Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabari Ruffin suffered a torn knee ligament during a Sunday practice after he intercepted a pass and was tackled on the return.
Another full pads practice for #USC Sunday morning. Jabari Ruffin had a leaping INT but dinged his knee in the return. He left practice.
— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) August 10, 2014
The injury has ended the potential starter’s season for USC.
USC OLB Jabari Ruffin, who was competing for a starting spot, tore a knee ligament in practice Sunday & will miss the 2014 season. #FightOn
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) August 11, 2014
Ruffin’s injury was initially thought to be just a simple “knee tweak” by Steve Sarkisian, however the worst case scenario came to light after further evaluation. “This is very unfortunate news about Jabari, but I know he will rehab well and come back strong next year,” Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian said in a statement on the team’s website. “And I know our team will step up in his absence.”
The 6’3, 240-pound Ruffin looked to have the edge in a battle with Quinton Powell as starting strong side linebacker. Ruffin was also expected to play a key role on the Trojans’ special teams unit as well. The injury is a major blow to a USC program still reeling from lack of depth due to NCAA sanctions. Ruffin joins reserve Kenny Bigelow as defensive players who will be out for the 2014-15 season.
Moving forward Powell may very well be part of the USC starting linebacker unit, in the mix with senior J.R. Tavai and Scott Felix (formerly known as Scott Starr) . With the Trojans moving into a 3-4 defense this season, lack of depth and experience at the linebacker position has led to the conversion of Tavai from defensive end to linebacker. Inside linebacker Lamar Dawson could also be expected to convert to the outside as well.
The unfortunate part of such moves is that it ultimately means that USC will have to rely on a number of freshmen in their second unit in case a starter is lost to injury. In case the coaching staff prefers to convert more experienced players from their natural positions to establish depth and continuity, a few freshman linebackers may also see quality playing time perhaps in pivotal situations. Considering how high priority linebackers are in the 3-4, the USC coaching staff will have important decisions to make on how to manage maintaining depth.
Fortunately for USC, the secondary is athletic enough for the 3-4 defense to be effective as players in the young linebacker core mature. Tavai, Anthony Sarano and Hayes Pullard may feel added pressure to create for the unit. However, as leaders of the LB core it shouldn’t be too big a deal to handle, with Michael Hutchings also an experienced linebacker who will contribute. There’s slight cause for worry with Ruffin out for the season, but not as dire as many assume.