Early look at USC spring depth chart

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
2:30
PM PT
LOS ANGELES – It’s been less than two weeks since USC wrapped up the 2013 season, but with a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian and a general feeling of change permeating throughout the program, there’s already been plenty of speculation as to the future look of the team in terms of its personnel and philosophy. Here’s an early glance ahead at how the Trojans’ depth chart just might break down when USC opens up spring camp.

(Those listed in italics are either out for the spring due to injury, or their status is unknown after suffering a injury.)

Quarterback

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler will be the favorite to remain USC's starting quarterback.
Cody Kessler (6-foot-1, 215 pounds, RS Jr.) or Max Wittek (6-4, 235, RS Jr.) or Max Browne (6-5, 215, RS Fr.); Jalen Greene (6-2, 194, Fr.)

With Sarkisian declaring the quarterback job open for competition as he begins to implement his up-tempo offense, Wittek and Browne have a new lease on life, but after a solid showing as the team’s starter in 2013, Kessler still has to be considered the favorite. Greene is a dual-threat early entrant from nearby Gardena (Calif.) Serra.

Tailback

Javorius Allen (6-1, 215, RS Jr.); Tre Madden (6-1, 220, RS Jr.); Ty Isaac (6-3, 225, So.); Justin Davis (6-1, 200, So.) D.J. Morgan (5-10, 190, RS Sr.)

Allen was the surprise of the season, going from little-used reserve to team MVP. Still, the tailback corps is overflowing with talent, so he figures to face plenty of competition, particularly from Madden, as well as Davis when he’s healthy enough to jump back into the fray.

Fullback

Soma Vainuku (6-0, 265, RS. Jr.); Jahleel Pinner (5-11, 240, Jr.)
It remains to be seen exactly how the fullbacks will fit into the new offense, but this is a group that made tremendous improvement from 2012 to 2013. The development of Vainuku as more of an offensive threat was particularly impressive.

Receivers

Wide Receiver
Marqise Lee (6-0, 195, Sr.); Darreus Rogers (6-2, 210, So.); Victor Blackwell (6-0, 190, RS Jr.); Christian Tober (5-8, 175, Jr.) or Christian Guzman (6-3, 220, RS So.); George Farmer (6-1, 210, RS Jr.)

Wide Receiver
Nelson Agholor (6-0, 185, Jr.); Robby Kolanz (5-11, 175, RS So.) or George Katrib (6-1, 180, Jr.); Aaron Minor (6-3, 190, RS Fr.); Steven Mitchell (5-10, 180, RS Fr.)

Most assume that Lee will opt to take his talents to the NFL any day now, but until he confirms that, he’ll remain atop the depth chart. If he does leave early, expect Rogers to step into his spot. On the other side, Agholor is coming off a 56-catch season, and he’s given every indication that he’s only going to get better. With Mitchell and Farmer unlikely to do much this spring after each suffering torn ACLs within the last year, walk-ons like Kolanz and Katrib figure to see plenty of action.

Tight End
Xavier Grimble (6-5, 250, RS Sr.) OR Randall Telfer (6-4, 250, RS Sr.); Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-4, 255, Jr.)

With Sarkisian having placed an emphasis on throwing to the tight end at Washington, Grimble and Telfer could see their numbers go up in 2014.

Offensive Line

Left Tackle
Chad Wheeler (6-7, 275, RS So.); Nico Falah (6-6, 285, RS Fr.) or Max Tuerk (6-6, 285, Jr.)

Left Guard
Max Tuerk (6-6, 285, Jr.); Giovanni Di Poalo (6-4, 275, RS Sr.); Toa Lobendahn (6-3, 293, Fr.); Jordan Simmons (6-4, 335, RS So.)

Center
Cyrus Hobbi (6-3, 285, RS Jr.) or Tuerk or Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310, RS Fr.) or Lobendahn

Right Guard
Rodgers OR Giovanni Di Poalo (6-4, 275, RS Sr.) OR Lobendahn; Aundrey Walker (6-6, 300, Sr.)

Right Tackle
Nathan Guertler (6-5, 280, RS Sr.); Falah; Jordan Austin (6-5, 273, Fr.); Zach Banner (6-9. 345, RS So.)

