Roundtable: USC spring standouts

Cody Kessler, right, might not have the size of Max Wittek, but he emerged as a strong option at quarterback for USC this spring. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

WeAreSC staffers Garry Paskwietz, Johnny Curren and Greg Katz look at some of the top superlatives from the 2013 USC spring ball session.

MVP -- QB Cody Kessler: Nobody entered the spring with more to prove, and Kessler made a huge statement by rising to the occasion. Performing on a consistently high level from practice No. 1 all the way to practice No. 15, he showed that while he might not have the size of his two counterparts in the quarterback battle -- Max Wittek and Max Browne -- what he does possess is grit, a remarkable football IQ and the ability to simply get the job done. Referred to as a ‘gamer’ by USC head coach Lane Kiffin on more than one occasion, he was particularly stellar in the team’s scrimmages, putting up big numbers and never throwing a single interception. More than that, he emerged as a leader who the rest of the team really seemed to respond to. -- Johnny Curren

Top offensive performer -- WR Nelson Agholor: With the No. 2 receiver job up for grabs, Agholor asserted himself early as the clear choice. Building off a productive freshman campaign, he shined throughout the spring, and a practice didn’t seem to go by without the Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep product coming up with at least one highlight play that caught everyone’s attention. Showcasing game-breaking ability to go along with reliable hands, he just might allow everyone to get over the loss of Robert Woods just a tad bit sooner than imagined. -- JC

Top defensive performer -- LB Hayes Pullard: Stepping in as the starter at the Mike linebacker position in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 set, Pullard took on the role as the heart and soul of the defense right off the bat with his inspired brand of play, and it would be somewhat of a shock if he isn’t eventually named as one of the team’s captains come the fall. A strong and heady athlete, he doesn’t necessarily bring flash to the position, but he proved to be the team’s most reliable defensive performer time and time again. -- JC

Top freshman -- TB Justin Davis: You can debate the validity of Kiffin’s depth chart released on Monday, but there is no debating that Davis has more than earned a spot as co-starter at tailback along with senior Silas Redd and sophomore Tre Madden. The true freshman from Stockton, Calif., is a fearless, attacking runner with enough speed to turn the corner. A thumb injury in spring didn’t slow him up, and he came back even stronger. The Trojans have a pretty good All-America history with tailbacks with the last name of Davis, and this Davis, too, has a chance to be something special. -- Greg Katz

Most improved -- A loaded question, as some might point to junior inside linebacker Lamar Dawson or even senior outside linebacker Devon Kennard. Others might go with dynamic receiver Nelson Agholor or even sophomore receiver Victor Blackwell. All are worthy candidates. However, the vote here goes to sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, who showed leadership, accuracy, mobility, the ability to improvise under duress, and didn’t throw an interception all spring. No matter what that depth chart said on Monday, Kessler was the clear-cut winner in the spring quarterback competition, rising above it in spite of the intense competition and scrutiny. -- GK

Biggest concern -- The secondary: Without question, the worst kept secret of the spring. There may be a number of reasons why this unit was suspect and proven deficient. You can say that junior linebacker-to-strong safety transfer Dion Bailey was unable to perform after shoulder surgery rehab. You could say that star true freshman strong safety Su’a Cravens went down with a knee, while corners Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour were also bitten by injury bugs. Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Clancy Pendergast says it’s a case of a new system, inexperience, youth and the standout Trojans receivers. Trojans fans are hoping that Pendergast’s reasoning is not a foreshadowing but a solution of things to come in 2013. -- GK

Biggest surprise -- Justin Davis: The reports were good for Davis coming out of high school, but I don’t think too many people expected to see him at such a high level so early in his USC career. There was a little bit of fortuitous timing for Davis, as injuries to other backs such as Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan gave him an opportunity for extended reps that normally would not have been there and he certainly took advantage. -- Garry Paskwietz

Most significant injury -- George Farmer: There won’t be too much argument on this one. The Trojans were beset by injuries in the spring, but Farmer is the only one who is known to be facing an entire season out of action. The shame of it is that Farmer was looking so good in spring, after multiple injuries early in his career, he was finally healthy and had made huge strides to being the No. 3 receiver heading into camp. Farmer has a redshirt year, which he will take, so he will return in 2014 as a redshirt junior. -- GP

Name to watch -- Chad Wheeler: He was offered a scholarship as a 220-pound high school senior and has grown to 282 pounds in a short amount of time. On top of that, Wheeler was showing good athleticism and toughness before going out of spring with a knee injury. When he returns, Wheeler will shift to right tackle, as Kiffin wants him to compete with Kevin Graf. Another name to watch is Max Browne. There will come a time when he is going to be an awfully polished quarterback for the Trojans. -- GP

Marqise Lee Award -- Marqise Lee: There is no other reason to have this category than to recognize Lee, since he didn’t get any other mentions. Lee missed much of spring with a knee injury but he showed everything that he can do in the final two scrimmages when he totaled 18 catches for 339 yards and five touchdowns. -- GP