LOS ANGELES -- With off season workouts starting this week and with spring practices just a couple months away, let's take an early look at the biggest issues the Trojans will face during spring practice.
The loss of Nick Perry to the NFL draft left a big void on the line, but with the losses of team captain Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris, the middle of the line became the big question mark on this team.
At the end of last season USC’s defense was at the top of the list against the run, and a big part of that was from the play of Tupou and Harris. Both players brought experience and were very disruptive and active in the middle of the line.
The two linemen also bought time for a middle linebacker position that seemed to be in flux during the second half of the season. The way they took on blocks and forced opposing offensive linemen to get out of position when climbing to the second level was a key factor in the early success of their freshman middle linebacker Lamar Dawson.
The success of these three will be imperative to the success of the defense and if there is too much of a drop in production from the middle of the line, it could have a ripple effect that affects the rest of the defense.
When Stanley Havili left after the 2010 season, the Trojans were forced to put their best tight end, Rhett Ellison, at the position last year, as well as converting senior linebacker Ross Cumming to help out the offense.
In the Trojans offensive scheme, the need for a system-style fullback is important to the success to the running as well as the passing game.
I think many Trojans fans can remember in 2006, when Ryan Powdrell dislocated and broke his ankle. Many still think that the loss of Powdrell, and the lack of depth behind him, contributed to the team not making it back to the national championship.
Heading into the spring practices the Trojans have two inexperienced fullbacks with Soma Vainuku and Simione Vehikite. Vainuku is most likely penciled in as the starter right now, mostly because Vehikite has spent is time rotating between fullback and linebacker.
But incoming freshman Jahleel Pinner could make a strong push for the starting job. At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, Pinner has the style and play making ability to fit the Trojans offense. And although the fullback from Mission Viejo won’t be wearing a Trojans helmet until fall camp, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t push for playing time early if Vainuku and Vehikite can’t mold to the system.
With the lack of scholarships, players lost to graduation and early entry to the NFL and, most recently, players transferring, the Trojans are thin across the board at pretty much every position.
A big part of spring ball is the relationship, timing and communication that is developed between the starting 11 on each side of the ball. But with such a young team and the lack of the depth that USC is used to having, it’s going to make it difficult for the second- and third-team units to seed the field.
The thing that the Trojans have going for them is that majority of their starters are returning, so maybe Lane Kiffin will be able to share the reps with the twos and threes.
However, USC has found its way back into the national spotlight and is on track to makea run at the national championship, so Kiffin could be inclined to give most of the reps to the first unit.
The Trojans already practice at such a high pace, but Kiffin and his staff are going to have to find even a better way to maximize practice for the starters and somehow establish more depth behind them.