USC football spring review

USC's 15 spring practices are now in the books. Scout takes a look back at how each position group faired through the first spring with coach Steve Sarkisian. Keep in mind, at times, USC practiced without up to 25 players due to injury.

USC fans won't have to wait until two weeks into the season to find out who their 2014 starting quarterback will be. Redshirt junior Cody Kessler entered spring ball the favorite to retain his 2013 starting role and spring ball closed with Kessler firmly cementing his spot as the Trojans starter to open the 2014 season.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Kessler the Trojans starter in the final week of spring ball.

Kessler took the majority of the first team reps throughout the spring over redshirt freshman Max Browne and freshman Jalen Greene.

Greene was eliminated from the starting battle just a week into practice.

Kessler, who led the Trojans to ten wins in 2013, showed an ability to quickly grasp Sarkisian's up-tempo offense while continuing to build chemistry with his new center, Max Tuerk, as well as his receiving corps.

According to quarterbacks coach Clay Helton, through three weeks of spring practices Kessler was completing over 75 percent of his passes.

Browne showed flashes of potential, but ultimately did not appear to be as quick of a study in Sarkisian's new offense.

Greene, a midyear enrollee, will be a dynamic quarterback on the Trojans scout team in 2014.

Offensive line
USC's offensive line could look much different when fall camp opens in August than it did this spring.

The only returning linemen who maintained his spot in spring practices was Chad Wheeler at left tackle.

Two year starter Max Tuerk moved to center. He played his freshman season at left tackle before moving to left guard for his sophomore campaign. Now at center, Tuerk says he's been able to make a smooth transition and spent extra time throughout spring practices working on his snaps out of the shotgun to Kessler. Tuerk was the first linemen on the field nearly every day of spring ball. Last fall former coach Lane Kiffin briefly tried Tuerk out at center before moving him to left guard. When the Trojans played with a quarterback under center, Tuerk said his long arms made the snap to his quarterback difficult – the play often resulting in a fumbled snap. Tuerk's blown snaps were few and far between this spring in the new system

The other spots on the line could be largely up for grabs in the fall.

Midyear enrollee Toa Lobendahn earned his way onto the first team after a week of spring practices at left guard. Lobendahn said entering spring practices he only knew five percent of the Trojans playbook. 15 practices later, Lobendahn said he knew 95 percent of the material. A strong fall camp showing could solidify a starting spot for the true freshman.

Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers spent most of the spring working with the first team at right guard. Rodgers spent his freshman season at USC redshirting and working on his body. He's now listed at 6-foot-3 310-pound. Known to have a streak of nasty in him, Rodgers showed improvement and a willingness to bring an edge to the line this spring. He'll challenge to keep his role in the fall.

Walk-on Nathan Guertler, who Sarkisian eventually awarded a scholarship to, started the spring at right tackle before being overtaken by redshirt sophomore Zach Banner. Banner played in the first two games of the 2013 season on special teams before choosing to undergo surgery to repair impingements in both his left and right hips. Banner still appears to be a long shot to crack the starting lineup come fall camp.

Linemen who could play key roles for the Trojans in 2014 who spent the spring sidelined recovering from injury include two-year starter Aundrey Walker and redshirt sophomore Jordan Simmons.

Walker will battle on the right side of the line to maintain his starting position at right guard, though it could also be a possibility that Walker is moved out to right tackle.

Simmons, who suffered a freak knee injury at the end of 2013, could compete for the starting role at guard as well.

Redshirt freshmen Nico Falah did not see any action during spring practices. He was sidelined due to a sore back.

USC will add three true freshmen to the offensive line in the fall including Chris Brown, Viane Talamaivao, and Damien Mama.

Tight ends
Junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was the only healthy scholarship tight end throughout spring practices. Cope-Fitzpatrick showed an ability to be a reliable offensive threat in Sarkisian's up-tempo offense.

The only other available tight end for the Trojans through the spring was walk-on Chris Wilson. Wilson has turned into one of the ultimate utility men for the Trojans, filling in wherever needed. Give Wilson an A for effort, but unless it is solely in a blocking capacity, don't expect him to be inserted into a game at the position.

Redshirt senior Randall Telfer spent most of the spring watching from the sidelines as he recovers from a knee injury. Rumors have swirled that the progress on Telfer's knee is in fact regressing, but no one at USC has confirmed this speculation.

Freshman Bryce Dixon will join the mix in the fall.

Redshirt junior Soma Vainuku starting the spring strong before finishing the final few weeks on the sideline. Vainuku continued to show improvement catching the ball out of the backfield. He maintained a vicious streak blocking.

