Kessler makes his move

As the Trojans pass the midway point of spring, it has become clear that several players have stepped up their games in an effort to earn more playing time. Here's a look at those who have improved their stocks since last fall:

QB Cody Kessler: There were many who wondered if Kessler would transfer this offseason because of the appearance that the starting quarterback job was Max Wittek's to lose. Instead, Kessler has come out this spring and been surprisingly consistent and efficient while earning praise from USC coach Lane Kiffin as a "gamer." This is now a genuine quarterback competition which will continue into the fall.

TB Buck Allen: Simply put, Allen hadn't shown much in his first two years at USC, and there wasn't a lot of anticipation for him breaking out this spring. Allen claims it was just a matter of learning the playbook, something that clicked for him this winter, and it has helped result in a solid showing so far. He has a slashing style of running and has seen extended work with starter Silas Redd sidelined with an injury.

WR George Farmer: When is the real George Farmer going to show up? That's a question USC fans have been asking for two years as they waited for the much-hyped prep star to translate those talents at the college level. Injuries have certainly played a factor in Farmer's delayed development, but he is healthy now and playing good football. His role likely will include more of the "physical catches, the tough plays," as Kiffin described, as opposed to the straight game-breaker style of a Marqise Lee.

TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick: There's no question Cope-Fitzpatrick has the potential to be the next talented USC tight end, but his career clock was somewhat moved forward this offseason with the roster departures of Christian Thomas and Junior Pomee. So far it looks as if Cope-Fitzpatrick is more than ready for the challenge. He has a tree trunk of a body to go along with good athleticism.

LB Lamar Dawson: Kiffin has made it clear that his choice for most improved player of spring is Dawson, and it's hard to argue with that choice. Dawson has been active and physical in this new 5-2 defensive scheme, two traits he didn't show a lot last year. There was speculation the new defense would fit Dawson well, and so far that has been the case, but Kiffin says it's also a case of a player maturing into his game as he enters his third season on campus.

LB Anthony Sarao: As good as Dawson has looked, he still hasn't been able to dislodge Sarao from the starting Will linebacker spot. Sarao brings a very aggressive nature to the position, and he is all over the field. It remains to be seen who will get the starting nod, but it's safe to say the Trojans have a pair of very capable players here.

CB Ryan Henderson: Another player in his third year who appears to have benefited from the change in defensive scheme, Henderson is a solid tackler who is taking advantage of the way in which Clancy Pendergast uses his corners. Henderson gained a lot of attention in high school with a nation-leading SPARQ score, but it has been his physical play which has raised the most eyebrows so far. For a USC corner position that is looking for players to step up, Henderson could fill a major role if he continues to progress.