USC Football: Winners and Losers from Trojans' 2016 Spring
Optimism was the primary takeaway of spring practice at USC, but not every position could be so fortunate.
Injuries put a significant damper on the workouts for a couple of units, most notably the defensive line—where new coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants an aggressive five-man front—and the secondary.
Still, no storyline matched the attention that the quarterback battle received. Max Browne and Sam Darnold headlined the competition under center, though neither player separated himself enough for head coach Clay Helton to name a starter.
And the spring game provided few clues either way. Whether that's a good thing, well, that's up for interpretation.
Winner: Running Backs
In 2015, Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II combined for 1,889 yards and 15 touchdowns. They're probably going to be even more productive this year.
Now, Jones has a higher ceiling, but it's tremendous news for the Trojans that Davis is still soundly at—or near—the top of the depth chart.
USC would benefit greatly if Davis and Jones would improve as pass-catchers, but both are starting-caliber runners. There's no doubt about that.
Behind an experienced offensive line, the duo could become one of the nation's most dynamic tandems.
Loser: Quarterback Resolution
Framing is important when discussing the Trojans' quarterback situation.
One theory is that Max Browne failed to pull away from redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. You'd think a fourth-year player who was recruited as a 5-star would establish himself as the No. 1 guy.
Conversely, perhaps Darnold developed quicker than expected and has given the Trojans a legitimate two-man battle that doesn't have a wrong answer. Most importantly for USC, that seems to be a reasonable conclusion—not simply coachspeak.
Nevertheless, Helton didn't name a winner following the spring game, so the competition—for better or worse, depending on one's outlook—will linger into fall camp.
Winner: Porter Gustin
Last season, Porter Gustin notched a team-best 5.5 sacks. He was merely a rotational player as a true freshman.
It could be a special year for the sophomore.
In other words, the Trojans plan to unleash Gustin—who is regularly showing up and standing out.
Loser: D-Line Depth
Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times notes Helton said he was pleased with the defensive line, but that doesn't mean the unit is prepared for the season to start.
"Have they progressed this camp? Yes they have," the head coach said. "Are they anywhere close to being ready? No they're not. Thank God we've got 29 more practices after Saturday to get ready for Alabama."
And by "ready," Helton might simply mean "heal."
In addition to once-returning starter Scott Felix ending his college career after a failed drug test, expected top contributor Kenny Bigelow tore his right ACL and will miss the 2016 campaign.
Noah Jefferson then exited the spring game following the first full-contact play. Helton said Jefferson hyperextended his elbow, according to Ryan Abraham of Scout.
USC is already thin up front. Injuries to expected starters aren't helping this matter.
Winner: Development at Linebacker
Su'a Cravens is headed to the NFL. Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson exhausted their eligibility. Cameron Smith missed the spring because of his recovery from a knee injury.
What's the good news? Michael Hutchings, Quinton Powell and Uchenna Nwosu took advantage of a big chance to stand out.
Hutchings and Powell benefited from Pendergast—their defensive coordinator as freshmen—returning to USC, per Dan Weber of Scout. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Nwosu took a promising step in his development.
Favorable news followed USC's linebackers this spring. Now, will it translate to the fall?
Loser: Health of the Secondary
Adoree' Jackson is fantastic. But he was focused on track during the spring. His absence made a slew of injuries a more serious problem.
Chris Hawkins, John Plattenburg, Ykili Ross, Jonathan Lockett and Isaiah Langley each missed practice time and/or the spring game.
Depth was such an issue that wide receiver Ajene Harris spent time on defense during the spring game. He even intercepted a pass after Steven Mitchell Jr. bobbled a target.
The Trojans shouldn't face the same problem this fall, but March and April weren't kind to injury reports.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.