USC Trojans: Marcus Martin
UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.
The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.
Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State
First team offense
QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)
First team defense
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)
First team specialists
PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC
Second team offense
QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford
Second team defense
DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State
Second team specialists
PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA
RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection
Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.
Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.
California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.
Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.
Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.
Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.
Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.
UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.
USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.
Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.
Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.
Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;
Some notes on the teams:
By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.
By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.
Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.
Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.
All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
Well, it’s time to get back to work on the practice field for the USC O-line because another tough test will be coming to town on Saturday in the form of the Utah Utes. While Utah may not present as much of a challenge as the Notre Dame line, it isn’t far behind.
For the Trojans, the theme of the practice week is accountability, following a game in which too many of the penalties came at critical times to halt USC momentum.
“As an offensive line, we are here to take responsibility and improve,” USC center Marcus Martin said. “It’s upsetting because penalties that take away explosive plays really hurt your offense. That’s our offensive line and we take full responsibility.”
One thing the USC O-line hasn’t had to deal with as much is injuries. While the rest of the Trojans offense seems to be an exercise in patchwork substitutions these days due to injuries, the offensive line has remained fairly intact. There was an unfortunate knee injury early in the week to reserve guard Jordan Simmons, which will keep him out for the remainder of the season but other than that the lineup for has been fairly consistent and should pay dividends at some point.
Even with the benefit of putting the same lineup on the field this week, the offensive line has struggled in protecting USC quarterback Cody Kessler, and that will be a key element to watch against Utah. The Trojans have given up 15 sacks on the season, a number that could definitely grow on Saturday. The Utes have a pair of 300-pound tackles in the middle of the defensive line, but most of the production comes from defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard, who will look to use their speed to cause havoc in the Trojans' backfield.
For the Trojans to come away with a win against Utah, the offensive line will need to show a one-week improvement.
In fact, Martin is coming off what was arguably his best performance of the young season against Boston College -- an impressive feat considering he wasn’t 100 percent healthy in the days leading up to the matchup, and even during the game itself, suffering from flu-like symptoms.
With that selfless, team-first mentality driving him, Martin has continually shown the ability to overcome virtually every obstacle that has stood in his way, including just this past August late in fall camp when he fought through an undisclosed knee injury.
“I’ve got to grind for my family, and the Trojans are my family,” said Martin, who along with his teammates, will face a talented Utah State team this Saturday in the Coliseum. “I love these guys with all of my heart and soul, and these are the guys that I look out for. So, it doesn’t matter if I’m hurt, it doesn’t matter if I’m sick, I’ve got to play for my team. That’s just what I do.”
It’s that determined mindset, on top of the fact that he took on a visibly more active vocal presence during the offseason, that helped establish Martin as a natural selection as a team captain following fall camp -- a role he has embraced wholeheartedly. Following the Trojans’ 10-7 loss to Washington State, Martin was one of the veterans who made a concerted effort to ensure that the team regrouped and maintained focus on the task at hand. And even now, after USC’s 35-7 bounce-back victory over Boston College, Martin hasn’t let up, especially when it comes to the offensive line corps.
“I’m just trying to keep guys together, keep the cohesion there and keep the family-like atmosphere going,” said Martin, who is part of a starting group that also includes Max Tuerk at left guard, Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Aundrey Walker at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. “That’s what you want on the offensive line. It has to be five guys together.”
Under the direction of Mike Summers, who was added to the Trojans coaching staff in February, and James Cregg, the offensive has begun to gel and perform at a high level, keying an offensive attack that has relied more heavily upon a physical ground game than in recent years.
“The offensive line is really starting to come together well,” Martin said. “We’re starting to get a really good push on the guys, and holes are starting to open up, and that’s really encouraging. It just makes us go harder in practice, it makes us sharpen up our technique, and it’s encouraging for the next week.”
But as Martin is well aware, the offensive line still isn’t quite where it needs to be just yet. Having allowed six sacks so far this season, the group has had its share of lapses in production on passing plays, the majority of which have been caused by communication breakdowns.
“We’re still working out the kinks in communication,” Martin said. “You can always get better when it comes to communication ... that can improve every week, and that is something that we’re trying to improve.”
Still, the USC offensive line has shown enough promise -- particularly in terms of run blocking -- to warrant more than a fair amount of optimism. And with Martin leading the way, so long as they continue to develop and build off of the strong outings they’ve already had, this could be the start of something special.
“It always starts up front,” Martin said. “As long as these five guys come together and do what we’re supposed to do, it’s going to be a beautiful year.”
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Here are five areas to watch as the game unfolds, which may be a foreshadowing of things to come:
1. The quarterbacks: That’s right, not since the 1995 Brad Otton/Kyle Wachholtz Trojans, a team that eventually defeated Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl, have the cardinal and gold opened with such an ongoing quarterback dilemma. The real pregame excitement is who will take the first snap in Hawaii, and how will Kiffin divide up the playing time?
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- WR Marqise Lee (Jr.): The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner has 191 catches in his two years with the Trojans and currently owns or shares 22 USC records.
