The Trojans will wrap up their 2015 spring practices this Saturday with the annual spring game. Spring practices have been quite a success for the Trojans, as multiple players have stepped up in place of those who have darted for the NFL. There will be a multitude of things to keep a lookout for when the Trojans take the field tomorrow.
Everybody knows what senior quarterback Cody Kessler can do. Last season he completed more than 65 percent of his passes while throwing 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions. A major focus this spring has been to determine who will replace last year’s No. 1 wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Sophomore JuJu Smith carried over his play from last season into the spring and is looking to become one of Kessler’s top targets. More surprising has been the stellar play of redshirt sophomore Steven Mitchell. After redshirting his first year because of a knee injury and playing a minor role last season, Mitchell has really come into his own this spring, developing into one of Kessler’s favorite targets. The biggest mystery is sophomore Adoree’ Jackson, who might be the best cornerback the Trojans have had in years but also wants to play offense.
Meanwhile, junior Justin Davis figures to be the lead tailback for the Trojans this season although he has struggled with turnovers in his first two years. Redshirt senior Tre Madden, who should be 100 percent by the season’s start, could take some touches away from Davis. The Trojans also have two highly touted freshman running backs in Aca’Cedric Ware and Ronald Jones II, who enrolled in the spring and should factor into the equation.
The biggest position up for grabs is tight end. Redshirt sophomore Connor Spears has played well during the spring, overcoming some weight issues that coaches were concerned with. Sophomore Bryce Dixon would be the Trojans starter if he fixed his off-the-field issues. For now, the Trojans will rely on Spears with freshman Tyler Petite set to join the team in the fall.
Last season, the Trojans started three freshmen on the offensive line and gave up 32 sacks. Kessler admits that the sacks weren’t all on the offensive line, and he figures that the line will only grow this season. Though Kessler won’t be getting sacked on Saturday, keep an eye out for how the offensive line protects him. Giving up a lot of “air” sacks is not going to keep head coach Steve Sarkisian happy.
The Trojans might have lost their best defensive player from last season in NFL-bound defensive lineman Leonard Williams, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox returns seven starters from 2014 on his side of the ball.
This group includes an array of talent, in junior Su’a Cravens, who will look to make an impact as a hybrid safety and linebacker, sophomore cornerback and wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson, redshirt seniors Atwaun Woods and Delvon Simmons and redshirt senior linebacker Anthony Sarao.
“If Su’a Cravens isn’t a First Team All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year on defense, I’d be shocked,” Sarkisian said.
The secondary will also have a great deal of experience, as senior cornerback Kevon Seymour and a pair of starting safeties in junior Leon McQuay III and sophomore John Plattenburg are all returning for the Trojans.
Wilcox’s defense, which uses multiple fronts but runs out of a 3-4 set, has a lot to build on from last season after recording its highest total yards average in its history (407.9).
There are positives to take away from last season as well, though, with the Trojans not allowing any of its opponents to score on their game-opening drive. They also ranked in the nation’s top 20 in turnover margin, in addition to red zone and third down conversion defense.
At Thursday’s practice, Wilcox said that his defense has been mentally quicker and sees things clearer this spring, which should be a good sign for the progression of his unit.
Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 3 p.m.