USC Trojans: Jahleel Pinner

USC junior fullback Jahleel Pinner hasn’t recorded a single carry up to this point in his career, but if the two most recent practice sessions of the spring are any indication, that just might change in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJahleel Pinner
Chris Williams/Icon SMIJahleel Pinner has seven career receptions -- and no rushes -- for the Trojans.
With the running back corps decimated by injuries, Pinner has been relied upon heavily -- both at his normal fullback spot, where, with Soma Vainuku sidelined, he has served as the lone scholarship contributor, and at tailback, where he has split reps with Tre Madden and walk-on James Toland. And to the credit of Pinner, a part-time starter in 2013, he has seized the increased opportunity to make a strong statement with his play -- particularly on Saturday when he put together a string of impressive runs during the team’s full-pads workout in the Coliseum.

“You know, Jahleel is a unique player because he is a very smart football player -- he’s got a very high football IQ,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “On a lot of those runs, he hadn’t even carried the ball ever leading up to that Saturday scrimmage, and he had a natural feel for running the ball where the ball was supposed to go, and then taking advantage when our defense was wrong, which is really how the running game works. When the defense is wrong, you have to take advantage of it, and he was in the right spot to do so.”

Of course, the fact that Pinner has looked at home toting the ball shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. After all, he did see time at the position -- in addition to fullback -- as a high school standout at Orange County power Mission Viejo in California, amassing more than 1,500 yards on the ground over the course of his final two seasons, despite being hampered by an ankle injury as a senior.

With a rock-solid 5-foot-11, 240-pound frame, however, and a reputation as a punishing blocker, he has made a name for himself exclusively at fullback at USC, where his attributes have proven to be a perfect fit -- both in the Trojans’ prior offensive scheme, as well as in Sarkisian’s newly installed up-tempo, shotgun-based attack. Throw in the fact that talented tailbacks Javorius Allen, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac and D.J. Morgan are all due back in the fold in the future, and a permanent switch from fullback isn’t likely to be in the cards.

Still, with the versatility that Pinner has shown this spring, Sarkisian envisions Pinner potentially lining up at tailback on a situational basis for the Trojans in the fall.

“I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a feature back for us down the road, but he’s a guy that we know we can put him in, whether it’s in a short-yardage situation, a goal line situation, [or] late to close out a football game,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a guy that we can have trust in that he can go out and execute the offense from that position.”

For Pinner, who has more than enjoyed his time at tailback, that’s music to his ears.

“With this offense there’s going to be a lot of plays,” Pinner said “They’re not going to play just one running back all 120 plays you run per game or whatever, so we are going to be rotating backs just like we did last year. So, as long as I keep doing what I’m doing and playing hard, I’m going to get a shot in the games.”

And with that prospect of possibly taking on a larger role within the offense spurring him on, Pinner is determined to stay focused on the task at hand, all in an effort to continue in what has already been a productive spring.

“Every day is a golden opportunity here,” Pinner said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of every rep I get, and just trying to get better.”

So long to the fullback?

January, 13, 2014
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In Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “Mrs. Robinson,” the duo asks: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

If the famed singing duo were to change the lyrics of their celebrated song to relate to the 2014 Trojans fullback position, they might croon, “Where have you gone, Sam Cunningham, a Trojans nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo). What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson, Sam Bam has left and gone away (Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey).”

In the evolution of football, the once famous fullback position could be the gridiron’s version of the dinosaur. Your children may one day ask, “Hey, dad, what’s a fullback and did the Trojans ever really have one?”

Through no fault of their own, new Trojans head football coach Steve Sarkisian and his colleagues across the country have been rapidly changing the face of collegiate offenses by adjusting to the new rules, formations, speed of the game and the spread-the-defense mentality. It’s now all now part of the college football and even NFL landscapes. It would appear the days of the fullback as we know it are numbered.

[+] EnlargeSoma Vainuku
Chris Williams/Icon SMIHow will the Trojans use fullbacks such as Soma Vainuku?
Looking toward 2014, one of the Trojans’ major questions has become will Sarkisian figure out a way to use returning fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner in some capacity? Since they are productive players, it figures he will. Those are two very talented players who improved over the course of the 2013 season.

While he is still evolving in a new direction for his own offensive philosophy, Sarkisian can still remember how useful the fullback was during his assistant days under former Trojans coach Pete Carroll.

Carroll, a defensive guru by trade, realized how much damage could be inflicted on an offense from a fullback, especially coming out of the backfield like he did with current Indianapolis Colt fullback Stanley Havili. One doesn’t have to jog a Trojans memory too far back to recall how Havili (2006-10), whose running ability was only superseded by his pass routes out of the backfield, caused havoc to mismatched linebackers.

The thought of no fullback in a Trojans backfield causes one to reminisce those beasts who once blocked for all those Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks. In fact, one of the great USC trivia questions has always been who blocked for all-time tailbacks Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Charles White, and Marcus Allen?

Of course the great irony with 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White is that his lead blocker was a young fullback named Marcus Allen. Allen has always maintained that his service as a fullback helped develop his skills as a devastating tailback.

In the case of Davis, Hall of Famer Sam “Bam” Cunningham (1970-72) led the way and when Santa Barbara Sam was crushing linebackers to clear the way for A.D., he was also busy diving over the top for a Trojans score. Cunningham’s four touchdown leaps over Woody Hayes’ Ohio State defensive in the 1973 Rose Bowl are legendary.

