Spring Practice Primer: USC Trojans
the Trojans must replace Matt Barkley and rebuild their secondary.
College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the USC Trojans and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice begins: March 5
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 7-6
Returning starters: 14 (eight offense, six defense)
No coach in the country is on a hotter seat than Lane Kiffin heading into the 2013 season. The Trojans started out preseason No. 1 last year but ended up 7-6 with an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Kiffin doesn't have much time to turn things around, and he must do so while trying to break in a new quarterback and secondary. He'll count on an overhauled coaching staff, and his talented roster to do the trick.
The Least You Should Know About USC This Spring
-- Life must go on after Barkley. USC's all-time leading passer, Matt Barkley, is gone and there will be a new quarterback under center this fall for the first time since 2008. Max Wittek has the most experience after starting two games in 2012, and he heads into spring with a slight edge over fellow sophomore Cody Kessler. Highly-touted true freshman Max Browne is in school already and will also take a shot at it. The offense was a mess last season, and a sense of urgency is needed. But Kiffin might be hamstrung by his own scheme, which takes time to learn and is not necessarily user-friendly for young quarterbacks. The goal for Kiffin will be to find a starter, get him ready as soon as possible and hope he plays well enough to keep him from getting fired.
-- The offensive line needs stability. Last year's offensive line led the Pac-12 in fewest sacks allowed, but it was constantly shuffling players around and never could settle on a steady front five. New offensive line coach Mike Summers' first order of business is to find someone to replace All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes. Candidates include tackle Max Tuerk, guards Marcus Martin and John Martinez and last year's backup, Cyrus Hobbi. The left tackle position is also a question mark, with junior Aundrey Walker struggling there last fall and Tuerk, who filled in for him at times as a true freshman, possibly heading inside. A bevy of talented redshirt freshmen are available, too, and they'll all get tons of reps this spring. How the line comes together in the next two weeks could help determine the success of the USC offense in the fall.
-- Rebuilding the secondary. Safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling, plus cornerback Nickell Robey, have moved on to the NFL, so new defensive coordinator/secondary coach Clancy Pendergast has to rebuild this unit. He has no shortage of experience to draw from at safety, with LB Dion Bailey (who will sit out the spring) moving over to his more natural position and Josh Shaw, Gerald Bowman and Demetrius Wright all being veteran players. But don't count out incoming freshmen Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay, both of whom are already enrolled in school. At corner, senior Torin Harris has started off and on for much of his injury-riddled career. He and junior Anthony Brown (who has also started some) will be challenged by freshmen Kevon Seymour, Devian Shelton and Chris Hawkins. It's also possible that McQuay gets a look at corner, too.
-- Acclimating to the new coaches. Kiffin hired a new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, running backs coach and offensive line coach in the offseason. He also promoted quarterbacks coach Clay Helton to offensive coordinator. The idea was to inject some urgency into a program that has gone into the tank in the last six months or so. Defensive coordinator Pendergast will move away from Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme to a hybrid 5-2/3-4 defensive alignment, so this spring will be critical for the defense to get up to speed. The offense has a lot of kinks to work out, and the hope is that the new coaches will bring some new energy to that side of the ball. But will Kiffin give up playcalling duties? Don't bet on it.
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