Following USC’s season-ending victory over UCLA, junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and offensive tackle Tyron Smith said they each were 50-50 on whether to return or enter the NFL draft.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, each of those proverbial coin flips did not work out in the team’s favor, as USC’s top linemen on each side of the ball will forego their senior seasons and make themselves available for the upcoming NFL draft.
Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com first reported Casey and Smith’s departures.
In a year where the Trojan defense floundered by every conceivable measure, Casey was by far the unit’s top performer and named the team’s MVP at a banquet Sunday night.
The Long Beach Poly standout was fifth on the team in tackles and led USC with 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Casey also intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
In the mold of former Trojan stars like Sedrick Ellis and Mike Patterson, the quick and disruptive Casey is regarded as a probable first or second round selection.
A first-team all-conference selection by league coaches, Smith anchored an offensive line that was third in the Pac-10 in both sacks allowed and rushing yards. He also blocked two kicks, including an extra point that was returned in a thrilling 34-33 win over Arizona State.
However, there are concerns over Smith’s size, built more like a tight end than an NFL offensive tackle. Still, some experts have the Moreno Valley Rancho Verde product ranked as the top offensive lineman in the 2011 draft.
Replacing the two linemen will be among the toughest challenges for USC as it faces the first year of NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions.
While the Trojans have some depth and talent on the interior of the defensive line, it comes at nose tackle in returning starters DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou, who missed last season with a knee injury. Freshman George Uko and incoming junior college transfer Sheldon Richardson will likely be tasked with penetrating at the point of attack.
At offensive tackle, the answer is not as clear. Already dealing with limited numbers, the best option could be signing Aaron Douglas from Arizona Western.
Douglas earned Freshman All-America honors under current USC coach Lane Kiffin and offensive line coach James Cregg at Tennessee in 2009, mostly as a right tackle, the spot left vacant by Smith’s absence.
Other options could include redshirt freshman Kevin Graf and David Garness from City College of San Francisco, who will enroll in January.
Tyron Smith is a highly regarded NFL prospect. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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