There probably has never been a more bruising and brutal fullback in Trojans lore than the late Mosi Tatupu (1974-77), the Hawaiian bone crusher, whose All-American son, Lofa, starred for Carroll’s 2004 national champions as a linebacker. Mosi was expertly used during his junior and senior year under Hall of Fame coach John Robinson, who once said, “Trying to tackle Mosi is like trying to tackle a Coke machine.”

Robinson had another two-way fullback/tailback in Lynn Cain (1977-78), who followed Tatupu. Cain was an All-American JC tailback out of East Los Angeles College, but Robinson turned the former L.A. Roosevelt prep star into a multi-purpose tailback/fullback. By having Cain as a running and blocking threat, opposing defenses couldn’t exclusively key on White. Cain was instrumental in helping the Trojans to the 1978 national championship.

Not all the Trojans’ fullbacks have been national household names. There was Danny Scott (1966-68), who teamed with Simpson. Scott, who played at Pico Rivera (Calif.) El Rancho High and transferred to USC from Cerritos (Calif.) College, was a human battering ram at just 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds.

In the mid-80s, the Trojans had another stud fullback out of Banning High in Carson, California. Leroy Holt (1986-89) was known more for carrying the football than just blocking. Holt’s playing skills may not have been as important as his leadership skills in helping guide the Trojans into the 1989 Rose Bowl game. Most players referred to Holt as the team’s spiritual leader. Making fullback Holt unique is that he still ranks No. 21 in USC career rushing (1,825 yards), and those numbers say he is the greatest running fullback in USC history.

There have been other fullbacks who played a major role in the storied history of USC. Consider yourself a Trojans historian if you remember the names of Big Ben Wilson, Ron Heller, Mike “Bambi” Hull, David Farmer, Deon Strother, Scott Lockwood and Terry Barnum. No, not forgotten is the late All-America tailback Ricky Bell, whose Trojans offensive career began as a John McKay fullback.

So the Trojans have their history of extraordinary fullbacks, but the question is rapidly becoming this: Have we seen the last of the USC fullback?
While the USC passing offense sputtered throughout a good portion of the team’s 30-13 victory over Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans showcased a ground game that was effective from the get-go -- even without the services of veteran ball carriers Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan. This success was in large part due to a couple of tailbacks who were making their collegiate debuts in the backfield -- redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis.

Keying a rushing attack that generated 192 yards against the Rainbow Warriors -- over 40 yards more than USC averaged a season ago -- both players ran with confidence and physicality, reflecting the mindset that the Trojans coaching staff worked hard to instill during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Madden and Davis drew praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin on his Sunday night media call.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore Tre Madden ran for 109 yards in his first in-game running back action since high school.
“I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before,” Kiffin said.

It was Madden -- who played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his knee -- who led the way, getting the nod as the starter and rushing 18 times for a game-high 109 yards. And despite the fact that he hadn’t seen action in a live game since Nov. 26, 2011, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout quickly settled into his role.

“After the first play I was back in the swing of things,” said Madden following the Trojans’ practice on Tuesday. “The nerves were building up before the game, and it was a long day leading up to it, but once I got on the field everything felt good. I felt comfortable with the game plan, the offensive line did well and [fullback] Jahleel [Pinner] did well in front of me. It definitely felt good to get that game out of the way and under my belt. Now I can look forward and just concentrate on getting better every week.”

Davis, who enrolled at USC this past January after starring at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, had the pregame jitters as well. But like his older counterpart, they were overcome once he took his first carry late in the first quarter.

“I was definitely nervous beforehand, but that’s just a normal part of the game,” Davis said. “Once you get into it and get a couple of snaps, it’s just like it is in high school.”

Amassing 74 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Davis’ rushing total would have possibly exceeded the century mark if not for a 15-yard loss that he took on a play where he recovered his own fumble. Still, as a whole, there’s more than a few positives that the young freshman can take away from his outing.

“I can definitely build off of my performance,” Davis said. “Experience is one of the best things you can have. The more experience that I get, the better I’m going to be.”

In Davis and Madden, as well as Javorius Allen -- who chipped in with 18 yards on four carries -- Kiffin and Co. found a rotation at tailback that could wind up being the ultimate formula for success ... at least as far as the USC run game is concerned.

“As a running back corps we all jelled together, and you could see that in the game,” Davis said.

Added Madden, “As a whole, I think the tailback unit did some good things. It was awesome having that three-running back rotation.”

Up next for the Trojans is a Washington State defense that, while fast and aggressive, did give up 297 yards on the ground last Saturday to Auburn.

Focused on taking the next step in their progression as a group, however, you can be certain that the USC tailbacks won’t be taking any opponent for granted.

“They fly around on defense,” said Madden on what he’s seen of the Cougars on film. “We just need to have physical practices -- like we did today -- to get ready. We need to get the game plan down and just get better every day.”

Hogue Report: Recapping USC's opener 

September, 2, 2013
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If you’ve read my column over the years, you’ll know that I would far prefer to be on a team with a great defense and offensive line and average quarterback, than a team with a great quarterback but not much else. In other words, I’ll gladly trade you several Matt Barkleys for Alabama’s defense and O-line (Nick Saban isn’t making that trade). And as I thought about the Trojans during the offseason, I was optimistic that I might get to see the Trojans with my formula in place.


