USC Trojans: George Farmer

Most important player: USC

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
9:15
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor figures to improve on his six TD receptions from 2013.
USC: WR Nelson Agholor

2013 production: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns. Agholor also returned 18 punts for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns (19.1 average) and 10 kickoffs for 175 yards (17.5 average).

Why Agholor is important: This was a tough one, because there are a lot of players who could be (and are) difference-makers for the Trojans, be it Agholor, the aforementioned Williams, Randall Telfer, Hayes Pullard, Buck Allen, Max Tuerk, Su'a Cravens, etc.

But like Stanford’s Most Important Player, Ty Montgomery, Agholor is the type of player who can change a game on offense and on special teams. With his sure hands and twin V-12 engines … err … feet, Agholor posted the nation’s second-best punt return average with 19.1 yards. He also tied a Pac-12 record with two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal -- including a 93-yard return, which was the second-longest in school history.

Who plays opposite Agholor might still be up for grabs, with Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer (yeah, remember him?) among others in the mix.

So is it the running game that opens up the passing game? Or is it the other way around? With a burner like Agholor racing up and down the sidelines, he’s certainly going to draw the extra attention of safeties who might otherwise be focused on the box. And most reports out of USC’s spring session (including the practices witnessed by the Pac-12 blog) saw Agholor emerge as the team’s hardest-working player and team leader. Not a bad thing to have when transitioning to a new head coach. Doesn’t hurt that he was tutored by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

You could make a case for a lot of other players. And you'd be right. But with a potential Biletnikoff winner in Agholor, you certainly can't go wrong.

Other Most Important Players:
With the Trojans in the midst of their summer training schedule, here’s a look at some of the top offseason storylines for a collection of players whom USC coach Steve Sarkisian will count on to produce at a high level this fall -- the wide receivers and tight ends.

Agholor’s turn in the spotlight

After waiting his turn behind both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, junior Nelson Agholor looks primed to follow in their footsteps as the next great Trojans wideout. First showing promise as a freshman, when he gave brief glimpses of his ability as a dynamic playmaker, he took his game to another level last year, first as the No. 2 option to Lee, and then, when the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was sidelined for a portion of the season, as the go-to receiver.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsNelson Agholor showed in 2013 he can fill the sizable shoes of a No. 1 receiver at USC.
Finishing his sophomore campaign with 56 receptions for a team-high 918 yards and six touchdowns, he firmly established himself as one of the conference’s top pass-catchers, but what has those around USC particularly encouraged these days is the way he came out this past spring and flat-out dominated. Developing strong chemistry with quarterback Cody Kessler, he was arguably the MVP of the entire string of practices.

With the Trojans’ no-huddle attack figuring to allow the offense to potentially run more than 80 plays per game, it’s a safe bet that Agholor will receive plenty of chances to shine as the team’s primary receiving threat, and with what he has shown it’s safe to say that he’s ready to seize the increased opportunity and run with it.

Who else steps up at WR?

While the Trojans do have a budding star in Agholor to rely on, in order for the passing game to really take off, Kessler is going to need to find some solid complements at wide receiver as well. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., the team does appear to possess better depth at the position than it did last season.

Right now, sophomore Darreus Rogers looks like the frontrunner to land the role of the No. 2 receiver. A big body with sure hands, he showed well as a freshman, making 22 catches, and he continued to improve his skills in the spring. If his development keeps on its forward path through this summer, big things could be in store for him in 2014.

Fourth-year junior Victor Blackwell is a veteran who has flashed at times as well, and there’s certainly room for him to become a bigger factor in the fall.

This unit will also receive a huge boost with the return of two players who missed the entire 2013 season due to knee injuries – fourth-year junior George Farmer and second-year freshman Steven Mitchell.

Farmer, who arrived at USC as one of the most highly touted members of the Trojans’ signing class of 2011, looked sharp this past spring as he eased himself back into action, providing hope that this might be his year to emerge. Mitchell showed a ton of promise a year ago before he went down. Now back in the swing of things this summer, he has been going hard and making big plays with great frequency during volunteer workouts.

