles and even recovered a fumble.  In 2019, Johnson, was an Honorable Mention All American and will look to repeat the accolade in 2020.

 

Tags: Football
 
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