SCPlaybook's Spring Storylines

With only six scholarship players likely to be available, spring practices could take on a different look if injuries further depletes offensive line.

Instead of the usual "Lock In" sign, perhaps there should be one on the doors to Howard Jones Field that say "caution: what you see here may bear little resemblance to the team that will take the field in September."

With 12 players sidelined because of injury, not to mention an influx of recruits in the fall from a larger-than-expected signing class, what USC does over the course of the next two months might not be reflected once they take to the Coliseum for the season opener against Minnesota.

As many as three starting defensive linemen – DE/DT Armond Armstead (medical), DT Christian Tupou (knee) and DE Wes Horton (foot) – are either limited or out.

Same goes for starting middle linebacker Devon Kennard (hip) and talented wide receiver Kyle Prater (foot).

But nowhere is it worse than on the offensive line where the Trojans are desperately in need of bodies.

Khaled Holmes, who could move from guard to center, has been nursing a shoulder injury and could be limited. There is also the issue of a series of stingers that coach Lane Kiffin believed at one point could jeopardize the junior's career.

Kevin Graf was expected to step in at the right tackle spot vacated by Tyron Smith's departure for the NFL, but he too is dealing with a bad shoulder and is unlikely to participate. So too is former walk-on Abe Markowitz (foot).

USC will have just six scholarship offensive linemen available this spring. And while touted recruits Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker are expected to push for immediate playing time, having enough bodies to even scrimmage could be an issue.

One sprained knee or jammed toe or pulled muscle could reduce practices to a glorified 7-on-7.

Kiffin said last year the team would go all out until there were only four linemen available.

That statement could be tested over the next 15 days of spring.

Here are four other storylines to follow:
-Is Soma Vainuku the answer at fullback?
An unexpected grayshirt because of academic issues that prevented him from enrolling last fall, Vainuku certainly looks the part at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds.

He has shown good hands in throwing sessions, but will most likely be called upon to provide that physical punch in the running game that the departed Stanley Havili occasionally lacked.

But Havili was outstanding in pass protection, and there is where Vainuku will face his biggest test.

If Vainuku or walk-on Hunter Simmons can't handle the job, senior tight end Rhett Ellison could be asked to serve as more of an H-back, motioning in and out of the backfield.

The Trojans could also rely on more three-receiver sets, especially if top recruits George Farmer and Marqise Lee live up to expectations.

-Will a true freshman quarterback be one play away?
Inexperience is going to be a factor for whoever ends up backing up Matt Barkley, as the next time Jesse Scroggins, Max Wittek or Cody Kessler takes a snap on a college football field will be the first.

While choosing Scroggins, who redshirted last year, would create the most logical plan of succession by letting Kessler and Wittek sit out, expect coaches to have no qualms about using one of the early enrollees if ready.

Both newcomers have looked very solid in throwing sessions, with Kessler showing off a very accurate and catchable ball.

Also worth noting, Barkley has missed one game each of the last two seasons. Over the seven years prior, only John David Booty missed action, losing 3 games due to his infamous broken finger.

-Who ends up opposite T.J. McDonald at safety?
The Trojans have plenty of options, not including ballhawk Drew McAllister, who missed last season with a hip injury and could be limited.

There's former walk-on Tony Burnett, who played well late last season despite almost no experience playing the position.

Demetrius Wright is regarded as the best athlete among the USC safeties, but saw little action as a freshman even as the secondary scuffled.

Jawanza Starling was the breakout star last spring, but had one interception in nine starts.

Marshall Jones is also an option, but whoever starts at strong safety must deliver picks and pass breakups since McDonald excels in attacking the line of scrimmage.

-Can kicker Andre Heidari provide some much-needed consistency?
One of three scholarship additions on special teams, along with snapper Peter McBride, who also enrolled early, and punter Kris Albarado, Heidari has looked great by booming 50-yard field goals with ease.

If he can perform under fire, Heidari will provide a weapon USC has sorely lacked in recent years, a dependable kicker from 40 yards and out.

Joe Houston's struggles last season, which came to a head in a loss to Washington, certainly altered Kiffin's playcalling. If Heidari can get the job done, expect to see some more conservative plays on third and fourth down within his range. Top Stories