George Katrib -- who earned a spot atop the depth chart in the spring -- Robby Kolanz , Christian Tober and Aaron Minor are some walk-ons who will provide depth, and then there’s a slew of talented incoming freshmen.

Adoree' Jackson might be the most intriguing addition to watch. A phenomenal athlete who starred on both sides of the ball at Gardena (Calif.) Serra, he took reps at cornerback during the first volunteer session that he participated in this past Monday, but Sarkisian has said that he will likely get a look on offense as well in the fall. In either case, he has the look of an instant impact performer wherever he lines up.

John “JuJu” Smith, Ajene Harris and Rahshead Johnson are other new arrivals who might be able to contribute early. Smith and Harris have stood out in the early goings this summer at wideout. Johnson, meanwhile, has been spending his time at corner.

Tight ends poised to flourish

With the success that 2013 John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins enjoyed in Sarkisian’s offense at Washington, there’s certainly reason to believe that the tight ends will take on a larger role in the passing game this year at USC than they did under the previous regime. Providing evidence of that, there did seem to be more passes headed their way this past spring. Although low on numbers, it’s a group marked by talent.

Xavier Grimble opted to take his talents to the NFL early, leaving fifth-year senior Randall Telfer as the unquestioned leader of the unit. With 22 starts and 44 career catches to his credit, he’s a dependable all-around option, but he missed the entire spring due to injury, and he hasn’t been spotted taking part in the team’s volunteer workouts so far this summer, so he’ll have some catching up to do in the new system whenever he does return.

Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick already got his feet wet in the offense this past spring, making quite an impression as he took the bulk of the first-team reps. Catching virtually everything thrown in his direction, he quickly made a name for himself as a possible breakout candidate for the season ahead.

Without a ton of depth, incoming freshman Bryce Dixon should get a chance to make his mark early. Standing 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he’s an outstanding receiving threat who hauled in 63 passes during his senior year at Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure.

Walk-ons Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan, Connor Spears and Teddy Baker are others who could see time in the rotation. Willson, in particular, enjoyed a solid spring.
GARDENA, Calif. -- The thrill hasn’t gotten old for Chuck Kimbell.

When former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee walked across the Radio City Music Hall stage last month after being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the NFL draft, his high school position coach cracked a wide smile from across the country, knowing yet another of his pupils had accomplished a lifelong goal.

Kimbell hardly had any time to bask in the moment, though. Just six picks after Lee came off the board, the Seattle Seahawks took former Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, another graduate of Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, where Kimbell has coached for a dozen years.

Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

April, 10, 2014
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring ball. There were other position battles that took place on the field this spring, as well, and the WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following competitions and who they would name as the starter.

WR opposite Nelson Agholor

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with Darreus Rogers right now, but I’m not going to rule out George Farmer being the starter by the season opener. Rogers has all the tools and flashes them often, but the one thing Sarkisian has noted is his inconsistency. Farmer, on the other hand, has been steadily consistent as he continues to come back from a knee injury. He is looking strong and mature right now and if his health holds up, he could make a push for the spot.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCould former five-star prospect George Farmer be in play as a starting wide receiver?
Johnny Curren: While the performance of Farmer as of late makes this decision more difficult than anticipated, I would still give the nod to Rogers. With his combination of size, athleticism and sure hands, he really adds a unique dimension to the offense. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone -- something he showed last Thursday when he hauled in three touchdowns with the offense in close.

Greg Katz: Although Farmer and Victor Blackwell have made strides, the vote here goes to Rogers, who has made some standout plays and continues to improve on his consistency and concentration.

DE opposite Leonard Williams

GP: The Trojans have a pair of veteran options to replace George Uko in Delvon Simmons and Claudeson Pelon. Both are big, strong bodies in the middle who will contribute this year, but if I have to name a starter I will choose Pelon. He got praise from Sarkisian this week for the way his conditioning seems to be paying off, and looks to be an impressive run stuffer.