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Five who emerged from USC fall camp

August, 23, 2013
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It has been an eventful month for a number of Trojans who shined during fall camp, particularly for those lesser-known and younger members of the team who took the opportunity to make a major statement with their play.

With that in mind, here are five players who made a big impression over the course of the last three weeks, providing evidence that they’re ready to make an impact on the field for USC this fall.

OL Chad Wheeler (6-foot-7, 290 pounds, RS Fr.)
Originally lining up at left tackle in the spring before going down with a knee injury, Wheeler came into fall camp in fantastic shape, with a bulked-up, 290-pound frame. Moved to right tackle to compete with veteran Kevin Graf, he switched back to the left side to run with the first-team offense early in August when Aundrey Walker went down with an injury, and he remained there throughout camp -- prompting Walker to move to guard. Drawing praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin, Wheeler provided stability at a position that struggled in that regard in 2012. A unique talent who plays with a nasty demeanor on the field, he appears to have won the starting job. It will be interesting to watch his development this season.

WR Darreus Rogers (6-2, 210, Fr.)
[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAfter enrolling last spring, Darreus Rogers appears to have nailed down the No. 3 receiver job.
A Class of 2012 recruit who didn't enroll until last January, Rogers flashed at times in spring ball, but it’s safe to say that Rogers took his game to a whole new level this month.

Possessing a skill-set that is somewhat reminiscent of what former USC star receiver Mike Williams brought to the table, the Carson (Calif.) product showcases a perfect blend of size, speed, athleticism and sure hands. Making strides throughout camp, he utilized some strong scrimmage performances -- including a 10-catch, 106-yard and 2-touchdown outing on Aug. 16 -- to nail down the role of No. 3 wide out.

With the Trojans paper-thin at receiver, he should get plenty of chances to produce this season as a complement to Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, and from what he’s shown, he’s ready to do just that.

S Su'a Cravens (6-1, 215, Fr.)
Arguably the most highly touted prospect in the Trojans’ recruiting class of 2013, Cravens was another mid-year enrollee who has more than lived up to expectations. One of those rare playmakers on the defensive side of the ball who always seems to be in the thick of the action, he looks and plays more like a seasoned veteran than a green freshman. His fall camp highlighted by an outstanding performance in the team’s second scrimmage -- one in which he compiled five tackles with two sacks -- he has been part of a highly competitive battle at strong safety. For the last week or so of fall camp, however, he was taking the majority of the reps with the first-team defense, and he figures to see the field early and often, whether he starts or not.

FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Declared by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member in his group during the spring, Pinner continued his progression throughout the summer, allowing him to hit the ground running in fall camp. With Soma Vainuku sidelined for most of the workouts with an injury, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout carried the bulk of the workload at fullback and excelled in the expanded role.

Always known as a tough-as-nails lead blocker, what was most impressive was the receiving skills he put on display -- something lacking from the position in 2012. Hauling in a number of passes in the team’s most recent scrimmage, there’s hope that he can bring a Stanley Havili-like presence back to the Trojans’ offense.

LB Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, Fr.)
Starting out at outside linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 defensive alignment, Powell made the switch inside to WILL linebacker midway through camp, and the energetic freshman began turning heads right from his first day there -- despite the fact he never lined up at the position in high school. An emotionally charged athlete who plays with aggression and a nonstop motor, Powell really came on over the last two weeks, collecting five tackles in the team’s Aug. 16 scrimmage. Receiving more and more snaps with the second unit as of late, and even with the first group when Hayes Pullard was limited recently, he obviously is someone who has caught the eye of the coaches.
LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday at the Coliseum and if you were waiting on a resolution to the quarterback battle, be prepared to wait a little longer.

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.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe last scrimmage didn't give any indicator on which QB, Max Wittek (left) or Cody Kessler (right), will start in the season opener.
In the first half, the service team defense held its own by limiting the offense to three field goals, intercepting Cody Kessler twice. Those were the first two interceptions Kessler had thrown in the Coliseum this year between spring ball and fall camp but, to be fair, both balls were tipped high in the air before landing in a defender's hands.

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.
As the Trojans enter the final week of fall camp, the team held a high-energy practice Monday with players sensing that game week is near.

“I feel like we have things going in the right direction,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s easy to have good energy when you’re in a night practice at the Coliseum but it’s another to come out today in the heat and respond the way they did. I thought that was a very good test for our team.”

The Trojans moved out of their camp dorms Sunday and into their fall housing. They will get a day off on Thursday and then begin game week practices on Friday in preparation for the matchup with Hawaii next week.

“Yeah, we’re getting a little antsy,” USC quarterback Max Wittek said. “It’s human nature at some point to want to play somebody with a different color jersey.”

Injuries continue to be an issue as Aundrey Walker and Demetrius Wright left practice today, but the good news was that Silas Redd got the most action he’s had all camp and Marqise Lee was basically back to normal with a full day of work.

“Hopefully we can get mostly healthy in the next few days,” Kiffin said.

For Lee, the yellow jersey was still on but the competition mode was in full effect and he made several plays. He beat Chris Hawkins on a pass down the sideline, caught a nice over the shoulder ball from Wittek and had a short touchdown at the end of the day when he caught a screen pass from Cody Kessler and got a good block from Nathan Guertler on Hawkins to scoot untouched into the end zone.

