Lessons from USC's spring

Leadership and playmakers are present in big supply for the Trojans

Updated: April 20, 2012, 7:35 PM ET
By Garry Paskwietz | ESPN.com

Here are 10 things we learned from USC spring ball:

1. Depth issues can strike quickly: Welcome to the reality of USC football for the near future. With a reduced roster, it's easier to get caught short at certain positions if injuries start to hit. We saw it this spring with some of the offensive skill positions, and it stands to reason that those situations will pop up from time to time over the next few years.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comNot that it was a big shocker, but sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee confirmed his beast status this spring.
2. Marqise Lee is ready to take it to the next level: It's no secret that Lee exploded onto the scene last season as a freshman, but it was still impressive to see where he has taken his game as he heads into his sophomore year. If you ask those who attended spring practices, it would be a pretty good consensus that Lee was the top player on the field. That's a strong statement considering the level of talent on this team.

3. The Trojans have solid leadership: From Matt Barkley to T.J. McDonald to Nickell Robey, Khaled Holmes and Robert Woods, this team has a nucleus of veterans who should provide terrific leadership for a team looking to block out the hype of the upcoming season. On top of that, the coaching staff is solid in their roles, as evidenced by the smooth transition of three new assistants this spring.

4. The future of the USC quarterback position is in good hands: The competition for the No. 2 quarterback job between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler was not decided during spring. The good news is that it had nothing to do with the players failing to step up. Instead it was the fact that both players performed at a high enough level to stay in the race. The Trojans also learned who they will add to the competition next spring as Max Browne gave a verbal commit and will enroll early. Jesse Scroggins cost himself precious ground by not being available for the vast majority of spring.

5. The status of a nose tackle starter has yet to be decided: This will be the most important position to settle once fall camp rolls around. The Trojans simply need to be strong up the middle of the defense if they hope to make this a championship season. J.R. Tavai has the upper hand to be the starter but needs to add bulk. Antwaun Woods offers a bigger option, and he came a long way this offseason to even put himself in the competition. Woods was definitely one of the more pleasant surprises of spring. Cody Temple even showed well before he got hurt. This is a group with potential, it just needs to translate into a dependable group by the time the season rolls around.

6. Tre Madden is a unique talent: It speaks to the impact that Madden made in his two weeks at tailback when you hear Lane Kiffin speak about how much it hurt to lose him for the year with a knee injury. Kiffin has long wanted a power back as part of his offense, and he also isn't afraid to use some form of direct-snap wildcat plays. Madden showed that he had the potential to fill both roles, and there was a genuine buzz about what he was doing, it was also that much of a thud to suddenly lose him for the season.

[+] EnlargeWes Horton
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comWes Horton, along with fellow senior Devon Kennard, should give the Trojans quite a pass rush from the defensive end position.
7. The pass rush should be solid: There are concerns about the interior of the defensive line but there are no such worries about the end spots with seniors Wes Horton and Devon Kennard. These two are mature veterans who could end up forming a dominant pass rush duo. Nothing would make Ed Orgeron happier than to have a 1-2 punch where each can accumulate double-digit sacks.

8. Soma Vainuku is ready for a starting role: One of the big holes in the starting lineup coming into spring was at fullback after the departure of the versatile Rhett Ellison. Vainuku spent last year as a redshirt learning from Ellison and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu -- a former USC fullback himself -- and those teachings paid off as Vainuku had a real solid spring developing his blocking, running and receiving.

9. The coaches want to give Aundrey Walker every chance at LT: It was supposed to be a competition between Kevin Graf and Walker, but after a while it became pretty clear that the coaches wanted to see about making it work with Walker. Instead of alternating the players, as was planned, Graf was at LT for the first three practices and Walker was there for the remainder of spring. Kiffin admitted that Walker struggled at times in his play, but he also added that he was intrigued by the physical combination that Walker and LG Marcus Martin could provide.

10. This team is capable of big things: At the end of the day, you need talented players to win football games, and the Trojans have them. We don't know how the 2012 season is going to turn out, if the Trojans are going to make a run at the national title or if Matt Barkley is going to win the Heisman. But we will say this -- it's possible. All things are possible with this team. We've seen championship teams at USC in recent years, and this team has a similar look and feel.

Garry Paskwietz | email

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