JC: Simmons is the choice here. Not only does he possess 6-foot-6, 300-pound size, but what has impressed me most this spring is his quickness, and perhaps most of all, his stamina -- something Pelon and Kenny Bigelow appeared to struggle with at times. When you throw Simmons into a lineup that will also include Williams and an improved Antwaun Woods, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will have one of the nation’s most formidable starting defensive line units in 2014.

GK: Simmons is the choice, having shown his experience of having already played for two seasons at Texas Tech. Simmons, while still striving for consistency on a play-by-play basis, is big and talented and has shown the most progress, which hasn’t been entirely unexpected.

SAM linebacker

GP: There are two really good options with a lot of upside in Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. I would have said Powell at the start of spring, and while he didn’t do anything to lose the spot in my mind, Ruffin has showed me a little more. Any way you look at it, the Trojans are fine here.

JC: This is the toughest one to choose because Powell and Ruffin have each been stellar this spring. Still, if I have to pick one, it’s Powell. An explosive athlete with strong football instincts and the length that the USC coaches look for at SAM linebacker, Powell is really the total package. I think he has the potential to develop into a difference-maker down the line, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.

GK: With Scott Starr having been moved to rush end, it’s a battle between Powell and Ruffin. Powell has the quickness and the attitude, but as Sarkisian recently pointed out, Ruffin is one heck of an athletic who really brings a physical game. I’ll go with Powell for the moment, but the way Ruffin is improving, Powell better do the same if he wants to hold on to the position.

CB opposite Josh Shaw

GP: Kevon Seymour is the choice, and he should be, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of Adoree' Jackson making a run in the fall. Chris Hawkins has stepped up his game to the point where he is in the mix too.

JC: A more refined and physically mature Hawkins certainly proved himself to a certain extent this spring, but I’d still give the edge to Seymour here. Not only has he had a solid spring, but with 11 starts under his belt, he has the undeniable edge in experience. I’d need to see more of Hawkins in fall camp before I’d be comfortable putting him ahead of Seymour, who is coming off the best performance of his career in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

GK: There is no reason not to start Seymour, who had an outstanding performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, like Ruffin and Powell, the competition gap is closing, and look for Hawkins to continue his quest to unseat Seymour.
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LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans returned to the practice field for the opening day of spring practice, and coach Steve Sarkisian said the impact of the up-tempo style was evident throughout the day.

“I really liked the energy and focus that our players and coaches showed,” Sarkisian said. “We were by no means perfect, and there is plenty to learn from, but it was just awesome to get on the field finally with these guys.

“It’s such a long process after you get hired, you need to fill the staff and finish off the recruiting season, so it was nice to walk through Goux Gate and onto the practice field. We ran 120 plays today, which was similar to what we ran on the first day at Washington when we installed the up-tempo system. I thought the players responded really well to that, we only had one time period where we didn’t meet our quota of plays.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSteve Sarkisian said the Trojans weren't perfect in their first spring practice, but he liked what he saw.
Sarkisian also noted one change from his time as an assistant at USC under Pete Carroll, as his offices are now in the John McKay Center as opposed to Heritage Hall.

“It’s a much shorter walk to the field now,” Sarkisian said with a smile. “I didn’t really have time to think too much about anything. I left the locker room and went up the All-American walk, made a right and, boom, I was at the field.”

Once he got to the field, there was plenty to note about the performance of his team during the first practice session of the spring.

The Trojans have an opening at center, which will be critical to fill on the offensive line, and Max Tuerk was working with the first unit. Tuerk has started games for USC at left tackle, right tackle and left guard and he was projected to move to RT this year to take over for Kevin Graf. Instead, Tuerk will get a look at center, where he played in limited action last spring before being moved back to guard due to struggles with the center/quarterback exchange.

