The Trojans get back to the field on Tuesday afternoon for the initial spring ball session of the Steve Sarkisian era. Here is a guide of what to expect.
Practice dates: March 11-13-15-25-27-29, April 1-3-5-8-10-12-15-17-19
Spring game: Saturday, April 19, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Returning starters: Cody Kessler, Javorius "Buck" Allen, Soma Vainuku, Nelson Agholor, Randall Telfer, Chad Wheeler, Aundrey Walker, Max Tuerk, Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard, Su’a Cravens, Anthony Sarao, Kevon Seymour, J.R. Tavai, Antwaun Woods, Andre Heidari, Kris Albarado.
Areas to watch:
Installation of new schemes on both sides of the ball
Up-tempo, no-huddle offense
Ability to replace early departures to NFL draft, particularly along interior of both lines at center and defensive tackle.
QB: Kessler is the incumbent starter, coming off the kind of solid season that usually would guarantee job security. But a new coaching staff is promoting competition, and with a talented backup in redshirt freshman Max Browne, it could create an interesting position battle this spring. Early enrollee Jalen Greene will get plenty of reps as the third quarterback in the mix.
RB: It will be a chance for Sarkisian to see three of his talented tailbacks in action with Allen, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac. Davis and D.J. Morgan are expected to be out with injuries. It will also be a glimpse in to how Sarkisian plans to use fullbacks Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.
WR: Agholor is set as the top playmaker and most USC fans expect Darreus Rogers to settle in at the other starting spot. It would be nice to see where George Farmer and Steven Mitchell are at in terms of their rehab from injuries, but both are likely to be limited in action. Victor Blackwell will look to secure a role in spring before several flashy freshmen arrive in the fall.
TE: Telfer is the clear starter and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will be the only scholarship reserve. Sarkisian likes to use the tight ends, so those two should expect plenty of work.
OL: This will be one of the real areas to watch in the spring. There are two starting spots to fill, and the new coaching staff will likely experiment with different combinations. Tuerk, for instance, started last season at left guard, could get a look at right tackle and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he sees time at left tackle, too, with Wheeler taking reps at both spots as well. Those are the kind of things new coaches do in spring.
DL: An All-American, Williams is one of the most dominant players in the country, but he won’t be showing it this spring as he will sit out to continue to rehabilitate a shoulder injury that nagged him last season. There is a lot left to settle outside of Williams, however, and not a lot of experience. Woods returns as a part-time starter and Tavai has proven that he can be a versatile contributor, but guys such as Delvon Simmons, Kenny Bigelow, Greg Townsend, Cody Temple and Claude Pelon will each be looking to establish themselves this spring. There’s a lot of potential in this group.
LB: Pullard returns as a four-year starter and the clear leader of the defense. Pullard will be invaluable this spring as a “coach on the field” to help install a new defense that will include multiple looks and personnel groups. Sarao and Michael Hutchings will also be available at interior LB spots in the spring. It will be interesting to see how the coaches use players such as Jabari Ruffin, Quinton Powell and Scott Starr as outside linebackers who could also be utilized as rush ends. And, of course, there is also the possibility of Cravens getting a look at OLB, much like this staff used Shaq Thompson last season at Washington.
DB: The secondary could be in flux this spring. Cravens is a returning starter at safety, but there is a chance he could get moved closer to the line of scrimmage. Josh Shaw was a settling force for the Trojans last year at cornerback, but there is a chance he could get moved back to safety. There is also the matter of replacing Dion Bailey as the nickel slot corner, a role that is so important these days against spread offenses. Seymour returns at the other corner spot, and other options include Chris Hawkins, Anthony Brown, Devian Shelton and Ryan Henderson. Leon McQuay made a start last season at safety and is capable of moving into the lineup full-time. Gerald Bowman returns after sitting out last season as a redshirt because of injury.