Six emerging sleepers from spring

Justin Davis has gone from being a true freshman in a deep group of running backs to being a legitimate threat to start for the Trojans in their season opener. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

At every major college football program across the country spring ball represents a time not just for the established stars to refine their skills, but also for the lesser-knowns to take a step forward to show that they might be ready to contribute. That’s precisely what happened at USC in March and April, as more than a few under-the-radar Trojans made a major impression. They weren’t necessarily the players sitting at the top of the watch list heading into the spring, but here are six sleepers who made the most of the 15 workouts.

RB Justin Davis (6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Fr.)

It’s not as if Davis, an early entrant who enrolled at USC just this past January, arrived on campus without plenty of accolades. But with veterans such as Silas Redd already entrenched at tailback, he didn’t figure to make an overly significant immediate impact. Taking advantage of the increased opportunity that came with injuries to both Redd and D.J. Morgan, the Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln product was arguably the top tailback of the spring. Showcasing a fundamentally sound north-south running style with plenty of physicality, USC head coach Lane Kiffin has stated that the young freshman has the ability to start right off the bat this fall, and listed him along with Redd and Madden atop the post-spring depth chart Monday.

RB Javorius "Buck" Allen (6-1, 210, RS So.)

Having amassed just 32 yards on six carries in his two years at USC, and with the tailback position stocked with talent, Allen was almost an afterthought heading into the spring. But like Davis, he benefitted from the extra reps that came with playing in a backfield hit hard by the injury bug, looking like a completely different player at times. Attributing his improvement to having the playbook down pat for the first time, Allen looked faster, stronger and most importantly, more confident than at any other time in his career. Having proven that he can now be counted upon, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him enter the tailback rotation in 2013.

LB Anthony Sarao (6-0, 215, RS So.)

Building off a solid 2012 campaign in which he compiled 40 tackles as a backup and on special teams, Sarao spent the majority of the spring manning the Will linebacker spot with the first unit ahead of Lamar Dawson. A tireless worker who plays with a non-stop motor, he looks to be a perfect fit in Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive 5-2 defense. In the midst of a competition with Dawson that is sure to last through fall camp, Sarao certainly showed that he’s more than capable of performing on center stage when given the opportunity.

WR Victor Blackwell (6-1, 190, RS So.)

Blackwell shined over the course of the last two weeks at receiver where the role as the team’s No. 3 wide out is up for grabs with George Farmer now sidelined for the season with a torn ACL. Emerging as a reliable pass catcher with big-play ability to boot, he made a huge statement in the Trojans’ spring game finale, hauling in seven passes for 155 yards and one touchdown. Set to compete with others such as Darreus Rogers, De'Von Flournoy and Steven Mitchell for that third spot, Blackwell proved this spring that he can come up with the big plays. Now he just has to do it on a consistent basis.

TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-5, 245, So.)

With the Trojans possessing two legitimate stars at the tight end position in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, Cope-Fitzpatrick sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But this spring, he certainly made a name for himself as someone to keep your eye on, particularly in the last week when both Grimble and Telfer were out of action with injuries. Having filled out physically, Cope-Fitzpatrick stood out just as much for his ability as a blocker as he did for his receiving skills. Collecting six grabs in the spring game, he looks ready to take on a greater role in the offense.

FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 225, So.)

According to USC running backs coach Tommie Robinson, no member of his group made greater strides this spring than Pinner. Looking much more comfortable within the offense at his fullback spot than he did as a freshman, he consistently progressed throughout the team’s 15 practices -- particularly in the later stages when last season's primary starter, Soma Vainuku, was sidelined with a knee injury. Always a capable blocker, Pinner also showed at times that he can potentially be a factor with the ball in his hands as a receiver coming out of the backfield -- something Kiffin wants to see from the fullback position in 2013.