He’s a weak­side line­backer, but in name only

Los Angeles Times - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Zach Helfand zach.helfand@la­times.com

Cary An­ge­line caught a pass dur­ing seven-on-seven drills Thurs­day and turned up­field — 6 feet 7 inches and 240 pounds of tight end rum­bling down the side­line.

An­ge­line and USC wore hel­mets and shoul­der pads, not full pads, mean­ing de­fen­sive play­ers were sup­posed to “thud” only, in­stead of wrap­ping of­fen­sive play­ers and tak­ing them to the ground. But John Hous­ton

Jr. was sweep­ing across the field like a stiff wind. He did in­deed “thud” An­ge­line. He hit him so hard that he left his feet and came crash­ing down out of bounds. Play­ers on of­fense and de­fense whooped.

“That was all right,” Hous­ton as­sessed the next day. But that and an­other de-cleater along the side­line hardly reg­is­tered for him. “We haven’t been in full pads so I’m not even count­ing the two hits I had,” he said.

Hous­ton, the fa­vorite to start at weak­side line­backer, con­sid­ers him­self “a head­hunter, a get-to-the-ball, side­line-to-side­line player.” He is, in other words, USC’s an­swer to the ever-spread­ing, ever-quick­en­ing of­fenses of the Pac-12 Con­fer­ence. Last sea­son, Cameron

Smith played at weak­side line­backer and Michael

Hutch­ings played in the mid­dle. The two were smart, ex­pe­ri­enced and strong. But “we ob­vi­ously weren’t run­ning 4.5s like him,” Smith said, re­fer­ring to Hous­ton’s 40-yard dash time.

So USC has shifted Smith to mid­dle line­backer and put Hous­ton at the weak side, the po­si­tion re­spon­si­ble for play­ing in space more of­ten.

“Cam’s prob­a­bly bet­ter tackle-to-tackle, and John’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit bet­ter out in the open field,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Clancy

Pen­der­gast said. On ob­vi­ous pass­ing downs last sea­son, USC some­times pulled Smith in fa­vor of a speed­ier line­backer. USC’s coach­ing staff doesn’t ex­pect Hous­ton to re­quire sim­i­lar treat­ment.

Such a setup has al­ways been the goal. Hous­ton just wasn’t al­ways ready. In high school, few lineback­ers were graded as highly by the ma­jor scout­ing ser­vices. But a lin­ger­ing back is­sue made Hous­ton’s first sea­son a wash. Last sea­son, most of his play­ing time came on spe­cial teams.

Hous­ton said he doesn’t con­sider him­self a starter yet, but he has taken the starter’s rep­e­ti­tions dur­ing train­ing camp. And he would make USC bet­ter able to face most of­fenses in the con­fer­ence.

“We play so many three­and four-wide teams in this league that that ath­leti­cism to be able to walk out of the box at any time and to be able to wall a slot re­ceiver off as well as play in space is valu­able in our league,” Coach Clay Hel­ton said.

Key un­der­study

Smith will be sus­pended from the first half of USC’s sea­son-open­ing game against West­ern Michi­gan be­cause he was ejected for a tar­get­ing penalty in the sec­ond half of USC’s Rose Bowl vic­tory against Penn State.

It is an un­usual sus­pen­sion that spans parts of two sea­sons, but it leaves USC with plenty of time to find a re­place­ment. That’s wel­comed. Hel­ton said in­te­rior line­backer was USC’s thinnest po­si­tion on de­fense.

To com­pen­sate, Jor­dan Iosefa and fresh­man Levi Jones have trained at two po­si­tions: Dime line­backer and in­side line­backer.

Haden out

For­mer ath­letic direc­tor Pat Haden no longer works at USC in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity. Haden, who re­tired as ath­letic direc­tor a lit­tle over a year ago, had re­mained at USC to help guide the $270mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the Coli­seum.

Haden was work­ing un­der a one-year con­tract, which ex­pired June 30, ac­cord­ing to an ath­letic depart­ment spokesman.

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