USC Football: Top 15 Trojan Players to Step Up in 2011

Bill NCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

USC Football: Top 15 Trojan Players to Step Up in 2011

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  The USC Trojans come through the tunnel to the field before the game with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Notre Dame won 20-16.  (Photo by
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    USC is moving on despite the unfair NCAA appeal decision, so let's discuss the Trojan football players who need to step up this year.  All that matters now is winning football games.

    On April 5th, after watching spring practice film, Lane Kiffin identified seven USC football players who are star players and have NFL talent as reported by Pedro Moura of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

    These players include 2011 season junior quarterback Matt Barkley, sophomore WR Robert Woods, senior TE Rhett Ellison, junior DE Nick Perry, junior safety T.J. McDonald, sophomore CB Nickell Robey and junior CB Tony Burnett.

    He said there was a gap between them and the other Trojan athletes.  But who are the other USC Trojan football players who will step up in 2011?

    The USC Trojans have recruited better than any other team in the past decade.  The last two years have been no exception even with the harsh NCAA sanctions with No. 1 and No. 4 Rivals ranked classes.

    The Trojans are loaded with talent.  Yet almost half the team include true or redshirt freshmen.

    So there are a lot of unknowns going into the 2011 season.  Spring practice provided a few answers. However, as many as 20 players were missing due to injuries and there are 23 new freshmen recruits reporting this summer.

    Kiffin added: "Obviously our challenge is to develop those guys, get the new guys when they come in here, get the injured guys back and develop a team.  Because right now we would not be a very good team."

    Here are the top 15 “non-star” Trojan football players who will step up this season and help make this a much better team.  They are in order of how difficult it will be for them to accomplish this. Of course, the seven star NFL type players will lead the charge.

    P.S. Who do you think will step up this season?

15. DE Devon Kennard, 6’3”, 250, JR

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    TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Brock Osweiler #17 of the Arizona State Sun Devils scrambles with the ball past Devon Kennard #42 of the USC Trojans during the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Tr
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Devon Kennard is very smart and a great athlete.  After playing DE and OLB as a freshman, he played MLB last season. He has 13 career starts.

    He will switch back to DE in 2011 but could also be used in an elephant role like Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing.  He has the athletic ability and skills to excel at this position and wreak havoc on offenses before leaving for the NFL.

14. LB Chris Galippo, 6’2”, 250, SR

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 1:  Chris Galippo #54 of the USC Trojans returns an interception 50 yards against the Washington Huskies in the fourth quarter on November 1, 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 56-0.  (Pho
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    Chris Galippo is a great LB who has played all positions.  Unfortunately he has been injured a lot of his career, including this spring practice.

    He has 20 career starts.  If he can stay healthy, he is going to have an amazing senior year.  Galippo has the experience to lead the LB corps to the best performance in the last three years.

13. NT Christian Tupou, 6’2”, 290, SR

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Christian Tupou #44 of the USC Trojans sits on the bench during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 29, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The Trojans defeated the Fight
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Christian Tupou returns after missing last season due to injury. 

    He is a strong and hard-working nose tackle, with 21 career starts.

    His experience will lead the defensive line, and that makes him a very valuable member of the team.

12. LB Marquis Simmons, 6’1”, 225, so

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    Marquis Simmons was one of the stars in spring practice.  Lane Kiffin noted that the linebackers were the most improved group even though the most likely starters missed spring practice due to injuries.

    Simmons missed six games last season due to injury or illness.  But he was the Trojan service team defensive player of the year his freshman year.

    He has a good shot to start at LB, and if he accomplishes that he will do a great job.

11. LB Shane Horton, 6’0”, 220, SR

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 5:  Shane Horton #23 of the USC Trojans walks off the field after the game against the San Jose State Spartans on September 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 56-3.  (Photo by Jeff
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    Shane Horton has played both LB and safety.  Unfortunately he missed spring practice due to a hip injury, but he has good experience as a backup linebacker (started three games) and special teams.

    This is Horton’s opportunity to use that experience and excel during his senior season.  He hits very well–see this video from the ASU game.

    Horton takes on blocks instead of trying to run around them and is intimidating.  He just needs more playing time and that will happen this year.

10. RB D.J. Morgan, 6’0”, 175, FR

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    D.J. Morgan is very fast, and he was the best running back during spring practice. 

    He is not afraid of contact and takes direction very well.

    He was the Trojan service team offensive player of the year during his redshirt season.

    Morgan was consistently good through spring practice, and he brings the speed to do things that the other backs cannot do.

9. DT George Uko, 6’4”, 300, FR

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    George Uko was one of the stars of spring practice.

    He was the Trojan service team defensive player of the year last season.

    Uko is big, strong and fast enough to get a lot of attention on the DL and open things up for DE Perry to meet his 15-sack personal goal.

    He dominated everyone during spring practice and should keep on doing that to opposing teams.

8. WR Kyle Prater, 6’5”, 210, FR

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    Kyle Prater is USC’s tallest receiver and was doing extremely well during winter workouts when he broke his foot.  He missed spring practice although he returned in time for non-contact workouts.