- OL Marcus Martin (Jr.): The versatile Martin stepped into the starting line-up at left guard three games into his true freshman season but moves to center this year.
- LB Hayes Pullard (Jr.): With 25 career starts at outside linebacker, Pullard moves inside in the new 5-2 scheme.
- OLB Devon Kennard (Sr.): After seeing time at middle linebacker and defensive end early in his career, Kennard returns for his final year in a role that seems perfect for him.
Kiffin also announced that four walk-ons would be awarded scholarships for the 2013 season; TB John Akiba, S John Auran, WR Cody Skene and LB Kyle Yatabe.
The quarterback competition was the most dominant storyline of camp but that battle was expected. The shuffling of the starting line-up along the offensive line, however, was not expected.
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Both quarterbacks had their opportunities in the scrimmage, which was a different format than normal. Instead of having one quarterback with the first unit and the other with the second, the quarterbacks alternated series with the first unit while going against the service team defense.
The first interception came on the opening drive. Kessler had driven the offense into the red zone -- helped by a nice Tre Madden toss sweep behind blocking from Chad Wheeler and Jahleel Pinner -- but was intercepted by walk-on Nick Schlossberg on a slant pass attempt to Marqise Lee.
Max Wittek came in and was promptly sacked by Delvon Simmons. Wittek had a long completion to Xavier Grimble on a real strong throw. Justin Davis got the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled and the offense settled for a 21-yard Andre Heidari field goal.
It was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, but Torin Harris must not have got that memo because he laid a pretty good lick on walk-on receiver Christian Guzman. George Uko added a sack.
Kessler was picked on the next series by walk-on John Auran.
Wittek hit Agholor deep on the first play of the next drive. Schlossberg came on a blitz on the next play and was met by a terrific block from Javorius Allen. Kevin Greene had a sack on third down to force a 42-yard field goal by Heidari.
Marcus Martin started at center but he went out as a precaution. Max Tuerk was moved to center with Nathan Guertler stepping in at left guard.
Chris Hawkins had a nice pass break-up of a Kessler attempt to Lee, resulting in another Heidari field goal.
Lee went out later in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his shoulder on the bench. By the end of the scrimmage the ice was off, and both Lee and Kiffin said things were “fine”.
The rest of the scrimmage basically belonged to Nelson Agholor. He caught two touchdowns from Kessler and one from Wittek to end the day with nine catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Lee had eight grabs for 107 yards.
There were plenty of players who sat out the scrimmage due to various injuries. Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Ryan Henderson, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr, Cyrus Hobbi, Cody Temple, Silas Redd, Jordan Simmons, Victor Blackwell, D.J. Morgan, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour and Randall Telfer were all sidelinded.
The starting lineups were as follows:
Offense: Kessler, Madden, Pinner, Lee, Agholor, Grimble, Wheeler, Tuerk, Martin, John Martinez, Kevin Graf.
Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.
“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”
Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.
“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”
With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.
“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”
Highlights from practice:
- The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
- Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
- Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
- A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
- The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.
Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.
“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”
The biggest bit of news to come out of the two-hour session was that star USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, while still sidelined for the vast majority of the practice, did appear to take a step -- albeit a small one -- toward a potential return sometime soon. Wearing a yellow jersey and helmet, but no shoulder pads, he stepped in at wideout briefly during a half-speed 11-on-11 period, then fielded punts during a late, no-contact special teams drill. It’s the most activity seen out of Lee since he went down with a bone bruise in his shoulder last Friday.
On defense, Su’a Cravens continued to run with the first-team defense at strong safety in place of Josh Shaw, who left Monday morning’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Morgan Breslin, Cody Temple and Torin Harris also didn’t take part, but defensive ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai both returned and each moved well throughout the workout.
On the offensive line, Aundrey Walker got the bulk of the snaps with the first-team group at right guard ahead of two-year starter John Martinez, who ran primarily with the second unit.
During an early 11-on-11 period, quarterback Max Wittek got things started off right by going deep and hitting Blackwell in stride for a 70-yard touchdown score, but then things went downhill for the offense in a hurry. Free safety Dion Bailey came up to stop Allen for no-gain on a run, a snap from Marcus Martin to Wittek was fumbled, and soon thereafter there was a fumbled exchange between Cody Kessler and John Akiba that Tavai recovered. Other defensive highlights included a Devon Kennard sack on Wittek, a Marquis Simmons tackle for loss on Madden and a sack of Kessler by Tavai.
During a period in which the first-team offense and defense went against scout units, the offensive group spent a lot of time focusing on the ground game, with Madden and Allen putting together some nice runs.
The team then got together for some final two-minute drill work that had Kessler running primarily with the first unit and Wittek with the No. 2 group.
Kessler completed a pass over the middle to Blackwell, who was then leveled by Hayes Pullard. A little later on, Kessler threw a pass to the outside, but Anthony Brown stepped in front of it and returned it for a touchdown. Williams also made his presence felt in this session, rushing in and batting down a Kessler pass. Wittek ended the day with a nice drive, completing passes to Aaron Minor, Shane Sullivan and Christian Guzman and capping it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Flournoy.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Here are some select Trojans that must “prove it” in 2013 for the old coach to sleep a lot better in the fall:
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No amount of running backs will matter, however, if the Trojans offensive line is not doing its job as well.
