USC Football: Coach Kiffin's 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice
Now that USC has wrapped up the first of two major practice sessions, beleaguered head coach Lane Kiffin may be left with more questions than answers.
After no less than 20 players were unable to participate in the spring game Saturday, the first of those questions posed is whether or not injuries have made any assessment of the roster premature.
Those injuries contributed to Kiffin's decision not to have his team tackle for Saturday's game and because of this, several units were unable to fully exhibit their capabilities.
Still, enough was shown to give the entire coaching staff a glimpse of what kind of team they can expect to field in 2013, and while there is plenty of reason for optimism, there are also an abundance of concerns.
For Kiffin, how he deals these worries will go a long way toward determining whether or not he will be invited back to coach the Trojans in 2013.
This slideshow will focus on five concerns Kiffin and his staff will take into the fall practice session.
If he can come up with solutions, USC can surprise people this year.
If not, well...
Note: List order is predicted on area of most concern
No. 5: Installation of New Defensive Scheme
You would think that the replacement of the defensive alignment that has been run for years by USC would occupy a much higher place on this list but with other question marks looming so large, that is not the case.
New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has replaced the standard 4-3 alignment with a 3-4 scheme that often takes on a 5-2 look, and by all accounts, the change has done wonders for both the players' attitudes and their ability to be effective at their jobs.
Hoping to combat the abundance of spread offenses found in the Pac-12, the new defensive look features a more aggressive front seven, which attacks rather than reacts.
Of course, it takes 11 players to make this—or any—defense work and the possible pitfall on this side of the ball will occupy a prominent place in this slideshow a bit later.
But for now, the change looks good.
No. 4: Offensive Line
Thank goodness USC doesn't play touch football because if it did, the offensive line would have some serious explaining to do.
In Saturday's "no-tackling" game, the O-line produced a running game that went for 43 yards on 20 carries and worse yet, allowed 10 sacks and 16 plays that produced negative yardage.
Of course, in such a contest, only so much can be made of a simulated game where simply by touching your opponent, an assumption is made that they are tackled.
Nonetheless, USC is replacing an offensive captain, center Khaled Holmes, with former guard Marcus Martin and left tackle Aundrey Walker is still looking to live up to his enormous potential.
Until a level of comfort can be found with these two positions, this unit will remain an area of concern for line coaches' James Cregg and Mike Summers.
No. 3: Who Is the Starting Quarterback?
The Trojans' most critical position battle remains murky at best heading into the fall.
However, the good news for USC fans is that the reason why there is little clarity in settling the identity of the starting quarterback is because those vying for the position have been playing so well.
Leading the way for the gig is Cody Kessler who has had a fantastic camp by any objective measure and he culminated the spring session with a 15 for 22 performance that saw him pass for 242 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's game.
But Max Wittek and true freshman Max Browne have also performed well and in doing so, have left their head coach with a difficult decision heading into the fall.
Many fans are calling for Kiffin to name a starting QB now—most of them would prefer Kessler—but he will play it close to the vest for the time being as well he should.
After all, it is in the second camp where most of the decisions will be made regarding starters, so why should the quarterback position be any different?
Still, until "the guy" is named, this position will remain a concern for Kiffin.
No. 2: Secondary Woes
The coaching staff knew that the secondary was going to be an issue for USC in 2013 simply because it would feature all new starters this year.
And unfortunately, that has been exactly the case as the revamped defensive backfield has struggled all spring long.
Contributing to the unit woes has—of course—been injuries; especially at the safety positions where likely starters Dion Bailey and primary back-up Su'a Cravens missed either some or all of the spring due to injuries.
But it is at cornerback where the coaching staff will spend most of its attention in the fall.
While there is talent in that unit, they are painfully inexperienced and that has shown all spring long against a wide receiver unit that is as talented as any in the nation.
For USC to regain its footing in 2013, the secondary must be effective in Pendergast's new defense.
Until they are, they will remain a major concern for the team.
No. 1: Depth Concerns Mean USC Must Be Injury-Free in 2013
Look, it was going to be tough enough dealing with a depleted roster in 2013 due to the NCAA's sanctions against the Trojans relative to the punishment for the Reggie Bush scandal.
With a mandated 75 scholarship player limit, the last thing USC needed was to experience an inordinate amount of injuries in the spring, yet it had 20 players held out of the end of session game due to a variety of physical woes.
Although the vast majority of these players will be back in the fall, they lost valuable practice time and thus assessing their place on the team becomes much more difficult for the coaching staff.
It also reinforces the notion that USC must find good fortune in the upcoming year when it comes to injuries.
Because they simply can't afford many of them if they want to succeed in 2013.
Of course, the concerns listed in this slideshow are far from the only ones that will preoccupy Kiffin and his staff's minds as they head to the fall session of practices and the ensuing season.
Individual competition for roster spots, unit weaknesses and a variety of other considerations will also take their place in the list of priorities that will be entertained as well.
Between now and the start of the season, there will be other things that will demand the attention of both Kiffin and his staff.
How he deals with those problems and the ones listed here will help shape how successful USC will be in 2013.
If he does well, he can turn those concerns into solutions and along with that, he can turn those who are clamoring for his job into allies.
And in doing so, he will turn frowns from the naysayers into smiles and really, that is all USC and its fans can ask for this year.