“I feel great,” Lee said. “I was just going out there and catching the ball. I’m ready to play a game, everybody is ready to play a game. I know the defense is ready.”

Lee gave a lot of praise to the unit he faces every day in practice and says he has paired with his roommate to try and fire up his teammates.

“The secondary is amazing right now,” Lee said. “They are going a great job, starting with AB (Anthony Brown). He uses the sideline really well to push you over there. Me and Josh Shaw are roommates so we started jawing out here to get guys going. Once we started, he went to George Uko and got him going, so I went to Marcus Martin on our line. It was on after that.”

Lee also gave his thoughts on the pending quarterback battle.

“I’m glad I’m not the coach in this case with the quarterbacks. This one is on Kiff’s back,” Lee said while smiling.

Kiffin had no announcement on a starting quarterback and gave no indication of when an answer is coming.

As for other news on the injury front, Kevon Seymour was back Monday in limited action after leaving the practice on Sunday night. Scott Starr, Morgan Breslin, Dion Bailey, Torin Harris and Ryan Henderson did not practice.

Marcus Martin sat out after leaving practice on Sunday so Max Tuerk took the majority of first unit snaps at center with Aundrey Walker at left guard and John Martinez at right guard. Abe Markowitz also took some reps with the first unit at center while Giovanni Di Poalo was with the 1’s at left guard after Walker went out.

Redd looked solid in his extended reps and he wore a yellow jersey along with fellow tailbacks Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Ty Isaac and Buck Allen were also available so it was a good day for depth at the spot.

The most productive player was Quinton Powell, who continues to make his presence felt from the inside linebacker position. Powell started the day with a sack on Kessler, stripped Ty Isaac of the ball after a long run and added a late interception of a ball that had been tipped in the air.

Other highlight plays included nice catches from reserve tight ends Kevin Greene and Chris Willson. The Willson grab in particular was a pretty one-handed effort. Wittek hit Jahleel Pinner with a 20-yard pass down the middle but Leon McQuay was right there and would have smacked him in a game setting. McQuay also had a blocked kick in a field goal drill, something he has done a few times this camp. Kenny Bigelow, Anthony Sarao and Devian Shelton all had sacks. Shelton also got bulldozed by Tre Madden in the flat and Madden went for about ten extra yards.

Quotebook

“I was scared for a moment. I took my time getting up because they didn’t know what was wrong but as soon as I got a chance to get up and move around I was fine. I kept telling coach Kiffin I was ready to go back in. I’m solid now, I’m ready to go.” -- Marqise Lee, talking about his bone bruise injury suffered on Aug. 9.

Pinner hoping for breakout season

August, 12, 2013
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Back in April, USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin revealed that he wanted to see more offensive production out of a fullback position that accounted for a total of just 76 combined rushing and receiving yards last season. Well, if the way sophomore Jahleel Pinner has performed during the past week is any indication at all, it’s safe to say Kiffin will get his wish in 2013.

Jahleel Pinner
Johnny Curren/WeAreSC.comIf spring and fall practices are any indication, FB Jahleel Pinner is in for a breakout 2013 season.
Building off a stellar showing in the spring that had running backs coach Tommie Robinson calling him the most improved member of his group, and with last year’s primary starter at fullback, Soma Vainuku, sidelined for a vast majority of fall camp, Pinner has been one of the major bright spots for the Trojans.

“It’s going good for me right now,” said the 6-foot, 235-pound Pinner. “I’m just taking my opportunities as the coaches give them to me. I still have to capitalize on some things -- work harder and work on my technique, but so far I’m doing good, and I feel like I’m seizing the opportunity.”

Known primarily for his abilities as a gritty lead-blocker during his first season at USC, it’s Pinner’s pass-catching skills that have really turned heads as of late, with the latest instance coming during the Trojans’ workout on Sunday. On a play that showcased Pinner’s athleticism and soft hands, he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown reception from Cody Kessler on a wheel route despite tight coverage from freshman linebacker Quinton Powell. It was the type of catch Pinner has been making with great regularity this August, providing evidence that the USC offense will have a new weapon at its disposal this fall.

“When they recruited me, that’s one thing that they mentioned -- they wanted a kind of Stanley Havili type of player to catch the ball out of the backfield, running deep routes and stuff like that,” said Pinner, who had three receptions for 19 yards and one touchdown in the team’s most recent scrimmage. “So far, that’s what I’m doing right now, and I’m loving it.”

Of course, making plays out of the backfield isn’t exactly anything new for Pinner. As a high school standout at Mission Viejo (Calif.), he made 29 receptions over the course of his final two years, while also amassing more than 1,500 rushing yards. Having finally earned the trust of his coaches and teammates at USC, he’s now getting the chance to put those talents on display.

“Since high school, I’ve always had good hands,” said Pinner, who appeared in all 13 of the Trojans’ games in 2012, without recording a carry or catch. “I’ve always been used as a receiver. As long as they keep throwing me the ball, I’m going to catch it. It’s all about opportunities for me right now.”

But it’s more than that. Pinner has also garnered a reputation as a tireless worker, both on the field as well as in the film room. Combine that with the experience he gained on the field last season, and he’s also a much more confident player than he was a year ago.

