At the midway point of spring practice, the WeAreSC staffers give their choices for some of the top performers.
Garry Paskwietz: Nelson Agholor. The Trojans have been fortunate in recent years to have guys like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who set a high bar for work ethic and production at the wide receiver position, and it looks like Nelson is prepared to step in as the next guy in line. He looks terrific.
Johnny Curren: Cody Kessler. With his starting role on the line, Kessler has more than risen to the challenge this spring. Throwing with a great deal of accuracy, he’s done a nice job directing the new offense downfield with the command that you’d expect of a veteran leader with 14 starts under his belt.
Greg Katz: Kessler. What competition? Kessler has taken his experience and talent from last season and upped his game and leadership skills to another level. He is the glue of the offense and the team’s pulse.
GP: Scott Starr. Starr had a couple flashes last year to indicate progress in his game, but he’s made another jump this spring with his performance so far at the rush end spot. The position fits his pursuit skills so well and he appears very comfortable.
JC: Zach Banner. The offensive tackle has looked the best he has during his time as a Trojan, and he’s been running exclusively with the No. 1 unit for almost a week now.
GK: Toa Lobendahn. This kid is a true freshman who should still be completing his final semester at La Habra (Calif.) High. Really? Lobendahn has surprised with his ability to play offensive guard and hold his own against his older and more experienced teammates.
DEEPEST POSITION GROUP
GP: Running back. We’ve seen all of the tailbacks and fullbacks in action either in full drills or in walk-throughs, and it’s been a reminder of just how much talent is at that spot.
JC: With mammoth-sized contributors like Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon, Antwaun Woods and Kenny Bigelow in the mix, the Trojans possess some unique size on the defensive line that you just don’t typically see.
GK: The defensive line is fully healthy. This group has some spirit and attitude, and all this without All-American Leonard Williams, who is still rehabbing.
GP: The hip surgeries Banner had last fall have made a dramatic impact on his agility, and the results on the field are obvious. The best should still be yet to come since Banner says he is only back to roughly 60 percent strength, but lately that has been good enough to earn a spot with the first team at right tackle.
JC: Antwaun Woods has made tremendous strides from just last fall. Easily in the best shape of his career, he’s noticeably quicker and has been making plays in the offensive backfield with great regularity.
GK: The 6-foot-9, 345-pound Banner can now bend lower naturally and is a major threat to win the starting right tackle job heading into fall camp.
GP: Lobendahn. There’s no mistaking the maturity and physicality of this early enrollee, who doesn’t look overwhelmed at all while getting first-team reps at left guard.
JC: With Randall Telfer sidelined due to injury, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has received extended playing time in Sarkisian’s new tight-end-friendly offense, and he’s certainly made the most of it. Showcasing soft hands, he’s been catching nearly everything thrown in his direction.
GK: Starr. Finally free of injury, Starr has shown flashes of why he was such a coveted prospect out of Norco (Calif.) High. Now he just has to stay healthy.
BIGGEST TBD ITEM
GP: Kicking game. There has not been a ton of work done in terms of full-speed live kicking drills, so it’s difficult to judge where this all-important element stands right now.
JC: With potential contributors like Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simmons and Nico Falah sidelined due to injury and a number of talented freshmen not due to arrive on campus until this summer, there simply is no way to really evaluate this offensive line group as it stands currently.
GK: The true fate of the offensive line, which still doesn’t have the full strength of numbers due to rehabs and the yet-to-arrive heralded freshman linemen class.