USC Football: Position-by-Position Spring Practice Preview

Trenise Ferreira@@TreniseFerreiraUSC Lead WriterMarch 7, 2014

USC Football: Position-by-Position Spring Practice Preview

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    On March 11, USC officially kicks off its 2014 campaign by way of spring camp. It'll be Steve Sarkisian's first spring in Troy as the head coach, although his familiarity with the Trojan program should make the transition pretty painless. 

    It will be an exciting month for USC, with position battles taking place and a new offense getting installed. There's going to be a lot of action going on between now and the end of April, and fortunately for you, we got you covered. 

    Get ready for USC spring camp with this complete preview of each position group, listed from offense to defense. 

Offensive Line

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    The Players

    Seniors: Giovanni Di Poalo (RS), Aundrey Walker
    Juniors: Max Tuerk
    Sophomores: Zach Banner (RS), Jordan Simmons (RS), Chad Wheeler (RS)
    Freshmen: Nico Falah (RS), Toa Lobendahn (EE), Khaliel Rodgers (RS)
    Incoming: Jordan Austin, Chris Brown, Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao

    The offensive line play will be critical to USC's success in 2014, and as fate would have it, pretty much the entire unit will be in flux throughout spring camp. New offensive line coach Tim Drevno should have his hands full, figuring out which of his many options to rely on for starting jobs.

    Aundrey Walker, Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler are the only linemen who started in 2013 or have significant playing time in general. It's likely that all three will continue to be starters, though with Walker's still-healing broken ankle, another lineman (like Nico Falah) could contend with him for his position. As to what those positions will ultimately be, that's still up in the air. 

    The only position that seems to be set is Wheeler's; he will likely continue to serve as the left tackle. As for his fellow starting linemen, we could see some serious shuffling before fall rolls around.

    Khaliel Rodgers or early enrollee Toa Lobendahn could replace Marcus Martin at center, and if Lobendahn  doesn't win that job, his versatility could see him earn any of the other spots that are up for grabs. 

    Both Zach Banner (hip) and Jordan Simmons (knee) missed 2013 with season-ending injuries, and it's not clear yet if they will be ready to go for the spring.

    Even if they're not fully recovered, Banner will eventually be in the mix at right tackle, while Simmons will vie for a spot at guard. 

Tight Ends

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    The Players

    Seniors: Randall Telfer
    Juniors: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
    Sophomores: None
    Freshmen: None
    Incoming: Bryce Dixon

    One of USC's more anemic corps, the tight end unit only has two scholarship athletes, and only one will be available during the spring.

    Randall Telfer will continue to rehab a lingering knee injury, so we won't be seeing him at all until the fall. That means it will be the Cope-Fitzpatrick show all spring, and that's good for the junior tight end, as incoming freshmen Dixon will be gunning for him in fall camp.

    We have hardly seen anything from Cope-Fitzpatrick through two full seasons at USC, so this is a do-or-die spring for him. With the new offense that Sarkisian is installing, he could finally be in a position to show his worth.  


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    The Players

    Seniors: None
    Juniors: Cody Kessler (RS)
    Sophomores: None
    Freshmen: Max Browne (RS), Jalen Greene (EE)

    With Max Wittek having elected to transfer out of USC, the three-horse race at quarterback is down to a head-to-head duel between Cody Kessler and Max Browne.

    Kessler has the advantage of experience over Browne, as he spent the majority of 2013 as the signal-caller for the Trojans. The shaky, unsure quarterback who started against Hawaii blossomed into a leader and playmaker who threw for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns.

    In addition to slinging the rock, he proved to be more mobile than expected out of a USC quarterback, often making plays happen on the fly while under pressure. 

    Browne, on the other hand, was pegged as the savior of Troy coming out of high school in 2013, when he was the top-ranked quarterback in his class. He played in a spread offense in high school, so he has a little of a higher ceiling than Kessler. Browne has the build, skill set and arm to legitimately challenge Kessler for the starting job.

    While quarterbacks coach Clay Helton is familiar with Kessler and Browne's strengths, they will be auditioning for Steve Sarkisian for the first time. As it turns out, he recruited both of them out of high school, so it's reasonable to think he has some idea of how he feels either would fit into his scheme.

