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Monday, March 5, 2012
Spring position preview: Special teams

By Pedro Moura

We’re doing position previews leading up to spring practice, breaking down one group’s depth chart each day, paying special attention to things that can change in the spring.

We’ve looked at the quarterbacksrunning backsreceiverstight endsoffensive linemendefensive linemenlinebackerscornerbacks and safeties so far. Today, we finish things up with the special teams.

USC lost a four-year starter to graduation this winter in long snapper Chris Pousson, but the Trojans already had his replacement ready in Peter McBride, a 2011 signee who redshirted last season.

McBride was one of the top snappers available in that class. He's small -- at a listed 205 pounds, he's 45 less than Pousson -- but he's proven to be technically proficient. The transition shouldn't be terribly difficult.

And the Trojans also have returning starters at kicker and punter in Andre Heidari and Kyle Negrete. Heidari was downright awesome last season, one of the best kickers in the country; Negrete was efficient, downing roughly half his punts inside the 20-yard line and hitting zero touchbacks the entire year.

One interesting thing: Negrete, now a senior to-be, wasn't supposed to win the job last year. That was supposed to be freshman Kris Albarado, another scholarship player in the Class of 2011. But it made some sense for Negrete to punt last season, since Albarado had his redshirt year available.

But what about now? What about now that USC has one scholarship punter and one walk-on both using up years of eligibility? Will the walk-on -- Negrete -- continue to punt over the guy getting a free education?

For what the Trojans needed last season, Negrete was the perfect punter. The offense didn't fail a ton, but when it did, he could consistently pin the opponents back deep in their own territory.

It seems like they'll need the same sort of thing in 2012, which means Negrete is likely to keep the job for another year and Albarado is likely to take over the job as a third-year sophomore in 2013.

If anything's going to change on this front, we'll likely see the start of it this spring.

One other thing: The returner spots are also interesting openings this year, because it's likely USC won't want to use Curtis McNeal or Robert Woods there often to preserve the skill position players' health. So who could emerge there?

Freshman Nelson Agholor will be a prime candidate, but he won't arrive until the summer. We'll see who else shortly.

Check back later today for five final questions before spring practice begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. for USC.