USC Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker
Position battles are all the rage in Southern California this spring, as NFL departures and injuries have left many positions vacant and ripe for the taking.
Because the Trojans had spring break after the first week of practices, nothing too major happened during week two. But the position battles are back on in full swing at USC, and a few should be nearly resolved by fall camp. The new coaching staff has about a dozen practices left to observe their available talent, and to figure out a depth chart based on who's impressing the most right now.
Let's take a look at some of the more interesting position battles heading into the third week of spring ball, listed in order from offense to defense.
The competition for the right to be USC's signal-caller in 2014 is in full swing, and it is the most important position battle of the bunch.
In the first week things seemed to be pretty even, but they got interesting these past few practices. Head coach Steve Sarkisian gave the most detailed update thus far regarding how the competition is going after Saturday's scrimmage.
For the first time, there's been some separation.
"Max (Browne) is improving, but maybe not at the rapid pace that Cody (Kessler) has so far," Sark told the media in attendance.
Kessler had the advantage coming into spring ball thanks to his starting experience, and for now, it appears that he's going to keep that through the offseason. Browne still has plenty of time to make a case for himself, but he will want to really impress in the coming weeks and take away some of Kessler's edge.
USC's offensive line is the most unsure of all position groups, with NFL departures and injuries leaving nearly every spot wide open. We've already seen immediate changes, with the versatile Max Tuerk getting first team reps at center instead of left guard. He started at guard for most of 2013 and even got some looks at right tackle when former Trojan Kevin Graf was injured.
To maximize talent on the field, Tuerk has yet again moved positions, and he's filling his new role at center seamlessly.
That leaves Toa Lobendahn with a really good opportunity to compete for the starting left guard job. In the first week, the early enrollee spent time running with the second-team offense at center, but he has since been moved. Because fellow guards like Jordan Simmons and Giovanni Di Paolo have been hurt or unproven, it really gives Lobendahn equal footing to crack the starting rotation.
On the other side, Khaliel Rodgers looks to be a shoo-in for the right guard spot. A standout on the practice field through his first year at USC, Rodgers is proving to the coaches that he is ready for a more visible role.
Both Rodgers and Lobendahn have really impressed so far, which will make things all the more interesting when incoming offensive guards Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown arrive on the scene in the fall.
USC has running backs for days, which means Steve Sarkisian will have plenty of options for how he wants to use them. While at Washington, he often employed a feature-back system, and there has been much speculation as to what he would do at USC. With Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Ty Isaac and the injured Justin Davis headlining the backfield, Sark has a dream stable of running backs.
Last week, he spoke to the media a little about his plan for them, indicating that the uptempo scheme will lend itself to multiple backs sharing the load.
Davis has the surest, most reliable hands of the stable and will undoubtedly be a mainstay once he returns from injury. In the meantime, Allen and Madden are showing they create a tandem reminiscent of the thunder-and-lighting attack provided by former Trojans Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
As for Isaac, he too is improving this spring, though his size (6'2.5", 240 lbs) suggests he will be used more specifically than liberally. The incredibly talented running back showed what he brings to the table during the Las Vegas Bowl, where he impressed with a 17-yard burst of athleticism and made a dazzling 35-yard reception.
There's no definitive pecking order yet for the running backs, and this position group will surely be one of the most exciting to evolve over the offseason.
We know that sophomore phenom Nelson Agholor will headline USC's aerial assault, but the spot opposite him is ripe for the taking.
Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell, George Farmer and Steven Mitchell are currently in the mix for it, and a handful of promising signees will join the corps in the fall.
The sophomore Rogers is in the best position this spring, having really stood out in 2013, and his blend of size and athleticism makes him the perfect fit for Sark's new offense.
But Farmer is also out to prove that he is prepared for his moment.
The junior wide receiver was supposed to be the next big thing out of Junipero Serra High School, but a series of unfortunate injuries have kept him sidelined his entire collegiate career. This spring, he's finally healthy and participating, though in a no-contact yellow jersey.
In the first week of practice, Farmer told TOUT's Scott Wolf, "After today, I’m very confident in it [his knee]," and further said that his knee feels to be at about 85 percent, according to Neon Tommy's Jacob Freedman.
If Farmer's knee holds up, the battle between he and Rogers to complement Agholor will be incredibly exciting.
USC's linebacker corps is loaded with talent, and only Hayes Pullard at the Mike position is a sure-fire starter.
That means the Sam, Will and rush end positions are all open, and the battles across the board have been riveting.
At Sam, Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin have been dueling for the starting job, while Scott Starr and J.R. Tavai have been competing on the edge. In the first week, Ruffin and Starr got exclusive first-team reps, but really any combination of this quartet would yield a strong defensive effort for the Trojans.
Lamar Dawson's injury keeps him sidelined all spring, which means Anthony Sarao has had nearly exclusive reps with the first team at the Will position. Furthermore, because Dawson has largely underwhelmed thus far through his career, the battle between him and Sarao will be one to watch once Dawson returns in the fall.
Because defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox uses a 3-4 scheme with multiple fronts, we are going to see lots of changes and versatility from this group in the coming weeks.