What to look for this spring

LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans begin the 2012 spring ball session on Tuesday, and here is an overview of what to look for when the team takes the field.

Star Power
The hype and attention for the program over the past few years has seen a dip by USC standards, but this season has a chance to feel like 2005 all over again. Here are some of the headliners, names that will need no introduction to Trojans fans.

• QB Matt Barkley: The brightest star in the college football world this year.

• RB Curtis McNeal: There's a certain amount of cache that comes with being a returning 1,000-yard rusher at USC.

• WR Robert Woods: Has a chance to shatter the USC career receiving records before he is through.

• WR Marqise Lee: Has a chance to break Woods' receiving records before he is through.

• OL Khaled Holmes: Holmes has accomplished quite a double feat -- he's the No. 1 ranked senior center in the country and he's No. 1 on the USC team in GPA.

• DB T.J. McDonald: McDonald should be the senior enforcer in the secondary and a true leader of the defense.

• DB Nickell Robey: Tremendous athleticism and competitive spirit make Robey a fixture at cornerback.

Top position battles
• Backup QB (Cody Kessler, Jesse Scroggins, Max Wittek): In reality, there is a long way to go before one of these three will take over the reigns of the USC program, but this spring will offer a real look into how the competition is playing out so far.

• No. 3 wide receiver (Victor Blackwell, George Farmer, De'Von Flournoy): Farmer and Blackwell offer game-breaking potential, while Flournoy put together a real solid offseason during the winter throwing sessions.

• Left tackle (Kevin Graf, Aundrey Walker): Graf will get the first look at the starting spot, and he has every intention of locking it down right away. The coaches have said Walker definitely will get a look at some point in the spring.

• Starting cornerback spot opposite Robey (Anthony Brown, Torin Harris, Isiah Wiley): This could end up being one of the best competitions of the year. We could even see someone like Ryan Henderson jump into the mix. If Joshua Shaw becomes immediately eligible, it could get even more interesting.

Ready for more
• OL Cyrus Hobbi: A smart and versatile player who could see time this spring at both center and guard.

• DL J.R. Tavai: Undersized but a tremendous motor and power.

• DL George Uko: The team needs Uko to step into starting DT role and produce.

• RB D.J. Morgan: There's little doubt that the talent is there to be a dynamic tailback.

• DL Greg Townsend: Spent his redshirt year learning from the veterans, and that should pay off this spring.

Biggest holes to fill
• Fullback: The departure of Rhett Ellison leaves a huge hole at this important spot, but Soma Vainuku spent a year learning and training for his shot. It's here now.

• Left tackle: There aren't too many positions more important than the offensive tackle who will be protecting Barkley's blindside.

• Defensive tackle: Teams that win national titles are strong in the middle of the defensive line, period.

• Long snapper: Peter McBride has big shoes to fill, as Chris Pousson never missed a snap in four years at USC.

Fresh faces
• RB Buck Allen: Allen was a late arrival in the fall due to academics and missed all of fall camp before being relegated to service team duty the rest of the year. This spring will be the first opportunity to work full-time with Kennedy Polamalu, and the coach is looking forward to seeing what Allen offers as a "power back" option.

• DL Morgan Breslin: You can never have too many pass rushers in the Pac-12 Conference, and that's what Breslin brings to the table. It would be ideal if he can step in and provide a dependable option in the defensive end rotation.

• LB Scott Starr: Starr will head into spring as the leading candidate for the No. 2 job at middle linebacker, and this early enrollee couldn't ask for a better opportunity to hit the ground running.

• DB Josh Shaw: There is no word yet if Shaw will be eligible to play this season after requesting a family medical hardship waiver to avoid sitting out as a transfer. He's shown in winter workouts that he could provide an instant impact as a physical defensive back option, one who prefers to play corner.

Mystery Men
• OL Giovanni Di Poalo: Injuries have prevented any kind of impact in his first two years at USC.

• TE Christian Thomas: Has shown flashes of real talent, enough so that he's played two positions.

• DL Kevin Greene: A raw athlete who hasn't translated that potential to the field yet.

• DB Brian Baucham: Was once a rising star in the secondary, but that was three years ago.

• LB Marquis Simmons: Needs to step up this spring or risk dropping further on LB depth chart.

• DB Demetrius Wright: Got off to a fast start in fall camp last year but got hurt and hasn't done much since.

M*A*S*H unit
There are several players who will be limited this spring due to injuries. Here are three players to watch to see how their participation, or lack thereof, impacts their position group.

• WR Robert Woods (ankle): There isn't anything the USC coaches need to see from Woods on the field, so the priority will be making sure his ankle is right after being an issue during the 2011 season.

• OL Abe Markowitz (foot): Markowitz could offer a versatile and experienced option at all three of the interior line positions if he is available.

• DL Christian Heyward (shoulder): Heyward is penciled in as the primary backup to Uko heading into spring, and depth in the middle of the D-line is going to be a key area.

USC Spring Roster

USC Spring Prospectus

Spring Practice Schedule
Tuesday, March 6: 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 8: 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 10: 9 a.m.
Tuesday, March 20: 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 22: 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 24: 11 a.m. (L.A. Memorial Coliseum)
Tuesday, March 27: 4 p.m.
Thursday, March 29: 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 31: 11 a.m. (L.A. Memorial Coliseum)
Tuesday, April 3: 4 p.m.
Thursday, April 5: 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 7:11 a.m. (L.A. Memorial Coliseum)
Tuesday, April 10: 4 p.m.
Thursday, April 12: 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 14: 1:30 p.m. (Spring Game at L.A. Memorial Coliseum)

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.