“Max is a very bright young man and talented,” Sarkisian said. “There is a lot of work to be done on the line and we will take a look at options to see how things develop. It was a good day though, he didn’t snap the ball over anyone’s head and there were no grounders.”

Notes: Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Josh Shaw (stress fracture) were among those who did not participate on the defensive side of the ball. ... On offense, Justin Davis, George Farmer and Steven Mitchell all received limited work in walk-through sessions as they return from injury. ... Max Browne made an early impression in the quarterback competition with a pair of deep passes, including a touchdown to George Katrib. … Chris Hawkins had an interception and a pass break-up. ... Among the guests in attendance were Adoree' Jackson, Damien Mama, Ricky Town, Rahshead Johnson and former USC tailback Justin Fargas.

Q&A with Max Tuerk

Q: When were you told you’d be taking reps at center?

A: I was told by Coach [Tim] Drevno a little bit before we started meetings, probably about a month ago.

Q: What are your thoughts on the move?

A: Whatever is best for the team. I’m a big team player. I’ve moved around a lot in the last two years, so moving to center is a new, awesome thing that I can do.

Q: Is it better to not have the quarterback under center?

A: Yeah, I like the shotgun better.

Q: Is this a permanent move to center?

A: Whatever the team needs. If they need me to play center, then yes I will play center.

Q: Is the comfort level more than a year ago when you tried to play center? How is it different?

A: Yes, definitely. I just have a lot more confidence. We are all picking up the offense pretty good. It’s good to learn the offense and then start at center. It’s a little harder to start at a different position and then re-learn the offense at center.

Q: Is there one position you like better than the other in terms of blocking people?

A: I like them all.

Q: How was the speed today with the no huddle?

A: It was a lot of plays. It was good though.

Q: Was it easier to make the move when you saw how Marcus Martin flourished at this spot the last few years?

A: Yeah I definitely learned from Marcus. Marcus was a great player. He’s competing in pro day tomorrow so I’m gonna go watch him. He’s an awesome guy, awesome leader, so anything I can do to be like he was.
Every season in college football there are previously unproven players who rise up to play major roles for their teams. For the Trojans in 2014, here are five players who will be looking to make their mark in a USC uniform for the first time:

1. DL Delvon Simmons: This 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech could have an immediate opportunity to step into the starting lineup to replace George Uko. Simmons started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and has 40 career tackles under his belt, along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At the very least, he is expected to be a key part of the interior D-line rotation next fall.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCan highly-recruited wideout George Farmer star for the Trojans in 2014?
2. S Gerald Bowman: There was a lot of hype surrounding Bowman when he transferred in as a highly-ranked junior college prospect but academic delays and injuries have prevented him from making an impact . There isn’t a ton of depth at the safety spot so Bowman will have the chance to get immediate playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that forced a redshirt year in 2013.

3. OL Jordan Simmons: It has been a rocky road for Simmons at USC. His freshman year started with knee surgery prior to the season but he came back in the second half of the season and was named offensive service team player of the year. Simmons was showing promise last fall as a road-grading guard until he hurt his knee trying to catch a pass before a practice and will be sidelined for spring.

4. WR George Farmer: It seems like forever since Farmer came to USC as the top-ranked receiver in the country. It has been so long that his high school teammates -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- have already wrapped up their college careers and will be playing in the NFL next year. Farmer, meanwhile, will be hoping that his knee rehab goes well enough to allow him back on the field to regain the momentum he was showing last spring before suffering the injury.

5. RB D.J. Morgan: Another player who has battled knee injuries, Morgan has two career starts under his belt with 364 yards on 83 carries and one touchdown. There is a clean slate waiting for Morgan when he returns -- Morgan had fallen in Lane Kiffin’s doghouse for fumbling -- but there is also a deep and talented stable of backs to compete with for carries. The one thing Morgan brings to the table is speed and if he is healthy enough to offer that he will have a chance to crack the rotation.

The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
Boy, was he good.

