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Monday, August 27, 2012
Taking a look at the depth chart

By Pedro Moura

USC released its season-opening depth chart Sunday night. Here are our brief takeaways, position by position:

Quarterback

As expected, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are still listed as co-backups to starter Matt Barkley. We should have a resolution soon, according to Lane Kiffin, who said Sunday he'd have something to say on the subject on "Tuesday morning."

For what it's worth, Kessler was listed first at the end of spring and Wittek was listed first this time. But they still had an all-caps "OR" in between their names both times.

Running back

This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart.

Curtis McNeal was expected to be the for-sure starter heading into camp, and that didn't change much when Silas Redd was added just days before. McNeal has done very little wrong over the last few weeks, yet, somehow, Redd's listed as his co-starter on the depth chart.

As the third-string running back, D.J. Morgan cannot afford to fumble this season. A turnover or two and his carries will be going to redshirt freshman Buck Allen, who has improved in camp.

Fullback

Soma Vainuku is the starter here. There was never any doubt.

Freshman Jahleel Pinner is listed as the second-stringer, but it's likely he'll redshirt, so third-stringer Charles Burks is probably bound for the backup role. Walk-on Hunter Simmons gets on the depth chart after re-joining the team this year.

Receiver

This is interesting.

For the first year the two were on campus together, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee played as the flanker and split end in USC's offense, respectively.

Now they've switched. Woods will be the split end and Lee will be the flanker. That doesn't necessarily mean all that much, as Woods in particular can play any position and Lee's getting there too, but it probably at least indicates that Lee's become the more dynamic receiver in Kiffin's eyes.

The third receiver spot might be split between De'Von Flournoy, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer, according to this depth chart. All five will play a good amount.

Tight end

Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer continue on as one of the more underrated tight-end tandems in the country while two young players wage a battle for the third-string slot.

If Junior Pomee is (1) healthy and (2) focused, he'll be the guy and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick can redshirt. If Pomee is not both of those things, then Cope-Fitzpatrick -- or JCF, as he's called -- will be playing this season.

JCF might still play on special teams even if Pomee's ready, though.

Offensive line

No real surprises here, other than maybe Cyrus Hobbi officially taking over the backup center role from Abe Markowitz.

Markowitz is still the lead backup, in all likelihood, at both backup guard spots, and it wouldn't be surprising if he got the call over Hobbi if Khaled Holmes were to go down.

Similarly, Max Tuerk will likely be the next tackle in if either Aundrey Walker or Kevin Graf get hurt at any point, even though walk-on Nathan Guertler is technically listed as the backup right tackle.

Defensive line

USC's first-day-of-camp move of J.R. Tavai to defensive end and Leonard Williams to defensive tackle has officially stuck.

Tavai will be starting opposite Wes Horton against Hawaii, and Williams will be George Uko's lone backup at three-technique tackle. As of right now, USC has only four tackles available, so there will certainly be depth questions there.

Antwaun Woods has looked better than expected in camp and should be able to handle nose tackle.

Linebackers

Hmm. Lamar Dawson is still listed as the first-string middle linebacker and will start there if healthy, per Kiffin, but Hayes Pullard has been practicing there for almost three weeks now.

Pullard will start somewhere, regardless. If Dawson plays, Pullard will simply slide back over to the weak side and push Anthony Sarao into the fourth-linebacker role. Dion Bailey is learning the weak side, too, so he can switch over from the strong side if it ever comes to it.

Defensive backs

Senior Jawanza Starling is still dealing with the pesky Demetrius Wright at safety, and it looks more and more like they'll split snaps at the start of the season.

The real interesting question here, then, is what the Trojans will do with Josh Shaw and Gerald Bowman, two transfers who have displayed impressive talent in camp. They're both listed as third-stringers for now, but that probably won't last long.

Walk-on cornerback Ryan Dillard has been practicing as the fourth corner of late, but he's listed as the sixth or seventh guy on this depth chart. Kevon Seymour looks like the opening-day choice to be the nickel back.

Special teams

So Kyle Negrete got a scholarship and then found out he was still competing for the starting punter job, all in one day. The senior will still have to fend off redshirt freshman Kris Albarado this year, apparently, as he attempts to follow up on his impressive 2011 season.

The least prominent Trojan listed on the depth chart at kick or punt returner is sophomore George Farmer, who was only the No. 1-rated prospect in the state of California in ESPNU's 2011 class.

According to the chart, Woods will be back to return on most every kick and McNeal or Lee will join him.