    With Robert Woods at the other wide receiver position, Prater is going to be open, and he is a big target for Barkley.

    If he can stay healthy, Prater will play a valuable role on the offense to keep drives going.  He has soft hands and can jump extremely well making him very difficult to cover.

    If Prater is not able to play, USC is loaded with wide receivers.  Incoming freshman George Farmer, freshman Markeith Ambles, senior Brandon Carswell or junior Brice Butler are all ready to contribute.

7. P Kris Albarado, 5’11”, 200, FR

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    Kris Albarado committed to USC right after he was offered a rare scholarship for a punter.  He averaged 47.6 yards per punt at Lake Charles (La.) St. Louis.

    He picked the Trojans because John Baxter is the best special teams coach in the nation, the education is “second-to-none,” and you get to play great football.

    Albarado has already enrolled and started classes on May 18.  This allows him to participate in voluntary workouts with the team and get a copy of the playbook to study.

    He is likely to be the starting punter after arriving this summer and participating in fall practice.  Albarado's punting will likely improve field position compared to last year.

6. PK Andre Heidari, 5’11”, 190, FR

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    Andre Heidari enrolled at USC in January after graduating early from high school to help him prepare to be USC’s placekicker this season.

    Special teams coach John Baxter is an excellent judge of talent and knows Heidari very well. 

    Heidari is well ahead of high school kickers and has been kicking like a college PK.  He routinely made 50-yard field goals during spring practice, although the spring game was a disappointment.

    Placekicking cost USC several games last year and altered the offensive strategy during games.

    It is tough for a true freshman to play such a pressure position, but that just makes Heidari an even more valuable player for the Trojans.  He will do very well and fix the biggest weakness in special teams from last season.

5. OT Matt Kalil, 6’7”, 295, JR

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    LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 29:  Matt Kalil #75 of the USC Trojans looks on against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 29, 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 38-3.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    Matt Kalil fully participated in spring practice, and there is no question that he will start at LT as he did last season. 

    He is good enough that he beat out Tyron Smith at this position last year, even though he was No. 9 in the recent NFL draft.

    There have been mock drafts showing Kalil going in the first round of the next NFL draft.  Let’s hope he returns for his senior year, because Kalil is the best USC OL and his leadership is important for the team.

    The challenge for Kalil this year is to lead the OL, and play hard on every play.

4. C Khaled Holmes, 6’4”, 300, JR

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    LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 4:  Khaled Holmes of the USC Trojans looks on before the game against the Oregon Ducks on October 4, 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 44-10.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    Khaled Holmes is a very intelligent football player who is most likely going to start at center this year, after starting at offensive guard last season and making All-Pac-10 honorable mention.

    Unfortunately he also missed the contact part of spring practice due to a chronic neck stinger, but he will be healthy this summer and ready to show what he can do at center.

    Holmes played with QB Matt Barkley at Mater Dei High School, so they have a special relationship which is nice for a center.

    If he is successful in making the transition to center, then he will do more to help the offense than any other lineman.

     

3. OT Kevin Graf, 6’6”, 305, so

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    Kevin Graf blocking DE Nick Perry in practice
    Kevin Graf blocking DE Nick Perry in practice

    Kevin Graf’s father and brother played for USC, and he missed spring practice while recovering from a shoulder injury. 

    So he has to compete for the starting tackle position in fall practice, which he is expected to win. 

    Graf has several years experience at USC and he has the size and pedigree to make a significant contribution this year.

2. OG Martin Coleman, 6’5”, 335, SR

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    Martin Coleman has battled injuries in his USC career, but he is healthy now. 

    He is a big guy who knows the Trojan system.  That will be important on the inexperienced Trojan line.  

    This is Coleman’s senior year, so he will finally get a chance to show what he can do.  If he can stay healthy and start this season, he will be a very valuable member of the team.

1. OG Cyrus Hobbi, 6’3”, 275, FR

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    Cyrus Hobbi
    Cyrus Hobbi

    The Trojans need offensive linemen to unleash all the weapons at QB Matt Barkley’s disposal.  Unfortunately most of the starting OL were not available for spring practice.

    There is one incoming freshman who has the right attitude (he will play any position to help the team) and work ethic to become a starting offensive guard.  Cyrus Hobbi is already enrolled at USC getting a head start. He can now participate in voluntary workouts with the team and get a copy of the playbook to study.

    Hobbi could play OT or OG, but guard may be his best position. He has the frame to easily add another 20 pounds. 

    Hobbi is very athletic and is tough enough to take on the meanest defensive linemen.

    He has good technique and that will improve at USC because he will learn quickly.

    But, Hobbi is a true freshman and he probably has to step up the most to start on the OL.

    It is no coincidence that the offensive linemen are the top five players on this list of players that will step up.  The OL is the most inexperienced group on the team and believed to be the weak link.  If they can play well, then the Trojans will be a lot better team this year.

    The alternative is not pretty.