“Definitely in my second year around, I’m a lot more comfortable with everything that’s going on,” Pinner said. “Especially this time around in fall camp -- I know all of the plays. I know basically everything that I have to do and I know more in terms of technique, and I don’t have to worry about memorizing or learning the plays or anything like that.”

With everything coming together, there is little doubt that Pinner looks poised to break out for the Trojans this season, and he couldn’t be more ready.

“I’m always up for any challenge,” Pinner said. “If they want me to take on a bigger role as a fullback, then that’s what I’m going to do.”


LOS ANGELES -- Coach Lane Kiffin put the USC Trojans through several situational drills Sunday to help prepare for game action.

“It was a real good day today,” Kiffin said. “Maybe not our best day in terms of performance, but we had some good situational work and we can learn a lot from that.

“We did red-zone stuff, some two-minute and four-minute drills, just to let our guys have an understanding of those points. We want them to pay attention to things like down and distance. We had one instance today with a third-and-long; we need to know to not give up a big play there. We can go watch the film and show them specific examples.”

There was also a bit of an announcement on the quarterback front, although it had little to do with naming a starter. Kiffin confirmed that it is officially a two-quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek as Kiffin told freshman Max Browne after the Saturday practice that he was out of the competition.

“Max took it like a professional,” Kiffin said. “He’s a competitor, though, and this doesn’t mean he is out of it as far as the whole season is concerned. It just means he’s out of it right now. Max is as advanced as any young quarterback. I wasn’t here when Matthew (Barkley) came in, but Browne has picked things up quickly. But now it’s a two-guy race.”

Sunday was a perfect example of why this is such a close competition. Both Kessler and Wittek made several big plays that showcased their abilities.

The first big play for Wittek was on a deep-in pattern to Darreus Rogers. A few plays later, Wittek stood tall in the pocket with a lot of pressure and he hit Rogers deep. The defensive backs collided and Rogers went for an 80-yard score. Later in the day in a red-zone drill, he hit Rogers with a fade pass for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeAundrey Walker
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAundrey Walker got some work in at right guard on Sunday.
Kessler got his day started with a scramble left and a shovel pass to a running back for a first down. It was an example of Kessler the improviser, something he does well. He later scrambled right and threw a strike on the run to Victor Blackwell for 20 yards. Kessler’s best throw came with the ball at his own 1-yard line. He dropped back into the end zone and threw a strike into the hands of Xavier Grimble, who had a step on Hayes Pullard. Once Grimble caught the ball, he outran Hayes for the score. Cody also hit Jahleel Pinner for a 20-yard touchdown in a red-zone drill.

There was a position switch of note, although Kiffin was clear to say it was not permanent at this point. Aundrey Walker has been out of action for the past several days, so Chad Wheeler has been taking reps with the first unit at left tackle. At the Saturday practice, reserve right guard Jordan Simmons left early and did not practice on Sunday. The coaches put Walker as the No. 2 right guard upon his return on Sunday, a position he played as a freshman. Walker said he made one mistake of crossing up the signals, but he also showed his impressive strength on one play when he shoved big Delvon Simmons out of the play.

“This is the time of year to look at switches like this,” Kiffin said. “It also speaks a little to the play of Chad Wheeler that we are even looking at this. If he wasn’t playing well, we wouldn’t do it.”

Marqise Lee spent a second day on the sidelines in uniform but no pads after suffering a bone bruise on Friday. Kiffin said they hope to get Lee out on the field soon, but he didn’t specific a time frame. Kiffin also talked about how important this time period is for Lee -- even though he is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things he can work on. Specifically, he mentioned the fact that Lee had four fumbles last year and they can work with him to focus on areas such as ball security.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFreshman receiver Darreus Rogers is having a great camp, playing with confidence.
Nelson Agholor was also limited in action but, as noted above in the quarterback highlight plays, it was another terrific outing for Rogers. The freshman is big and strong and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Pinner is another young guy who is making an impression. The sophomore fullback has been getting a lot of reps in Soma Vainuku’s absence. (Vainuku returned to practice Sunday.) The wheel route from Kessler to Pinner was pretty as Pinner caught the ball in stride. That is going to be an effective weapon if he can contribute plays such as that in the passing game.

The big hit of the day came courtesy of Demetrius Wright. Wittek threw a pass from his end zone to walk-on wide receiver Robby Kolanz at the 18-yard line. Wright hit him hard right as the ball arrived, but Kolanz hung on for the catch.

Quinton Powell, who was recently moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, spent the day with the second unit behind Pullard. Michael Hutchings had been in that No. 2 spot to this point in camp.

One of the special-teams drills today was focusing on blocking field goals. Anthony Brown, Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay each had blocks.

Jahlani Tavai (Manhattan Beach, Calif./Mira Costa) was in attendance Sunday. He’s a class of 2014 DE/OLB prospect and the brother of current USC defensive end J.R. Tavai.

Quotebook:

“I’m trying to provide depth to the line. I’m 100 percent ready to work after having a mild concussion last week. I’m willing to do anything I can to help and I trust coach Summers to put me in the right position. I was pretty comfortable today at right guard. I would actually feel comfortable at any spot really, well, maybe center wouldn’t work. I still feel left tackle is my position but I’m not surprised they wanted to take a look at this with Jordan [Simmons] being down.” – Aundrey Walker
The Trojans held their first scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a lot at stake for the ongoing quarterback competition. Both quarterbacks had solid performances but nothing that is going to separate one from the other.