When the Trojans were developing their reputation as “Tailback U” they were doing it behind offensive linemen such as Ron Yary, Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde. You aren’t going to get any better than that group. In recent years USC has produced first-round selections such as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil, but it hasn’t been the consistently strong group that the Trojans have seen in the past.
In order to help meet the stated goal of controlling the line of scrimmage, USC coach Lane Kiffin brought in veteran offensive line coach Mike Summers to oversee the group while also keep previous position coach James Cregg on staff as well. Summers has experience in a man blocking scheme -- as opposed to the zone blocking that Cregg taught the last three seasons -- and his fiery, old-school style has resonated well with players so far.
The projected starting five that Summers inherits currently has Aundrey Walker at left tackle, Max Tuerk at left guard, Marcus Martin at center, John Martinez at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. Those five players have combined to start 84 games at USC, so there is plenty of experience, but they have yet to show they can be a dominant force up front.
Of course, a big part of the reason why they have not shown that is because they haven’t been asked to carry that kind of load. That will change this season according to Kiffin. The Trojans did increase the physical contact in practices this spring, even as the injuries piled up, in an effort to further develop a mindset of toughness
It’s important to note that the starting group is not completely set, as Kiffin has indicated that there will be competition in fall camp. While the depth should be better in 2013 than it has been in recent seasons -- particularly with redshirt freshmen Jordan Simmons and Chad Wheeler making good progress -- it stands to reason that the starters will likely come as listed above since they represent the five best options at this time.
There are still question marks that must be answered before the line can be considered a strength -- primarily the maturity of Walker at left tackle and the need to solidify Martin as the replacement for Khaled Holmes at center. No player is more of a question mark than Walker, a guy with tremendous physical gifts but one who also suffers lapses such as the missed assignment which led to the clean shot on Matt Barkley by UCLA's Anthony Barr that ended Barkley's Trojans career.
The right side of the line has remained unchanged over the last two seasons, as Martinez and Graf have started next to each other for 25 straight games. There is a lot of pride in this unsung pair and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the senior duo lead the way for the line in 2013. Both players have talked about how important it is for them to change the fortunes of the Trojans away from what happened in 2013, and the ability to control the offensive line of scrimmage will go a long way toward making that happen.
New influence at the top
While the USC offensive line did allow a conference-best 17 total sacks in 2012, they also struggled against the more physical defensive fronts that they faced – most notably Stanford and Notre Dame. With that in mind, it’s obvious that in order for the Trojans to get back to their winning ways next season, they have to establish a tougher brand of play up front on offense. In an effort to do just that, Kiffin brought in highly regarded offensive line guru Mike Summers to team with James Cregg, the coach of the position group for the past three seasons. And with the unit showing flashes of improved play, with a nasty demeanor that wasn’t always there last fall, the addition of Summers – who has 32 years of experience – appears to have paid off. Still, as a whole, the Trojans offensive line isn’t where it needs to be just yet, because while they did make strides, they also had their issues on occasion when going up against the new-look USC defense. They still have much to prove, but if they’re able to take that next step under the watchful eyes of Summers and Cregg this offseason, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will be in good shape here in the fall.
Center of it all
Walker ready to make a statement at LT?
Another position of interest heading into the spring was the always-crucial left tackle spot, manned by a combination of Aundrey Walker and Tuerk in 2012. But with Tuerk’s move to center, and eventually left guard, this spot was all Walker’s for the taking this spring. Walker, whose career has been marked by its ups and downs so far, certainly appeared to play at a higher level than he has before, even holding off a push by redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler, who eventually went down with a PCL injury in his knee. Still, Walker continued to have his battles with consistency and questions remain. Is Walker the answer at left tackle? Can he provide the USC offense with a sturdy presence at the position that it will desperately need? Might he better be suited to play at guard – a move that was brought up by the coaches, but never acted upon – with Tuerk lining back over at tackle? For Walker, whose raw physical skills are undeniable, it’s how he continues to develop this offseason that will play a vital part in determining those answers.
Unexpected position battle
When the post-spring depth chart was released back in April, the most surprising bit of information revealed was that Kevin Graf – a tried and tested senior with two years of starting experience – was listed as sharing the top spot at right tackle with Wheeler, with the signature “OR” designation separating their names. It was a bit of a stunner on several levels. One, Graf had appeared to assert himself over the last two years as a dependable performer with a wealth of experience. Two, Wheeler had just been moved over to left tackle before the spring to challenge Walker. Instead, now it’s Graf that Wheeler will push this offseason on the right side. Having shown tremendous potential in the limited time that he took part in spring drills, Wheeler could make things interesting, but with a veteran with 25 starts to his credit standing in front of him, he certainly has an uphill battle on his hands. In either case, it would appear that the coaching staff has sent a message to Graf, and it will be interesting to see how he responds.