USC Football: Projecting Post-Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart
USC hasn't released its post-spring depth chart yet, but it's not hard to project who is going to end up where. After a spring dictated by more than a dozen veterans sitting out with injury, the fall camp position battles promise to be just as riveting as those we witnessed over the past two months.
A handful of younger Trojans impressed throughout spring camp, moving their respective names up the depth chart and putting themselves in a better position to earn starting time in August. And that's important, particularly in the secondary and at wide receiver, because the Trojans' 2014 signing class will be coming in ready to suit up as early as possible.
Listed by position from offense to defense, here's a look at how USC's depth chart could shake out as we head into the summer. USC's fall camp is scheduled to begin on Aug. 4.
Definitive starters are listed in bold and position battles still open are italicized. Asterisks indicate incoming freshmen.
Quarterback: Cody Kessler, Max Browne,
Cody Kessler learned near the end of spring camp that he will remain the Trojans' starting quarterback in 2014. His performance during the 2013 season coupled with the poise and growth he showed while learning Steve Sarkisian's new offense over the past month really sealed the deal in Kessler's favor.
That said, Sarkisian has indicated that there will still be some competition in the fall. Though he didn't shine as brightly as Kessler did, Browne displayed his killer arm strength and has all the makings of a future Trojan star.
Additionally, early enrollee Jalen Greene got some good looks in spring camp, though he was never seriously involved in the competition. During the spring game in particular, Greene impressed with his agility and quick legs. After some grooming, he will be giving Browne a run for his money in spring and fall camps to come.
Wide Receiver: Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell, Steven Mitchell
Wide Receiver: Darreus Rogers, George Farmer
Wide Receiver: Adoree' Jackson*, John "JuJu" Smith*
Aside from Nelson Agholor, the wide receiver spots in Troy are up for grabs. Darreus Rogers (22 receptions, 257 yards in 2013) is likely to start opposite him, as he is the most experienced Trojan currently on roster. USC has an awfully thin wide receiver corps thanks to injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell. For the first time since he got to USC, Farmer is healthy and looks to contribute in the fall, while Mitchell will return from knee injury in August as well.
Victor Blackwell, who hasn't really left a mark yet in his years at USC, will also look to dig himself out of a depth chart that will soon get a little more crowded with promising talent.
When fall practices begin in four months, a pair of incoming freshmen in Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith are likely to spend at least the early weeks of camp lining up both at receiver and in the secondary. These blue-chip signees are touted as game ready; it's possible that, given the Trojans' anemic receiver corps, we see both or either of them in the starting lineup.
Tight End: Randall Telfer
Tight End: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Bryce Dixon*
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was the only scholarship tight end available to USC during spring camp, and he performed well enough to secure himself a starting spot in the fall. And that's important, because incoming freshman Bryce Dixon, a 4-star tight end ranked No. 2 in his class, is coming to USC because he knows he can get early playing time. It's likely that there is some competition there, but it's safe to say that as of now, a starting spot is Cope-Fitzpatrick's to lose.
Returning senior Randall Telfer is still healing from a lingering knee injury, and we don't know how much of him we will get in the fall. That's all the more reason for Cope-Fitzpatrick to keep improving through the offseason and for Dixon to come in ready to learn his assignments.
Left Tackle: Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah, Jordan Austin
Left Guard: Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama*, Jordan Simmons
Center: Max Tuerk, Giovanni Di Poalo
Right Guard: Khaliel Rodgers, Aundrey Walker, Chris Brown*, Viane Talamaivao*,
Right Tackle: Zach Banner, Nico Falah
Of all the position groups in USC, the offensive line is the one in the most state of flux. Injuries kept returning starters like Aundrey Walker from competing in the spring, and NFL departures left other positions wide open for the taking.
Over the past month, we saw Toa Lobendahn prove his worth as an early enrollee, Max Tuerk show his versatility by making yet another position change and doing so seamlessly and Khaliel Rodgers step up to be a starter after grinding on the practice field in 2013. Zach Banner also returned from injury and will provide competition for the often lackluster Walker.
On top of all that, Chris Brown, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama enter the mix in the fall, and any of these guys could easily get into the starting rotation.
We don't know much of what will happen with this group and how it will ultimately take shape, but we do know one thing: Musical positions is going to be the name of the game in the fall until Sark and Tim Drevno figure out which group of men will provide the Trojans with the best, most composed O-line.
Projected starter: Soma Vainuku, Jahleel Pinner
After a redemptive 2013 campaign, Soma Vainuku has proven to be an absolute beast of a fullback for the Trojans, particularly on special teams. He spent his early years in Troy struggling to fill the shoes left by former Trojan Stanley Havili, and a bad case of ill-timed drops against Stanford in 2012 left Trojan fans with hard feelings against Vainuku.
After a handful of blocked punts, crushing tackles and big catches in 2013, Vainuku has finally arrived.
Behind him is Jahleel Pinner, who has yet to record a single carry in his USC career. With part of the Trojans' stable of running backs sidelined with injury in the spring, Pinner got a lot of reps and is expected to have more of a role going forward.