Marqise Lee announced tonight that he would be leaving school early to enter the NFL draft -- a move that surprised nobody -- and it gives a chance to look back and appreciate a player who arguably ranks as the most dynamic receiver in school history.

USC has had some explosive receivers through the years. Hal Bedsole is a College Football Hall of Famer, Lynn Swann an NFL Hall of Famer, and Lee’s former high school teammate, Robert Woods, sits atop the USC career receptions list.

But Lee offered something different. His combination of athletic ability and will to compete not only led him to the 2012 Biletnikoff Award -- the first in school history -- but at one point had former USC receiver and current ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson saying that he had a chance to go down as the greatest college receiver ever.

[+] EnlargeLee
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee's penchant for big plays and positive energy put smiles on the faces of USC fans for three seasons.
Ironically, Lee was known more for his prowess as a basketball defensive stopper when his athletic career first took off at Gardena (Calif.) Serra. Lee was part of a state-title winning team on the hoops court while playing a supportive role on the gridiron behind team stars such as Woods and George Farmer. But during his junior year, then-USC coach Pete Carroll paid a visit to a Serra practice. Within minutes he was pointing to Lee and asking “Who is that?”

What caught Carroll’s eye was Lee’s athleticism. He’s not an overly big guy -- he is listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds -- but he has a chiseled frame and can be aggressive and acrobatic at the same time. He is enough of an athlete that he went out for the track team on a part-time basis in his freshman year at USC while still taking part in spring ball, advancing to the NCAA Championships in the long jump.

That athleticism created a bit of a dilemma for Lee coming out of high school. Many people in the recruiting world -- this writer included -- projected Lee as a defensive back, a position that would have fit his skill set to a tee. Most schools wanted him on the defensive side of the ball, but Lee was up front with schools about his desire to play offense. The Trojans eventually agreed to put him at receiver and former coach Lane Kiffin said, “If we hadn’t done that, he would have been playing at Oregon.”

The impact Lee had as a freshman was immediate. He offered a complement to Woods on the other side, after Woods had already established himself as a true freshman. In their first year together at USC in 2011, Woods led the way with 111 catches -- a new school record -- and 15 touchdowns, but Lee wasn’t far behind with 73 catches and 11 scores. Both players also went over 1,000 receiving yards.

The roles were reversed in 2012. Woods dealt with some nagging injuries but still produced at a high-enough level that allowed him to leave USC with the career receptions mark. But, as far as big years go for a receiver, it was all about Lee.

His numbers in 2012 were simply sublime. Lee led the nation with 118 catches -- a new school and Pac-12 record -- while his 1,721 receiving yards were good for another conference mark. Perhaps the most impressive stat was the fact that his 15 touchdowns (14 receiving, 1 kickoff return) averaged over 40 yards per score (40.8). He was named an ESPN All-American in addition to winning the Biletnikoff and was expected to be one of college football’s shining stars in 2013.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way for Lee and the Trojans, as a pair of injuries prevented a big season. First it was a shoulder injury suffered in spring ball that he recovered from in time to play in the season opener. He wasn’t 100 percent, but Trojans fans hoped that he’d be healthy enough to play at a high level. Then a knee injury hit, and that was an issue that stuck with him the rest of the season.

There also was the coaching change. Lee had a good relationship with Kiffin, a coach who believed in him and got him the ball. Lee handled the transition well, carrying himself as a team leader both on and off the field. Through all the turmoil, Lee was always out front with a smile and positive attitude.

By the time the showdown with Stanford rolled around in mid-November, it was clear that this was not going to be Lee’s season due to the injuries. He was giving the team what he had physically, and at no point was that more evident than late in the game, when he came through with a catch on a fourth-and-2 which led to the game-winning field goal for the Trojans. Lee had left the field just two plays earlier after getting hit in the shin, but the grit he showed to come back and make the play was something he will long be remembered for.

Fittingly, Lee was able to go out with a bang in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. He led the Trojans with seven catches for 118 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. It was the kind of game that USC fans had come to expect from Lee in 2012, and it was good to see him end his career in that fashion.

