Lee, interior linemen stand out
Injuries to skill positions made it tough for the offense during spring ball
LOS ANGELES -- To start each spring practice this year, the USC Trojans were greeted by the words "Prep not hype" painted on the field. While it will be tough to ignore the hype that continues to build as the 2012 season approaches, WeAreSC takes a look back at spring ball, and where the Trojans now stand after 15 practices. Thursday will be a look at the offense, while the defensive look will come Friday.
It was an interesting spring for Matt Barkley, as his interception total climbed, but any panic about what that would mean for the fall remained relatively low. USC coach Lane Kiffin offered the thought that Barkley was bored, working through his fourth spring ball, but Barkley quickly shot that down, saying he enjoyed staying involved with practices while not taking as many reps. Whatever the reason for the interceptions, there wasn't much cause for alarm, as Barkley had brilliant moments throughout and guided the team like a seasoned veteran.
This position offered the biggest storyline of the spring, as Tre Madden made the move from linebacker to tailback early on and was a revelation. He likely was playing his way into big minutes this fall, but a torn ligament will keep him out the entire 2012 season. That left the Trojans with just three healthy tailbacks, and while Curtis McNeal had a workmanlike spring and D.J. Morgan showed flashes and feels healthier than he has during his USC career, Buck Allen remains something of a mystery. A hamstring issue kept him out for all but the final week of the spring, and that didn't provide much time to get a good feel for what he is capable of bringing to the rotation. He certainly did enough during that limited time to keep him in the mix as an intriguing option this fall.
The hope for the USC coaches this spring was that Soma Vainuku would step up and take firm control over the fullback position, and Vainuku seemed to do exactly that. He showed well in all three phases -- blocking, receiving and rushing -- which is imperative for a USC fullback. The Trojans also received a surprise from Hunter Simmons, who returned to the team this spring. While Simmons likely won't push Vainuku for significant playing time this fall, it was a huge benefit to add a player who could provide solid reps and give Vainuku some needed rest.
The position was hurt by the absence of Robert Woods, who missed the spring as he continued his recovery from ankle surgery, and George Farmer, who sat out all but about three practices with a hamstring injury. Lane Kiffin noted Farmer's missed time as one of the bigger disappointments of the spring, as he turned in a phenomenal first day before spending considerable time on the sidelines. But the group also offered some pleasant surprises.
Marqise Lee was the most talented player on the field throughout virtually the entire spring. There was no answer for him, as he carried the load offensively. The improved play of De'Von Flournoy ranks up there with the top surprises of the spring. He stepped up as the No. 2 receiver and was far more consistent catching the ball than he had been throughout his career. And while Victor Blackwell didn't carry his strong start all the way through spring ball, there were enough glimpses that made it seem as if he could realistically be in the mix this fall.
If any position deserves an "incomplete" grade this spring, it's this spot. The Trojans lost co-starters Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer early to toe and hamstring injuries, respectively. Junior Pomee was lost for an extended period with a foot injury. And Christian Thomas sat out the spring as he recovers from hip surgery. Despite the injuries, there isn't much panic about this group. Grimble returned for the final week and looks to have taken another step after an impressive redshirt freshman season. Though he didn't see much action throughout spring, Pomee again showed signs that he could be a big addition to the group this fall.
The most talked about story on the offensive line was the decision to leave Kevin Graf at right tackle and give Aundrey Walker the nod at left tackle. The spring started with the two players reversed, but after the first week, the move was made. It remains to be seen how Walker will fit in at left tackle, as Kiffin said several times that while he does flash potential, there are still some things to work on at that spot.
But perhaps the least talked about story this spring was just how good the interior of the line performed. Khaled Holmes missed some time due to a calf injury, but when he was in place, sandwiched by Marcus Martin at left guard and John Martinez at right, the trio was terrific. Kiffin called attention to it after one practice, saying that he was pleased by the way the interior of the line was performing. Behind the starters, there were solid contributions from Abe Markowitz, who filled in at center and left guard, and Cyrus Hobbi, who also spent time at center and guard.