USC Trojans Football: Predicting Starting Offense for Season Opener
USC Offense at the Aug. 21, 2011, srimmage discussing plays with head coach Lane Kiffin
In less than two weeks, the USC Trojans open the season September 3rd against the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten conference.
The Trojans fall camp was very important in determining several starting positions, but the third scrimmage on Aug. 21 helped finalize most of the remaining ones.
"Yeah, I think that’s fair. Still, everything in due counts, and that week will be important. There may be some things too close to call, but I think whether or not we announce them or not, I doubt we’ll do that. But I think as a staff we’ll have a much better direction of who we’re pushing in certain spots."
In February we reviewed the USC projected depth chart after a top five recruiting class. A lot has happened since then so let’s see how the projected starters have changed after spring practice and fall camp.
The starting defensive lineup will be reviewed tomorrow.
The following slideshow reviews Kiffin's likely picks for the starting offense and special teams to kickoff the Trojans 2011 football season.
Returning Left Tackle starter Matt Kalil leads the USC offensive line
Prior to fall camp, it was a given that returning starters Matt Kalil would start at left tackle and Khaled Holmes at center, a new position for him.
Kevin Graf had the size and pedigree to start at right tackle, but there were questions about his consistency. He quickly proved himself and has been playing at a very high level during fall camp.
The remaining open positions have been the two guard slots. True freshman Aundrey Walker did well enough at left tackle at the beginning of fall camp to be given a real shot to start at right guard. However, it is really difficult to start a true freshman on the offensive line.
Redshirt junior Abe Markowitz, redshirt sophomore John Martinez and senior Martin Coleman have been taking a lot of first-team reps, and it appears that Markowitz and Martinez will start based on the scrimmage yesterday.
Here is the projected starting offensive line:
Matt Kalil, 6-7, 295 lbs., Redshirt Junior
Abe Markowitz, 6-1, 290 lbs., Redshirt Junior
Khaled Holmes, 6-4, 300 lbs., Redshirt Junior
John Martinez, 6-2, 290 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
Kevin Graf, 6-6, 300 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
Freshman WR Marqise Lee had a breakout Fall Camp
USC has very talented wide receivers. The only given prior to fall camp was that freshman All-American Robert Woods would be a starter. Senior Brandon Carswell and true freshman Marqise Lee have played the best and most consistently during camp.
Expect Carswell to start opposite Woods, and Lee will begin as the No. 3 receiver.
Hopefully Kyle Prater will see a lot of action, because he is so much different from everyone else with his size (6’5”). He just needs to be more consistent. Redshirt junior Brice Butler should see a lot of action also.
With the need for a more experienced FB/H-Back in Rhett Ellison, redshirt freshman Xavier Grimble, with his hands and red-zone effectiveness, is the most dependable tight end. Redshirt freshman Randall Telfer has dropped a few passes, but he runs great routes and has not missed any practice time. Sophomore Christian Thomas tweaked his hip and his MRI results indicate he may redshirt.
Here are the likely starting receivers:
Xavier Grimble, 6-6, 245 lbs., Redshirt Freshman
Brandon Carswell, 6-1, 195 lbs., Redshirt Senior
Marqise Lee, 6-1, 190 lbs., Freshman (No. 3 receiver)
Robert Woods, 6-1, 180 lbs., Sophomore
Quarterback and Running Backs
QB Matt Barkley is the leader of the USC offense
No surprise that junior Matt Barkley will be the starting quarterback for the third straight season.
Lane Kiffin is very comfortable with either Wittek or Kessler, but that is not something that Trojan fans want to see until the game is under control this season due to inexperience.
Even though senior Marc Tyler missed fall camp and is suspended for at least the first game due to alcohol-related problems, USC definitely has some talent at running back in redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, sophomore Dillon Baxter, redshirt junior Curtis McNeal and true freshman Amir Carlisle. Tyler will only add to the talent pool once he is off suspension.
Kiffin mentioned several weeks ago that the running back who proved best at blitz pickups would likely be the starter. McNeal has been the best so far.
Morgan is a bit on the mend with his sore knee so for now it looks like McNeal and Baxter are in the lead for the starting running back spot. McNeal was hurt again in the scrimmage yesterday but he came back later.
Baxter should get the not because he is healthy, played well and had the most experience from 2010. However, if Morgan heals he could be the surprise starter due to his speed.
The good news is the Trojans have a lot of talent at tailback, but picking a starter is not easy and this pick is a guess.
Fullback is a key position for the USC offense. Freshman Soma Vainuku has done very well, but it is very difficult for a true freshman to master this position. Stanley Havili was the exception four years ago, and USC suffered some from blocking effectiveness.
Fortunately the Trojans have a lot of skilled tight ends, and versatile senior Rhett Ellison will likely play a FB/H-back role. Vainuku will also get playing time and Ellison may play tight end during those times.
Here are the projected starting quarterback and running backs:
Matt Barkley, 6-2, 220 lbs., Junior
Dillon Baxter, 5-11, 195 lbs., Sophomore
Rhett Ellison, 6-5, 250 lbs., Redshirt Senior
Freshman PK Andre Heidari strong, accurate leg gives the Trojans options
USC has a better special teams group in 2011, even though 2010 was also excellent except for distance field goal kicking.
Redshirt junior transfer walk-on punter Kyle Negrete won a spiriting punting competition with freshman Kris Albarado. Both kicked very well, but the nod went to the more senior player to allow Albarado to redshirt and give USC outstanding punting for five years.
Andrei Heidari is the placekicker who will also handle kickoffs. He did outstanding during fall camp, hitting a 48-yarder and two 46-yard field goals. He made all attempts during scrimmages.
Senior Chris Pousson will be the long snapper, allowing freshman Peter McBride to redshirt for the same reason as the punter.
Here are the special teams starting key players:
#Kyle Negrete, 6-0, 210 lbs., Redshirt Junior
Andre Heidari, 5-10, 210 lbs., Freshman
Chris Pousson, 6-4, 250 lbs., Senior
Nickell Robey, 5-8, 165 lbs., Sophomore
Robert Woods, 6-1, 180 lbs., Sophomore
Curtis McNeal, 5-7, 180 lbs., Redshirt Junior
Marqise Lee, 6-1, 190 lbs., Freshman (alternate)
#Non-scholarship players (expect that to change for starters)