There is no sadness within the Trojans family tonight with Lee’s decision to leave, only appreciation and gratitude for what he accomplished. The recent injuries might not have allowed him to shatter the marks that were expected, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lee is as ready for the next level as anybody in the country. Whoever drafts him is going to be getting one dynamic player, that’s for sure.

2013 review: USC offense 

December, 24, 2013
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With a new starting quarterback at the helm, a slew of injuries depleting an already thin depth chart and a highly publicized coaching carousel, the production of the USC offense was largely up and down in 2013 with the Trojans averaging a pedestrian 29.7 points per game, while converting just 35 percent on third-down plays.

Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.

Quarterback

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With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information
Before wunderkind Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland) stole the headlines by picking up a scholarship offer from USC without having played a single down of high school football, Class of 2016 receiver Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra) was the talk of the local recruiting scene.


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As the Trojans have gone through their offseason workout schedule this summer, freshman wideout Darreus Rogers has been hard to miss.

A mid-year entrant who originally was a member of USC's recruiting class of 2012, he wound up sitting out the fall as a grayshirt before enrolling this past spring. In a very short time, Rogers has emerged as one of the most consistent performers during the team's volunteer passing sessions.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDarreus Rogers is in the mix for USC's No. 3 receiver spot behind Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.
And for a wide receiver corps that lost both George Farmer and Steven Mitchell to season-ending knee injuries in recent months -- and is down to just five scholarship players in Rogers, Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy -- his lightning quick development couldn't be happening at a better time.

"It feels great to come out here and to work with great players like Marqise and Nelson," said Rogers, who compiled 64 receptions for 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at CIF Los Angeles City Section power Carson (Calif.). "I know that we need every single healthy body that we have out here contributing. We don't necessarily have the numbers, but we're coming out here competing like nothing I've seen before."

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Rogers possesses a skill set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC greats Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett brought to the table as big, physical receiving threats with off-the-charts athleticism. First showing flashes of his unique playmaking ability back in December, when he took part in two of the Trojans' bowl game workouts, Rogers continued to make strides this past spring.

Despite missing time because of hamstring and shoulder injuries, he came out of the March and April workouts with a newfound level of confidence.

"It was fast and physical -- a lot different than anything that I've ever experienced before," said Rogers, who is now back to 100 percent. "I was still used to what the speed of the game was like in high school, but I made the adjustment after a couple of weeks, and I really got in the flow of everything. Now it's starting to feel like it did in high school again, but now I'm faster, stronger and more explosive. I'm more comfortable, looser, and I'm able to just be myself now."

With Lee -- the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner -- and Agholor entrenched as the starting wide receiver duo, Rogers is currently involved in a fierce battle for the right to lay claim to the role as the team's No. 3 option, along with Blackwell, a star of the spring, and Flournoy, the veteran redshirt senior. And while both of his counterparts hold a leg up on him when it comes to experience and time spent within the program, with the job still completely up for grabs, Rogers certainly isn't backing down.

"The coaches have told me just to be ready, because it's open," Rogers said. "I'm just going to be working ... just coming out here and competing ... competing for No. 3. Nelson calls me on the weekends and tells me to work out, and I'm always there. Whatever it takes to play and to get on the field, I'm willing to do it."

It has been Agholor, as well as virtually every other member of the wide receiver unit, who has played an integral part in bringing Rogers along over the course of the last six months, and it obviously has paid off with big-time results.

"They all tell me what to do, what not to do ... they've all been there, and they've done it, and they've been a huge help," Rogers said. "I make a point of listening to them and to take it all in, because they're great guys and they have the experience. That really goes for all of them, but Nelson has probably played the biggest part, because he's closer to my age, but also a guy like Marqise -- he just keeps telling me, 'Be ready, be ready' -- so I'm taking it all in."

