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USC camp preview

8/3/2014

Here's a look at one key item for each position group as the Trojans prepare to open fall camp drills Monday night.

Quarterback: Cody Kessler's impact on offense.

There isn't a more important role within the new up-tempo offense than the quarterback. Kessler has done a good job of learning the system and being the steady hand to guide the important summer workouts. It's time to put the finishing touches on things to get ready for an actual game. Kessler will need to continue being that quick decision-maker who can be in control while the rest of the offense comes together. He appears very comfortable in that role so far.

Running back: Buck Allen can stand out but there are others, too.

Buck Allen has that unique quality you want in a lead back and I do think he would be capable of carrying the type of load that could produce an 1,800-yard season like Sarkisian saw last year from Bishop Sankey. I just don't know if that is what the Trojans need as there are two other backs who are proven commodities in Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Madden gave the Trojans everything they could want at the start of last season before getting hurt. Davis provided enough dazzling moments as a true freshman to whet USC fans' appetites. And don't forget a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner who can tote the rock if needed. It will be very interesting to see how Sarkisian divides up the reps with this group.

Wide receiver: Who will step up among the reserves?

Nelson Agholor is expected to be one of the elite receivers in the country while the other projected starter -- Darreus Rogers -- will wear the No. 1 this season to reflect a traditional standout receiver jersey at USC. With those two spots set, the Trojans know they are going to need multiple other receivers to step up in order for this offense to function at a high level and, while there are many candidates, it's unclear at this point how those roles will be defined. George Farmer and Steven Mitchell are both speedy threats who are coming back from knee injuries. Victor Blackwell is an experienced playmaker who needs to be more consistent. Adoree' Jackson, Juju Smith, Rahshead Johnson and Ajene Harris are all true freshmen who could be in the mix as well.

Tight end: Randall Telfer's status.

Telfer came back for his senior year in order to play in an offense that produced the 2013 Mackey Award winner last year at Washington. Randall missed spring drills and most of summer while rehabbing a knee injury but he came on strong during workouts in July and looks primed for the start of camp. Telfer is a big 6-foot-4, 260-pound veteran who can provide a major weapon for Sarkisian to use as both a pass-catcher and blocker.

Offensive line: Who will emerge as the starters at offensive guard?

The Trojans enter camp with the starting positions seemingly set at left tackle, center and right tackle. It's the two guard spots that need to get figured out and that will be largely impacted by the health of Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons. Walker has 18 career starts under his belt so he will be given every opportunity to reclaim the right guard spot that was his in the 2013 season. Khaliel Rodgers has been solid in place of Walker but the experience Aundrey brings to the table can be so valuable. Simmons hasn't been a starter but he will be in the rotation at left guard with a trio of first-year players in Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao.

Defensive line: How good can the Trojans be in the middle?

One of the best places for a football team to be strong is in the middle of the defensive line and the Trojans are looking pretty fortunate in that area right now. Even with the loss of talented reserve nose tackle Kenny Bigelow for the season, Sarkisian can still roll out an experienced interior group that features a nice blend of skill and size. It helps to have an All-American like Leonard Williams, but Antwaun Woods has made a big leap in his game and new faces like Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons bring experience to the table as well. Can Greg Townsend and Cody Temple return from injuries to provide even more depth?

Linebacker: Hayes Pullard setting the standard.

USC fans should enjoy watching Pullard this year because it's rare to see a four-year starter who is so established at the top of his game. Pullard has been the leading tackler in two of his three seasons for the Trojans and he was second in the other year. Assuming he performs this year at a similar standard, he will go down as one of the most productive linebackers in USC history, and that's not a bad list to be on.

Defensive back: Are Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay the next dominant safety duo?

USC fans know what a dominant safety duo looks like, do the names Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith ring a bell? I'm certainly not saying Cravens and McQuay are at that level yet, but you get the sense there is something special brewing with these two. Cravens showed his unbelievable athleticism last season in a Freshman All-American year while McQuay has made a tremendous jump in his game this offseason with his long and lean frame to go along with good ball skills.

Special teams: Who will be the return men?

There are a lot of candidates to fill the kickoff-return and punt-return roles but Sarkisian hasn't really tipped his hand yet. Will he look to use someone like Agholor, his top big-play threat at wide receiver? Or will he opt to go with someone who isn't his primary explosive weapon? Maybe a Rogers, a Blackwell, a Mitchell or Farmer, or a freshman like Jackson. Kevon Seymour or Anthony Brown could also get a look, as could D.J. Morgan. Lots of options here.