Analyzing the season-opening depth chart

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
11:45
AM PT
USC released its first official depth chart of the 2011 season Sunday night, complete with the legions of 'ors' that Lane Kiffin's charts have started to become known for with the Trojans. At some spots there are as many as four players listed as co-starters or second-stringers, including at tailback.

Here's a position-by-position analysis of the depth chart and what it means for Week 1 and beyond:

Quarterback

This is interesting. Instead of Cody Kessler backing up Matt Barkley here, as was expected, the Trojans listed walk-on John Manoogian as the second-stringer and Kessler and fellow freshman Max Wittek as co-walk-ons. It makes sense -- Kiffin said last week that the hope would be to redshirt both Kessler and Wittek and use Manoogian in blowout situations to hand the ball off and close out the game. The depth chart represents that desire. Jesse Scroggins is nowhere to be found.

Tailback

As assumed, there are a bunch of 'ors' here, although it is somewhat of a surprise to see freshman Amir Carlisle listed as an equal with all the returners. Whatever is going to be decided here between Carlisle, Curtis McNeal, Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan needs to be decided fairly soon.

Fullback

Rhett Ellison is the sole starter here and is not listed at any other position, so it's becoming safe to assume that the coaches are going to keep him at fullback and not move him to tight end, his original position. Soma Vainuku, the true freshman, didn't have a great fall camp, as evidenced by the fact that he's listed on the same level as walk-on Hunter Simmons.

Receiver

Marqise Lee is listed as the co-starter at flanker with Brandon Carswell, which is evidence plenty that the Trojans are planning to start him across from Robert Woods at some point this season, whether it's on Saturday in Week 1 or later on this year. He began camp as a split end and is being switched over for the purpose of adding to his potential playing time and not keeping him behind Woods. All of the other backup receivers are all listed as equals, which is a little different than what was expected but par for the course on this depth chart.

Tight end

Christian Thomas has basically been out all fall, but he still earns co-starter status along with the other two second-year tight ends. Xavier Grimble has been impressive in camp, and Randall Telfer has too -- but only for the last week or so. It seems like those two are going to split most of the time, with Ross Cumming maybe picking up extra snaps left over. Cumming, who converted from linebacker last week, isn't listed on the depth chart.

Offensive line

This is also as expected, but it's interesting that the coaches decided to put Marcus Martin right into the mix at left guard with the rest of the the older players. Also of note: Cyrus Hobbi is listed only at center. He's the lone true backup at that spot, as Khaled Holmes' other backups, John Martinez and Abe Markowitz are both guards first. Lane Kiffin said Sunday that Martinez is the leader at right guard, but he was still listed as a co-starter with Aundrey Walker.

Defensive line

Two (small) surprises here: Devon Kennard and Wes Horton are listed as co-starters, though Horton is essentially being treated as the starter, and Kevin Greene shares his second-string spot behind Nick Perry with freshman Greg Townsend Jr. Armond Armstead, who hasn't practiced with the Trojans since December, is backing up DaJohn Harris at defensive tackle with George Uko, who faded a little bit toward the end of camp and didn't break away from the other D-line backups.

Linebackers

As has been understood to be the case the last week or two, there are co-starters at both of the outside linebacker spots: Dion Bailey and Marquis Simmons at strongside and Hayes Pullard and Shane Horton at weakside. Interestingly, Lamar Dawson and Chris Galippo are co-starters despite the fact that Galippo is the clear-cut No. 1 when healthy.

Cornerbacks

Anthony Brown, Isiah Wiley and T.J. Bryant are equal backups to Nickell Robey, even though Bryant hardly played in a legitimate situation in fall camp. Brown will fight for nickel-corner time with whoever loses the battle at the other corner spot between Tony Burnett and Torin Harris.

Safeties

It's been narrowed down. The battle to start at strong safety is now exclusively between Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright, with Drew McAllister and Marshall Jones officially relegated to backing up T.J. McDonald at free safety. Starling is the leader on an experience basis, but Wright could immediately become the most physical player on the Trojan defense. They might just split snaps in the opener.

Special teams

Walk-on Kyle Negrete beat out scholarship freshman Kris Albarado for the punting slot, as Kiffin indicated would happen a few weeks ago. Frosh Andre Heidari will do the placekicking, but senior Chris Pousson kept his snapping spot over freshman Peter McBride. There's a bunch of players still in the mix at the returner spots, including Woods and Robey, and none were given preferential placement over the others.

That's it for our depth-chart analysis on this off day for the Trojans. Practice coverage resumes Tuesday in preparation for Minnesota.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler373260313330
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
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RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
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J. Smith4661013.35
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense153.9287.5441.5
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring33.824.69.2