While the Trojans players get a break, Spring Break, until March 24 after today's closed Coliseum workout, the coaches won't, Steve Sarkisian says.
They'll take the time off to make some decisions as to how they'll finish up the final three weeks through the Spring Game April 11. And who they'll finish up with.
So in light of that, here's a quick take on what we'd like to see today for the Trojans if they hope to come out spring in the best possible way to set themselves up for summer and the fall:
*** First-line secondary steps up: Along the back line, we'd like to see an expanded definition of what it means to be a "starter" so we're not talking about just four guys here. First of all, in a Pac-12 with so many four-wide attacks, that probably doesn't make much sense. Nor will it make sense for a Trojans team that must make a place on offense for Adoree Jackson to get the ball in space and make plays. So we'd like to see both Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett just pencil their names in on the same line with Kevon Seymour, John Plattenburg and Leon McQuay -- and not necessarily at just one position. And you're right, if that leaves USC with six secondary starters coming out of the spring to be joined by some talented incoming freshmen this summer who will also have a chance to pencil in their names on that same line, then this spring will have done what it was supposed to do for usc.
*** Run game reworked: To be the "downhill running team" that Sark says is in his offensive DNA, USC must make the two-back, one big/one explosive with Soma Vainuku and Justin Davis get to work readying itself for a couple of things. First will be the return of another big back, Tre Madden. Second will be the arrival of the talented freshman trio in the summer. And third, the integration of the personnel and schemes with an intact line that needs to step up here and leave the spring next month with a sense that it's not just the one with the most potential in the Pac-12, for starters, but that it's that way in actuality.
*** Passing it around: As much as we see Cody Kessler able to keep on throwing it to the right place at the right time, we'd like to see spring end in maybe a different way from the past three springs when it was pretty clear USC had a dominant No. 1 target -- from Robert Woods to Marqise Lee to Nelson Agholor. As good as Juju Smith can be in that role, we're expecting to see Steven Mitchell and Darreus Rogers and Adoree and Ajene Harris and Isaac Whitney all make their cases to get the ball at whatever positions they find themselves in. Connor Spears and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick too. The more the merrier.
*** Lining 'em up: We've already been excited by the work of Lamar Dawson and Cameron Smith inside at linebacker this spring. Lamar the smart, quiet, tough-minded senior leader back from injury for a final shot in his No. 55 running sideline to sideline and tracking guys down. And then there's the powerful freshman Smith in No. 35, just now starting to show what he can do. We think this can be a significant upgrade here this spring even with starter Anthony Sarao sitting out with foot surgery after the way Michael Hutchings has started out. Again, this is before all the mix-and-match freshman talent arrives this summer.
*** Defining the D-front: There are only three of them in the mix right now, but all the better to see if either Claude Pelon or Delvon Simmons can take this opportunity to step up to the big-play guy while Cody Temple finds a way in his final season to keep his talent on the field at nose. If they can get that down with the help coming from the rehabbing trio of Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend Jr., not to mention a whole host of freshmen, the Trojans will be exactly where they hope they'll be this summer.
*** Getting an edge: Start with Su'a Cravens on the outside. He's a given and then see what happens with any or all of the returnees in Scott Felix and Quinton Powell, who have had real flashes of figuring it out this spring, and the rehabbing Jabari Ruffin, who certainly looks the part although not yet cleared. And not yet proven. We think there's enough here to get the job done despite the deficiencies on the edge from last fall. But now is the time for coaches and players to show it.
*** Figuring it out: With the coaches taking the time the next 10 days to figure out what they've got and where they're going with this group, we want to see a "stay the course" mentality. Keep playing fast. Practice the way you want to play. Be tough and physical. Forget the "trickeration" stuff for the most part. Develop a confidence in practice that no one works harder, or smarter, and when it's crunch time, the Trojans must know that they'll be the ones doing the crunching. That happens in practice. And after today, there are three more weeks in the spring to build that "We are SC" attitude.
USC returns to practice in 10 days, Tuesday March 24, at Cromwell Field in a 3:30 p.m. workout open to the public to start three straight weeks of work before finishing up with the Spring Game Saturday, April 11, at the Coliseum at 3 p.m.
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