USC Football: 8 Players with Most to Gain in Spring Practices
As the 2013 college football season approaches, Lane Kiffin and his USC Trojans will be under a tremendous amount of scrutiny as they try to remove the stench of a disappointing 2012 campaign.
After last season's 7-6 debacle, Kiffin and his staff will be operating under the notion that without a significant improvement this year, the coaching staff will likely be seeking new employment in 2014.
For this to occur, the Trojans will need an inspired collective effort from the team and individually from the players.
With a need to replace Trojans who have moved on due to graduation as well as those who under-performed, the coaching staff is opening up the depth chart to those players who seek to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
This slideshow will look at some of these players who can elevate their status in the eyes of their coaches.
With positions available for those who are willing to make the sacrifices, here are the players with the most to gain with great performances in the spring.
Antwaun Woods (Nose Tackle)
Along with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast comes a new defensive scheme, and that means the nose tackle position must be manned by an unmovable force to clog the middle.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Antwaun Woods.
A fire plug of a player at 6'1", 305 pounds, Woods' low center of gravity makes him a natural at stabilizing the middle of the line of scrimmage.
In doing so, Woods' efforts at the nose will force opponents to the outside where beasts such D-linemen George Uko and Leonard Williams or a very capable linebacker corps await to make big plays.
And with depth issues at the position, Woods can secure a lot of playing time with a strong performance in the spring.
Soma Vainuku (Fullback)
Big things were expected last year from 6'0", 250-pound fullback Soma Vainuku, and while the redshirt sophomore didn't have a bad year, he fell well short of the glory that many envisioned for him in 2012.
A good blocker with average running skills and less-than-hoped-for hands, Vainuku will be best remembered for not hauling in that infamous fourth-quarter pass in the Notre Dame end zone on a play that effectively ended any hope the Trojans had for an upset win against the Irish.
But Vainuku is a young player with tremendous upside, and all concerned will be interested in his fulfilling that potential in 2013.
However, it all starts in the spring, and Vainuku will have to be on his game because he will be pushed by true sophomore Jahleel Pinner, a stud in his own right.
Aundrey Walker (Offensive Left Tackle)
Speaking of potential, there may be no Trojan more full of it than big (6'6", 300 pounds) Aundrey Walker.
Walker, who has shed more than 75 pounds since arriving at USC, looked to be the heir apparent to former Trojan left tackle Matt Kalil, and so it came as no surprise when he opened 2012 at that position.
However, Walker had an uneven campaign and by midseason found himself being replaced by true freshman Max Tuerk.
This year Walker will be the odds-on favorite to once again man this critical slot protecting his quarterback's blind side, but he will have to find the kind of consistency that defines the truly great ones.
That begins in the spring for Walker, otherwise his coach won't hesitate to replace him again.
Nelson Agholor (Split End)
With the departure of flanker Robert Woods, it will be critical for the Trojans to find a reliable threat opposite all-everything receiver Marqise Lee so opposing defenses don't key too much on him.
That means last year's third option, freshman receiver Nelson Agholor, must make the leap in Year 2 and become that option when Lee isn't open.
Agholor, who had 19 receptions and a couple of touchdowns in 2012, appears to be ready.
And he better be because wideout George Farmer Jr.—who could have commanded a slide of his own in this show—is an extremely talented player with a boatload to prove of his own this spring.
Keep an eye on these two as they battle it out for the spot opposite Lee.
Demetrius Wright (Safety)
USC will open the 2013 season with two new starting safeties, but exactly who those players are will be a mystery for the foreseeable future.
Josh Shaw looks ready to take one of the slots as he transitions from cornerback to a position he is probably more suited for.
That leaves the other safety spot wide open, and the guy with the most to gain this spring is 6'1", 195-pound senior, Demetrius Wright.
In addition to Wright's years in the system and his nose for the ball, he also has one other thing going for him: With Gerald Bowman and former linebacker Dion Bailey out with injuries for the spring, this is the time for a guy like Wright to turn the coaches' heads.
Whether he does or not remains to be seen.
Anthony Brown (Cornerback)
USC has been weak against the pass in recent seasons, and new defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Clancy Pendergast will be looking to remedy that in a big way in 2014.
It won't be easy, though, as the Trojans will be breaking in two new cornerbacks this year, and while Kevon Seymour looks to be the man to beat for one of those spots, the other starter position is wide open.
Anthony Brown—a 5'9", 180-pound redshirt junior—has taken most of the first-team reps so far in the spring, but he will face a bevy of challenges before he will be named the starter to enter the season.
While Brown is one of the most experienced of the prospective corners, he is also the shortest, and if taller prospects such as Torin Harris or Devian Shelton can find some consistency, Brown may be relegated to backup status.
Because of this, Brown has a lot to gain in spring practices with solid play.
Max Tuerk (Center)
Like the subject of the next slide, young Max Tuerk will be looking to replace a Trojan legend in 2013.
Khaled Holmes was one of the most valuable players on the 2012 squad at his center position, and it won't be easy for Tuerk to take his place for a number of reasons.
First of all, Holmes was an extremely cerebral player who was able to direct his fellow linemates to the right position simply by glancing at the opposing defense, and while Tuerk is very intelligent in his own right, it remains to be seen just how quickly he can pick up the nuances of the position.
Also, Tuerk is very tall for a center and it remains to be seen if his higher center of gravity translates well against shorter nose tackles.
Nonetheless, the coaching staff has high hopes for the true sophomore at the position, and based on his inspired play at left tackle in 2012, I wouldn't bet against him.
Max Wittek (Quarterback)
It's one thing to attempt to replace a Trojan quarterback legend such as Matt Barkley, it is quite another to do it coming off of one of the most abysmal bowl performances in USC history.
Welcome to spring practice, Max Wittek.
Wittek will enter the open competition as the prohibitive favorite to win win the starter job, but expect this competition to extend through the fall with an improved Cody Kessler and true freshman phenom Max Browne breathing down his neck.
For Wittek, he will have to build momentum in the spring to solidify his status on the depth chart in the fall, so it is imperative that he utilizes his NFL-type body and arm productively as soon as possible.
In other words, he has a lot to gain in these spring practices.
While the eight Trojans profiled here do indeed have a lot to gain in the spring, they are by no means the only players who can benefit with a strong showing in the early practice sessions.
Linebacker Anthony Sarao is trying to relegate Lamar Dawson to a backup role at one of the inside linebacker slots, and this battle should go through the fall.
Meanwhile, running back Tre Madden is coming back from a serious knee injury, and he too will have a lot to gain with a strong spring both in terms of impressing his coaches as well as finding confidence in his health.
As can be expected from a team in transition, there are a bevy of players with a lot to gain this spring, and Lane Kiffin will be keeping an eye on all of them.
That's because it is the head coach himself who has the most to gain when all is said and done.
After all, another season like the last and it will be just that for coach Kiffin.