USC Football: 10 Trojans That Made the Most of Spring Camp
A handful of Trojans had the opportunity to rise up the depth charts during spring camp due to limited depth, and many of them rose to the occasion. With a whole month of virtually competition-free practices for some positions, these athletes were able to show the coaches that they're ready for greater responsibility.
Position battles will resume in the fall, but thanks to promising performances this spring (particularly on the offensive line and in the secondary), the coaches will have some options in terms of who to start. And that's a good thing, because for the first time in a few years, the Trojans should have quality depth across all positions.
Listed from offense to defense, here's a look at the 10 theoretical winners of spring duels that really made their move during this month.
OL Toa Lobendahn
Early enrollee Toa Lobendahn came to USC in January, and already is playing like he has lots of college experience. Lobendahn started his Trojan career getting reps behind Max Tuerk at center, but after just a few practices, the coaches moved him to left guard. He got first-team reps through the rest of camp and showed exactly why the coaches were so eager to get him to Troy early. A talented presence on the O-line, Lobendahn stood out for his ability to contend with the very physical, more experienced veterans USC touts on its defensive line.
In the fall, Jordan Simmons will return from injury, and the likes of Damien Mama, Chris Brown and Viane Talamaivao will enter the mix, but Lobendahn did enough during five weeks of camp to prove he is starter material.
OL Zach Banner
Zach Banner missed nearly all of the 2013 campaign due to having surgery on both hips, but his performance in spring camp gives no indication that there's been any lingering hang-ups because of them. The coaches moved him to right tackle, and despite his tall, 6'9" frame, he has flourished at that spot. He's been injured for most of his time at USC thus far, so the fact that he seemed to pick up the new scheme so quickly as well as look good in it, really impressed the coaches.
Barring any kind of regression, we can expect Banner to keep the starting spot that he certainly earned this spring.
OL Khaliel Rodgers
Another offensive lineman that stood out this spring was Khaliel Rodgers. Capitalizing on the absence of Aundrey Walker, Rodgers used the spring to show that he is ready to be more of an active participant in the Trojan offense. He got first-team reps all spring, and there's no reason to think he won't stay there in the fall. Prior to this spring, Rodgers had earned a reputation for being really competitive on the practice field, and he was really able to further that idea for the new coaching staff.
Because Walker has underwhelmed so much throughout his career at USC and has been unable to stay healthy, it is very likely that we see Rodgers maintain his place ahead of Walker going forward. However it shakes out, the Trojans have at least one very capable right guard in the mix.
TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick didn't really have a choice but to step it up during the spring thanks to the NFL departure of Xavier Grimble and the ongoing rehabilitation of Randall Telfer. That said, Cope-Fitzpatrick got exclusive reps with the first-team offense and really stood out in the scheme implemented by Steve Sarkisian that relies heavily on quality tight ends. He has ideal size (6'4", 255 lbs) and reliable hands that make him a very attractive target for quarterback Cody Kessler. He hardly dropped any passes thrown his way throughout camp, and that's certainly something to earn him high praise from Sark.
When Telfer returns from injury, the two of them should continue the stellar tight end play that we have come to associate with Sark's offense.
DL Delvon Simmons
Delvon Simmons had to sit out 2013 due to transfer rules, but the former Texas Tech defensive lineman really jumped right into the thick of things with the Trojans this spring. He started 13 times for the Red Raiders in 2012, and his performance this spring was indicative of that experience. After more grooming, Simmons should continue to mesh with the already-formidable Trojan D-line.
Look for him to further impress come the fall.
DL Claude Pelon
Like Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon brings existing collegiate experience to the table that has helped him really immerse himself in the Trojan way. It took him some time to get in shape and adjust to the new tempo at which the Trojans practice, but once he got there, he really improved and impressed the coaching staff.
He looked particularly strong in the spring game, where he had two sacks and three tackles for loss.
LB Scott Starr
Scott Starr has spent his first two years at USC dealing with minor injuries and being buried on the depth chart, but vacated starting spots have given Starr the opportunity to rise up. He burst onto the scene this spring as a very fit rush end who fits perfectly into defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 multiple front scheme. He's competing with J.R. Tavai for the starting spot at rush end, and that intense, exciting battle will continue in the fall.
Coming into the spring, it was thought that Tavai was a shoo-in for the rush end position because of his experience backing up Morgan Breslin, but Starr has given him a run for his money. Starr really needed to step it up this spring if he didn't want to fall behind the incoming talent the Trojans have, and so far, he is proving to do just that.
LB Jabari Ruffin
Like Starr, Jabari Ruffin has greatly benefited from USC's defensive schematic change. His 6'3", 225-pound frame makes him the perfect Sam linebacker for Justin Wilcox and the Trojans, and his growth in the spring alone proves that. He started practices behind Quinton Powell, another rising talent in Troy, but finished the spring by running with the first team.
That's not to say Ruffin has definitely won out here, but to say that he used his five weeks of spring camp to show the coaches he should be considered for more than a reserve role.
LB Quinton Powell
Quinton Powell began the spring as the starting Sam linebacker, but due to the remarkable effort of his competitor, Jabari Ruffin, Powell ended spring camp with the second team. Still, the Florida native continued to shine in his own right throughout practices. Both he and Ruffin are excellent both in coverage and at the line of scrimmage, something the Trojans are looking for in their linebackers to really contend with the pass-happy spread offenses in the Pac-12.
Whether he ends up starting or splitting time with Ruffin in 2014, Powell is another young Trojan to get to know between now and August.
CB Chris Hawkins
After redshirting his freshman year at USC, Chris Hawkins has had a very productive and impressive spring camp. He lined up opposite Kevon Seymour while Josh Shaw continued to heal, and should the coaches ultimately decide to move Shaw back to safety, Hawkins has shown he is ready to start. His development has been a bright spot in the secondary, a unit that has struggled with consistency in coverage over the past few seasons.
Even if Hawkins is relegated to a reserve in 2014, he will be a more-than-capable backup to Shaw, something the Trojans need to avoid having significant drops in productivity once the starters come out of a game.
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