Roundtable with WeAreSC staffers: What was the most notable storyline of fall camp?
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.
The Trojans went into camp with Aundrey Walker at left tackle, Max Tuerk at left guard, Marcus Martin at center, John Martinez at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. The biggest surprise at the end of spring ball was when coach Lane Kiffin listed Chad Wheeler as a co-starter with Graf, even though Wheeler hadn’t taken any reps on the right side. Kiffin insisted Wheeler had shown some special flashes in his limited spring action and was ready to challenge for a spot.
Well, as it turned out, Wheeler was ready but his opportunity ended up coming at left tackle after Walker went out with a mild concussion early in fall camp. Wheeler stepped into the first unit alongside Tuerk and the combination had Kiffin talking excitedly about them both. When Walker came back, he was put at right guard and is now challenging Martinez for the starting spot. For a position group that is so important to the fortunes of the 2013 USC offense, how things get settled with this new line-up could go a long way in determining the success of the Trojans season.
The performance of the new-look defense. New USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast installed his 5-2 defensive scheme in the spring, and there were signs of immediate improvement from a group that struggled for large periods of time last year, and the good news is that they looked even better during fall camp.
An athletic and physical bunch, just about every defensive player appears to have bought into Pendergast’s system -- which relies on an attacking philosophy -- wholeheartedly. In fact, there were times when the team came together for 11-on-11 sessions where the first-team defense was flat-out dominant.
It’s the front seven that has set the tone, proving to be equally adept at getting after the quarterback as they are at stuffing the run. Devon Kennard probably benefited from the change in alignment more than anyone, switching from defensive end to a more natural outside linebacker position. From what he showed this month, there’s reason to believe he’s poised for a very big year. Joining him up front, defensive ends Leonard Williams and George Uko were two other stars of fall camp.
At inside linebacker Hayes Pullard was more active than ever, and the safety positions are loaded, with Josh Shaw, Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Demetrius Wright, Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III all making a case for playing time. Even the cornerbacks, a group that was much-maligned in 2012, showed vast improvement, with Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown, Torin Harris and Devian Shelton all performing at a higher level in the new defense.
The most notable storyline of fall camp is the most obvious -- the quarterback competition. What makes this a notable storyline is the inability of Kiffin to name a starting quarterback after Wednesday afternoon’s final scrimmage. Kiffin certainly has the right to decide when and where he will finally announce his starter, but most folks are surprised that the announcement of a starter is still pending with the Hawaii opener just a week away.
In addition, Kiffin has hinted that he might have to play with two quarterbacks at the outset. Regardless, even if he goes with two quarterbacks, he still has to name one of them to start against Hawaii. It will be the storyline if he elects to go with two quarterbacks, although the Trojans have had a history of going with two quarterbacks and being quite successful. Probably the most notable two-quarterback system was coach John McKay’s 1962 national champions, which featured Pete Beathard and Bill Nelsen. The 1995 Trojans featured Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz, and it was good enough to get to the 1996 Rose Bowl Game.