USC has begun finalizing its depth chart, announcing freshman quarterback Cody Kessler, not fellow freshman signal caller Max Wittek, will begin the year serving as the backup to junior quarterback Matt Barkley.
“Both guys played great and either could be the quarterback whenever Matt leaves,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins was the leading candidate for the position following spring practice, but he tore ligaments in his throwing thumb during the team’s second scrimmage.
With Scroggins expected to make a full return to the Trojans soon, Kessler’s stranglehold on the No. 2 quarterback position might not last.
“[Scroggins] will be in the mix,” Kiffin said. “When that time comes, we will go back to that.”
Kessler, however, remains optimistic about his new role, citing maturity and focus as the reasons for his strong play this fall.
“You can’t go in and play like a freshman,” Kessler said. “Show confidence, be levelheaded on the field and don’t try to force anything that would make the play worse.”
But with Wittek, a highly regarded quarterback in his own right still on the roster, Kessler’s battle to nab the starting job was made even more difficult.
“Coach Kiffin prepares every guy the same way,” Kessler said. “You have to come out and compete. You can’t have a bad day.”
Though Kessler showed poise beyond his years under center, similarly, redshirt freshman tailback, D.J. Morgan has become more consistent and is improving in his own right, according to the coaching staff.
Though the tailback position is currently unsettled, Morgan said that senior tailback Marc Tyler has been a mentor to him as he adjusts to the play calling.
“If I have a question, mess up or think I messed up, I just ask Marc and make corrections if they need to be done” Morgan said. “I want to become an every down back.”
Because of the absence of Tyler, Morgan has taken advantage of getting more snaps.
“With less backs, I’m getting more reps,” he said. “I can learn while I am doing it rather than watching someone else.”
Tyler, who rejoined the team for practice Wednesday, has been complimented by coaches and teammates for his performance.
“[Tyler] looks good,” Kiffin said. “Obviously it’s a transition from working out to putting pads on with players around him. We’ve really tried to beat him up on service team and push him to make it a game like down there. It’s just part of the progression.”
With junior guard Abe Markowitz still sidelined because of a left foot injury, freshman Marcus Martin and Martin Coleman have been battling for the spot adjacent to center Khaled Holmes.
“I worked hard and they motivated me all through camp,” Martin said. “The reps came from working hard. Some days I might get reps and other days I might not get reps.”
Kiffin has been pleased with the freshman lineman’s play as well.
“He’s really had a great week,” he said. “We got to force in there to see if he will redshirt or play for us.”
Because of inexperience at the position stemming from the graduation of Stanley Havili, senior tight end Rhett Ellison has moved full time to fullback.
“There are different techniques for me with blocking, compared to tight end,” Ellison said. “As a fullback, you get to see more.”
It has not been confirmed whether Ellison will be playing both fullback and tight end this season.
Cornerback Taylor Ashton, cornerback Brian Baucham, middle linebacker Chris Galippo and wide receiver De’Von Flournoy are out with injuries, Kiffin announced Thursday. Freshman defensive tackle Antwaun Woods was cleared by the NCAA clearing house. The Trojans are still waiting on Greg Townsend to also be cleared.
Despite critical injuries, Kiffin remains calm about the upcoming season.
“I think they’ve improved,” Kiffin said when asked about his defense in particular. “I feel like they’re tackling and lining up better.”