LOS ANGELES -- There aren't going to be many balls left over on a team that has receivers such as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. As good as Matt Barkley is, even he will have his limits, so it remains to be seen just how the distribution of passes will look for the remaining offensive skill players.
Normally a No. 3 receiver would be next in line to get touches, but so far there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut person for the job. George Farmer was the odds-on favorite for so long, but he couldn't stay healthy enough to claim the spot. De'Von Flournoy did enough early in camp to move into the lead for the role, but Nelson Agholor was the first one off the bench Saturday against Hawaii.
Coach Lane Kiffin said Agholor had a good end to fall camp and has been coming along lately. Kiffin might be inclined to leave Agholor, a true freshman, in the spot, because he won't be required to carry much of a load this year, not with a pair of tight ends like the Trojans have in Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble.
In fact, Telfer and Grimble have shown so much as pass-catchers that it wouldn't be a surprise to see them at No. 3 and 4 on the pass receptions list at the end of the year. In an era where athletic tight ends are at a premium, the Trojans are in good shape with this duo.
Grimble is a 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore who started seven games last season and made 15 catches for 144 yards and four touchdowns. Telfer is a 6-foot-4, 255-pound sophomore who started five games and caught 26 passes (a USC freshman tight end record) for 273 yards and five touchdowns.
They are big, they are strong, they are fast and they are basically interchangeable.
"That's kind of what we've been working toward," Grimble said. "You know, if I'm in the game, he can do whatever I can do. If he's in the game I can do whatever he can do. Trying to both be really versatile, so coach can do whatever he wants."
The improvement in the passing game is by design for the second-year co-starters. Last season the focus of the coaches was in teaching them the position, with blocking as the first priority. This year, USC tight ends coach Justin Mesa says that teaching them more details of the pass offense is what will help make them true all-around tight ends.
"Knowing where the ball is going to be on certain routes, where it's coming from. Those are the kind of steps they are taking this year, and they've definitely improved, they just have a long way to go too," Mesa said.
Part of those details involved extended work with Barkley and preparing more as a wide receiver would, with a focus on precision, timing and route running.
"I think there has been an improved trust between them and Barkley," Mesa said.
Against Hawaii, Telfer had an 11-yard touchdown catch in the first half, while Grimble had a key 31-yard reception which helped lead to a Trojans score.
Telfer said the increased attention to pass-catching detail from the coaches will only help to increase the value that he brings to the table with Grimble.
"This year we're working a lot on our hand placements, knowing where a defender will be, how to run our routes. We're really growing into the position a lot more," Telfer said. "It can definitely help out the team if Xavier and I can use our speed and athleticism; other teams may not have that, and we can use it to our advantage."