With knee at ‘100 percent,’ USC’s Lamar Dawson a candidate for middle linebacker

USC LB Lamar Dawson sacks Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees during their 2013 matchup.

Matt Cashore/Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

USC linebackers coach Peter Sirmon knows there are plenty of questions surrounding his linebacker corp.

Who’s going to replace Hayes Pullard? What’s up with Lamar Dawson? And his knee? And the knee brace he’s no longer wearing?

The last two, Sirmon would prefer to not discuss. As far as he’s concerned, it’s old news.

"He needs to stop thinking about it," Sirmon said about Dawson’s knee injury at a recent USC practice. "We need to stop talking about it and we need to move on.

"He’s doing great. I don’t talk about it. He doesn’t talk about it. We can play football." 

The soft-spoken fifth-year senior from Kentucky missed all of last season because he didn’t feel comfortable coming back from a season-ending knee injury suffered during the second half of 2013. And now, Dawson is a candidate to replace the departed Pullard at Mike linebacker. So far, Sirmon is happy about what he’s seeing from Dawson on the field.

"He’s a very smart player," Sirmon said. "He’s done a good job of learning. He’s a real calm guy. He’s got, kind of, a different toolbox than Hayes does. Lamar’s a nice, big, rangy player. I think he’s going to do some really good things for us, especially in the run game."

USC recently wrapped up its first week of spring drills and Dawson looked just as comfortable as his teammates who played last season. Dawson moved around freely and without a brace on his surgically repaired left knee.

He says he feels good, too. 

"I’m 100 percent," Dawson said. "I’m not worried about my knee. I’m just trying to make plays on the field.

The Mike (or middle) linebacker spot is a position Dawson says he’s comfortable at. The Mike is responsible for making the defensive calls and getting guys lined up properly. It’s important to him, he says.  

Dawson, a three-year starter, played Mike, albeit in a much different scheme, earlier in his career. 

According to Sirmon, all of his linebackers are candidates for the position.

"We train these guys, all of the linebackers, in the same room," Sirmon said. "You see us doing a lot of the same drills together so there’s a lot of crossover training which, hopefully, gives us the best opportunity to put the best four or five or six guys on the field.

"You hear a lot of chatter (about) you need a quarterback on the field (at Mike). I want a guy who makes tackles. I don’t need somebody lining them up. I need somebody that can carry his own weight and it’s my responsibility to get them coached up and not have one person being the quarterback but everybody understanding what their responsibilities are and he needs to be productive."