Cody Kessler took the majority of snaps with the first unit and started off strong by leading the first offense to a touchdown on the opening drive against the first defense. The drive featured a 30-yard completion to Nelson Agholor, which was helped by a missed tackle from Torin Harris, and some good running from Justin Davis, who eventually punched the ball into the end zone on a short run behind a block from Kevin Graf.

Max Wittek came out with the second unit and took advantage of some good runs from Buck Allen to get the ball inside the five-yard line but it was there that the defense stiffened. A trio of defenders stopped Allen on first down, then J.R. Tavai came in quickly to tackle Allen for a loss. Ryan Henderson batted away a pass in the end zone for Agholor to complete the goal-line stand.

Wittek led a touchdown drive on his next possession. Once again it was Allen providing some tough yards up the middle before Wittek hit Jahleel Pinner in the flat and the big fullback ran through a tackle attempt by Gerald Bowman to get the ball inside the five. At that point Justin Davis took a handoff but Lamar Dawson came through the line for a loss and Davis was forced to leave the scrimmage at the trainers look at his left foot/ankle. Wittek then hit Agholor for the short touchdown.

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LOS ANGELES -- It’s been nearly four months since USC wrapped up spring ball, but that doesn’t mean that the team hasn’t been hard at work this summer. Here’s a look at 10 players who have stood out during the team’s volunteer workouts, giving every indication that they’ll hit the ground running when fall camp opens Saturday.

1. WR Marqise Lee (6-foot, 195 pounds, Jr.)
The fact that Lee -- the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner -- shined during the team’s passing sessions was hardly a surprise. What was somewhat eye-opening, however, was the way that the dynamic playmaker attacked each workout, competing with the focus of a player who was still fighting for a starting job. Showing tremendous hunger and drive, he looks ready to have another banner season as the headliner of the squad.

2. WR Nelson Agholor (6-0, 185, So.)
Building off an impressive spring in which he seized the No. 2 wide receiver job, Agholor continued to produce on a consistent basis this summer. Making highlight-reel catch after catch during the team’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, there’s reason to believe that he can step right in and fill the shoes of Lee’s former star receiving mate, Robert Woods.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SMILeonard Williams feels that he's better this year than he was a year ago, which is a scary thought for USC's opponents.
3. DE Leonard Williams (6-5, 290, So.)
On the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland awards, Williams appears poised to follow up a tremendous freshman campaign with an even bigger sophomore season. Having recently said that he feels stronger and faster than he was in 2012, the hulking Williams was dominant at times when the team came together for 11-on-11s this summer, both as a run stopper as well as a pass rusher.

4. S Josh Shaw (6-1, 205, RS Jr.)
The starter at cornerback for the Trojans’ final seven games in 2012, Shaw moved back to his more natural strong safety position this past spring and continued to line up there throughout June and July – looking more than at home, particularly after bulking up and adding 12 pounds to his frame. Showcasing fantastic ball-hawking skills during the workouts, he also emerged as a leader of the secondary. While he’s involved in a position battle with Su'a Cravens and Gerald Bowman, it’s hard to imagine him not playing a major part as a key piece in the USC defense in 2013.

5. QB Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.)
Embroiled in a highly publicized competition with Max Wittek and Max Browne for the No. 1 quarterback job, Kessler picked right up where he left off after a stellar spring and continued to stand out. Showing the same poise, accuracy and command in the pocket that he did this past March and April, he certainly appears prepared to make a strong case for that starting role.

6. S Dion Bailey (6-0, 200, RS Jr.)
After starring as the team’s starting strongside linebacker for the past two seasons, Bailey made the move back to free safety -- where he excelled in high school -- this summer and looked sharp from the get-go. In competition with Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III for the starting job, Bailey was at virtually every volunteer workout, playing fast and physical while also showing off some notable playmaking skills in coverage that the Trojans could certainly use this fall.

7. LB Hayes Pullard (6-1, 230 RS Jr.)
A seasoned veteran with 25 starts and 188 tackles to his credit, Pullard has emerged as an unquestioned leader of the team over the last five months and is one of those rare players who makes everyone around him better. A smart and heady performer, he also just might be in the best shape of his career, looking strong, fluid in his movement, and playing quick to the ball at each workout.

8. TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-4, 255, So.)
Originally making a name for himself in the spring after filling in for standout tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer -- who both battled injuries -- Cope-Fitzpatrick certainly didn’t let up this summer. The most consistent attendee at the tight end position for the throwing sessions, he caught everything thrown his way, showing off soft hands and providing the quarterbacks with a big target downfield. With only three scholarship tight ends on the current roster, you can be sure that Cope-Fitzpatrick will see the field this season in at least some capacity. The good news is that he appears up for the challenge.

9. FB Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, So.)
Pointed out by running backs coach Tommie Robinson as the most improved member of his group in the spring, Pinner continued to make noticeable strides this summer. Strong and athletic, he was especially impressive over the course of the last three weeks, making some nice receptions coming out of the backfield. That's more than welcome news for USC coach Lane Kiffin, who said back in April that he wanted to see more offensive production out of the fullback position.

