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Spring football begins at USC next Tuesday and with it comes the promise of a new football season.
There will be some differences in Troy this year, most notably the return of semi-open practices to the public. Head coach Steve Sarkisian will get to work installing the new up-tempo elements to USC offense, while a handful of position battles will get rolling on both sides of the ball. After about a month of drills and practices, the 2014 USC Trojans will start to take shape.
The USC athletic department released its spring media guide on Tuesday, and with it came a bevy of information regarding what we can expect from the Trojans at this time.
Listed in order of immediate importance, here are the Top 10 most important takeaways from the 2014 Spring Media Guide.
All stats and information provided by USC's Spring 2014 Media Guide, found here.
Jersey Numbers Update and Practice Viewing Information
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A handful of current Trojans, and all of the early enrollees, have been assigned new numbers. Listed in alphabetical order:
OL Jordan Austin - No. 56
QB Jalen Greene - No. 10
DE/OLB Don Hill - No. 59
OL Toa Lobendahn - No. 55
WR Steven Mitchell - No. 7
DE Claude Pelon - No. 90
LB Quinton Powell - No. 18
As previously mentioned, there will be 15 spring practices open to the public. Here's a rundown of viewing information:
March: 11, 13, 15, 25, 27, 29*
April: 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17
USC Spring Game: Apr. 19, 3:00 p.m. PT; Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. $10 admission
Per compliance regulations, the public cannot watch from the sidelines of Howard Jones Field but the first 200 fans instead can view the action from Dedeaux Deck and Prior Plaza, in the baseball complex. Weekday practices will begin at 4:00 p.m. and should last about two hours, while Saturday practices will begin at 11:00 a.m.
*The practice scheduled for Mar. 29 will take place at the Coliseum, but is free for fans to attend.
18 Starters Return for the 2014 Season
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18 starters return for Sarkisian's inaugural season at USC, including eight on each side of the ball, and the kicker and punter. In total, 80 Trojans (including walk-ons) return for 2014, 53 of whom saw some playing time come game day.
If those numbers seem dangerously low, it's because they are.
Sarkisian is working with a limited number of bodies in the spring, which will make it slightly more difficult for him to get the pulse of his new team. Fortunately, the 18 returners have enough experience and leadership among them that they will have a role in getting some of the younger, less-tested guys up to speed.
USC Lost a Handful of Starters to the NFL, All from Positions of Importance
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The Trojans lost just four offensive and three defensive starters from 2013 to the 2014 NFL draft, but you wouldn't know it based on the magnitude of the impact their departures meant.
On the offensive side of things, USC will have need to replace C Marcus Martin, OT Kevin Graf, TE Xavier Grimble and WR Marqise Lee. Finding a complement for Nelson Agholor at receiver will be the easiest of these three, as Darreus Rogers is waiting in the wings for his turn to shine. At tight end, USC will look to Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and incoming freshman Bryce Dixon to be big playmakers in Sarkisian's new offense.
Defensively, the Trojans will miss the pass-rushing threat of Devon Kennard (and that of Morgan Breslin, though he missed most of 2013 with injury), the interior line presence of George Uko and the athleticism and playmaking abilities of Dion Bailey. The competition to replace these guys will be fierce and will provide some of the best battles during this offseason.
Outside of the regular starters, The Trojans also lost RB Silas Redd and OG John Martinez, but thanks to a stable of tailbacks and a bevy of current and incoming offensive linemen, those two will not be as sorely missed. Torin Harris is also gone at cornerback, but the Trojans have more than enough talent at that position (though most of it is unproven) to replace him as well.
USC's Top 3 Defensive Leaders All Return for 2014
LB Hayes Pullard will be a defensive leader in 2014.
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Despite the significant losses on defense, the Trojans are fortunate to return with its most productive athletes on that side of the ball, in 2014.
Leading tacklers Hayes Pullard (94), Leonard Williams (73) and Josh Shaw (67) will all spend another season at USC, and the Trojan defense will greatly benefit from their presence and leadership. After Devon Kennard (13), Williams and J.R. Tavai had the second- and third-most tackles for loss in 2013, with 12.5 and 8.0, respectively. Williams also had the second-most sacks (5), and true freshman safety Su'a Cravens had the second-most interceptions, with four on the season.
While Sarkisian and new defensive coordinator are busy filling the holes left on the defense, they can rest assured knowing that USC's most prolific playmakers are still in the ranks and ready to pad their respective resumes with more stats.
Sarkisian Expects DE Claude Pelon to Contribute Immediately
Junior Claude Pelon comes to USC from the junior college ranks, and Sarkisian expects the defensive end to contribute right away during the spring.
