College spring football always comes at the perfect time. As March Madness winds down and with the College Baseball World Series still a few months away, 15 spring practices fill a void for college sports fans. This year at USC, the practices are even more significant as they introduce the Steve Sarkisian era of Trojan football.
This spring has offered the first glimpses of the way Sarkisian will run his practices and, to a large extent, the program as a whole. As the team enters the final third of its allotted practices this spring, Sarkisian has already revealed much about his intentions for the future.
Preaching speed, Sarkisian has put the Trojans through the ringer with practices moving at a blinding pace. The team covers 120 plays per session, which is far greater than the number practiced by last year’s squad. In line with the renewed emphasis on speed is the scheme Sarkisian will be implementing on offense. Sarkisian’s new system will feature a no huddle, up-tempo approach that focuses on the run first.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is also implementing a new scheme, marking a fresh break from last year’s successful 5-2 front. The Trojan defense will split its time between a 3-4 and a 4-3 with the majority of time spent in the 3-4 base. This will allow the Trojans’ rangy, athletic linebackers to use their speed to make plays in space.
For anyone who follows the football team, none of this comes as a shock. In fact, the results of spring practice so far are consistent with what Sarkisian promised in his introductory press conference. One of the most pleasing aspects of spring practice has been the multitude of surprise players who are flourishing under the Sarkisian regime.
Now, any mention of a breakout player during the spring comes with the invariable caveat that it is still spring practice. That means the squad isn’t fully healthy yet and everyone gets their chance to shine. In past years, some spring stars have disappeared under the bright lights of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when fall rolls around.
While it is important to be the cognizant of that fact, it shouldn’t take away from some of the breakout performances thus far. Last year, redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen had an impressive performance in a spring scrimmage that foreshadowed his dynamic 2013 season. One can only wonder, however, if Allen would have become just another flash in the pan had Lane Kiffin stayed and kept Allen buried on the depth chart.
Allen was just one of many highly rated recruits who finally blossomed into phenomenal talents once Kiffin was fired. That transition for Allen and others happened mid-year, without the benefit of an offseason to improve skills and strength. Under the tutelage of Sarkisian and his talented staff, it would not be surprising to see many Kiffin-era recruits make the leap to stardom.
Sarkisian has never had this much talent as his disposal. With all of these weapons in his arsenal, he can exploit match-ups and showcase a variety of players without focusing on one or two guys, which looks to be the plan so far.
On the defensive side, coaches have praised both redshirt sophomore linebacker Scott Starr and redshirt freshman defensive back Chris Hawkins. Both have the natural ability to be big-time players in the fall. More promising than either of those players is the emergence of stalwart junior defensive tackle Antwaun Woods.
Woods, a local product from Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., contributed significantly in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. It looks like he has elevated his game to an entirely new level this spring, anchoring the defensive line and serving as a mentor to younger players.
Woods has received praise from his defensive coordinator, Wilcox, who labeled Woods one of the standouts thus far into the spring. Woods appears to be developing into the dominant defensive presence many envisioned when he enrolled. Woods has the size and strength to continue the tradition of strong defensive tackles in the mold of Mike Patterson, Sedrick Ellis and Jurrell Casey.
Offensively, sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers has been a revelation in spring practice. When Marqise Lee was out last season, Rogers displayed flashes of his enormous potential. If spring practices are any indication, he intends to follow up on his freshman showing with an electrifying sophomore campaign.
With strong hands and a physical presence, Rogers has dominated defensive backs. Rogers’ prowess in the red zone is evident, out-muscling and jumping over defenders to make highlight reel touchdown catches. The combination of Rogers and junior wideout Nelson Agholor splitting out wide next season has to have coach Sarkisian salivating.
Rogers and Woods are just two Trojans making an impact this spring, and the tremendous display of talent thus far bodes well for Sarkisian’s debut season at the helm of the program. The more weapons Sarkisian has, the more balanced and dangerous his offense will be. In that case, Sark can follow through on another one of his promises: that this year would be one of reloading and not rebuilding.
Jake Davidson is a freshman majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” runs every other Monday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org.