WeAreSC staffers discuss the opening week of USC spring ball.
Give one offensive player and one defensive player who appears to have stepped up from where they were last fall.
Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with quarterback Max Browne on offense. After a redshirt year spent adjusting to the college game, Browne has come out this spring and showed that he is ready to make this a genuine competition with Cody Kessler. Browne has added bulk and is showing good command on the field. So far, he simply looks confident and in control. Obviously there is still a learning curve with the offense, and the matter of Kessler still being considered the incumbent, but Browne has done his part to put himself in a real good position this spring.
On defense, cornerback Chris Hawkins also spent 2013 redshirting but he is getting a prime opportunity this spring while Josh Shaw is sidelined with a stress fracture. Hawkins has long arms and good instincts, and these reps he’s getting will only help him earn more playing time in the future.
Johnny Curren: On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the player who stands out to me as having made an especially dramatic leap in terms of his development. With Randall Telfer sidelined, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. have really given him an opportunity to show what he can do, and he’s capitalized on it. Showcasing sure hands, and appearing to be more fluid in his movement than he was last season, he’s been making catches all over the field.
Defensively, I’m really impressed with the way Hawkins has performed early on. Always a strong athlete, it looks like he’s playing with a greater level of confidence these days, and he made some impressive plays throughout the week at a position that the coaches need to shore up heading into next season. His Day 1 interception on a Kessler pass was one of the highlights of the first week.
Greg Katz: Browne has not only just taken to a new system similar to what he used in high school, but he is more than making it interesting in the QB competition. Whether Browne can actually overtake Kessler remains to be seen, but it’s becoming clear that Browne has improved his game in understanding defenses and making adjustments.
While LB Quinton Powell is now in a new defensive system, it seems he is around the ball on a regular basis and is effortless playing off the edge or covering in space. Powell’s athleticism certainly is being put to good use, and the speed of the game has slowed down for him.
What has been the most surprising development through one week of spring ball?
GP: Most projections had Max Tuerk at right tackle heading into spring but with Tuerk at center, we’ve seen Nathan Guertler in the first-team role at right tackle, and the veteran has looked solid so far. Guertler got a vote of confidence from the coaches last week when he was awarded a scholarship, and that news came as little surprise for a player who has seen playing time on both the offensive line and a blocking tight end. Guertler specializes in run blocking, which seems to fit well with O-line coach Tim Drevno.
JC: The most surprising thing to me has been the fact that the coaching staff appears to have found its answer at center in Tuerk. All of the chatter heading into spring practice had Khaliel Rodgers and Toa Lobendahn set to duke it out at that spot, with Tuerk likely destined to take over at right tackle. Right from the moment camp opened up, however, Tuerk lined up with the first group at center, and that’s where he has stayed. And the good news for Trojans fans is that he’s performed solidly there, providing stability in USC’s new uptempo, shotgun-based offense without any problems.
GK: While I think the speed and tempo of practices on both sides of the line of scrimmage is fascinating, seeing just how quickly the players are adjusting to the new systems is surprising to me. Both sides of the ball seem to be benefiting from the breakneck pace. It’s not perfect yet, but it is a surprise to see how far this team has come in such a short time.
Give one under-the-radar story (player, position group, etc.) that is not getting enough attention.
GP: There have been multiple looks at defensive schemes so far in spring, but the one thing that has been pretty clear is that, no matter which combination of players are in there, the Trojans front seven has a chance to be pretty special. The D-line can look intimidating at times -- and that will only increase once Leonard Williams returns -- and the linebacker group led by Hayes Pullard has a lot of good experience as well.
JC: I think that the excellent spring that Guertler has had has gotten somewhat lost in shuffle, but it really is one of the feel-good stories to emerge this month. A hard worker who made the switch to tight end for a portion of last season, he ran exclusively with the first-team offense at right tackle in Week 1, and he did a nice job. It’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that he remains in the starting lineup once the season begins, but with what he’s shown, I expect him to certainly be in the discussion.
GK: I would say the development of junior defensive lineman Antwaun Woods. Woods has become an acknowledged leader, which shows his growth since he arrived as a freshman. He is more developed physically and is playing on a more consistent basis from down to down. Woods is one player that could emerge as a player that rises above the radar by the end of spring ball.