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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The best of spring football at USC

By WeAreSC staff

Here’s our look back at the Trojans’ progress during spring.

MVP

Nelson Agholor
Will Nelson Agholor become the latest standout receiver at USC?
Garry Paskwietz: Nelson Agholor
Johnny Curren: Agholor
Greg Katz: Agholor, Hayes Pullard

Curren: From the start of spring ball to last Saturday’s finish no other player performed at such a sky-high level, and with such consistency, as Agholor. A practice didn’t ever seem to go by without the talented junior coming up with at least one highlight catch that caught everyone’s attention. An already solid player heading into the spring, he got even better and appears poised to take his place as the next great USC wide receiver.

Biggest surprise

GP: Zach Banner
JC: Scott Starr
GK: Banner

Katz: It has to be redshirt freshman offensive right tackle Zach Banner, who came out of nowhere -- thanks to the wonders of hip surgery -- to claim the starting position. He probably surprised not only his teammates with his newfound agility but himself as well. Still a work in progress, he is not only turning into a grizzly bear on roller skates but potentially a future All-Pac-12 selection. When Banner is able to stay at pad level, it’s like a tsunami of human girth stream rolling a mismatched opponent.

Most improved

GP: Antwaun Woods
JC: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
GK: Cope-Fitzpatrick

Paskwietz: Coach Steve Sarkisian called Woods the standard for the defense at one point during spring ball. That is a very strong statement and one that Woods earned with his play. His physical abilities seem to have all come together and he also looked, and talked, like a confident veteran. It was a very pleasant surprise to see such a strong presence in the middle of the line.

Biggest leap in spring

GP: Claude Pelon
JC: Claude Pelon
GK: Antwaun Woods

Paskwietz: The hope was that Pelon would be able to provide immediate help along the interior of the D-line, particularly with the departure of George Uko to the NFL draft. Pelon started at bit slowly but came on strong and moved into the starting lineup by the final stages of spring. Sarkisian commented on the fact that Pelon seemed to adjust to the pace of play and his game took off once that happened.

Under the radar

GP: Khaliel Rodgers
JC: Banner
GK: Walk-on receivers George Katrib, Christian Tober, and Chris Willson. (Katrib got a scholarship late Tuesday night)

Curren: After undergoing surgery on both hips in the fall, it wasn’t even clear if Banner would be physically ready to participate in spring drills. Ultimately, he did a lot more than just show up, he shined at times -- an impressive feat considering he admittedly isn’t quite back to 100 percent. Appearing more flexible and quicker on his feet than at any other point in his Trojans career, he eventually overtook Nathan Guertler midway through camp as the starting right tackle. As long as he continues to develop, there’s reason to believe that he’s going to stay there.

Best position battle

GP: SAM linebacker
JC: SAM linebacker
GK: SAM linebacker

Katz: If you want to say tailbacks Javorius Allen and Tre Madden, go right ahead. But for my money, it was the outside linebacker battle between sophomores Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. It’s really a matter of what kind of physical specimen you need for the down and distance. Powell is speed, quickness, and intensity, and Ruffin is brute strength, athleticism and a nasty disposition. This battle figures to be ongoing right through the end of training camp in August.

Biggest item left to be settled in fall

GP: Offensive guard spots
JC: Offensive line
GK: The makeup of the offensive line -- specifically the guard positions and offensive tackle backups.

Paskwietz: I actually feel pretty comfortable that the tackle spots and center are fairly well set heading into fall. The guard spots, however, are not. The big key is Aundrey Walker and his ability to be ready to go at the start of the season. Walker is the one with 18 career starts and it would be good to plug that experience between a new starter at center and a right tackle seeing his first starting action for the Trojans. It will be critical for Walker to get his conditioning right, something that is currently hindered by his ankle injury. The up-tempo system is going to demand that he come in prepared to handle that pace.

Top selling point of offense

GP: Continued insistence from coaches and players that it is “run-first”
JC: Passing game spread the ball around
GK: The relentless pace of one play after another without a huddle

Curren: While the offense didn’t exactly shine this past Saturday, one overriding positive that did emerge from the 15 workouts taken as a whole was the way that the ball was spread around in the passing game to all of the different weapons. That stands in stark contrast to USC’s previous scheme under Lane Kiffin, which always seemed more personnel driven. In Sarkisian’s up-tempo system, there were plenty of passes thrown to the tight ends, to the running backs, and to all of the wide receivers. It’s that variety and unpredictability that figures to make life more difficult for defenses, and perhaps result in a higher level of success for the Trojans.

Top selling point of defense

GP: Size along interior of line
JC: Performance of front seven
GK: Imposing defensive line

Katz: For those who are looking for Wild Bunch 3, you might get your wish in 2014. Looking at the defensive line as a collective unit, you get the early impression that this could be the “immoveable object.” What’s scary is that the D-line looked imposing and played with a sense of passion without the general services of junior All-American DT Leonard Williams. Pelon is the spitting image of one of the original Wild Bunch members – the late Tody Smith. New D-line coach Chris Wilson has some really big and talented toys to play with, and he’ll be under scrutiny to make sure they play to their potential.