    Early enrollee Jalen Greene, the only true dual-threat quarterback in Troy, is not expected to seriously contend for the starting job this spring. Still, it will be a good opportunity for him to start learning the scheme and what could be expected of him in the future.  

Running Backs

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    The Players

    Seniors: D.J. Morgan (RS)
    Juniors: Javorius Allen (RS), Tre Madden (RS), Jahleel Pinner*, Soma Vainuku (RS)*
    Sophomores: Justin Davis, Ty Isaac

    The Trojans have a true stable of running back talent, which will make Sarkisian's job that much easier—or harder, depending on your perspective—when it comes to naming a starter.

    Tre Madden was the front-runner heading into the season, after an impressive effort during last spring and fall camps. But Justin Davis also made his name known at the time, and he proved to be a dominant, strong back for the Trojans before he was sidelined with injury. Ty Isaac even showed that despite his receiver-like build, he can pound the rock just as well as his fellow backs. 

    But Javorius "Buck" Allen impressed the most in 2013, coming up from the doldrums of the depth chart to be one of the darlings of the offense. 

    Davis—who had six touchdowns in six full games last season—will likely miss the spring as he is still recovering from an Achilles injury, so Madden and Allen will likely battle to be the feature back in Troy. But there's no question that both of these guys will get some serious face time come the fall.

    At fullback, Jahleel Pinner showed streaks of promise, but Soma Vainuku came alive in 2013. The starting job will be his to lose, and with his newfound aggressive streak, reliable hands and strong blocking abilities, he probably has the position locked up. 

Wide Receivers

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    The Players

    Seniors: None
    Juniors: Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell (RS), George Farmer (RS)
    Sophomores: Darreus Rogers
    Freshmen: Steven Mitchell (RS)
    Incoming: Ajene Harris, Rahshead Johnson, John “Juju” Smith

    Like the tight ends, the wide receiver corps at USC is pretty slim, though it's not in any way short on talent. 

    We know that Nelson Agholor has the No. 1 wide receiver job all locked up, but there will be some serious competition for who will play opposite him.

    Darreus Rogers has the best chance of winning that job, as he is the only one of USC's current wide receivers outside of Agholor who has a decent body of work. Victor Blackwell only had four catches on the season in 2013, and George Farmer has yet to stay healthy long enough to develop into the next big thing. 

    Steven Mitchell is still healing from a torn ACL, and we might not see him just yet in the spring. So Rogers will have a virtually competition-free spring to show that he is ready for a bigger role as a playmaker in the offense.

    And he's going to need to capitalize on that, because Ajene Harris, Rahshead Johnson and Juju Smith will be coming for him once fall camp starts. 

Defensive Line

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    The Players

    Seniors: J.R. Tavai
    Juniors: Claude Pelon (EE), Delvon Simmons (RS), Cody Temple (RS), Greg Townsend Jr. (RS), Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods (RS)
    Sophomores: None
    Freshmen: Kenny Bigelow (RS), Don Hill (EE)

    The Trojans defense flourished under Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 scheme, and it's expected that they will have similar success under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Per ESPN, he describes his scheme as "somewhere between a 4-3 and a 3-4," and that versatility should help make the defense even more competitive against the Pac-12's many spread offenses.

    There's some flexibility to be had on the defensive line, but we know one thing for certain: All-American defensive end Leonard Williams is sure to be a pillar of this unit. If he's the end in a 3-4 set or lined up at tackle in a 4-3, we know he will be called upon to do damage on the D-line. Williams will be out with injury jusring the spring, but his spot as a starter is secure. 

    We can also expect Antwaun Woods to continue serving as the nose tackle, with Kenny Bigelow learning behind him. 

    The competition to play opposite Williams will be interesting, with Claude Pelon, Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons and possibly even J.R. Tavai competing for that job. 

    We could also see any of these guys move to a different position on the line to maximize depth and rotation opportunities, so like the offensive line, this position group will be an important one to follow this spring.


