The spring game quickly approaches at USC, as the Trojans completed another week of spring practices on Thursday. Things are really starting to come together for Steve Sarkisian, and despite the new offense, the atmosphere around practices feels like the old USC style.
In a week, we will get our first true glimpse of what we can expect from the Trojans come the fall, but for now, let's revisit the standout moments from this installment of spring ball.
The Future of Adoree' Jackson
Easily USC's biggest catch of the 2014 season, Adoree' Jackson has many anxiously anticipating his arrival to the Trojan ranks. On Thursday, Sarkisian volunteered some insight about how Jackson could be used next season, and it's a pretty exciting development:
Sark said that Adoree Jackson will likely start off playing both sides, but they will revisit that in June. Other guys could as well.— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) April 11, 2014
There hasn't been a notable two-way player at USC in recent memory, with the exception of Marqise Lee, who briefly lined up at cornerback against Oregon in 2012. Jackson's place at USC has been debated since the 5-star athlete signed with the cardinal and gold, and playing him at both wide receiver and cornerback solves that dilemma.
Furthermore, Jackson isn't the only one that could pull double-duty:
Sark said where Adoree', Juju, and Johnson play are still up for discussion. Decision won't be made "on a whim"— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) April 11, 2014
Sark did say they would revisit these options over the fall, but it's a promising possibility to think about nonetheless.
If Jackson, Juju Smith and Rahshead Johnson (or any of these three, for that matter) truly do end up playing on both sides of the field for USC, the Trojans become that much more dynamic of a team in 2014.
QB Battle in the Homestretch
At the beginning of spring camp, Sarkisian said he didn't have a timeline for naming a starter and that he would do so when it felt right. As practices went on, the head coach alluded to separation between returning starter Cody Kessler and his challenger, Max Browne, with Kessler having the advantage. On Tuesday, Sark all but declared the competition over:
Sark said they are closer to naming a starting QB and he anticipates it will be before the end of spring. #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) April 9, 2014
Many people are asking. I would be shocked if Cody Kessler was not named the starting QB. #USC— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) April 9, 2014
Sark reiterated that after Thursday's practice as well:
Sark, on announcing his quarterback: "It's marinating. ... I'm not ready to cook it yet."— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 11, 2014
Kessler and Browne will have their final showdown next Saturday, and at some point after that, we can expect Sark to announce that Kessler has retained his job.
To Garry Paskwietz of ESPN.com, Sark elaborated about having (mostly) reached a decision:
I would suspect we’ll name one before the end of spring. As I’ve said before, when I have a pretty good feeling for it I’m going to let it sit for a little bit, maybe watch for a bit and view it that way, see what that feels like. I feel like that’s a good way to go about it.
Choosing a starting quarterback has been Sark's most important, most pressing issue since he got hired, and with that in the bag, he can move on to further shaping the offense around that athlete's skill set.
Defense Rising to the Occasion
During the third week of spring practices, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told the media that while the defense would start strong against the uptempo offense, productivity would taper off throughout the scrimmage sessions. This week, it appears the defense has responded.
Sark lauded the unit after practice on Tuesday:
Sark gave credit to the defense today, great energy, forced turnovers and got 3rd down stops. He singled out Gerald Bowman and Antwaun Woods— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) April 9, 2014
On Thursday, more positive feedback came from the coaches about their effort:
JR Tavai was back in practice today, and that picked up the spirits of Justin Wilcox: "It was great news to me...Huge. Fired me up!"— Evan Budrovich (@evanbud) April 11, 2014
Sark points to Antwaun Woods as "the standard on the defense all spring". Says he's not just a space eater as a nose tackle.— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) April 11, 2014
Also names Scott Starr, Kevon Seymour and Chris Hawkins as other defensive standouts.— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) April 11, 2014
Rahshaun Haylock of FoxSports.com outlined just how important Woods is to USC's defense and what his progression means to the team going forward.
The fact that the defense is starting to gel is particularly good news, as the Trojans have kept contact in practices to a minimum due to injury and depth concerns.
With the veteran Trojans that Sark mentioned stepping up to lead the defense, we can expect an even more spirited and competitive fall camp in four months.
A handful of former Trojans attended Thursday's practice:
It was know-your-90s-Trojan day, with Brad Otton, Daylon McCutcheon and Lawrence Larry at practice.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) April 11, 2014
Sark plans to baptize the incoming freshman by fire:
Sarkisian said Day 1 the freshmen will be thrown in with the 1's "just to see how they respond emotionally."— Rahshaun Haylock (@RHaylock) April 11, 2014
Sark praises the efforts of strength coach Ivan Lewis, who previously worked with Sark at Washington:
On conditioning, Sark points out Ivan Lewis was strength coach of the year last yr. Said he's been impressed w/Lewis since first stint at SC— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) April 11, 2014
The Trojans will hold another light scrimmage Saturday, before the annual spring game takes place in the Coliseum next Saturday, April 19, at 3 p.m. PT.