Junior Jahleel Pinner was a breakout player for the offense throughout spring ball. Pinner, who remained healthy through 15 practices, showed an ability to run the football as well as catch it out of the backfield. Sarkisian even brought up Pinner's name as a surprise standout who jumped out on film after the Trojans first Coliseum practice. Pinner was utilized in the practice as a tailback due to a shortage of healthy bodies. While Sarkisian said see significant time at the position, he could play a crucial role carrying the ball on certain plays.

USC's tailback rotation was hardly in midseason form throughout the spring. Sophomore Justin Davis remained sidelined as he continues to recover from a broken ankle suffered during the season. D.J. Morgan was only seen once on the practice field. It is looking bleaker everyday that Morgan will ever return to the lineup for the Trojans. He told Scout on the opening day of spring practices on campus that he planned to make a return to the field in spring. That doesn't appear to be happening.

Sophomore Ty Isaac also spent some time through spring practices sidelined with a sore back. When he was available to play, his carries mostly came with the second team.

Tre Madden and Buck Allen were both available for the majority of spring practices. Madden appears to be well on the mend since suffering nagging injuries that slowed his 2013 season after a spectacular start. Allen, when healthy this spring, continued to show why he was the Trojans breakout star in 2013.

The group seemed to adapt well to the teachings of new position coach Johnny Nansen. They liked how often they carrier the ball and how often they were used in the passing game.

Predicting a rotation? It's too close to call right now, but if everyone is healthy come fall the Trojans will have a formidable group with Allen, Madden, Davis and Isaac.

USC receivers coach Tee Martin had a small – but talented – group to work with this spring. Junior Nelson Agholor has positioned himself to be a dangerous offensive threat for the Trojans this season. The Kessler-to-Agholor connection began to look like a well-oiled machine through spring practices.

Agholor, who spent his past two seasons in the shadow of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, will shine for USC on perimeter routes as well as deep down the field in 2014 for the Trojans. His body has matured and he looks every part of a USC receiver who is ready to have his name in lights.

Sophomore Darreus Rogers had a quiet spring but showed flashes of what could be a big fall campaign. Most of Rogers dynamic plays happen in the back corners of the end zone, where he appears to be flawless when it comes to making impossible catches over his opponents. Coaches and teammates continue to rave about Rogers' hands. Rogers might not be a big playmaker when the Trojans march the length of the field next season; but in the red zone, he's most likely their man.

Victor Blackwell had a standout spring in 2013 but was unable to make the same impact this time around. The redshirt junior had practices that looked promising for a future role in USC's offense; other days it looked once again like an uphill battle for him. Sarkisian noted Blackwell's inconsistency. At times, he makes impossible catches look routine, other times he mindlessly drops routine passes when there is not even a defense on the field. It's tough to tell if Blackwell will ever show the consistency needed to be inserted into games at crucial moments. In a somewhat surprising move, Sarkisian listed Blackwell after Agholor on the depth chart… leaving an open starting spot for walk-on George Katrib.

It's hard to believe that George Farmer is already entering his fourth season at USC. The redshirt junior has spent much of his Trojan career sidelined due to injury. He tore his ACL a year ago in spring drills but made his return to Howard Jones for practices this spring. With a brace guarding his surgically repaired knee, Farmer began to show glimpses of the five-star recruit he once was. He played much of the spring at what appeared to be less than full speed, but by the final couple of weeks of drills Farmer was running with the best of his Trojan teammates. Farmer ended spring listed behind Rogers on the depth chart.

Redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell was shut down after the first week of drills as he continues to recover from an ACL tear suffered during summer workouts nearly a year ago. He told Scout there was no setback during spring and the shutdown was precautionary.

If there is one receiver who drastically improved his stalk over the spring it is walk-on George Katrib. Katrib proved to Martin that he can be a reliable receiver who is worthy of playing time if the Trojans need to call upon him. In fact, Katrib was awarded a scholarship by Sarkisian in the week following the conclusion of spring football.

Defensive line
Junior lineman and defensive standout Leonard Williams spent the spring sidelined as he continues to recover from an offseason procedure to repair a torn labrum.

If a most improved award was handed out after spring football it would undoubtedly have gone to redshirt junior Antwaun Woods. Woods, 6-foot 310-pounds, imposed his will on the Trojans offense from the nose tackle position. He took on a more vocal leadership role and made his way into the backfield to interrupt the Trojan quarterbacks numerous times. His improvement didn't go unnoticed by the new USC staff who often used Woods as an exemplary player during spring ball.