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    The Players

    Seniors: Lamar Dawson, Hayes Pullard (RS), J.R. Tavai
    Juniors: Charles Burks (RS), Anthony Sarao (RS)
    Sophomores: Michael Hutchings, Quinton Powell, Jabari Ruffin (RS), Scott Starr (RS)
    Freshmen: None
    Incoming: Malik Dorton, Olajuwon Tucker

    Hayes Pullard is the only surefire starter of this group, although a handful of them have a decent amount of in-game experience. We know he will line up at the mike position, but outside of that, the three other linebacker spots are wide open.

    Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao are the next most-experienced linebackers, but Dawson went down in 2013 with a season-ending injury and isn't likely to be back by the spring. So Sarao will be fighting off the younger Trojans, Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell, who are gunning for starting opportunities.

    Replacing Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin at outside linebacker/defensive end could be J.R. Tavai (unless he is instead used as a true defensive end), who brilliantly stepped up for Breslin when he got injured. Tavai would be a shoo-in on the outside if the coaches intend to use him that way, and if not, look for Jabari Ruffin and Scott Starr to take a stab at it.

    If the coaches do keep Tavai at outside linebacker, then we could still see either Ruffin or Starr in that role, playing on the other side. 


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    The Players

    Seniors: Anthony Brown (RS)
    Juniors: Ryan Henderson (RS), Kevon Seymour
    Sophomores: Devian Shelton (RS)
    Freshmen: Chris Hawkins (RS)
    Incoming: Adoree’ Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg, Lamont Simmons

    The Trojans have five scholarship cornerbacks on roster, and none of them have been impact players thus far through their careers in the way that USC needs them to be.

    Chalk some of that up to injuries: Anthony Brown showed promise in both 2011 and 2013, but injuries took him out of the spotlight. If he's healthy, this will be his last chance to make something of his career.

    Chris Hawkins missed all of 2013 due to redshirting, and we just haven't seen anything significant from Ryan Henderson or Devian Shelton (who also missed time with a broken foot).

    Kevon Seymour is the lone bright spot of the group. He improved and impressed in 2013, finishing the season with defensive player of the game recognition in USC's Las Vegas Bowl victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs. He showed off his coverage skills in that game and looks to have one of the starting jobs locked up, going into the spring. 

    Josh Shaw started 11 games at corner in 2013, but he's expected to move back to his natural safety position this season. That being the case, Brown, Shelton and Henderson will jockey for the spot opposite Seymour.

    If none of them gets the job done however, a handful of promising talent is coming in once fall rolls around, so Justin Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward don't have to sweat about it too much. 


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    The Players

    Seniors: Gerald Bowman (RS), Josh Shaw (RS)
    Juniors: None
    Sophomores Su’a Cravens, Leon McQuay III
    Freshmen: None
    Incoming: Uchenna Nwosu

    Dion Bailey left a gaping hole when he declared early for the NFL draft, and the Trojans don't have too many options to fill it.

    Fortunately, Josh Shaw is expected to play alongside freshman All-American Su'a Cravens, so the safety position is all but locked up going into spring ball.

    Competing with Shaw will be Leon McQuay III, who is a talented prospect with a lot of upside. We saw him in a limited capacity last season, but when we did, he made his presence known. Gerald Bowman—who was fortunate to be granted a medical redshirt after battling a very serious leg injury—will also look to compete with Shaw and McQuay, although he has a lot of ground to make up after missing so much time. 


    All information provided by the USC 2014 Spring Prospectus.

Special Teams

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    The Players

    Seniors: Andre Heidari 
    Juniors: Kris Albarado (RS), Alex Wood
    Sophomores: None
    Freshmen: None

    USC's kicking and punting game have had their fair share of struggles over the past two seasons, and this spring will be a good time to regroup and focus on improving for the 2014 season.

    While Andre Heidari thrilled all in Troy when he made the game-winning field goal over No. 5 Stanford last season, he also had his fair share of misses from close range that frustrated both the coaches and fans alike. 

    Similarly, Kris Albarado has his fair of short, disappointing punts that didn't pin opposing offenses as deeply as the Trojan defense would have liked. His punts averaged a length of just 37 yards, which was good, but nowhere near great. 

    Both Albarado and Heidari will likely resume their roles as starters this season, so they really need to work on accuracy and distance this spring.