Breaking Down USC's Latest Depth-Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

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Breaking Down USC's Latest Depth-Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp
USA TODAY Sports

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said at last month's Pac-12 media days that the Trojans' Week 1 lineup would be a work in progress well into fall camp.

"We're going to go back into training camp and let guys compete like crazy," he said.

With one week of practices complete, some dynamics to the ongoing competition changed.

The Trojans were dealt a major blow when linebacker Jabari Ruffin suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday.

Ruffin was competing for the starting job at SAM linebacker, but his absence likely means Quinton Powell takes over the spot. Behind Powell is freshman Uchenna Nwosu.

The other big roster shakeup from the Trojans' first week of fall camp was the loss of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who was declared academically ineligible (h/t SI.com).

With USC already thin at tight end, Cope-Fitzpatrick's departure leaves the Trojans with senior Randall Telfer and freshman Bryce Dixon as the only scholarship players on the depth chart.

Chris Wilson helped fill the void USC faced at tight end last season, playing in four games while Telfer was injured. His ability as a blocker could get him into the rotation, with the Trojans dealing with uncertainty on the offensive line.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran Max Tuerk anchors the unit in his third year as a starter, though is continuing his transition to center. Left tackle Chad Wheeler is also back, but the rest of the starting spots are up for grabs.

Freshman Toa Lobendahn's quick acclimation earned him first-string repetitions last week, living up to Sarkisian's billing at Pac-12 media days:

To Toa's credit, he's worked extremely hard. He's done great in the classroom, had a really good spring practice, and he's worked really [well]. I would foresee him being the middle of the battle for a starting spot.

Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers capitalized on his opportunity at right guard. Sarkisian told Michael Lev of the Orange County Register that veteran Aundrey Walker may be losing ground to the youngsters while recovering from an ankle injury.

He’s just not bouncing back the way we would have hoped. Obviously, these are valuable reps that he’s missing out on that young guys are getting, and they’re getting better and better and better.

On the opposite side of the line, the first week of fall camp has been an all-around trying time. Antwaun Woods, who earned high praise from both Sarkisian and teammate Leonard Williams at Pac-12 media days, is sidelined for a brief duration with an elbow injury.

USC was already without Kenny Bigelow at nose tackle, who was ruled out for 2014 with an ACL tear in July, while Cody Temple, a third at the position, sustained a concussion. The assortment of ailments forced reshuffling along the defensive front.

Meanwhile, Williams sat out Sunday to rest a sore shoulder—though not the same shoulder he had surgery to repair this offseason, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times 

While only Ruffin's knee injury appears to impact USC's Week 1 lineup against Fresno State, the rash of minor injuries is a reminder of issues that plague the Trojans' depth chart. With fewer than 70 scholarship players, the result of three years of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, the situation is tenuous.

Running back stands out as one position in which depth is not a concern, and Sarkisian could make the most of it.

USC will rotate ball-carriers, per the Orange County Register. Last year's breakout star, Javorius "Buck" Allen, seems to endorse the move.

"It’s great to have guys back,” Allen told Lev. He referred to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, both of whom missed the back half of 2013. “If we can get a rotation going, everybody’s fresh, nobody’s getting beat up.”

  

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com 

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