As the Trojans entered Howard Jones Field for the first time in nearly three months, a lot of things looked different than when they left it last December.
Tee Martin is now a member of USC coach Lane Kiffin’s staff, coaching the wide receivers.
Gone are tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry.
But there were three constants that remained on the field Tuesday afternoon from last season that give Trojans everywhere a reason to be hopeful for the 2012 season: the return of senior quarterback Matt Barkley and his wide receivers, junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee.
Many thought that Barkley had played his last game in cardinal and gold in the 50-0 victory over UCLA. But Barkley, who threw 39 touchdowns last season against just seven interceptions, decided to come back for his senior season, citing “unfinished business” as his reason for returning.
“It’s amazing. I’m glad he came back,” said Lee, who recorded more than 1,000 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns in his first season on campus. “We’re gonna enjoy him while we [can].”
With the return of Barkley, however, comes raised expectations. USC is being widely hailed as a preseason top-five team, with some analysts saying the Trojans are the best team in the country.
The Trojans are not concerned with that, however, if Tuesday is any indication.
“We don’t really think about [the expectations],” Lee said. “We just know we’re supposed to come out here and work hard. That’s the main mindset for us. And that’s what we focus on.”
Though Barkley, Woods and Lee all return, Kalil will no longer be manning Barkley’s blindside. In his place is redshirt junior Kevin Graf, who started at right tackle last season.
Kalil is expected to be a top-five pick in the coming NFL draft and was an All-American selection last season. Though many eyes are on Graf this spring, he said he does not feel pressure replacing a marquee player like Kalil.
“He’s a great player. I’m really happy for him, that he’s going so high,” Graf said. “But I’m trying to be a great player here too.”
The high expectations are not getting the best of Graf, either.
“That’s where we want to be. That’s where we want to be focused at,” Graf explained. “We always want to be at the top, and we’re happy about that.”
The Trojans will practice again on Thursday and Saturday and will then have a week off for spring break.