Right behind Woods in the improvement category was outside linebacker Scott Starr. Starr, a redshirt sophomore, had a breakout spring at outside linebacker. Rushing off the edge, Starr also spent much of his spring in the backfield disrupting the offense. He made a few crunching tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. He told Scout he feels like this season is his time to begin to shine at USC. His body has matured and the veteran players in front of him moved on to graduation.

Starr will battle senior JR Tavai, who was sidelined for much of spring, for the starting spot at rush end. Tavai, with more football experience, will most likely win the starting spot but Starr will be more than a suitable backup and will undoubtedly play part in the rotation.

Tavai's football IQ was touted by defensive line coach Chris Wilson during spring ball. Tavai was a standout defensive performer in the spring game with five tackles and a sack.

JUCO transfer Claude Pelon began grasping USC's defensive system as camp began to wind down. Sarkisisan says Pelon is one player he hopes will pick up in fall exactly where he left off this spring. Pelon will battle redshirt junior Greg Townsend Jr. at defensive tackle when fall camp starts. Townsend Jr., has been battling injury throughout his USC career but remained – mostly – healthy in spring practices. Pelon spent more time with the ones throughout spring than Townsend.

Redshirt freshman Kenny Bigelow looked throughout spring as though he was starting to pick up the pace and get in tune with the speed of the college game. Bigelow struggled through fall camp a year ago to keep up with the speed of practices. He told Scout he lost his bad fat and gained muscle through his first year on campus to prepare his body for the spring. Winded through the first couple weeks of spring practices, Bigelow was keeping pace no problem in the final weeks. While he doesn't appear ready for a starting role, Bigelow could be ready for a spot in the defensive rotation.

Redshirt junior Delvon Simmons is now eligible to play after sitting last season since transferring from Texas Tech. Simmons spent the spring repping with both the ones and twos. He's another guy who will most likely be a role-player in the Trojans defensive line when Leonard Williams returns.

The depth isn't great, but linebacker seems to be where the Trojans defense has the most certainty when it comes to personnel and experience.

Hayes Pullard opted to return for his final season of eligibility and is proving to be a much needed anchor and leader for USC's defense. His playmaking ability throughout the spring was undeniable at middle linebacker. Almost daily coaches would point out the competitive nature of Pullard; he was often seen entering foot races with teammates and even his coaches running from drill to drill.

Anthony Sarao was back at weakside linebacker, where he left off in 2013. Sarao didn't make many plays that jumped off the field through spring but proved to be a solid and consistent piece to the Trojans defense.

Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin traded time between the ones and twos at strongside linebacker. Neither player seemed to separate himself from the other; both appeared to be ready to play in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's multiple defense.

If there is a player who maybe appeared to take a step back this spring it was sophomore Michael Hutchings. Hutchings began to see time, sparingly, at linebacker in 2013. He took reps, almost exclusively, with the second team throughout the spring. He went down in the final week of practices with an elbow injury that will sideline him four to six weeks.

Lamar Dawson, who started the first half of the 2013 season before suffering a knee injury, did not participate in spring practices.

If there was a position USC was entirely thin at throughout the spring, it was undoubtedly cornerback.

Returning starting Kevon Seymour was healthy and played nearly every first team rep for the defense through 15 spring practices. Seymour was steady at his position but didn't jump off the field as the playmaker he left off as at the Las Vegas Bowl in December.

Opposite of Seymour throughout spring was redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins. Hawkins seemed to improve daily at the position. By the end of spring he collected a small handful of interceptions and made numerous pass breakups. He fell short of winning a starting position, but will undoubtedly be in the mix to compete for the spot in the fall.

Returning starter and redshirt senior Josh Shaw did not participate in spring practices due to a stress fracture in his left foot. It remains uncertain if Shaw will play at cornerback or move back to safety for the 2014 season.

Junior walk-on Ryan Dillard rep'd with the twos throughout spring. It is unlikely he will see any meaningful time at cornerback during the season but Dillard will continue to play on special teams. He earned a scholarship out of spring practices.

Other corners who did not participate in spring drills included Anthony Brown, Devian Shelton and Ryan Henderson.

Sophomore Leon McQuay was the only scholarship safety who was healthy and remained available throughout spring ball. McQuay showed steady progression at the position, which would lead one to think he'll play a significant role in the Trojans secondary come August – depending what position Josh Shaw plays.

Sophomore standout Su'a Cravens was sidelined shortly into spring practices due to injury. Cravens body this spring looked more that of a linebacker than a safety, he is listed at 6-foot-1 215-pounds.

Redshirt senior Gerald Bowman, returning from injury, was inserted for Cravens and began to come on in the last couple weeks of spring practices. Bowman made a couple of head-turning breakups. Sarkisian noted his progress, commenting that for the first time he made noticeable plays in the secondary.

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