Steady fifth-year senior Rhett Ellison, leader at the position and a reliable option for quarterback Matt Barkley. Xavier Grimble looked more like a future offensive tackle in his first year on campus with his frame, mass and willingness to get physical. Randall Telfer, able to stretch the field. Christian Thomas offered a happy middle between old-school run blocker and new-school receiving threat.
But with only two weeks before the Trojans open the season versus Minnesota, the dynamics have changed.
Ellison was moved to fullback and has been a revelation there, solidifying a major potential weakness. USC head coach Lane Kiffin called him "the best story of camp."
"His value to our team, his leadership, he is just awesome. That's the only way to put it," Kiffin said.
But Ellison has attended only one meeting with the tight ends, instead working with the running backs.
Thomas has been sidelined with a hip injury, leaving Telfer and Grimble as the only options left.
That hasn't altered the work ethic of the group, which is always first on the field and last to leave. Telfer was running sprints Saturday well after the rest of the team had departed.
"They are doing wonderful," said graduate assistant Justin Mesa, who coaches the tight ends. "They are super coachable. They make a mistake once, we go over it and they don't make it again. That's what I'm most pleased with."
Four complimentary pieces have been reduced to two, but given how the Trojans deploy their tight ends, it might still be the perfect pairing. There is the ‘F,' who is often in motion or split out like a wide receiver, and the ‘Y,' playing with his hand on the ground.
While Grimble looks like a natural ‘Y' and Telfer an ‘F,' nothing has been decided.
"The competition is still on," Mesa said. "Nobody is the ‘Y,' nobody is the ‘F,' so we don't know. We'll continue to work on it throughout camp and it will play itself out."
That is good news for Telfer, who prepped at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.). After struggling with drops for almost a week, he bounced back with one of his best days Saturday, with several receptions in the seams of the defense.
"I just realized that I wasn't focused," he said. "I was focused on looking down field before I caught the ball, but I got my head straight."
"I got all the faith in the world he will make the plays," Mesa said of Telfer. "In the game, if something goes wrong, we got to be able to count on him. He has to be confident in himself and we have to be confident in him."
The group's potential is certainly intriguing, for this year and beyond. Telfer, Grimble and Thomas are all just entering their second year at USC. There is also newcomer Junior Pomee.
"You really can't knock the recruiting," Telfer said. "Coach Kif, he knew what he was doing when he was recruiting us. I'm looking forward to what we can offer in the coming years."
-The Trojans practiced without pads ahead of their third scrimmage Sunday morning at the Coliseum, their last with full contact.
Kiffin said it will be crucial in determining positions that remain up for grabs, among them left and right guard, cornerback and strong safety.
"As a staff, we'll have a much better feeling of who we're pushing at certain spots (after this scrimmage)," Kiffin said.
-Fifth-year senior linebacker Chris Galippo (shoulder) returned to action and should be available.
-Freshman wide receiver George Farmer is unlikely to play in the scrimmage after suffering a concussion Friday.