USC took to the field for the first time in the Steve Sarkisian era Wednesday with the beginning of 15 spring practices, and initial workouts revealed plenty about the offensive direction Sarkisian is taking the Trojans.
Sarkisian wasted no time implementing his hurry-up scheme, as Fox Sports' Rahshaun Haylock noted via Twitter.
Cody Kessler says team ran 120 plays in an hour and 45 minutes. That's 120 plays in 105 minutes or 1.14 plays per minute. Math majors?— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) March 12, 2014
For context on just how fast the Trojans were moving, last year's team averaged 66 snaps per game.
Quarterback Cody Kessler called the practice "100 percent [different]" from past workouts, via USCTrojans.com. "It was way different," he added. "We did literally nothing the same."
All those repetitions means plenty of opportunities for the new staff to get looks at Kessler and teammate Max Browne. Scott Wolf of The Los Angeles Daily News noted the duo took numerous snaps.
Lots of reps for Cody Kessler and Max Browne today. Not so many for freshman Jalen Greene during #USC practice— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) March 14, 2014
Kessler led the Trojans to 10 wins in 2013 and capped the season with his best individual performance in their Las Vegas Bowl rout of Fresno State, but the implementation of a new offense under a new regime means an opportunity for the ballyhooed redshirt freshman Browne to play his way into the lineup.
But Kessler embraces the competition.
"I have been competing my whole life. Even if [the coaches] didn't say [the starting job was open], I'd still be competing" Kessler said per USCTrojans.com.
The no-huddle and quarterback competition are not the only storylines unfolding in USC's spring season, however. Offensive lineman Max Tuerk moved from guard to center, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. And Sarkisian told Klein that Tuerk's performance was promising.
"It is comforting to know that you have an experienced player at center when you’re operating at this pace," Sarkisian said.
The rest of the offensive line will require some reshuffling, however, as the unit is one of the more pressing question marks facing the Trojans in 2014. Early enrollee and 2014 recruit Toa Lobendahn's progress is one of the more notable developments for USC to track this spring. Haylock tweeted Lobendahn saw snaps at center with the Trojans' second unit.
Max Tuerk received 1st team reps at center. Toa Lobendahn received 1st team reps at center with 2nd unit.— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) March 12, 2014
Lobendahn is one of five early-enrolled signees from the Pac-12's highest-rated class. The most highly rated of the group—offensive lineman Damien Mama and athletes Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith"—won't begin practicing until the summer.
But the official USC athletics Twitter account shared an Instagram photo of Jackson and Mama observing the proceedings on Thursday.
The next generation of USC Football - Damien Mama and Adoree' Jackson - are watching spring practice… http://t.co/oTlvtsbEnw— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) March 14, 2014
Along with the changes to the offensive line, USC is also in flux at tight end with Xavier Grimble's early departure. Randall Telfer, one of Bleacher Report analyst Michael Felder's top tight ends for 2014, is nursing an injury, and highly touted recruit Bryce Dixon won't arrive until the summer.
That leaves Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who is capitalizing as the Trojans' lone tight end. Sarkisian told USCTrojans.com:
In this system, we love to utilize the tight end. Jalen has really focused himself on trying to come out and have a good spring. He got opportunities today to make plays down the field and he made them.
The Trojans defense is initiating some changes of its own. New coordinator Justin Wilcox brings a 3-4 scheme, which linebacker Hayes Pullard told USCTrojans.com the differences between the new base formation and former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 were minimal.
USC lost five early entries to May's NFL draft, tied for the most in the Pac-12, but Pullard's decision to stay was a boon for the Trojans. He'll be the defense's veteran anchor and an inspirational leader. He led the Trojans in tackles last season, and the reasoning he gave for returning for his senior season was certainly a good example for the younger Trojans, per USC's Twitter account.
Why did @FightOn10 return for his senior season at USC? "I promised my mom that I was going to graduate with a degree," Pullard said.— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) March 14, 2014