Spring rings in hope for Kiffin and Trojans

The torrential rains of the last few days have not been a coincidence. They are a clear message from the college football gods, who know spring practice begins today:

“We’re watching you.”

USC is near the midway point of paying for its “sins” — and I use that word loosely, considering all the inconsistent rulings the NCAA has levied against schools that have committed seemingly equal or even greater transgressions (someone wearing a sweater vest in Columbus, Ohio, is sweating).

Yet considering how harsh the sanctions are, the Trojans seem to be in fairly good shape. They were still able to sign 30 new recruits, thanks to a number of early admits. There will be a lot of new faces, and, starting today, the 2011 USC football team will begin to emerge.

Football is back at Howard Jones Field and that’s what’s important. I know there’s the whole March Madness business, but I’m guessing your bracket, like 1,865,894,004 others, makes you cringe when you look at it. So let’s turn our attention to the fresh new season of USC football, one with a lot of potential and even more unanswered questions.

Here are a few storylines to watch the next few months:

How much will injuries hinder the Trojans’ progress?

A lot. USC coach Lane Kiffin’s biggest concern heading into this spring has to be injuries, particularly to the linebackers, offensive line and defensive line. Kiffin said 20 players have not yet been cleared by doctors to practice, which is a high amount considering the Trojans could not participate in or practice for a bowl game last season.

Senior middle/outside linebacker Chris Galippo (lower back) has not yet been cleared, senior weakside Shane Horton has a hip injury and junior middle Devon Kennard will miss all of spring workouts after having a hip surgery. This is bad news for a linebacking unit that underachieved last season.

Things might be even bleaker for the offensive line. Starting guard Khaled Holmes (neck stingers) will miss time. Neither Abe Markowitz (foot) nor Kevin Graf (shoulder) have been cleared to play.

On the D-line, defensive ends Armond Armstead (undisclosed illness) and Wes Horton (foot) won’t be available at the start of practice, nor will Christian Tupou, who is still recovering from knee surgery.

These injuries will hold USC back, but, on a positive note, it will give some backups and freshmen a lot more reps. This will be a plus for a Trojan team that lacked experience in its two-deep roster.

Who is going to emerge at running back?

It seems like this has been a perennial question at USC since the tailback who formerly wore No. 5 graduated. The Trojans always seem to have a slew of horses in the stable, but can never quite settle on one.

Senior Marc Tyler should emerge as the featured back. He led the Trojans in rushing a year ago, rushing for 913 yards and nine touchdowns. Most importantly, he appeared in all 13 games, which means he stayed healthy.

Sophomore Dillon Baxter will compete with Tyler. Though Baxter probably won’t get the starting spot, he can work his way into the rotation a lot more if he has a good spring. Kiffin likes to use Baxter out of the Wildcat formation because he can throw the ball (Baxter threw for one touchdown last season) and Baxter is quicker than Tyler.

Also in the mix is redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan. The Trojans often used three backs last season, so the opportunities for Morgan are wide open.

How will the young receiving corps develop?

Sophomore Robert Woods will anchor the group. Although young, Woods showed often last season that he could be Matt Barkley’s primary target.

But with the graduation of starters Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry, the Trojans are in need of more young receivers to step into major roles quickly.

At 6-foot-5, redshirt freshman Kyle Prater should eventually take over the split end spot opposite Woods, but a foot injury will keep him out of most or all of spring ball.

That leaves the door open for sophomore Markeith Ambles, redshirt sophomore De’Von Flournoy and senior Brandon Carswell to assert themselves. And they had better. A trio of talented freshmen — George Farmer, Marqise Lee and Victor Blackwell — arrive in the summer.

Until then, it’s time to enjoy the spring and the return of USC football.

Will Jesse Scroggins grab hold of the No. 2 quarterback spot?

Barkley is the undisputed starting signal-caller. The problem is there is no experience behind him. The Trojans need a solid backup to emerge, not just in case Barkley gets injured but also for next season when Barkley might enter the NFL draft.

Redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins is the most likely candidate, based on exposure alone. But freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek enrolled early and can challenge right away for the No. 2 spot.

Scroggins has a slight edge, but this competition could go any way. This battle will be crucial since it basically decides who has a leg up to winning the starting job once Barkley moves on.

“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Josh at [email protected].

1 reply
  1. Rich Salas
    Rich Salas says:

    If we get a favorable decision from the NCAA on the sanctions appeal, it is game on!

    FIGHT ON!!

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