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USC position-by-position preview: offense

8/29/2014

With fall camp in the books and the Trojans now immersed in game-week preparations for Saturday's season opener against Fresno State, here's a position-by-position look at where things stand for USC on offense today.

Quarterback

After emerging from a highly-publicized competition as USC's unquestioned starter at quarterback in the spring, Cody Kessler continued to perform at a high level throughout fall camp, appearing to grow more and more in command of Steve Sarkisian's new up-tempo offensive attack with each practice that passed. Having completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdown and 7 interceptions a year ago in 14 starts for the Trojans, there's every reason to believe that his numbers will only go up in 2014.

Second-year freshman Max Browne had a solid camp as well, and he'll serve as the primary backup. Freshman dual-threat quarterback Jalen Greene appears destined to redshirt this season, although with the strides that he's already made, he certainly looks to have a bright future.

Running back

The Trojans have a three-headed monster at tailback in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Allen -- the Trojans' team MVP in 2013 -- came into camp in fantastic shape and looks to be a perfect fit in Sarkisian's offense. He, along with Madden -- who rushed for more than 100 yards in four of USC's first five games in 2013 -- took the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 unit during the majority of fall camp. Madden hasn't practiced in a week due to a turf toe injury, and he's a game-time decision at this point. That paves the way for Davis, who excelled in the team's fall camp scrimmages, to carry a heavier load.

Walk-on James Toland IV and converted cornerback Anthony Brown are two reserves at tailback, although Brown has been sidelined as of late with a hyperextended elbow. (Update: Brown has since quit the team.)

One big question that arose as soon as Sarkisian became head coach was whether or not there's was a real role for the fullback in his offense. If fall camp is any indication, however, the answer is most definitely ‘Yes,' as both Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner were utilized in a variety of ways. Vainuku, in particular, appeared to make more plays coming out of the backfield than ever.

Wide receiver

The Trojans will field a wide receiver corps marked by talent and, in contrast to last season's squad, a plethora of depth. Nelson Agholor is the headliner. The team's leader in receiving yardage (918) in 2013, he's been showing off his versatility in practice, lining up outside as well in the slot periodically. George Farmer had arguably the best camp of his career, and it paid off in him landing atop the depth chart at the wide receiver spot opposite Agholor. After having been hampered by injuries throughout his time on campus so far, there's reason to believe this could be the year that he finally breaks through. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are a pair of veterans who will provide depth. Rogers, who now wears the highly-coveted No. 1 jersey, is a big and physical target who will try to improve on what was a promising freshman year in 2013. Blackwell, a fourth-year junior, asserted himself as a potential deep threat in practice this month.

There are also a host of freshmen who look poised to make an instant impact at wideout, perhaps none more-so than JuJu Smith. Bringing a unique combination of size, speed and sure hands to the table, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make a name for himself right from the get-go.

At the slot receiver position Ajene Harris is the name to watch. Somewhat of an underdog coming into camp after lining up at quarterback and defensive back on the high school level at Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, he now sits atop the depth chart after shining throughout fall camp. Highly sought-after two-way standout Adoree' Jackson will also see time here -- in addition to cornerback -- after asserting himself as a legitimate big-play threat.

Second-year freshman Steven Mitchell -- who was once thought to be the favorite to start at the slot position ahead of Harris and Jackson -- has been held back by knee and groin issues.

Freshman Rahshead Johnson, as well as veteran walk-ons Christian Tober, George Katrib, Robby Kolanz, Christian Guzman, David Mellstrom and Aaron Minor are others who will provide depth at wide receiver.

Tight end

The loss of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (academics) obviously dealt this already-thin unit a significant blow, but the good news is that Randall Telfer looks healthy and primed for a big season in Sarkisian's tight end-friendly offense. Former Wake Forest pitcher-turned walk-on quarterback-turned tight end Chris Willson currently sits at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. And then there's freshman Bryce Dixon, who just might be the most exciting performer of the bunch. A fantastic athlete with outstanding skills as a receiver, he certainly appears to possess the tools to allow him to flourish in Sarkisian's offense -- perhaps sooner than later.

With this group low in numbers, Sarkisian said that he might rely more on fullbacks Vainuku and Pinner, and that does seem to mesh with what was seen in fall camp.

Offensive line

Perhaps no unit was surrounded by more uncertainty heading into fall camp than the offensive line, but Tim Drevno's group has slowly started to come together. Still plenty of questions exist today, particularly with a trio of freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao all expected to play crucial roles.

The No. 1 group for the majority of camp was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. With Rodgers currently out with a knee sprain, however, it's Mama who is slated to get the starting nod against Fresno State -- meaning that for the first time in the post-World War II era the Trojans will likely have two freshmen starters on the offensive line in an opener. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., both Mama and Lobendahn appear to be up for the challenge. Aundrey Walker, who was hobbled early in camp, has started to come on, and with Sarkisian noting that he plans to rotate players in and out of the lineup along the offensive line, it stands to reason that he will see time somewhere on the field in a reserve role. He's currently listed as a backup at both tackle spots as well as at right guard. Talamaivao is the primary backup at left guard after beginning camp as a reserve center.

Center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo, guard/tackle Nathan Guertler, tackle Nico Falah and guard Jordan Simmons will all provide depth -- although Simmons has missed extensive time due to his 2013 knee injury.

Freshmen tackles Chris Brown and Jordan Austin (hip surgery) will likely redshirt.