Trojans turn the page

USC opens spring practice hoping its next chapter offers more than did 2012

Updated: March 5, 2013, 1:34 PM ET
By Garry Paskwietz | WeAreSC

As the USC Trojans prepare for spring drills, we take a look at some of the key storylines with the team.

Turning the page: This has been the mantra from USC coaches and players as they look to move past what happened in 2012. One big way this has manifested itself is with the shake up in the coaching staff, most notably with the defensive coordinator. Clancy Pendergast comes in with plans for a different defense, one that offers multiple schemes and relies more on an attacking style. That has been music to the players' ears. There is also talk of a change in philosophy on offense to return to a more physical style of football. For USC fans who remember the toughness of Tailback U, that would be a welcome change, indeed.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comCody Kessler will make his case to be named Matt Barkley's successor when spring practice opens this week.
New quarterback: For the first time since 2008, the Trojans will go through a spring ball session without Matt Barkley and, for a team in transition, no spot is more important than quarterback. The competition to find Barkley's replacement should be strong, with three compelling candidates. You have Max Wittek, who started two games at the end of 2012 with mixed results. Wittek may begin spring as the No. 1 guy, but it's not a clear-cut standing by any means. Cody Kessler is eager to show that he is more than capable of earning the job, and there are a lot of people who agree. Max Browne joins in as an early enrollee freshman with all the potential in the world, but he's two years behind Wittek and Kessler on the learning curve.

Lee the leader: Marqise Lee is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, and he will be a leader of this team just by the fact of his sheer talent. But where will the other leadership come from? On offense, you have guys like Kevin Graf or maybe Silas Redd, while tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are also respected veterans. Hayes Pullard has shown increased leadership skills on defense. Other candidates would include Dion Bailey and Devon Kennard.

Position battles: The quarterback spot won't be the only one up for grabs. Center will be a key position in replacing Khaled Holmes. Right now, the job is wide open among Marcus Martin, Cyrus Hobbi and maybe even John Martinez.

The No. 2 receiver spot opposite Lee is critical, and it would appear that Nelson Agholor is the leading candidate ahead of De'Von Flournoy, George Farmer and Victor Blackwell.

On defense, the secondary could feature new starters at all four spots. The only returning starter is Josh Shaw, and he likely will move from corner to safety.

Coming back: The Trojans will get several key players back from injury this spring, at least in limited action, and it will be a good test to see the status of each player.Kennard is expected to play a major role at the stand-up DE/OLB position in the 5-2 defense as he returns from a pectoral injury. Tre Madden won't be cleared for contact with his injured knee, but he will do non-contact work at tailback. Another name to keep an eye on is Cody Temple. His ankle is still an issue, but he could provide good depth at nose tackle.

Ready for more: There are several second-year players who appear prepared to take a step up into a regular role. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will be needed even more now that the Trojans will be down to three tight ends. It remains to be seen what kind of role there will be this year for Jordan Simmons at offensive guard, but the scuttlebutt around the program is that he has a very bright future as an old-school bruiser. Jabari Ruffin saw time last fall at both outside linebacker and defensive end, which would seem to make him an ideal fit in the Pendergast system. Kevon Seymour showed enough in early playing time last fall to think that his man-to-man cover skills will earn him one of the open starting spots at corner.

Now or never: Every year, there are players who have been around for a few years but have yet to establish themselves. Now is the time to earn a regular spot or risk getting bypassed by the talented newcomers rising up. Farmer certainly has the skills to be a contributor at receiver, and he has put in extra time with the track team this spring. We will see if it pays off on the football field. D.J. Morgan is the biggest game-breaking threat in the backfield, but it's just a matter of earning the confidence of the head coach again after some fumbling issues. Anthony Brown is capable of claiming one of the corner spots but he also will have plenty of competition.

Early impact: Most of the chatter about the early entries centered around the defensive guys, but don't be surprised if Darreus Rogers makes a quick impact at receiver. He's a greyshirt who brings solid size and a physical nature to the position. Of course, on defense there are names like Kenny Bigelow, Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III. It wouldn't be a surprise if any of the three stand out and do something special this spring.

Let the games begin.

Garry Paskwietz | email

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