The first day of the 2013 school year in the books, and USC head coach Lane Kiffin appears optimistic about the team as they prepare for the season opener against Hawai’i on Thursday.
Senior tailback Silas Redd announced on his Twitter account after Monday’s practice that he would not travel with the team to Hawaii as he is not yet recovered from a knee injury that kept him limited during fall camp.
“Gonna hurt to not travel with my squad tomorrow but I know y’all gonna handle business in a few day[s]! I’m working to get back to 100%. Fight on!” Redd tweeted.
With Redd out, freshmen tailbacks Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, along with redshirt sophomores Tre Madden and Javorius “Buck” Allen, are expected to receive the bulk of the carries on Thursday against Hawai’i.
After all four 2012 captains headed to the NFL, a new group of team leaders has been established. The players voted redshirt junior linebacker Hayes Pullard and senior defensive end Devon Kennard as defensive captains and junior wide receiver Marqise Lee and junior center Marcus Martin as offensive captains, making this only the second year since 2003 that the Trojans have not had a quarterback as a captain
Last season, Pullard was second only to since-departed safety T.J. McDonald in tackles on the team. Kennard missed the entire 2012 season due to a torn pectoral muscle, but has been a vocal leader during camp this year. Lee, the reigning Biletnikoff award winner, has established himself as a clear leader on an offense that has yet to delegate a starting quarterback, while Martin has demonstrated flexibility in his transition from offensive guard to center this season.
“All four of those guys are on our leadership council that we have,” Kiffin said. “There’s 13 guys on that, so this is really kind of just the next step of leaders above that.”
Though Redd has seen limited playing time throughout camp because of injury, he also received a number of votes.
QUARTERBACK RACE CONTINUES
After announcing both redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler would see playing time in the season opener on Thursday against Hawai’i, Kiffin insists that they are still neck-and-neck and that he hasn’t yet decided how he will alternate between the two.
“They’ve really taken the weaknesses out of their game,” Kiffin said. “With Max, shorter passes and touch were an issue a year ago coming into this camp, throwing the ball too hard at times, and he’s really worked on that and gotten better”
He also noted that Kessler’s deep ball accuracy has improved over the offseason.
FINALIZING THE ROSTER
Kiffin awarded four scholarships today to senior wide receiver Cody Skene, senior linebacker Kyle Yatabe, senior tailback John Akiba and senior safety Jack Auran, all of whom have graduated or will graduate at the end of the fall semester.
“Finally something good came of the sanctions,” Kiffin said. “It was the first thing we’ve been able to do that we wouldn’t have done otherwise because we wouldn’t have had the scholarships.”
As happy as Kiffin was to award the remaining scholarships, he was equally apprehensive about deciding which 80 players to take to the season opener, as the current roster stands at 107. He said that injuries play a huge part in that decision, as the team has suffered a high number of injuries over the past few months of practice, leaving certain positions like right guard in a state of uncertainty. Senior John Martinez and junior Aundrey Walker are listed as co-starters, but neither is fully healthy, which Kiffin says is one of his biggest areas of concern.
Uncertainty abounds, but Kiffin appears ready to test the waters with this group of players, hopefully with better results than last year.
Follow Aubrey Kragen on Twitter @aubreykragen