With the departure of Marcus Martin, Kevin Graf, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz, on top of the fact that Walker, Simmons and Banner are all likely to miss at least part of the spring as they recover from injuries, who plays where along the offensive line this spring is really anyone’s guess. The most crucial position battle to watch will be at center.

A note on the defense: The exact future look of the USC defense is still unknown, with Sarkisian revealing only that it won’t be a true 5-2 or 4-3, but that the answer will lie somewhere in between, and that it will be flexible in its ability to shift back and forth between different schemes. As such, the same defensive alignment that was used at Washington throughout 2013 on its weekly depth chart will be utilized here. With so much still up in the air, much of this is pure speculation.

Defensive Line

Defensive End
J.R. Tavai (6-2, 270, Sr.); Charles Burks (5-11, 230, RS Jr.) or Don Hill (6-4, 235, Fr.); Greg Townsend Jr. (6-3, 275, RS Jr.)

Defensive Tackle
Leonard Williams (6-5, 290, Jr.); Delvon Simmons (6-6, 300, RS Jr.) or Claude Pelon (6-5, 285, Jr.)

Nose Tackle
Antwaun Woods (6-0, 310, RS. Jr.); Cody Temple (6-2, 300, RS Jr.) or Kenny Bigelow (6-3, 300, RS Fr.)

Defensive End
Jabari Ruffin (6-3, 225, RS So.) or Scott Starr (6-2, 220, RS So.) or Charles Burks (5-11, 230, RS Jr.)

George Uko’s decision to leave early for the NFL certainly hurts, but with Simmons and Pelon in the fold, along with an improved Bigelow, this unit should have much greater depth than it did this past season. The battle for the vacant rush end spot could be one of the most exciting competitions of the spring.

Linebacker

Middle Linebacker
Hayes Pullard (6-1, 230, RS Sr.); Michael Hutchings (6-2, 215, So.)

Linebacker
Anthony Sarao (6-0, 215, RS Jr.); Quinton Powell (6-2, 220, So.), Lamar Dawson (6-2, 230, Sr.)

Linebacker
Su’a Cravens (6-1, 215, So.); Sarao; Powell

With Dawson likely out for the spring after tearing his ACL mid-way through the fall, Sarao should retain his starting job alongside Pullard. New USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox utilized former safety Shaq Thompson at linebacker, as well as at nickelback, with great success at Washington, so it’s possible that Cravens, who possesses somewhat similar measurables and abilities, could be used in that role.

Defensive Backs

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJosh Shaw, if he returns, could move back to his natural position at safety.
Free Safety
Josh Shaw (6-1, 195, RS Sr.); Leon McQuay III (6-1, 190, So.); Gerald Bowman (6-1, 215, RS Sr.)

Strong Safety
McQuay or Cravens; Bowman

The departure of Dion Bailey and Demetrius Wright certainly makes the move of Shaw from cornerback over to his more natural safety position more likely. If Cravens doesn’t line up at linebacker, he’ll undoubtedly run with the starting unit at strong safety, as he did this past fall.

Cornerback
Kevon Seymour (6-0, 175, Jr.); Ryan Henderson (5-10, 170, RS Jr.) or Ryan Dillard (5-9, 180, Jr.)

Cornerback
Anthony Brown (5-9, 180, RS Sr.) or Shaw or Chris Hawkins (5-11, 185, RS Fr.); Devian Shelton (6-2, 185, RS Fr.)

A position plagued at times by inconsistent play in 2013, the new coaching staff is sure to hold an open audition this spring at cornerback, although Seymour certainly finished up strong with an outstanding Las Vegas Bowl outing. Hawkins, who redshirted this past season, is a new name to watch, and if all else fails, there’s always the possibility that Shaw could stay at corner.

Special Teams

Punter
Kris Albarado (5-10, 200, RS Jr.)

Kicker
Andre Heidari (5-10, 210, Sr.); Alex Wood (5-10, 175, Jr.)

Kickoff Return
Lee and Agholor

Punt Return
Agholor

Albarado and Heidari, who both had up and down seasons, remain atop the depth chart without any obvious challengers on the roster. Agholor is back as the team’s primary return man.

Johnny Curren

WeAreSC, Reporter

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2