Trojans cheat sheet

A guide to which USC players to keep an eye on as the 2012 season opens

Updated: August 27, 2012, 9:13 PM ET
By Garry Paskwietz | WeAreSC

LOS ANGELES -- As the Trojans wrap up fall camp and begin preparations for the 2012 season, here is an overview of where things stand coming out of camp:

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
Chris Williams/Icon SMISafety T.J. McDonald will be in the all-America conversation as he leads an experienced USC defense.

Top Of their game

These players have shown that they are among the nation's best at their position, truly elite players who will be counted on to play key roles for the Trojans as they embark on what could be a special season.

QB Matt Barkley: A leading contender for the Heisman Trophy and quite possibly the single most valuable player in all of college football.

WR Robert Woods: The technician at wide receiver, ultra-competitive and looks to be recovered from the ankle injury that he played with last year.

WR Marqise Lee: The dynamic big-play guy, his performance took the offense to another level in 2011. Lane Kiffin thinks he could eventually be the best receiver in USC history.

FS T.J. McDonald: The enforcer in the secondary. McDonald will patrol the back end of the Trojans defense with his usual physical style.

OC Khaled Holmes: The anchor of the USC offensive line is entering his sixth season blocking for Barkley (three in high school, three in college).

CB Nickell Robey: This highly athletic corner will match up with any receiver, and his spirit embodies what this team is all about.

Ready for spotlight

After contributing as first-year players in 2011, these guys are ready to claim even more of a spotlight role this season.

DT George Uko: All signs point to Uko being the next dominant interior lineman for Ed Orgeron and the Trojans.

Tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble: It's hard to separate these two. It doesn't really matter, because both are going to be effective weapons for Kiffin this year.

Double whammy

Kiffin talked throughout the offseason about his concerns with the depth at tailback. As it stands, the Trojans will enter the season with two 1,000-yard rushers.

TB Curtis McNeal: This dynamo came on in the second half of 2011 and showed big-play ability on his way to cementing the starting spot.

TB Silas Redd: The Trojans couldn't have asked for a more timely transfer. The former Penn State star has transitioned seamlessly to the USC backfield and will provide a nice complement to McNeal.

Unsung heroes

This team has plenty of star power but these players have flown under the radar to provide valuable contributions.

DE Wes Horton: The only returning starter on an inexperienced D-line, Horton has 22 career starts and will be counted on to lead the pass rush this season.

Offensive guards John Martinez and Marcus Martin: Offensive linemen don't normally get a lot of attention, but it doesn't take away from the solid job these two have done in the interior for the offense.

Stepping up

These players have made great strides in the offseason and are primed for even bigger performances in the coming year.

RT Kevin Graf: He added weight, added speed and dropped body fat. In short, Graf showed up to camp in terrific shape and the results can be seen on the field.

LB Hayes Pullard: There might not be a player on the team who has made a more noticeable leap in his game than Pullard. Expect him to grow into a leader of the defense.

Opportunity knocks

The Trojans didn't come into camp with many holes, but these two positions had pretty glaring openings.

CB Anthony Brown: Steps into the starting spot vacated by Isiah Wiley and figures to get plenty of balls thrown his way as teams avoid Robey.

LT Aundrey Walker: The starting left tackle in 2011 allowed no sacks and was the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft. The standard is high for Walker.

Surprises

Don't be caught off-guard if these two newcomers play important roles for the Trojans this year.

FB Soma Vainuku: Vainuku has been dubbed "The Tongan Tank" by running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu. He can run, he can catch and he can block. And, by the way, he's 250 pounds and runs a sub-4.5 40.

NT Antwaun Woods: A wide-body guy who takes up space and brings a physical style of play. He fits in perfectly as the kind of stocky nose tackle that USC has seen with Mike Patterson and Jurrell Casey.

Top freshmen

It didn't take long for these first-year players to show that their futures are bright at USC.

OT Max Tuerk: Kiffin said Tuerk was more advanced in fall camp than Marcus Martin was last year. Martin ended up as a starter and performed well. Tuerk was also given No. 75, the same jersey worn by Matt Kalil. No pressure there.

DT Leonard Williams: If you want to talk comparisons, how about when Orgeron said Williams reminded him of Shaun Cody? It doesn't get much better than that for a USC D-lineman. This guy can play.

Best position battles

One of the best parts of a fall camp is watching players jockeying for spots on the depth chart, here are two battles that stood out.

No 2 QB: The competition between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek has been about as even as it gets. Kiffin said he will have a status update this week on which one will be the top reserve entering the season.

Cornerback: One corner spot is set with Robey but the other side has seen a lot of rotation. The returning starter was Wiley, but he is no longer on the team. Brown, Torin Harris, Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour all got a look, and it appears that Brown has earned the spot for now.

Garry Paskwietz | email

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