USC Trojans Football: Position-by-Position Fall Practice Preview
As USC enters a pivotal 2013 college football season, there are many questions surrounding a team that desperately needs to find success to wash away the memory of a disappointing 2012 campaign.
To accomplish this, head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff will rely on a talented returning squad that features All-American talent at some positions and concerns at others.
How Kiffin addresses those concerns will go a long way toward determining how this season unfolds, and it all begins with fall practice as this is the final preparation period prior to the start of the season.
This slideshow will look at the Trojans by position as they enter this crucial period and assess where they are at, as they prepare for their first game on the road at Hawaii.
How will the 2013 Trojans look this fall?
Let's find out.
Andre Heidari will be the place kicker with Alex Wood backing him up on field goals and extra points. There is a possibility that Craig McMahon could handle kickoffs, as that is the way it is listed on the spring depth chart.
On the punting front, USC will look to redshirt freshman Kris Albarado to display the wares that made him one of the top prep punters in the nation. Should anything happen to Albarado, Joey Krassenstein will back him up.
As for the return game, look for Marqise Lee to handle kickoffs with Nelson Agholor while Anthony Brown and Lee will return punts.
No surprises here, All-American Marqise Lee will be the starter as he looks to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats at USC.
Look for Victor Blackwell and Darreus Rogers to fight for the right to back him up at a position that promises to see a lot of balls thrown its way.
Replacing a guy like Robert Woods is a daunting challenge, but fortunately for the Trojans, Nelson Agholor looks primed to be the next great flanker for USC.
Agholor has been simply brilliant in practice following a strong 2012 campaign as a true freshman.
De'Von Flournoy will be Agholor's primary backup after promising true freshman Steven Mitchell blew out his knee and will miss the 2013 season.
USC is putting their chips all in with Aundrey Walker at left tackle. Walker has huge upside but has been horribly inconsistent in his brief Trojan career, so he needs to find his way soon for the offensive line to be at its best.
Backing up Walker will be Nathan Guertler and true freshman Nico Falah will be given a look, but is likely to take a redshirt this year.
True sophomore Max Tuerk will slide over from the left tackle slot which he shared with Aundrey Walker last year and take over left guard for Marcus Martin who will now play center.
Tuerk is an extremely talented and versatile lineman who will dominate as he gains experience at the position.
Backing up Tuerk will be Giovanni Di Poalo while true freshman Khaliel Rodgers will likely take a redshirt.
The biggest loss on the offensive line was the graduation of Khaled Holmes, USC's dynamic center and vocal leader on that side of the ball.
Taking Holmes place this year will be former left guard Marcus Martin who has made the transition to center in 2013 and looks very good so far in practice.
Cyrus Hobbi will back Martin up, and he, too, looks better in 2013 after a very spotty 2012 season.
John Martinez returns after a solid 2012 season, and he will be looked at to anchor a strong right side at the guard position.
Jordan Simmons will back up Martinez after looking very good in practice, and this guy will be primed to take over in the 2014 season.
One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of spring practice was that incumbent starter Kevin Graf was only listed as the "co-starter" at right tackle with redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler.
Whether or not this was a motivational ploy by Kiffin to light a fire under Graf remains to be seen, but this is a position battle to keep an eye on in the fall.
USC will enter the fall practice session with two of the better tight ends in the nation in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.
While Grimble is a slightly better blocker and Telfer holds a small edge in pass catching, both of these guys are fabulously talented and will be playing on Sundays soon.
Also, the next star at the position is waiting in the wings, and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick would be starting for almost any other team if not for the two-headed Grimble/Telfer monster ahead of him.
The Trojans are fabulously talented at this position with any one of five tailbacks who could be effective in 2013.
Senior Silas Redd is the likely starter, but true freshman Justin Davis, big back Tre Madden and senior D.J. Morgan could all see time as well.
Add in bruising runner Buck Allen and impressive true freshman Ty Isaac to the mix and this is a position that obviously has a wealth of talent.
It should be an interesting battle in the fall to see if true sophomore Jahleel Pinner can supplant incumbent Soma Vainuku for the starting spot.
Vainuku is a 6'0", 250-pound bruiser, but Pinner has been coming on strong since the second half of the 2012 season and will push Vainuku for the starting gig.
Simione Vehikite is very talented and will try to get some playing time as well.
Anyone who follows the Trojans knows that the quarterback position is the biggest question mark as USC heads into the 2013 season.
Look for Cody Kessler and Max Wittek to battle it out until Kiffin names a starter a couple of weeks into the fall session.
True freshman Max Browne has been impressive, but is likely to take a redshirt in 2013.
