As the collegiate landscape shifts from signing day to spring ball, USC is one of 19 schools with a new head coach. There will be shake-ups all over the nation, and at USC, the key will be how new leader Steve Sarkisian works his plan.
Expect Sark to be high-energy and, most importantly, flexible when spring ball starts in Troy.
Flexibility and Sark's coaching talent are going to be paramount in the case of USC. While some coaches, such as Charlie Strong, are walking in to change the culture and lay down the law, Sarkisian is in a unique position where he is taking the baton and looking to build on the current structure.
There is not the wide gap in philosophy and approach between old coach Lane Kiffin and new coach Sarkisian that exists during many transitions. Certainly the defense under Justin Wilcox will get a new look, but given the pieces and offensive scheme, the new Trojans head man is looking to fill out this puzzle.
At quarterback, expect Sarkisian to work Cody Kessler, the 2013 starter, and redshirt freshman Max Browne to the bone. Kessler proved adequate a season ago, but Browne was the gem of the 2013 recruiting cycle at the position. Sarkisian is quite familiar with both quarterbacks' skills, having recruiting them at Washington, and as the new coach takes over he'll preside over one of the nation's most intriguing quarterback battles.
For Sark, his quarterbacks have been trending toward more athleticism than Kessler or Browne, and that means the coach will have to adjust. He has worked with traditional passers in the past, and his last signal-caller, Keith Price, was at his best not moving around but working tempo from the pocket—something both Kessler and Browne can do for the Trojans.
However, flexibility will be about more than playing style. Numbers are not on the coach's side, especially after several players left for the NFL draft or used up their eligibility. Like Kiffin, Sarkisian is going to have to juggle taking the temperature of his team and finding his players with protecting the assets that he possesses.
Spring is the thinnest time for every collegiate roster. New bodies generally do not arrive until the summer sessions. USCFootball.com has the Trojans at 71 scholarships for the 2014 cycle. That's a thin number for the fall, and 57 is decidedly troublesome for the spring football sessions.
Sarkisian is going to rely on some takeaways from former USC coach and now Super Bowl champion Pete Carroll and his work with the Seattle Seahawks. Instead of the grueling sessions of hitting to determine the mettle of the roster, Sark's going to take a more NFL-style approach. As the new Trojans coach told USA Today, "When they go 'good on goods,' they compete like crazy, but they're smart."
Managing that situation is going to take real flexibility. Across the nation the bulk of programs absorb losses but have enough players, including quality walk-ons, to make spring the physical, heavy-competition hit-fest where players earn spots. At USC, Sarkisian will have to limit ones vs. ones and carefully use "thud" tempo to get his results.
Flexibility will be a key component for Sarkisian when spring ball kicks off. Flexibility in installing his system. Flexibility in what he asks his players to do during spring. Flexibility in managing the practice schedule to get results while protecting his limited bodies. Expect the coach to show just how flexible he can be with his roster.
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