10. QB Max Wittek (6-4, 235, RS So.)
Missing some of the early summer workouts after coming down with mononucleosis, Wittek eventually rounded back into form and finished the last month of passing sessions off strong. Putting his trademark rifle of an arm on display, he also worked hard to correct some of the errors in decision-making that plagued him at times during his two starts in 2012.
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
With the Trojans hard at work in the weight room and on the field again this June, here’s a look at some of the offseason storylines surrounding a position group that appears to possess a much greater level of talent and depth than it did this past season -- the USC running back corps.

Physicality is key

While the USC offense did put up some impressive numbers throughout much of the 2012 season, it also sputtered at times, due in part to a game-plan that placed a dramatic emphasis on the passing attack. With the Trojans compiling 461 passing attempts compared to just 392 rushes, the ground game appeared to lose much of its trademark physicality, and USC ran for an average of just 150.6 yards per game -- the No. 71 mark in the FBS.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesRising senior Silas Redd transferred to USC from Penn State last year and quickly established himself as the No. 1 option out of the backfield.
Fast forward to the spring, and USC head coach Lane Kiffin made no secret of the fact that a major priority was to bring the power-run game back as part of what could potentially be a more balanced offense in 2013 -- with a particular focus directed at the running backs and offensive line. With a new position coach leading them through their paces in Tommie Robinson, the running backs appeared to run with a renewed sense of physicality, and virtually every member of the rotation upped their level of play. Whether or not this change in philosophy carries on into the fall remains to be seen. But if this spring was any indication, the USC running backs could be on the cusp of making a real statement in 2013.

Great expectations for Redd

Figuring to lead the way for the USC tailback group will be senior Silas Redd. Arriving on campus as a transfer from Penn State just prior to the start of fall camp last August, he made a lightning-quick transition and finished the 2012 campaign as the team’s leading rusher with 905 yards and nine touchdowns. And while his spring was cut short due to a torn meniscus in his knee, with what he did show in the little time that he was able to work out, there’s every reason to believe that he’s primed for an even bigger 2013 season. Equally as important, he’s a veteran leader with a blue-collar work ethic who gained the respect of his teammates right off the bat upon his arrival, and he’s sure to aid in the progression of the running back corps as a whole.

No shortage of talent

While Redd is the headliner of the unit, thanks to some standout play by a few other tailbacks who took advantage of his absence this spring, he doesn’t quite have the starting job locked up just yet.

Early-entrant freshman Justin Davis, in particular, was a revelation. Showcasing a tough north-south rushing style, he wowed onlookers with his play on a daily basis, and he was rewarded with a spot atop the post-spring depth chart alongside Redd and redshirt sophomore Tre Madden. Madden, who returned to practice in a limited capacity after missing the 2012 season with a torn ACL, showed no ill effects of the injury, and the 6-foot-1, 220 pound athlete certainly appears ready to give the USC offense its best example of a pure power back.

Behind those three, redshirt junior D.J. Morgan arguably looked the best that he has in a Trojans uniform, showing impressive speed and explosiveness at times, while redshirt sophomore Javorius “Buck” Allen -- a virtual non-factor his first two years on campus -- showed vast improvement, something he attributes to having the playbook down pat for the first time.

And then there’s freshman Ty Isaac, who just arrived on campus. Standing 6-3 and 215 pounds, he gives this unit a completely different look as a hulking physical presence with a ton of athleticism to boot, and he could possibly also factor into the discussion here.

With so much talent and depth at the position compared to the situation in 2012 -- when the Trojans had just four active tailbacks on scholarship -- the increased level of competition figures to continue to bring out the best in everyone. And if it ultimately does just that, it’s safe to say that the Trojans’ offense will be in good hands regardless of who it is that gets the bulk of the carries.

Two-headed monster taking shape at FB

One player who certainly didn’t have any trouble adjusting to the increased physical nature of USC’s practices this spring was the team’s primary starter at fullback in 2012, redshirt sophomore Soma Vainuku. As smash-mouth as you can get, he’s made a name for himself as an imposing lead blocker for the Trojans. But with Vainuku going down with a PCL injury in his knee in the second week, it was the performance by sophomore Jahleel Pinner that turned into one of the major stories of the spring. The running back unit’s most improved player of the entire slate of March and April practices according to Robinson, the Mission Viejo (Calif.) product asserted himself as a more-than-capable performer at the position. As a result, when the post-spring depth chart was released, he wound up sharing the starting title with Vainuku.

With the Trojans now apparently possessing a pair of standout options at fullback, with Simione Vehikite also adding depth, the team appears to be in good shape at the spot, but there is still room for growth. Because while Vainuku and Pinner have established themselves as efficient blockers, neither has made a significant impact in terms of their offensive numbers just yet. In fact, Kiffin noted on more than one occasion this past spring that he wants to see more production from a position that amassed a total of just 26 yards on the ground and 50 yards through the air (all by Vainuku) in 2012. If either Vainuku or Pinner can eventually step into that role this fall as a potential offensive threat coming out of the backfield, it would add a whole new dimension to the USC offense.
USC coach Lane Kiffin has made it clear that he wants to instill an increased physical presence in the USC offense in 2013, and a key factor in doing that will be an emphasis on a power run game.

