QB Matt Barkley, the only returning team captain, did a great job coordinating the winter workouts.
It is five-and-a-half months until the first game on Sept. 3 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but there is a lot of work to be accomplished, because the Trojans are talented but very young.
Forty-seven percent of the team members are freshmen (or redshirts). Both recruiting classes were in the top five nationally, so they are very talented and many will contribute this year.
USC has 13 returning starters, six on offense and seven on defense. There are no returning kicking starters on special teams.
So, there are a lot of positions to fill and the competition will be intense.
Here is the Trojans' spring practice preview, challenges and goals.
P.S. The USC Football 2011 Spring Prospectus was released on Mar. 17. Check it out here. Here are the Mar. 26 story on the Trojans Spring Practice First Week Observations and Highlights, Apr. 4 story on the Second Week of Spring Practice, Apr. 10 Third Week of Spring Practice, Apr. 17 Fourth Week of Spring Practice and the Trojan Huddle Spring Game.
Here are the current position designations for some players that were uncertain:
Cyrus Hobbi: OG*
Khaled Holmes: OG
Cody Temple: C*
Jeremy Galten: OT/OG
David Garness: OT
Aundrey Walker: OT*
J.R. Tavai: DT*
Dion Bailey: LB
Simione Vehikite: LB
Isiah Wiley: CB*
Patrick Hall: S
Tony Burnett: S
*Not available until fall practice
This is a time for some players to show what they can in order to contribute more fully in 2011. The Orange County Register ran a series of articles on the top 10 USC players to watching in spring ball. These include the following athletes with links to the OCR stories about them:
No. 1 RB Dillon Baxter
No. 2 QB Jesse Scroggins
No. 3 DE Nick Perry
No. 4 LB Hayes Pullard
No. 5 RB D.J. Morgan
No. 6 DB Patrick Hall
No. 7 WR Markeith Ambles
No. 8 S Drew McAllister
No. 9 FB Soma Vainuku
No. 10 C-OG Kahled Holmes
Here is the roster for spring practice, including walk-ons and injured players.
Unfortunately 22 (note that DE Steve Dillon signed his NLOI on Mar. 15) of the 2011 recruiting class cannot practice until August, but eight started classes early and are already practicing with the team. Furthermore, the following 12 injured players may not participate in spring practice or be very limited, leaving only 45 scholarship athletes available:
WR Kyle Prater may miss spring drills with a foot injury, although he is healing quickly and could participate later.
OL Khaled Holmes could be limited because of a shoulder injury.
DE Wes Horton could be limited in spring drills while rehabbing a foot injury.
DL Armond Armstead could miss spring drills due to a medical condition.
DT Christian Tupou probably will miss spring drills while recuperating from last year’s knee injury.
OLB Shane Horton is rehabbing from a hip injury and could miss spring drills.
MLB Devon Kennard likely will miss spring practice while healing from a hip injury.
S Drew McAllister could be limited in spring drills because of last season’s hip injury.
The good news is that the coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate the depth of the team. Clearly the reduced number of athletes will limit what the Trojans can do during spring practice, but it will also give some athletes a greater chance to show what they can do and learn.
There are three OL who will miss spring practice or be very limited, leaving only eight OL to practice based on this projected offensive line depth chart since all the freshmen are not available until the fall practice.
Galten and Garness are both junior college transfers and two other players have no experience. Lack of experience and depth for the OL has to be a great concern for head coach Lane Kiffin this spring. But, at least the coaches will get to see their depth before the veterans return and newcomers arrive in August.
“There will be a real lack of depth on the offensive line this spring because of injuries, so that will make for some very interesting practice formats" said Lane Kiffin. "We’ll get some help here in the fall when (the) newcomers come in and, if we can help hasten their development, they’ll have a chance to contribute immediately.”
Speaking of newcomers, it is possible that two freshmen will have a chance to start on the OL. The biggest issue for USC this year will be finding the help to protect QB Matt Barkley and open holes for the running backs.
Kristofer O’Dowd must be replaced as the USC starting center, and he was good enough to start as a true freshman. But, he was only the third Trojan true freshman OL to start an opener since WWII.
DaJohn Harris and Armond Armstead
Christian Tupou missed the 2010 season due to injury, so it would have helped if he could participate in spring ball. However, he is a senior and previous starter, so fall practice will likely be sufficient.
Let’s hope there are no new injuries in spring practice to this limited group of linemen.
Chris Galippo stops James Rogers
Except for Chris Galippo, there is very little experience in this group. Dion Bailey was just moved from DB. Devon Kennard needs the additional experience if he is going to continue to play MLB.
Again, the good news is the coaching staff will get to evaluate the LB depth, but decisions about starting LB will have to wait until the fall.
Robert Woods 97-yard TD kickoff return
USC has to replace its starting punter and placekicker. These were not strong parts of the 2010 season, although overall special teams play was a significant improvement over recent Trojan teams due to new Associate Head Coach John Baxter.
USC was seventh nationally in punt returns (14.6 yard average) and 17th in kickoff returns (24.5) with seven blocked punts and kicks, five two-point conversions, a defensive PAT, TDs on both a punt return and kickoff return and a successful fake punt and fake FG.
However, the Trojans reloaded with the nation’s top prep placekicker, Andre Heidari, and the top punter, Kris Albarado. The frosting on the cake is that USC also signed the nation’s top prep long-snapper, Peter McBride. Heidari and McBride are already taking classes at USC and participated in winter workouts.
After getting just one FG longer than 37 yards last season, it was nice to see Heidari hit seven 51-yarders in a row during winter workouts.
Punt returner Ronald Johnson, kickoff returner C.J. Gable, and holder Mitch Mustain must be replaced. But, returners include senior long-snapper Chris Pousson, who was flawless in winter workouts, and kickoff returner Robert Woods, who had 971 years in KOR with one 97-yard TD.
CB Nickell Robey is a candidate as a kickoff returner. Woods may also return punts. Candidates for the holder include QB Jesse Scroggins, walk-on QB John Manoogian or multiple threat RB Dillon Baxter.
This may be the best USC special teams unit in a decade, but it will start out very inexperienced.
Due to the limited roster, USC coaches must find a way to have effective practices without getting players hurt. The spring game may not have enough players in some positions to field two teams. This will take some innovation by the coaching staff.
This is an opportunity to teach many of the inexperienced players and evaluate the depth of the team. With so many key injured players missing, it may not be possible to determine the likely starters at all positions, and especially the five offense and four defense starter replacements.
It is important to use spring practice as a building block to the fall, and use fall practice to determine starting positions and pull the team together.
This is also an opportunity for the coaching staff to apply the lessons learned from 2010, and realize the 10 keys for 2011 as stated in USC Football: 2011 Trojans Will Be Led by QB Matt Barkley and Better Defense.
The first two keys have been realized due to the successful early recruiting and normal recruiting.
Spring practices will allow the coaching staff to make significant progress toward these keys:
3. Fill key positions
4. Better assessment of player’s skills
5. Improve the pass defense
7. Bring back the Trojan spirit
8. Play aggressive
9. Keep it simple
The good news is that the Trojans are very talented and with a roster of 79 scholarship players in the fall, more deep than last year with only 71. Fall practice will have the full team and here is the projected depth chart.