Thursday, August 1, 2013
WeAreSC roundtable: Trojans storylines
By WeAreSC staff
Name three story lines you will be paying attention to when USC fall camp opens this weekend.
Running back rotation: With six tailbacks in the mix it will be interesting to see how the reps are divided in the early days of camp. In most circumstances you wouldn’t need to see the veterans as much in the opening days so it would be a good opportunity to get some work for the younger guys to see where they are, but these aren’t normal times for the Trojans. Three veteran backs are coming off injuries -- Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan and Tre Madden -- so the coaches will likely want to ease them back into action as soon as possible. Then there is sophomore Buck Allen along with freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Lane Kiffin has stated he wants to develop the running game more this season, so how the reps are split in camp will be a good indication of who will be carrying the load for the Trojans this year.
USC defensive end Morgan Breslin will start in a stand-up position, which could improve his already formidable pass rush.
Defensive line progression: There is a lot of attention paid the corner position on the defense but the best friend the corners will have is a good pass rush up front. On paper, the front line of the Trojans looks real strong, and we’re anxious to see the progression from where the group was in the spring. This could be the best D-line the Trojans have seen in years, and some good overall depth will give Ed Orgeron a chance to rotate bodies the way he wants. I really want to see how Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin are transitioning to stand-up end roles, and I think Scott Starr -- who was cleared on Wednesday for full contact work after suffering a neck injury last year -- could be a big surprise on the outside as well.
Lane Kiffin: So much about the 2013 season for the Trojans comes down to the head coach. How does he handle the quarterback competition? Does he follow through on his stated desire to feature a more physical running game? Can he provide the leadership to turn the program around from a disappointing finish in 2012? These are all legitimate questions for a coach who wants to remove distractions for his team -- including self-inflicted ones -- in a quest for a return to the top of the conference standings.
The quarterback competition: With USC’s starting quarterback job completely up for grabs, no position battle will be more closely watched this fall, and for good reason. After all, it’s one of the most prized roles in all of college football. It’s still technically a three-man race, but in reality it would appear that the two redshirt sophomores -- Cody Kessler and Max Wittek -- are somewhat ahead of the young freshman, Max Browne. Can Wittek, who possesses arguably the best physical tools of the bunch, settle down and showcase improved decision-making skills to seize the role? Or will Kessler pick up right where he left off after a stellar spring and potentially run away with the job?
Will the physicality be back? With NCAA sanctions putting a dent in the USC roster, Kiffin made a concerted effort over the last two seasons to limit the amount of hitting in practice, but it appeared to result in the loss of a certain element of toughness on game day, particularly in the trenches. This past spring, however, Kiffin brought the physicality back. And while there were a greater number of injuries to be sure, the defense also tackled better and there was a renewed sense of aggression that appeared to permeate the entire team. It will be interesting to see if Kiffin throws caution to the wind, once again, for the sake of overall improved play.
The battle at cornerback: The Trojans were plagued by inconsistent production at the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey last season, and with Robey now in the NFL, and Josh Shaw -- who did add at least some semblance of stability to the position in 2012 -- now entrenched at strong safety, that up-and-down level of play continued in the spring. Are there two players on the roster ready to step up to the challenge this fall? Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown headline a long list of candidates who will be trying to prove they are.
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The quarterback competition: Obviously this is the No. 1 topic because of its importance, but there is underlying intrigue. Lane Kiffin continues to say it’s a three-player race featuring Max Wittek, Cody Kessler, and Max Browne, but Browne seems a likely redshirt candidate. It would be the story of camp if Browne is selected the starter, because regardless of what has been said about his job status, would Kiffin be willing to go with a true freshman? The reality is that this race is likely Kessler and Wittek, and although Kessler certainly was the best QB in spring, it probably doesn’t mean a whole lot beginning on Saturday.
The secondary: It’s really a two-part issue. It will be interesting to see exactly which players start at safety and which players man the corner spots. It appears the safety positions will be quite a competitive situation with some quality, and the corner positions, which did not look solid in the spring, will be under a great deal of scrutiny. The Trojans could feature a rather inexperienced secondary heading into the first game at Hawaii. Don’t forget that anticipated starting strong safety Dion Bailey, who is currently fourth on the depth chart, is returning to the secondary after a two-season stint at linebacker and should be watched carefully, as should heralded true freshman Su’a Cravens, who is coming off of knee surgery.
The offensive line: When we last left this storyline, senior right tackle Kevin Graf, a two-year starter and NFL prospect, was surprisingly listed as a co-starter with redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler, who was basically held out of spring with a knee injury. This battle might or might not be all it’s cracked up to be, and then there is the issue of inconsistent left tackle Aundrey Walker. At least by the depth chart, Walker’s spot doesn’t appear challenged. However, he was called out at Pac-12 Conference media day when UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr referred to Walker (not by name but position) not picking him up on a blitz, which led to the Matt Barkley season-ending shoulder injury. We’ll see if Barr’s comments increase Walker's motivation. Another interesting development will be the development of new center Marcus Martin, who will attempt to replace NFL-drafted center Khaled Holmes.