Photo by © Bryan Lynn - USA Today
USC Football

Drew Richmond is a puzzle piece for the short-term success in Troy

May 1, 2019
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A touted transfer leaves a traditional blue blood program to transfer to USC. He arrives to much fanfare — no one at his position is more highly regarded on the roster. A prominent role beckoned.

A big body leaves his home state school in search of playing time and finds it at USC. He is a curiosity, a backup on his old team who nevertheless has arrived at the right school at the right time to plug the right gap. Maybe he’ll contribute.

Taylor McNamara never advanced beyond a role player, an occasional starter but never a star. Stevie Tu’ikolovatu became a Rose Bowl defensive MVP, an irreplaceable cog on USC’s best team this decade. Until Friday, they were the Trojans’ last two graduate transfers of consequence.

© Bryan Lynn - USA Today
Drew Richmond looks to be the ideal candidate to fill in as the starter at right tackle for USC.

There is a wide spectrum of possibilities for Drew Richmond to fill between McNamara and Tu’ikolovatu’s Trojan careers. It is hard to imagine him becoming another face in the crowd. It is harder, still, to imagine him growing into the missing piece of a New Year’s Day-winning bowl team – not with all this USC team must move beyond from last year.

But Richmond is most certainly a welcome addition at a position that is hard up for talented bodies, if not the Trojans’ most dire need area. And Richmond is most certainly that, a three-year stalwart at Tennessee who 24 of 28 games he appeared in. Many of those games were at right tackle, a position that in conspicuously open with following the graduation of Chuma Edoga, a player to whom he draws at least a rudimentary comparison. Like Edoga, Richmond is a former five-star recruit in the class of 2015 whose 6-foot-4 frame runs on the shorter end of ideal for a tackle. Also like Edoga, his school’s fan base was driven batty by the ways Richmond’s mental errors – namely, false starts – could undermine his immense physical ability. A perfect prospect, this is not.

Yet consider the options opposite Austin Jackson, who is now entrenched at left tackle. There is Jalen McKenzie, a former blueshirt who has yet to log significant action. There is Clayton Bradley, a redshirt senior swing tackle who has never busted his way into the starting lineup after years of knocking on the door. There are various unknown commodities in Bernard Schirmer, Liam Jimmons and Jason Rodriguez. And then there is what, exactly?

With one year of eligibility remaining, Richmond is no long-term solution. But he could very well play a part in that bigger picture by bumping everyone else down a notch in responsibility. Richmond sliding in at the starting right tackle spot would afford McKenzie a more realistic bump up in reps at tackle, which would slide Bradley into the role of an overqualified fourth tackle, which would then buy Schirmer, Jimmons and Rodriguez valuable development time without getting tossed feet first into the fire. Or perhaps, in an admittedly far-fetched scenario, it could even bump McKenzie inside, thereby providing some badly needed depth – or perhaps even competition – at guard behind Alijah Vera-Tucker and Andrew Vorhees.

© Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today
Stephen Carr and USC’s running backs could be the largest beneficiaries of Richmond’s addition.

Last week, I wrote about how USC realistically could have stood to bring in a body anywhere on the offensive line, slot receiver, cornerback and tight end. But short of cornerback, which is as thin as it is talented, it’s hard to argue another area proving to have a more urgent need for an immediate contributor than the offensive line. After all, the Trojans return three talented, multi-faceted backs in Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Markeese Stepp, to say nothing of incoming freshman Kenon Christon. They can leverage Tyler Vaughns’ and Amon-Ra St. Brown’s adaptability to play them at inside receiver and trump their lack of ideal fit with sheer ability. They can minimize the importance of the tight end in their offense, just as they have in years’ past – but, if this is the year when it truly does grow, they have a budding star atop the depth chart in Josh Falo.

But there was virtually no proven safety net behind the 2017 offensive line class, which exited camp as the teams’ five starters. Now, there is – not behind but likely in front. Richmond should make USC better through his own play but also the trickle-down effect on everyone else’s. It won’t redeem two years of subpar offensive line recruiting, nor is he likely to play so well as to be compared to the likes of Tyron Smith on the right side. But the Trojans got better on Friday, and if there’s one thing we’ve preached this spring, it’s the power of incremental improvement.

A graduate transfer arrives at USC in search of a fresh start. He is from nowhere near Los Angeles, and very well might wind up even further away in one year’s time. For now, though, he is here, in Troy. And there’s plenty of work to be done.

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Drew Richmond is a puzzle piece for the short-term success in Troy

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