Five questions for the spring

March, 5, 2012
3/05/12
8:29
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Lane Kiffin and Matt BarkleyKirby Lee/US PresswireCoach Lane Kiffin has challenged Matt Barkley in previous seasons, but what more can Barkley do?
Since last season ended, we've looked at the top 10 performers from last year, the top 10 moments and the top five questions for the new year.

And, lately, we've done previews for every position group at USC: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties and special teams.

Now, with spring practice officially beginning for the Trojans on Tuesday at 4 p.m., let's take a look at five remaining questions for the month-long spring session.

1. Can Matt Barkley keep improving?

After his first two seasons at USC, there were clear areas where quarterback Matt Barkley could improve his game.

At the end of his freshman year, he had to cut down on his interceptions, among other things. At the end of his sophomore year, he had to develop a more consistent throw downfield -- again, among other things.

But this year? Barkley's stats were flat-out fantastic in 2011, easily reaching two of the three goals coach Lane Kiffin set for him and coming very close to the other.

The three: connect on 30 or more touchdowns, throw 10 or fewer interceptions and achieve a 70 percent completion percentage. He threw for 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a completion percentage of 69.1.

Sure, the one he didn't meet is a good carry-over goal for 2012. But what else can he even do?

We should find out this spring.

2. Will alternative ball-carrying sources emerge?

It's not as if this topic hasn't yet been broached -- on this blog and others. But it's still worthy of examination. Who is the Trojans' No. 3 ball carrier going to be behind Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan?

Amir Carlisle's transfer in January made this an issue. But fullback Soma Vainuku might be an option for a couple of carries a game, and so might Jahleel Pinner when he gets to USC in the summer.

One last possibility: A player from another position could always be moved -- temporarily or for good. The Trojans just fixed some depth issues at defensive tackle by moving Cody Temple there from the offensive line.

3. How will the new defensive players look?

There are a few intriguing new options available this spring and two who could really vie for playing time right away this fall in defensive back Josh Shaw and defensive end Morgan Breslin.

Both are transfers -- Shaw from Florida, Breslin from a Northern California junior college. But both could really be productive this year, and this spring is their opportunity to prove that to the coaching staff.

For Shaw, that also depends on whether his NCAA hardship waiver is granted, allowing him to play this season instead of sitting out. He had not received an official answer as of Monday. But Breslin could be a needed reserve on the defensive line.

There's also early enrollee Scott Starr, who will get reps at middle linebacker.

4. Who will gain an early lead for the No. 3 receiver slot?

Maybe the most intriguing of the position battles is this one because of the players involved and because of the potential for high-profile success. George Farmer is the name everybody knows, but Victor Blackwell is similarly talented and De'Von Flournoy has the advantage over both in terms of experience.

It's important to note that, like all the other position battles on this team, nothing will be firmly decided in the spring on this front. But we should get a sense for who has the early advantage, especially in the new position coach's eyes. And that brings us to the last question ...

5. What kind of changes will there be with the three new position coaches?

Three new position coaches in one year is a fairly big haul, but that's who USC will be incorporating this spring with receivers coach Tee Martin, linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton and secondary coach Marvin Sanders.

Of course, two years ago the Trojans pretty much had a brand-new coaching staff save for one spot. But there will probably be a bit of a transition early on this spring as the coaches get used to their players and vice versa. Will that impede any progress?

Not necessarily. But we should be able to tell if it does. Martin, in particular, will be interesting to watch because of the high level of talent he's inheriting and the very little position-specific experience he brings to the job.

He's coached receivers for only two seasons.

That's it for our spring preview series. Spring practice coverage officially begins Tuesday.

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