For the first time in four years, Matt Barkley wasn’t suiting up for the Trojans on the Howard Jones practice field. Nor was T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey or Khaled Holmes.
Though the faces were different on the field, practice went on as usual. USC coach Lane Kiffin insisted that the lack of current leaders will be temporary.
“It’s one practice,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think you can get to that point and figure that out. It’s easy right now. It’s fun, no pads are on … This isn’t where leadership really shows up. It shows up when you get in really tough times.”
Looking to take Barkley’s spot as starting quarterback is a trio of players. Sophomore quarterback Max Wittek seems to have the leg up on sophomore Cody Kessler, having started the last two games of the season while Barkley was injured. The third member of the competing triad is freshman Max Browne, who was the Gatorade national high school player of the year in 2012.
“It was a little rough, getting used to everything,” Browne said. “Every rep is like a whole ’nother mission out there.”
Browne started his last three seasons at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash. His debut for USC marks the first time he’s competed for a starting job in a few years. Browne insists he’s ready for the challenge.
“My goal is to compete, go out here and showcase what I can do best,” Browne said. “If my best is good enough, we’ll see where the chips fall … There’s a reason I came here. I went to SC because I know the best players come here.”
The other major question mark is the Trojan defense, having surrendered 26 points per game last season. Former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast was hired to lead the unit in place of Monte Kiffin. One of the major things the defense is working on this spring is a new playbook — the Trojans are moving from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense.
Junior linebacker Hayes Pullard said there have been some challenges in getting used to the new scheme.
“Just learning the different terminologies the coaches use,” Pullard said. “It’s probably all the same things, just learning new terminologies.”
Though things weren’t as crisp as they will be later in the spring, Pullard liked the way the team came out.
“The energy was fantastic,” Pullard said. “I thought the guys were going to be a little low because they were trying to figure things out. But we came out here, matched the intensity we had in ball practice last year.”