Position battles still unsolved

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
1:12
PM PT
Another day of practice passed Wednesday without answers at a number of key spots for the Trojans. Here's an overview of what still has to be determined over the next 72 or so hours, in order of most unresolved to nearly-resolved:

Running back

Any one of three players could start Saturday: Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan or Curtis McNeal. And Amir Carlisle could play too, unless he's still bothered by the hamstring injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice.

This is the most unsettled position on the team, but it also has the potential for the best resolution, because it's easier to rotate players in and out here. It would be a surprise, at this point, if all three of the returners don't get at least five carries against the Gophers -- and closer to 10. It's very possible the coaching staff will not go into the game with a clear-cut choice to get primary carries and instead simply ride the hot hand.

The Trojans actually did that in the opener last year too, as C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler all ran the ball eight or more times. But that was more of a use-the-backups-when-the-game-opens-up situation.

This is a use-everyone-always situation.

Left guard

Jeremy Galten has been taking the first-team snaps here for several days now, but Lane Kiffin deliberately denied that Galten would be the starter on Wednesday, saying there is still hope that Abe Markowitz (foot) would be back by Saturday.

If he isn't, Galten will certainly be the choice. If he is, it's unclear what the Trojans would do. But one thing is clear about this spot: Whoever starts Game 1 is not necessarily the Game 2 starter. There will be plenty of opportunities for change here as the season goes on, and it wouldn't be a surprise if freshman Aundrey Walker eventually switched over here from the right side to pick up snaps.

No. 2 corner

This one's interesting because it doesn't mean all that much -- both Tony Burnett and Torin Harris are going to play a lot, regardless of who starts. USC is going to be in its nickel defense more often than not.

But it's still an unresolved issue, and, for that, it earns placement on this list. And Anthony Brown still has an outside shot at moving up to the No. 3 spot at some point, which would shake things up.

Strong safety

The official word from Kiffin is that this spot is still open for the taking between Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright, but practice time says otherwise. Starling is taking nearly all of the first-team snaps while Wright watches and gets on the field with the second team.

Originally, this competition involved four people, but it's narrowed down over the weeks and now Starling has pretty much sealed it. Remember, though, that Starling also started off last season as the starter but didn't finish it, losing the spot to Marshall Jones late in the year.

Free safety T.J. McDonald said Wednesday, in his most convincing tone possible, that it doesn't matter who he plays next to between Starling and Wright.

Defensive end, Outside linebacker

These are the other technically-unresolved spots, with Wes Horton and Devon Kennard listed as co-starters at one end spot and four outside linebackers sharing the two starting spots.

But there's an easy resolution here, at first at least: The Trojans will be rotating all of the guys in, in some cases on almost a 50-50 basis. So consider this a postponement until later in the year, when one or two of the players at each position begin to emerge in the long term.

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