The junior college All-American spent last season at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, but he missed most of the season due to injury. In 2012 however, he had 62 tackles (19.5 for loss) and a team-high 13 sacks.
His in-game experience is sure to bolster USC's defensive line, and we can expect that he will be in the mix for a starting job as soon as practices start.
Aundrey Walker to Miss Spring; Opens Up OG Competition
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Walker's career at USC has been lackluster so far, considering he was supposed to be a dominant presence on the Trojans' offensive line. Instead, he's been inconsistent in his play and is best known for giving up the sack against UCLA that injured Matt Barkley in 2012.
That season he started at left tackle, but switched to the right side in 2013. He went down with a broken ankle midway through the season, and will still be recovering from it this spring.
With him out of the mix, guys like Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah, and Zach Banner will compete to overtake Walker as the starter.
FB Soma Vainuku Expected to Have Bigger Role in 2013
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Prior to the 2013 season, fullback Soma Vainuku was more known for a series of untimely drops (including what would have been a touchdown) in USC's 2012 loss to Stanford. Last year though, he made a new name for himself by emerging as an absolute best on special teams. Vainuku impressed so much that he earned Pac-12 All-American first team honors as a special teams performer, racking up 13 tackles and blocking three punts.
Vainuku will likely be a pivotal player in Sarkisian's new offense, and we can expect the physical and versatile fullback to show that he can produce for the Trojans in that aspect of the game as well.
TE Randall Telfer to Miss Spring; Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick Will Get Quality Reps
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While he continues to nurse a nagging knee injury, veteran TE Randall Telfer is expected to miss all of spring ball. That being the case, developing sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will be getting quality reps in Telfer's absence.
Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster until Bryce Dixon arrives at USC in the fall. The are four other walk-ons in the ranks, and any of them could use the spring to show they are worth a second glance.
OL Cyrus Hobbi Has Left the Trojans
For unspecified reasons, OL Cyrus Hobbi (center) has left the team.
There have been rumblings of this all offseason, and on Tuesday, USC's athletic department confirmed in the release of the new media guide that OL Cyrus Hobbi is no longer with the football team.
The university did not cite a reason for Hobbi's departure.
The offensive lineman is best known for his cringe-inducing performance against Stanford in 2012, when he had to step in for the injured Khaled Holmes at center. In that game, Hobbi was absolutely outmatched at the line of scrimmage, and Matt Barkley spent most of the afternoon scrambling or in the dirt.
Last November, Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, wrote a feature about Hobbi, and how that game negatively shaped his USC career. In the article, Hobbi said, “It put things in perspective. It just made me realize that I couldn’t let it destroy me so much as a person or a player.”
For whatever reason, however, Hobbi will not be a part of the 2014 season with the Trojans.
His departure leaves USC with just 70 scholarship athletes this year, because the Trojans cannot fill any spots beyond the 19 scholarships they used in the 2014 recruiting cycle.
USC cannot replace scholarships lost to early NFL departures or from the transfer of Max Wittek, either.
USC Was Top 10 in the Red Zone and Time of Possession in 2013
USC excelled in the redzone in 2013.
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Of USC's offensive strengths in 2013, the spring media guide highlights USC's red-zone effectiveness and overall time of possession. The Trojans ranked first in the Pac-12 in both categories, and sixth and 10th nationally, respectively.
The Trojans also reduced their turnovers 50 percent, from 34 to 17 in 2013. Despite breaking in a new quarterback last season, USC still managed to average 30 points and 400 yards of total offense per game.
Sarkisian will certainly look to improve that productivity in 2014, but he will really want to boost USC's stats in the areas that it struggled in last season. The Trojans continued to struggle on third downs, completing just 35.1 percent of their attempts in 2013. USC also gave up 2.43 sacks, and both of those figures place the Trojans in the bottom third of the Pac-12.
Trojans Will Face 9 Teams in 2014 That Were Bowl Eligible Last Season
USC will host Notre Dame this year, Thanksgiving weekend.
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Sarkisian's first season in Troy will be no cake-walk, as the Trojans have a challenging slate ahead of them. USC will face nine teams in 2014 that played in a bowl game last season, six teams that won at least eight games (and four that won 10 or more) and four teams that were ranked in the final AP rankings.
With so many potentially good games coming up in the fall, it's that much more important for this Trojan team to pick up the new scheme as quickly as possible. For Sarkisian's sake, USC cannot afford to be baptized by fire; it has to get as many kinks worked out as possible between spring and fall camps.