Tailback: Javorius "Buck" Allen or Tre Madden, Ty Isaac, Justin Davis
USC has a stable of running back talent and four returning backs that each had the spotlight at various points over the 2013 season. After bursting on the scene and making many question why Lane Kiffin kept him buried on the depth chart, Buck Allen (135 carries for 785 yards, 14 TDs) headlines this bruising bunch. Co-starting with him is Tre Madden (138 carries, 703 yards, three TDs), who started off 2013 hot before a hamstring injury slowed him through the rest of the season. Between the two, we can expect an explosive, powerful running game.
When they need a breather, Ty Isaac and the still-healing Justin Davis will fill in seamlessly. Before Davis went down with injury, he stood out as the one of the Trojans' top running backs, and he had the best hands. Ty Isaac has bulked up (subscription required) this offseason to a muscular 240 pounds. Coupled with his existing 6'3" frame, this unique back is going to give opposing defenses one heck of a time when they try and bring him down.
Defensive Tackle: Claude Pelon, Greg Townsend Jr., Don Hill*
Nose Tackle: Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow, Cody Temple
Defensive End: Leonard Williams, Delvon Simmons, Charles Burks
Rush End: J.R. Tavai or Scott Starr, Charles Burks, Malik Dorton*
USC touts one of the best defensive lines in the country, and even though it has lost some key starters, those holes have been filled by promising talent.
Leonard Williams will return in the fall to anchor this unit at defensive end, with Delvon Simmons backing him up. The Texas Tech transfer started in place of Williams this spring, and his preexisting experience saw that he transitioned well to the Trojans defense. Similarly, junior college transfer Claude Pelon has entered Troy and cemented himself as a viable candidate to start at defensive tackle.
Joining them are Antwaun Woods and either J.R. Tavai or Scott Starr. Woods really impressed Sark this offseason and continues to grow into a formidable nose tackle. Tavai turned heads in 2013 when he stepped up and started over the then-injured Morgan Breslin in 2013, and he did so without a hitch. His experience gives him a leg up over Scott Starr, but he too blossomed during the spring. Newcomer Malik Dorton joins USC in August and will learn the ropes from these two, but he likely won't be involved in fighting for a starting spot.
That competition will resume in the fall, but we can expect to see plenty of both Tavai and Starr going forward.
Sam Linebacker: Quinton Powell or Jabari Ruffin, Olajuwon Tucker*
Mike Linebacker: Hayes Pullard, Michael Hutchings
Will Linebacker: Anthony Sarao or Lamar Dawson
Only Hayes Pullard is guaranteed to get his starting spot back in 2014, as the Trojans' leading tackler (94) returns to patrol the middle of the field on defense. Michael Hutchings comes back from injury in August, and he will continue learning from Pullard before getting some time in backup situations next season.
At Will and Sam, the competitions have cooled off from the spring, but they will get hot again in just a few months.
Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell duked it out all spring, each getting first-team reps. Who wins the job is anyone's guess at this point, so this is another battle to pay close attention to come August.
Lamar Dawson's injury kept him sidelined all spring, so Anthony Sarao had nearly exclusive reps with the first team at the Will position. Dawson has largely underwhelmed thus far through his career, and Sarao very easily could earn himself the starting job as a result.
Cornerback: Kevon Seymour, Ryan Dillard, Anthony Brown, Jonathan Lockett*
Cornerback: Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins, Adoree' Jackson*, John Plattenburg Jr.*
One of the Trojans' deepest groups, the cornerbacks corps has a lot of bodies but not a lot of proven talent behind the starters.
We know Kevon Seymour has locked his spot down after impressing in the latter half of 2013 and continuing to do the same this spring. Josh Shaw has maintained that he will stay at corner in 2014, but Sark has remained mum on this. If he does move back to safety, Chris Hawkins has shown enough to suggest he would be a worthy replacement. If Shaw stays, then expect to see a lot of Hawkins anyway as a backup.
As previously mentioned, incoming freshman Adoree' Jackson will arrive in Troy ready to play. How he fits into the mix is yet to be determined, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to see him vault up the depth chart.
If they all stay healthy, the Trojans will be able to have quite the cornerback rotation, something they haven't been able to have due to depth problems for a few years now.
Free Safety: Leon McQuay III
Strong Safety: Su'a Cravens, John "JuJu" Smith*, Gerald Bowman
The Trojans pretty much have no depth at safety behind Leon McQuay and Su'a Cravens, but a couple incoming freshmen will bolster the group just a bit. Fortunately for USC, both McQuay and Cravens are more than capable starters, with Cravens in particular being one of the Trojans' most prolific playmakers. As a freshman, Cravens finished second on the team in interceptions (four) and had 53 tackles. He's a stud, and he's only going to get better.
Because USC seems to be pretty set here, JuJu Smith might see more time as a wide receiver in the early weeks of fall camp. But both he and Gerald Bowman will get some reps in the rotation nonetheless.
In the recent past, there was a noticeable drop in talent when the starting defensive backs came out of games for substitutions. This season, the talent gap shouldn't be as drastic, as Smith is coming in game ready and Bowman had a strong spring after missing all of 2013 with a serious leg injury.