Left Outside Linebacker
In the new 5-2 scheme, the outside linebackers take the place of the defensive ends and come with different designations depending on the specific formation. Regardless of what you call them, USC has a pair of beasts in Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin.
On the left side, Kennard will be looking to return from a biceps injury, and if spring practice is any indication, he will have a huge year in 2013.
Sophomore Jabari Ruffin is a monster in his own right and will see a lot of playing time in the rotation as well.
Left Defensive End
Only a true sophomore, left defensive end Leonard Williams is already one of the finest down linemen in the nation.
After accumulating 13.5 tackles for loss in 2012, Williams was named the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year, and even bigger things are expected of the 6'5", 290-pound beast going forward.
On any other team, J.R. Tavai would be starting, but he will see plenty of playing time in the rotation regardless of whether he starts or not.
Another spirited battle to keep an eye on this fall is the contest between Antwaun Woods and Cody Temple for the starting nose tackle spot.
Woods is the unmovable force at over 310 pounds and Temple—who is coming back from an injury—is a non-stop motor guy who offers a nice blend of power and athleticism.
Coming out of the spring practice session, the depth chart listed them as co-starters, so this should go down to the wire.
Meanwhile, true freshman Kenny Bigelow gets better every day and will be heard from sooner rather than later.
Right Defensive End
In what is widely considered one of the best defensive lines in the nation, right defensive end George Uko is as good as they come at his position.
Only a junior this year, Uko has improved steadily every year and is poised for a breakout season after posting nine tackles for loss to go along with five sacks in 2012.
However, it is critical that Uko stays healthy in 2013 as his backups, Charles Burks and Greg Townsend Jr. are long on talent, but very short on experience.
Right Outside Linebacker
After spending 2012 terrorizing opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, Morgan Breslin will enter fall as the unquestioned starter at right outside linebacker in the new 5-2 defense.
Backing him up will be Kevin Greene and true freshman Quinton Powell will get a look as well.
Another position which will be hotly contested in the fall, middle linebacker Lamar Dawson is trying to fend off Anthony Sarao for the starting gig, and this one probably won't be decided until later in the camp.
Dawson came into spring with a body transformation and a renewed dedication while Sarao came on strong in 2012.
Regardless of who is named the starter, both guys will get plenty of playing time.
Hayes Pullard has turned into one of the Pac-12's best linebackers, and his lateral pursuit abilities will be critical in the new defensive scheme brought by first-year coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Pullard will certainly be the starter, but beyond that, there isn't a lot of depth, as only Will Andrew and true freshman Michael Hutchings are available.
USC's "problem child" unit-wise, is certainly the secondary, and within that group, the cornerbacks are of the most concern.
Anthony Brown is the most likely to emerge as the starter on the left side, but that is, by no means, a given as Brown—like his cohorts—is woefully inconsistent.
Fighting it out with Brown for the starting spot will be Devian Shelton and true freshman Chris Hawkins.
The right cornerback spot seems a bit more "settled" talent-wise as Kevon Seymour—though inconsistent in his own right—will battle Torin Harris for the starting gig.
Seymour is talented, but will have to find a way not to take plays off mentally, while Harris has the potential to be very good if he can just be consistent.
Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard—both hard workers— will try to take advantage if the top two falter.
Although the secondary as a whole is a concern, talent-wise, the safeties are not. However, they are not without questions of their own, and the most serious of those looms at the free safety spot.
As of spring, Demetrius Wright and true freshman Leon McQuay III were tabbed as co-starters with injured Gerald Bowman also in the mix.
Wright has the most experience, by far, of the trio, but Bowman is the most athletic.
Meanwhile, McQuay will be a star, but needs seasoning.
The strong safety position has the potential to be one of the best on the defense, but again, there are questions attached to it.
Dion Bailey—a very talented athlete—will be attempting to return to his natural position after a very successful two-year stint at linebacker in the 4-3 defense run by former coordinator, Monte Kiffin.
Bailey has the talent to be dominant, but until he has some plays under his belt (he missed spring due to injury), there will be a concern.
Vying with Bailey for the starting spot will be Josh Shaw who had a very nice year in 2012 as an oversized cornerback and will now return his favorite position.
Then there is Su'a Cravens, the talented true freshman whose overall ability might just find him with some serious playing time in the rotation.
Although many of the starting position battles will end up the way they looked on the spring depth chart, there are some final depth issues that will be settled in the fall.
The secondary will be crafted from what happens in the next practice session as will quarterback and some others.
To that end, Lane Kiffin and his staff will closely scrutinize the overall roster to ensure that he places the best team possible not only to secure wins for the program but also to save his job.
However that team looks, fans of the program should rest assured that the guys paid to administer the program have made those decisions that will offer the best possibility for success in 2013.
And for those who follow the men of Troy, that should be good enough.