With a support group like that, on top of the promise that he already has shown, Rogers -- who has some pretty lofty aspirations of his own -- most definitely appears to have a very bright future.

"My goal is just to keep pushing ... to push and to be No. 1, really," Rogers said. "I know you've still got Marqise there, but the way that I look at it, to be the best, you have to compete against the best. And I'm here to compete."
LOS ANGELES -- When opportunity knocks, it’s always a good idea to be prepared to take advantage of the situation.

For Victor Blackwell, a wide receiver heading into his redshirt sophomore season for the Trojans, that means realizing what’s at stake this fall -- a whole lot of opportunity waiting beyond the two projected starters.

The Trojans head into the season with Marqise Lee -- the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner -- and Nelson Agholor established as the starters. There is uncertainty beyond them, though. George Farmer was positioning himself for the No. 3 receiver role in spring ball before a knee injury that will cause him to miss the 2013 season. There was also a similar injury in recent weeks to incoming freshman Steven Mitchell, which means the Trojans will enter the season with five scholarship receivers.

Victor Blackwell
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comVictor Blackwell made a case for the No. 3 receiver job in the spring game with seven receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown.
“When George went down, I felt like a little more weight fell on me to pick it up,” Blackwell said. “As a receiving corps at USC we’re labeled one of the best in the nation; we’re expected to show up and be prepared.”

Blackwell, the No. 10 receiver in the nation when he signed in 2011, has waited a long time for this opportunity. He was known as an explosive playmaker at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, where he played with current USC quarterback Max Wittek and averaged 19.5 yards per reception as a senior with 14 touchdowns.

Blackwell redshirted in his first year at USC and had one catch for nine yards as a redshirt freshman. He sat and watched while Robert Woods and Lee produced eye-popping stats, paying attention to how they did it.

“I just take notes on how Robert and Marqise act or how they handle certain situations,” Blackwell said. “I watch how they maintain their composure and just attack every day. They work hard and grind, every single day.”

It is that consistent level of performance which seems to be the next step for Blackwell in his development at USC. There have been flashes of big-play ability, but they haven’t taken place at a level that suits USC coach Lane Kiffin. In his end-of-spring news conference, Kiffin said the coaches have talked with Blackwell about the need for consistency, and Blackwell heard the message loud and clear.

“To me, consistency means someone who elevates his game, who comes out and dominates every day like Marqise, Robert and Nelson,” Blackwell said. “It means coming out every day and working to better your craft.”

Blackwell did have the benefit of one very good day this spring, putting up big numbers in the Trojans' spring game in the Coliseum. With seven catches for 155 yards and a touchdown, Blackwell showcased the skills that make him a potential game-breaker.

“It was great to be able to do that in the spring game,” Blackwell said. “I’m just thankful the coaches gave me the opportunity to make plays and show what I can do. I’m grateful for it but I want more, I need more, I’m hungry.”

That kind of hunger can build for a former prep All-American who finds himself waiting his turn in college, which has been trying at times for Blackwell.

“The hardest part about that process is to stay believing in yourself as the best receiver and telling yourself that you’re one of the tops at what you do,” Blackwell said. “Now that my opportunity is here I’m working hard this summer to go out and get it. I feel like that No. 3 spot is waiting for me and I need to go claim it. I’m getting faster and quicker and I need to work on my hands just so I’m more confident about catching the ball and being elusive with the ball in my hands. I’m willing to do whatever the coaches need from me to make the team better.”
LOS ANGELES -- With the Trojans back to the grind and hard at work at Cromwell Field, here’s a look at some of the early storylines that have taken shape during the team’s volunteer passing sessions.

