USC Football: 6 Lessons Learned in Spring Practice
As USC closes its first set of practices under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, there are plenty of reasons for the Trojans' legions of fans to be excited as the 2014 college football season draws near.
With the arrival of "Sark," USC has been reshaped into a fast-paced team that mirrors its excitable head coach as he installs his hurry-up offense, while the defense finds its way under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Along the way, the coaches have learned a lot about their players as they have adapted to a new system that is far removed from the stoic days of the now departed Lane Kiffin.
This slideshow will look at some of the lessons learned from spring practice and how they may translate into the fall and beyond.
Here is what we now know about the Trojans after the first camp of practices.
The Offensive Line Is Still a Question Mark
USC will enter the 2014 season with many of the same questions that faced last year's squad, not the least of which is: Just how effective will the offensive line be?
Gone are starting center Marcus Martin and right tackle Kevin Graf, which means that former guard Max Tuerk now finds himself snapping the ball to quarterback Cody Kessler in Sark's offense. Fortunately for all concerned, that comes via the shotgun.
While center snaps have not been perfect, Tuerk is performing well and should be fine after fall practice.
However, the Trojans will still have to plug players into the offensive line. Although Chad Wheeler returns as the starter at left tackle, the rest of the line is up for grabs.
It is possible that Aundrey Walker will reclaim a tackle or guard spot that he lost either to injury or inconsistent play, and if motivated, he can be effective.
Meanwhile, true freshman Toa Lobendahn has served notice that he will be part of the line sooner rather than later, but is this a case of a precocious youngster forcing his way into the lineup or a lack of experienced talent?
Finally, big Zach Banner looks like a new guy after returning from surgery on both of his hips, and offensive line coach Tim Drevno must be thrilled with Banner's development.
USC has the talent to be dominant at some point with this unit, and the Trojans have some talented freshmen coming in the fall, but it still remains to be seen if they can put it all together by the start of the season.
Sark Made the Right Call in Naming Cody Kessler the Starting Quarterback
The battle to see who would begin the 2014 season as USC's starting quarterback was pretty much over before it started, and the incumbent—Cody Kessler—will open this season in the same role as last year.
To be certain, redshirt freshman Max Browne is a fabulous talent who may take over the starting gig at some point, but Kessler's growth in general and his grasp of Sark's offense in particular made this decision a fairly easy one.
Given the strong performance delivered by Kessler in the spring and the associated growth of his confidence as a result, he is now poised to have a breakout season this year.
Which means Browne will have to do more to take his job away.
The Battle to See Who Starts Opposite Nelson Agholor Will Continue to the Fall
While the starting quarterback question has been answered, exactly who Kessler will be throwing to has only been half solved.
Nelson Agholor is a star in the making, and Trojans fans should be thrilled as they await the highlight-reel exploits of No. 15.
However, the identity of exactly who will start opposite of him remains to be seen. While Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and even the returning George Farmer Jr. have all had their moments, this battle should extend into the fall.
Having said that, look for Rogers to be the guy when all is said and done.
Scott Starr Is Poised to Have a Breakout Year
Injuries have kept Scott Starr from making much of an impact at USC, but now that he is healthy, he is making his presence felt at rush end.
The Scout.com 4-star linebacker from Norco, Calif., has always had the talent, and now he is getting the opportunity, which he obviously has embraced.
He is listed as a co-starter with J.R. Tavai in Sark's recently released spring depth chart, and he will push Tavai—who is fabulously talented in his own right—for the starting spot when the season begins.
One way or the other, Starr has worked his way into the rotation and should be a force in 2014.
Claude Pelon Is the Real Deal at Defensive Tackle
With George Uko opting to test the NFL waters after the 2013 season, USC needed some quick solutions along the defensive line, and 2014 Scout.com 4-star junior college transfer Claude Pelon has delivered big time.
Pelon, who enrolled in time to make the spring practice session, has been all that he was advertised and more.
The 6'5", 275-pounder has been a quick study in Justin Wilcox's defense, and for his efforts, he was named a starter on the spring depth chart.
He will only get better as he gains experience, and given his dominant performance so far, that is good news for those who follow the Trojans.
Coupled with the inspired play of Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons and nose tackle Antwaun Woods, along with the depth that Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend Jr. provide, it is easy to see why people are excited with the play of this unit in the spring.
And let's not forget that Leonard Williams—an All-American in 2013—will be back for the fall.
The Spring Depth Chart Will Undergo Significant Changes in the Fall
Although Steve Sarkisian and his staff have received a glimpse of their new team this spring, they will have a far better grasp on what they have when the fall session gets under way.
Missing this spring are likely starters such as tight end Randall Telfer, running backs Javorius "Buck" Allen and Justin Davis, linebacker Lamar Dawson and safety Su'a Cravens, just to name a very few.
It is likely that the spring depth chart will be just a starting point for further changes in the fall, so fans should keep a close eye on the roster when the next practice session starts.
The reunion of Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans should have fans of the program excited with the direction it is going.
Relentlessly optimistic and surrounded by an outstanding cadre of assistants, Sark has put his stamp on USC early on, and the program is feeling the effects of his efforts.
With spring practice in the rearview mirror, the Trojans will look forward to the fall session now with a solid foundation under them, thanks to the work of the new regime.
Look for the return of injured players, along with the influx of 2014 recruits in the fall, to alter this spring's version of the depth chart, but to what extent remains to be seen.
However the final depth chart looks in the fall, you can be sure that its shape will be constituted by the work done in the spring. The lessons learned here are a good jumping-off point for the start of what should be an exciting college football season.
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