USC Football: Top Performers from the Trojans Spring Game
Certainly there is a limit to what can be gleaned from a controlled scrimmage, and this is especially the case for a team as limited as USC.
In Saturday's spring game, the Trojans were without 23 players, either due to injury or precautionary measures of the coaching staff.
The defense dominated an offense that operated conservatively. USC went without a touchdown, though head coach Steve Sarkisian seemed unconcerned.
"We’ll be a good red-zone offense," he said via USCTrojans.com. "Historically, wherever I’ve gone, we’ve been good in the red zone. Obviously this was a bit of a vanilla game plan."
The significance of the spring game is best examined through the impact some of the top performers can have in shaping the team's identity in the fall.
LB Scott Starr
Redshirt sophomore Scott Starr was all over the field in the spring game, attacking off the edge from his outside linebacker spot. That's a good sign for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who needs depth.
USC played just 13 defenders in its Nov. 16, 2013 upset of Stanford, but such a thin rotation is not a sustainable, season-long plan. The emergence of a role player like Starr, who last season appeared in just six games, is precisely the kind of development USC needs to build its depth.
"I really like his hybrid body type," Wilcox told USCTrojans.com. "I'm excited about Scott."
Starr validated Wilcox's excitement Saturday. He recorded a sack, and said per USCTrojans.com he was hungry for more"
It was good to get a sack, but I wanted to get even more. We've got a long way to go, but this is a great building point for us. We have our chemistry down as a defense, and now we've just got to put the final pieces together to be ready for fall.
TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
Spring practices presented Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick a prime opportunity to make a statement. Saturday's spring game was the exclamation point on what was already an impressive showing for the junior.
With Randall Telfer nursing an injury and highly touted prospect Bryce Dixon not arriving until summer, Cope-Fitzpatrick was USC's only scholarship tight end available for the 15-practice slate. In an offense that Sarkisian promised would make effective use of tight ends as pass-catchers, Cope-Fitzpatrick became a focal point.
That was evident Saturday, as he hauled in three passes. Those three catches equaled both a team-high on the day, and two receptions more than he made in all of 2013.
Cope-Fitzpatrick's emergence is among the most promising revelations for the Trojans this spring.
WR Darreus Rogers
Nelson Agholor is the undisputed No. 1 in USC's wide receiving corps, but the talented junior needs a strong supporting cast for the Trojans passing game to truly thrive. Enter Darreus Rogers.
Rogers finished his freshman season strong, grabbing 21 of his 22 receptions in Week 8 or later. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he's a big, physical complement to the speedy Agholor, and this spring he made headway in the competition to be the Trojans' No. 2.
Sarkisian told USCTrojans.com that Rogers has the tools to be a primary weapon in the passing attack:
[W]hen you go from a guy who has been a role player to being one of the guys, it is a little different. It's different from a mental stand point in that every snap you have to be locked in and focused. It's not physical for Darreus, it's the mental aspect of having to really lock in on the details every single snap. And he'll get it, he's a competitive guy, it's just a matter of getting it done.
Rogers caught a pair of passes for 40 yards and also drew a pass interference flag on a well-thrown ball by redshirt freshman quarterback Max Browne.
WR Victor Blackwell
In much the same vein as Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell demonstrated his potential to fortify the Trojans receiving corps on Saturday despite the team's overall offensive anemia.
Blackwell made two grabs for 51 yards—two yards more than the 49 he hauled in during his seven appearances in 2013. One of his receptions was a tough catch in traffic.
Blackwell's promising effort is a building block for him going forward, as Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times reports Sarkisian said he was looking for more "consistency" out of the redshirt junior.
DL Claude Pelon
Junior college transfer Claude Pelon was expected to factor into the Trojans defense immediately, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told the Los Angeles Daily News Pelon had a "significant" road ahead of him to transition to the rigors of the Division I game.
Pelon's performance in the spring game was a stride toward making that significant transition. He made the best of his spot atop the depth chart at defensive tackle, recording a team-high two sacks.
His continued progression and familiarity with the defense is important for a line that is replacing George Uko.
S Leon McQuay III
Among the more difficultly replaced Trojans from the 2013 lineup is safety Dion Bailey. Bailey was a ball hawk in the secondary with 62 tackles and five interceptions.
Sophomore Leon McQuay III has a high standard to meet, but he made a few impressive plays Saturday, including an aggressive pass break-up.
Teaming with fellow second-year defensive back Su'a Cravens, who missed the spring game, the duo is primed to be one of the nation's top safety tandems per B/R national analyst Michael Felder.