Tons of talent at WR, not a lot of depth

The USC receiver corps was dealt a significant blow in the second throwing session of the summer when promising freshman Steven Mitchell went down with a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the entire 2013 season. Already without the services of George Farmer -- who suffered the same injury this spring -- the Trojans now have just five active scholarship wide receivers on the current roster.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsInjuries have given freshman Darreus Rogers a chance to make a move at WR.
The good news is that those five players have looked stellar this offseason and, barring any more injuries, USC should be fine here. In particular, 2012 Biletnifkoff Award winner Marqise Lee, and sophomore Nelson Agholor have made a routine of putting on a virtual exhibition during the 7-on-7 drills, and it’s hard to imagine a better wideout tandem in the country. Just as importantly, with the role of the team’s No. 3 receiver still up for grabs, veteran pass-catchers Victor Blackwell and De'Von Flournoy, as well as freshman , have come out each day more focused than ever, paying off with big time results.

Wittek returns to action, QB competition back on in full effect

The most notable player missing from the Trojans' early passing sessions was quarterback Max Wittek, who battled an apparent case of mononucleosis. The only member of the quarterback competition with starting experience returned to action this past Friday and looked sharp after shaking off some early rust.

The other two members of the quarterback competition -- fellow redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler and early entrant freshman Max Browne -- have performed solidly this offseason. Kessler, in particular, has picked up right where he left off in the spring, looking poised and in command while also throwing with fantastic accuracy. Meanwhile, Browne has continued to make tremendous strides, neither looking nor playing like a green first-year youngster.

With Wittek having returned to compete alongside Kessler and Browne, the race for the role of USC's starting quarterback is underway once again. And with all three players back out there pushing each other, there’s reason for optimism, regardless of who the eventual starter is.

Key contributors back from injury

While the loss of Mitchell marked the obvious low point of the workouts so far, the return of a number of players who missed all, or a portion, of the spring due to injury has been one of the great positives. Fullback Soma Vainuku, offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr., cornerbacks Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour, as well as safeties Dion Bailey, Gerald Bowman and Su'a Cravens are just some of the players who have been spotted back in action. It’s provided a big shot in the arm for a team somewhat short in terms of numbers.

The most talked about return has been that of Bailey, who was out for the entire spring due to postseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Moving over to free safety after spending the last two seasons as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, he’s looked comfortable, and the competition between he, Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job is sure to be one of most closely watched position battles of the summer and fall.

Shaw still at safety

With Lane Kiffin underwhelmed by the production of the cornerback unit this past spring, the Trojans head coach noted on more than one occasion that the coaching staff was considering moving redshirt junior Josh Shaw back over from his strong safety spot to corner -- not a huge surprise considering he made seven starts at the position in 2012.

So far, however, there’s been no sign of the former Palmdale (Calif.) standout making that change. Lining up at strong safety during every passing session, he’s currently locked in a position battle with Cravens and Bowman. And while things could always change later in the summer or even during fall camp, it looks as if Shaw has settled in at safety at this time and that Kiffin will ride with what he currently has at cornerback -- collection that includes Anthony Brown, Ryan Dillard, Harris, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson, Seymour and Devian Shelton.

Sightings of the newest freshmen

All six of the Trojans newest freshmen additions are now on campus, and they’ve slowly begun to make their presence felt in the workouts. It was Mitchell who made the biggest impact early on with his unique playmaking skills, giving an all-too-brief glimpse of the kind of talent that the USC offense will have at its disposal down the line. Inside linebacker Michael Hutchings has impressed as well. Figuring to play a key role as the potential backup at the MIKE linebacker spot to Hayes Pullard, he certainly looks the part of an imposing run-stopper with a nice combination of athleticism and instincts to boot. Outside linebacker Quinton Powell has already shown off some nice pass-rush skills during the 11-on-11 periods. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, running back Ty Isaac is as big as advertised while also showcasing a surprising burst for a player his size. Rounding out the group, offensive tackle Nico Falah and guard Khaliel Rodgers have also been quick to jump into the action, gaining valuable tutelage from veterans such as Kevin Graf and John Martinez.

Roundtable: Will WR depth be an issue? 

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
9:35
AM PT
How do you think the recent season-ending injury to Steven Mitchell will impact the USC receiver group, which is now down to five scholarship players?

Garry Paskwietz


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