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Observations at the midway point

8/15/2012

The Trojans have reached the midway point of the 2012 fall camp and here’s what we’ve learned so far:

Quarterback: Matt Barkley has been fine. His timing is not yet there with Robert Woods as a result of Woods coming back gradually, but it will be there. It’s also clear that the two backups -- Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- have really grown as they enter their second year at USC. Both look capable of bright futures.

Running back: There is a reason the Trojans went out and got Silas Redd. Curtis McNeal is the starter for the Trojans and has earned that spot, but McNeal has been banged up a few times in recent practices and it’s been nice for the team to pop in an experienced and talented runner like Redd. D.J. Morgan and Javorious Allen have shown flashes but not at the consistent level of Redd. Soma Vainuku is going to play a bigger role than most people think. Jahleel Pinner is going to be a good one in time.

Wide receiver: Due to nagging injuries, this hasn’t been the dominant group that USC fans expect to see on the field this fall, but things should be OK once the season starts. There would be a lot more concern if Robert Woods was showing signs of trouble coming back from his ankle issues but that’s not the case. The coaches and trainers are being patient with bringing him back slowly and that’s a good thing. Woods is a veteran and he’s getting enough work to be ready for the season. Marqise Lee has been terrific while the next best receiver has been De'Von Flournoy. George Farmer appears to be healthy in recent days and Kiffin said the next two weeks will be critical for Farmer to show that he is ready for a bigger role. Nelson Agholor is also starting to show more than he did earlier in the fall. There hasn't been much yet from Victor Blackwell and that’s been somewhat of a surprise.

Tight end: The talent is there with this group, as Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble have played at a high level. Junior Pomee appears ready to go as well. It’s been disappointing to not see Christian Thomas on the field yet due to injury. He’s a real talent and the team could use him. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is showing all the signs of being the next good one at this spot.

Offensive line: This is going to be a real good group. Khaled Holmes at center is the anchor and leader, he looks great. The right side of the line is very solid with Kevin Graf at tackle and John Martinez at guard. They have nice chemistry together. Marcus Martin looks like a veteran at left guard but the left tackle spot -- as important as any on the team this year -- is still in flux. Projected starter Aundrey Walker has missed the last several practices with a wrist injury, and true freshman Max Tuerk has been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp in his place. Do not rule out the possibility of Tuerk being the starter at some point. This guy is legit. Cyrus Hobbi and Abe Markowitz are solid reserves in the interior, and Zach Banner looks to have real potential on the outside. Chad Wheeler has also done some nice things.

Defensive line: This is the most unsettled unit on the team, but there are signs of development. Wes Horton is set at one end spot and George Uko is becoming a force at defensive tackle. Those are the only confirmed positions right now. J.R. Tavai and Greg Townsend Jr. are trying to lock down the other end spot opposite Horton, but injuries for both have been an issue in recent days. Morgan Breslin is showing potential and will likely back up Horton. The most pleasant surprise has been true freshman Leonard Williams, and he will line up behind Uko. Christian Heyward has also shown good flashes. He is behind Antwaun Woods at nose tackle right now. So far Cody Temple has not practiced this fall. He would provide good interior depth if available.

Linebacker: If all the starters are healthy this is a solid group, but none of them are out there at the moment. Lamar Dawson, Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard have all been sidelined in recent days. If that continues for much longer it will become a concern, but so far Kiffin seems to be patient while waiting for them to get back on the field. Anthony Sarao brings a nice mean streak on the field -- it’s the New Jersey in him. Scott Starr continues to be the prime backup in the middle, while Tony Burnett and Jabari Ruffin are having a nice competition behind Bailey.

Defensive back: What was once a very deep cornerback spot has suddenly thinned due to injuries and academic issues. Nickell Robey is a rock at one corner spot -- that much we know. On the opposite side, Isiah Wiley has yet to see the field due to academics, Torin Harris has been out with injury, Anthony Brown has missed time, and we’ve yet to see Brian Baucham. Ryan Henderson has not made an impact in the time he’s been out there. The big pleasant surprise has been the play of Josh Shaw, who began camp at safety but has been at corner in recent days. He’s big and physical with a chance to be a good one. True freshmen Kevon Seymour and Devian Shelton have seen more reps than expected, both look pretty good. The safety spots are fine. T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling appear set at starter with Drew McAllister and Demetrius Wright as quality reserves. If Gerald Bowman is a third-unit safety that is a good sign that the position group is deep.