For longtime USC fans, this is music to their ears. The Trojans offense in recent years, while certainly capable of putting up points and yards in bunches, has seen a reduction in the reliance on the philosophy of “big man on big man football.”

It was legendary USC player and coach Marv Goux who made that statement popular, reflecting the tough, blue collar image that defined USC football through the years. USC was known as “Tailback U” for a reason with a seemingly endless supply of quality tailbacks and a pipeline of offensive linemen that were destined for the NFL. It was a pretty good formula that served USC well for a long time.

In recent years, however, the balance of the USC offensive identity has shifted to feature the passing game more. Kiffin has a background as a quarterback who later coached wide receivers, so it’s no secret that he likes to throw the ball around. But Kiffin has always maintained that he wants to have a balanced offense that starts with the run game. You only have to look back as far as LenDale White and Reggie Bush to see how well that can work.

In his first season as head coach of the Trojans, Kiffin did run the ball more than he threw it -- 477 rush attempts to 453 passes. The last two seasons have trended the other direction; 392 rush attempts in both 2011 and 2012 compared to 447 passes in 2011 and 461 in 2012.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Morgan
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMID.J. Morgan is in the mix for backup carries behind leading rusher Silas Redd.
A case can certainly be made for throwing a little more when you have Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. But as the Trojans look back at 2012, it’s clear that a toughness mindset was missing when it came to running the football. It’s not that the Trojans didn’t run the ball well -- they averaged a solid 5.0 yards per attempt -- but they weren’t able to control the ball on the ground when they needed to. That is the danger when you get away from running the ball -- you can’t always go back to it when you really need it.

Running the football is a mentality as much as anything. It takes a commitment that starts with the play calling but ultimately rests with the players, which bodes well for the Trojans in 2013. The USC running back stable is deep and talented -- Kiffin calls it the best overall RB group he’s had at USC -- and it appears ready to go if called upon.

The leader of the group will likely be Silas Redd, the senior transfer from Penn State who led the Trojans in rushing last season. If there is one thing Redd proved in 2012, it’s that he’s a tough runner. That should come as no surprise considering his background in the Big Ten, but his physical running style was also reminiscent of USC running backs from the past. Redd underwent surgery on a torn meniscus during spring ball but is expected to be back for fall camp.

Assuming Redd is the lead ballcarrier, the competition for the primary backup spot is wide open. Right now there would be three primary candidates; Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan. Madden and Morgan have battled injuries in their USC careers but each possess the kind of skills which could allow them to break out. Madden brings a power game at 225 pounds while Morgan is the speediest of the backs. Davis opened a lot of eyes in spring ball as an early enrollee with a smooth and weaving style of running that was very effective.

There will be others in the mix, as Javorius Allen was much improved this spring and Ty Isaac will arrive this fall bringing a physical element with his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame.

On top of that, the Trojans have a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner who will be entering their sophomore seasons while the offensive line features a veteran starting lineup and a new coach in Mike Summers who preaches toughness in the run game.

The ability to run the football as part of the offensive identity will only be one part of the Trojans' offense in 2013, but it might be the most telling in terms of overall success.
Josh Shaw
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comWhere USC decides to play Josh Shaw could go a long way in determining the starters at cornerback and safety.
A look at nine positions marked by competition this offseason at USC.

Quarterback

Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne all had their moments this past spring, but after 15 workouts, USC head coach Lane Kiffin decided that this was a battle that simply needed more time. It was Kessler, right from the get-go, who made the biggest statement with his play, most notably in the scrimmages. Wittek suffered a MCL sprain that caused him to miss a week of workouts, but with tremendous physical skills, he showed enough when he was healthy to keep this competition too close to call. Showing flashes of the talent that made him such a prized commodity coming out of high school, Browne isn’t out if it yet, either, and there’s no telling how far he just might take his game in the coming weeks. And that goes for all three quarterbacks, because with almost three months remaining until the start of fall camp, how they develop this summer will play a key part in determining who will ultimately line up behind center in 2013.

Cornerback

With Nickell Robey declaring early for the NFL draft and Josh Shaw making the move back to safety, the Trojans entered spring ball needing to find two new starting cornerbacks. On the post-spring depth chart, Anthony Brown was listed first on one side, with Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour sharing the other. But with Kiffin openly expressing his disappointment with the performance of this unit, it’s safe to say that both starting jobs remain open for the taking, with Chris Hawkins, Devian Shelton and Ryan Henderson also factoring into the conversation. Additionally, there’s a very real possibility that Shaw will switch back over to cornerback, where he started seven games in 2012. He’s still been lining up at safety during the offseason throwing sessions, though. Kiffin has also opened up the possibility of using star receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor here.

Safety

Taking the place of three-year starters T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling -- now in the NFL -- for the majority of the spring was Shaw at strong safety and Demetrius Wright at free safety. Two impressive veteran athletes, both ultimately wound up sharing the top spot at their respective positions on the post-spring depth chart with a couple of early entrant freshmen who made a lightning-quick transition to the college game in strong safety Su'a Cravens and free safety Leon McQuay III. Complicating matters further, Dion Bailey and Gerald Bowman are set to return later this summer from injury, and both figure to challenge for a starting role -- particularly Bailey, who will make the transition from linebacker to strong safety. With so much talent, the potential move of Shaw back over to cornerback certainly makes sense on a number of levels.

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