Spring Game Primer

Offensive line, linebackers starting Saturday should bear little resemblance to what USC will field in the fall.

Where did everyone go?

USC practices have been a pretty desolate place for the last year, closed to everyone but media, recruits, immediate family, NFL scouts and a small handful of approved guests.

That's what makes the spring game Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum so exciting, a chance for fans to see the Trojans live for the first and only time before they start the 2011 season at home in September.

Most of what they see should bear a reasonable representation to the startling lineup against Minnesota, though 24 new arrivals and nearly a dozen returning players that did not practice this spring.

SCPlaybook looks as the projected starters Saturday and what could change over the next five months.

Expected Starter Saturday – Matt Barkley
Same In the Fall? – Yes
The real question was who would be Barkley's backup, with three green freshman vying for the spot. A clear hierarchy emerged by the middle of spring, with Jesse Scroggins as the number two and Cody Kessler moving ahead of fellow early enrollee Max Wittek. Expect Scroggins to see a significant increase in reps Saturday, perhaps even a few with the first-team offense against the starting defense.

Running Back
Expected Starter Saturday – D.J. Morgan
Same In the Fall? – Maybe
With Marc Tyler injuring his hamstring on the first day of spring, Morgan seized the opportunity, even with limited running room behind a shaky front five. So too did diminutive Curtis McNeal, though his academic eligibility won't be determined until the end of this semester. Tyler must show he can avoid wearing down, while Dillon Baxter needs to prove his newfound maturity will last.

Expected Starter Saturday – Soma Vainuku
Same In the Fall? – Yes
It's the hardest position on offense other than quarterback and it showed with the true freshman Vainuku, often looking overwhelmed. Still, his physicality and surprisingly soft hands are evident, so once he gets the mental part down, Vainuku could pick up right where Stanley Havili left off. The only other option, aside from walk-on Hunter Simmons, would be moving Rhett Ellison around as an H-back.

Tight End
Expected Starter Saturday – Rhett Ellison
Same In the Fall? – Yes
Called an NFL player by Kiffin, Ellison leads the deepest spot on the roster with four significant contributors. Christian Thomas and Randall Telfer can be split out wide to compliment receiver depth, while Xavier Grimble is a ferocious blocker.

Wide Receiver
Expected Starters Saturday – Robert Woods, Brandon Carswell
Same In the Fall? – Maybe
Make no mistake about it, Woods will be the focal point of the offense this season. He is bigger and stronger after a sensational freshman campaign. The dependable Carswell is a reliable option as receiver and blocker, but will have to hold off the more physically gifted Kyle Prater in fall camp.

Offensive Line
Expected Starters Saturday – Matt Kalil, Giovanni Di Poalo, John Martinez, Martin Coleman, Jeremy Galten
Same In the Fall? - No
Want to subsidize your spring game? Make a bet with your friends they owe you a dollar for every running play that is blown up in the backfield or passing play whistled dead. Given the sorry stage of the o-line, you have more than enough to pay for a nice dinner when the day is over. They've gradually improved over the past month, but still get manhandled by a pretty good defensive front. Khaled Holmes and Kevin Graf will start in September, with one or possibly two true freshmen likely to join them.

Defensive Line
Expected Starters Saturday – Wes Horton, DaJohn Harris, George Uko, Nick Perry
Same In the Fall? – Yes
USC has a solid three-man rotation at both tackle, with Christian Tupou, and end, assuming Armond Armstead is medically cleared by the fall. Beyond that, it gets pretty dicey and assistant coach Ed Orgeron would have to lean on true freshmen. Still, Uko has been a revelation and Perry looks like a man possessed. Double-digit sacks won't be out of the question for the junior.

Expected Starters Saturday – Marquis Simmons, Will Andrew, Hayes Pullard
Same In the Fall? – No
One out of three isn't bad. That's what fans will see at the Coliseum, as Pullard has seemingly seized the spot at strongside linebacker with starters Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo and backup Shane Horton all sidelined by injury. At 225 pounds, Pullard brings a physicality that was lacking last season. He has also delivered plenty of takeaways this spring, with no less than four interceptions and several other near misses. Dion Bailey has also excelled in his transition from safety and will be a specialty weapon against spread offenses.

Expected Starters Saturday – Nickell Robey, Jawanza Starling, T.J. McDonald, Tony Burnett
Same In the Fall? – Yes
The surprising rise of Burnett from walk-on track star to starting corner leaves the Trojans with just one question mark, strong safety opposite McDonald. Since Starling and sophomore Demetrius Wright are both better suited to attack the line of scrimmage, like McDonald, it wouldn't be a shock to see ball-hawking redshirt junior Drew McAllister end up there by September.

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