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Monday, March 4, 2013
Spring preview: USC offense

By Johnny Curren

With the start of spring practice set for Tuesday, here’s a position-by-position look at who you can expect to see lining up for the Trojans on offense.

Quarterback
Max Wittek
After starting the final two games of last season, Max Wittek gets the first crack at the Trojans quarterback job this spring.
It’s an open audition at quarterback this spring in a battle that will likely continue on into fall camp. Gunning for the No. 1 job are three talented signal-callers in Max Wittek and Cody Kessler -- each third-year sophomores -- as well as early entrant freshman Max Browne. Having started the last two games of the 2012 campaign, Wittek certainly has the edge when it comes to experience, and with a prototypical 6-foot-4 build and a strong arm, he certainly appears to have everything that you’d want in a quarterback. On the field, however, the results were mixed, as he performed solidly against Notre Dame but then struggled against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. At 6-1, Kessler doesn’t have the ideal size, but what he does possess is a reputation as a gamer who simply gets the job done. He’s also shined at times when given the opportunity in each of the last two springs. Browne, the 2012 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, arrives on campus more highly decorated than either of his two counterparts. With 6-5 height and fantastic physical talents, the big question with him is whether or not he can adjust to the speed and mental demands of the college game.

Running back
Now under the tutelage of the recently hired Tommie Robinson, the USC running back corps is certainly deeper than the 2012 version. Spearheading the group of tailbacks is senior Silas Redd, who led the team in rushing last season with 905 yards. Providing a nice change of pace will be the speedy D.J. Morgan -- who is as healthy as he’s ever been as a Trojan -- and Javorious Allen, a standout in the team’s offseason workouts. Tre Madden is certainly a potential contributor to keep your eye on, although he isn’t likely to be cleared in time to participate in contact drills this spring, as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. And you can’t forget about Justin Davis, either. Another early entrant freshman, he possesses a nice combination of power and speed, and he’s particularly strong running inside the tackles. At fullback, Soma Vainuku returns in his role as a punishing lead blocker, and he’ll be pushed for playing time by Jahleel Pinner, who emerged as a solid all-around option at the position as the 2012 season wore on.

Wide receiver
Marqise Lee is back in a starring role after earning the 2012 Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s top wideout. Racking up 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns this past fall, he’s USC’s most prolific weapon on offense. But with the departure of Robert Woods, the Trojans will need to find another receiver capable of contributing in support. Nelson Agholor looks like one possibility. Fast and elusive, he showcased big-play ability at times, most notably against Oregon when he hauled in six passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. George Farmer arrived at USC with all of the accolades in the world, but has yet to really produce on the field primarily due to injuries. Now healthy, this could be his chance to make a move. He’ll also be participating on the track team this spring, as will Lee. Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy are two veterans who figure into the mix, while the wild card of the group could be Darreus Rogers, a physical pass-catcher who grayshirted last season.

Tight end
In redshirt juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, the Trojans have two of the top tight ends around. Veteran leaders with fantastic all-around skills, they’re both likely to be relied upon heavily by the inexperienced quarterbacks this spring as they adjust to the ins and outs of the offense. Beyond those two, however, USC is paper-thin at this spot. Junior Pomee has been removed from all team activity, and his return is uncertain after an offseason arrest. Christian Thomas is no longer on the roster. But there is one reserve who has shown plenty of promise this winter in the team’s passing sessions -- Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The 6-5 sophomore looks more than ready to take on an increased role within the USC offense.

Max Tuerk
Coming off a standout season as a freshman, the coaching staff will move Max Tuerk around in an effort to find his best position.
Offensive line
With two coaches now in command of this unit in James Cregg and the recently added Mike Summers, the offensive line is sure to receive plenty of attention this spring in an effort to elevate the group’s level of play. The right side of the line looks set with a couple of two-year starters in John Martinez at guard and Kevin Graf at tackle. On the other side, however, things aren’t so certain. The left tackle position will be completely up for grabs, as Aundrey Walker will try to fend off the likes of potential competitors like Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler, Jordan Simmons and Nathan Guertler. Coming off a phenomenal freshman season, Max Tuerk is another very real possibility here, but he figures to line up at left guard after starting at the position in the Sun Bowl. But nothing is certain when it comes to the future of the former Santa Margarita (Calif.) standout, and the staff is more than willing to test him out at every position along the offensive line this spring. If Tuerk isn’t at guard, likely candidates to take over there would include Simmons, David Garness and Giovanni Di Poalo, as well as last year’s primary starter, Marcus Martin -- although he looks destined to compete at center after moving over there during bowl game practices. Others who could see time at center include Cyrus Hobbi, and potentially Martinez.