USC Football: 5 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014
Spring ball is back in session at USC after the Trojans were away for a week, due to spring break. Now that they return to Howard Jones Field, the team will really get to work hammering out position battles, and laying the foundation for what the Trojans will look like come the fall.
For a handful of players, that means stepping up as a starter, or embracing a more versatile, expanded role.
Let's take a look at five such players for whom 2014 will be a very important year. Players are listed in order from offense to defense.
OL Khaliel Rodgers
Going into spring, it looked as if Khaliel Rodgers would be a staple at center, battling for a starting spot. Through the first week of practices however, Rodgers has shifted over to right guard. He's been getting first-team reps at that position, and so far, he has fit in seamlessly.
A physical, aggressive blocker, Rodger's style of play is perfect for new offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who emphasizes toughness up front.
By successfully moving over a position, Rodgers is making it easier for USC to field it's best O-line talent all at the same time. For now, Max Tuerk seems to be the shoo-in at center, after having quite the versatile career himself.
Rodgers has played the role of backup thus far through his career as a Trojan, and the work he has put in on the practice field is paying dividends now that he's called upon as a starter. If he wants to maintain that status, he will need to go above and beyond this spring: heavy hitters Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown will join the ranks of Troy in August, and they will be looking for a starting job to steal.
TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick gets to rule the roost during the spring, as veteran tight end Randall Telfer is still healing from lingering knee issues. As fate would have it, Cope-Fitzpatrick is tasked with rising to the occasion after a coaching change that includes a tight end-friendly scheme, and there are no scholarship options to compete with him while he goes about learning his new assignments.
In the first week of practices, Cope-Fitzpatrick displayed reliable hands, and the athleticism head coach Steve Sarkisian is looking for in a tight end.
With a competition-free spring, Cope-Fitzpatrick is poised to prove his worth at USC for the first time. And he's really going to need to use every practice to do so, as incoming freshman Bryce Dixon will be coming for his head in the fall.
CB Chris Hawkins
Playing in one of USC's thinnest position groups, Chris Hawkins will have an important job this spring. The redshirt freshman got reps with the first team during the opening week of spring practices, as veteran cornerback Josh Shaw is out with a stress fracture in his foot. Hawkins impressed in those three practices, picking off quarterback Cody Kessler on the very first day, and generally playing with the confidence of one who has spent a year learning the ropes at the college level.
We know that when Shaw returns from injury he will resume his role as a starter. Hawkins will be using his time with the first team to show he can compete for the spot opposite Shaw, currently occupied by Kevon Seymour, who really blossomed towards the end of the 2013 season.
Whether Hawkins will prove to be starter material has yet to be determined, but his role will undoubtedly expand as a result of his performance over the next month.
OLB Quinton Powell
Quinton Powell spent 2013 as a reserve Will linebacker but in Justin Wilcox's new defensive scheme, he's moving back to the Sam position. He thrived there in high school, and through the first week of spring camp, he's excelling. He's got in with the first-team defense and impressed not only in coverage, but also coming off the edge.
Powell is one of many young Trojans that were expected to come in and make an early impact, and now that vacancies have opened up, the sophomore is delivering on his highly touted recruiting status. A new schematic change is allowing him to showcase his talents, and the young linebacker is ready to take on more of a visible role with the Trojans.
Rush End/LB Scott Starr
Various injuries have kept Scott Starr from progressing as expected, but the redshirt sophomore is healthy this spring, and ready to put in work.
Through Week 1, Starr has been running with the starters, lining up as a rush in in the new 3-4, multiple-front scheme being installed by Justin Wilcox. On the practice field, he's proven to be a disruptive pass-rusher and he can wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage, something that is sure to impress the new coaching staff.
He hasn't seen the field on game day much, but open positions are propelling him into the spotlight. Starr will be called upon often during spring ball, and how he answers will determine how much of a role he has in the fall.