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Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Five things to watch as spring concludes

By Johnny Curren

LOS ANGELES -- With the first two weeks of spring ball at USC highlighted by a brand-new defense and a heightened atmosphere of competition that has brought out the best in players at just about every position, it’s been an eventful March for Lane Kiffin’s squad.

But after a one-week hiatus from action, and with just nine practice days remaining, there are still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered, not to mention a whole host of new storylines that have popped up.

With that in mind, here’s a look at five things to watch for during the remainder of the spring as USC gets set to hit the field once again on Tuesday.

1. QB battle picks back up
The three-man race between Max Wittek, Cody Kessler and Max Browne for the starting quarterback job hit a bit of a roadblock when Wittek -- the only member of the trio with starting experience -- went down during the team’s third practice with a MCL sprain in his knee. But the former Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei standout is expected to return as soon as Tuesday, meaning this competition will be back on in a big way. Kessler shined in his absence, however, particularly during the two scrimmages when he completed a combined 25 of 34 passes for 353 yards and one touchdown. Even the young freshman Browne showed promise at times, especially in the team’s last two practices. With Kiffin revealing that he’s not likely to name a starter until the fall, this is a battle that won’t be decided any time soon. It will be closely watched nonetheless, and it could get interesting if Kessler continues his string of stellar play.

Kevon Seymour
Kevon Seymour's return from injury should help the cornerback situation get settled a bit.
2. Reinforcements on the way
With a number of players on the roster dinged up, the week off couldn’t have come at a better time, and there are a number of vital pieces expected back in the coming days who will add depth and change the face of some current position battles. In addition to Wittek, other key performers such wide receiver Marqise Lee, as well as cornerbacks Kevon Seymour and Devian Shelton, all figure to return in time to make their presence. Nowhere will the return of players from injury be more welcomed, however, than along the defensive line, where J.R. Tavai, Greg Townsend Jr. and Cody Temple will give the Trojans three big bodies with experience at a spot where the team desperately needs it.

3. Opportunity at tailback
While it’s hard to take anything positive away from an instance where a major performer suffers an injury, there are times when it does result in a greater chance for others to make an impression. Such is the case at the tailback position where Silas Redd -- the team’s leading rusher in 2012 -- recently went down with a torn meniscus in his knee that will sideline him for the remainder of the spring. Thankfully for the Trojans, Redd will be back in time for fall camp, but in his absence D.J. Morgan, Javorious Allen and Justin Davis -- assuming he returns in time from a broken finger -- will all get an extended opportunity to show what they can do, with a still-limited Tre Madden also factoring in. Allen, in particular, was extremely productive in the last scrimmage, rushing for 65 yards and one touchdown, and the remaining practices this spring could go a long way in determining how the running back rotation looks in 2013.

4. The search at cornerback continues
There wasn’t a bigger question mark for USC entering the spring than at cornerback, where the Trojans found themselves having to replace both of the team’s primary starters from last season. But with six practices under the team’s belt, relatively few answers have been provided. The youthful collection has shown improvement, but as a whole, they’re still a work in progress as they become accustomed to the new defensive scheme. To top things off, this group was also hit by the injury bug as Seymour (ankle) -- arguably the unit’s top performer through the first week -- went down, as well as Shelton (ankle). Anthony Brown has looked comfortable running with the first unit on the right side while Torin Harris received the bulk of the reps as the starter on the left side during Seymour’s absence. Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard have all had their moments as well, and with the potential return of both Seymour and Shelton in the coming days, the situation should get very interesting over the next three weeks as things begin to shake out further.

5. Youth movement
The spring is always a time for the younger and less-experienced players to get valuable reps during practice and to fine tune their evolving skillsets as they make a bid for playing time. Already we’ve seen the likes of Nelson Agholor and Kessler make huge strides this month in terms of their development, but it’s the seven early entry freshmen who have made perhaps the most surprising impact. A collection comprised of Hawkins, Browne and Davis, as well as safeties Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III, defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow and wide receiver Darreus Rogers, has jumped right in and contributed on a scale that no one could have imagined. It’s been Cravens who has made the biggest splash, making a name for himself with a physical brand of play that has him already factoring in as a key reserve in the secondary. As the spring progresses, it should be fun to watch as each of these players continues to come along.