Projected Depth Chart: Minnesota

With the release of the first depth chart only days away, Dan Greenspan of SCPlaybook takes his best guesses at who starts the season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3.

Left Tackle Matt Kalil
Nathan Guertler

Left Guard Abe Markowitz
Martin Coleman

Center Khaled Holmes
Abe Markowitz

Right Guard John Martinez
Aundrey Walker

Right Tackle Kevin Graf
Jeremy Galten

Analysis: A jumbled mess for most of the fall, the offensive line was coming into focus until Markowitz injured his left foot in practice earlier this week. If the ever-optimistic USC head coach Lane Kiffin is right, the former walk-on steps right back into the starting lineup. If not, the totally unknown quantity that is Coleman gets the nod and that might be a bit of an adventure. Coleman has looked solid enough in practice, but who really knows how he would perform in the pressure of the game. It'll be up to Kalil and Holmes to shepherd this young but talented group through the first few weeks of the season.

Split End Brandon Carswell
Brice Butler

Flanker Robert Woods
Marqise Lee

Tight End Xavier Grimble
Randall Telfer

Analysis: How much does Lee play? Plenty. When does he play? Right from the beginning. The freshman has been so dynamic it wouldn't surprise to see Woods move back to split end, which he played last season, at times to get him and Lee on the field together. Carswell is reliable, but the presence of Woods and Lee puts so much speed out there that at opposing defensive coordinators won't believe it. Grimble and Telfer will alternate plenty and could see the field together. Expect Telfer to see action between the 20s as a receiver, while Grimble brings his heft to the goal line.

Fullback Rhett Ellison
Soma Vainuku

Running Back D.J. Morgan
Dillon Baxter

Analysis: It's not a coincidence that after cooling it with his post-practice workout of jumping jacks and skipping rope, Morgan's surgically repaired knee looks spryer. He has put together a fantastic week of practice and again looks like the front-runner he was coming out of the spring. Still, he, Baxter and redshirt junior Curtis McNeal are all likely to split carries and should end up with 10-12 touches apiece. The possible return of Marc Tyler will only add to the confusion. This looks like a committee in the truest sense.

Quarterback Matt Barkley
Cody Kessler

Analysis: Kiffin ideally wants to redshirt both Kessler and fellow freshman Max Wittek, so don't be shocked to see walk-on John Manoogian handling mop-up duty against Minnesota, must to the delight of his teammates. Manoogian is highly respected and an important contributor in summer workouts and on the scout team.

Defensive End Wes Horton
Devon Kennard

Nose Tackle Christian Tupou
George Uko

Defensive Tackle DaJohn Harris
Armond Armstead

Defensive End Nick Perry
Devon Kennard

Analysis: The Trojans have a fantastic three-man rotation at end and a solid trio on the inside that would be elevated by the return of Armstead. Cautious optimism remains that the 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior will be medically cleared in time to be play against Minnesota, giving USC another option on the line. However, if he isn't ready, freshman Antwaun Woods might be pressed into duty. Horton, Perry and Kennard, three starters with only two spots to play, would total more than 20 sacks this season if not for the proliferation of spread offense. If better play on the back seven can produce some coverage sacks, they still might. Redshirt sophomore Kevin Greene will be the fourth man at end.

Strongside Linebacker Dion Bailey
Marquis Simmons

Middle Linebacker Chris Galippo
Lamar Dawson

Weakside Linebacker Shane Horton
Hayes Pullard

Analysis: The obvious question mark is the status of Galippo's shoulder, which has kept his out of live action all this week. Kiffin said the redshirt senior must practice next week to start against the Golden Gophers. Otherwise, Dawson gets the start in his first college game. He has elevated his play since getting first-team reps and doesn't look like a normal freshman linebacker. But there is risk regardless of whoever plays ‘quarterback of the defense,' trading Galippo's health for Dawson's inexperience. Horton's work in the nickel defense gives him the edge over Pullard, who has demonstrated unexpected athleticism in both spring practices and fall camp. With the Trojans likely to use five defensive backs to defend the spread, Bailey's role could be minimal.

Cornerback Nickell Robey
Anthony Brown

Free Safety T.J. McDonald
Jawanza Starling

Strong Safety Demetrius Wright
Jawanza Starling

Cornerback Tony Burnett
Torin Harris

Analysis: When the Trojans go into their nickel defense, Robey will move inside to cover the slot receiver with Burnett and Harris on the outside. The only real drama here is at free safety, where Starling is tackling well in practice, something he barely did in games last season. Still, he and Wright seem to be so even that I'll give the slight edge to the latter, a supremely athletic sophomore that looked to be developing a strong rapport with McDonald before injuring his hip in the first fall scrimmage.

Kick Returner Robert Woods

Punt Returner Nickell Robey

Kicker Andre Heidari

Punter Kyle Negrete

Analysis: Heidari's live debut in the spring game wasn't exactly awe-inspiring, missing from 41 and 52 yards, but he has delivered since then. His combination of distance and accuracy should be a boon for the offense. Negrete has experience from his two seasons at University of San Diego, averaging 42.2 yards per punt as a sophomore. More importantly, he has known special teams coach John Baxter for years and has his unique philosophies down pat. Woods is a known quantity as one of the Pac-12's most explosive players, while Robey should quickly establish his own reputation as a dangerous return man.


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