The USC Trojans kick off spring practice Tuesday March 11 with Steve Sarkisian’s staff set to lay the groundwork for the 2014 season.
As the coaches and players train and evaluate over the course of 15 practices during March and April, there are more than a few pressing questions that will need to be answered.
1. Is there a quarterback battle?
Presumably there is one, considering Sarkisian’s insistence that every starting position will be an open competition in the offseason. Still, Cody Kessler finished the year strong as a starter and ousting him from that spot might be more difficult than Max Browne fans might think. Sarkisian told listeners of the Peristyle Podcast that he wants to name a starter by the end of spring so the question may be answered sooner than later.
2. Is Josh Shaw a safety?
Shaw’s versatility has been a huge factor for the often-concerning Trojan secondary in the past couple of years. Although his natural position is safety, he has filled in admirably at corner whenever needed. Considering the numbers at cornerback brought in for the 2014 recruiting class Shaw may finally be freed up to return to his position of choice. At the same time, Shaw could also follow in the footsteps of Dion Bailey in the nickelback role.
3. Can Ty Isaac make it interesting?
Isaac looks like the odd man out when it comes to evaluating the log jam at running back. The three guys ahead of him — Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis — all have seen more playing time and each featured in the rotation in 2013. Even then, you don’t get to be a five-star coming out of high school without real talent and given Davis’ achilles injury which will hold him out of spring, Isaac could force his way into the conversation.
4. Is Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick for real?
Xavier Grimble’s departure to the NFL and Randall Telfer’s injury issues have set up quite the spring for Cope-Fitzpatrick. He will be the only scholarship tight end available to the coaches for the bulk of practices, which means there can be no excuses. This is his shot to establish himself as a real presence before the arrival of Bryce Dixon, who is expected to push for playing time immediately.
5. Which early enrollee is this year’s Su’a Cravens?
Last year, the Trojans’ highly touted early enrollee group of seven produced key contributors like Justin Davis and Darreus Rogers, but the biggest of those was Su’a Cravens who grabbed the starting free safety position and never let go. USC brought in five early enrollees this January: DL Claude Pelon, DL Don Hill, OL Toa Lobendahn, OL Jordan Austin and QB Jalen Greene. Pelon is penciled in as the most likely to contribute in the fall, but Lobendahn has the chance to compete for the starting center position as well.
6. Will George Farmer be healthy?
Farmer’s much hyped Trojan career has been unfortunately characterized by disappointment and injury. Unable to secure a regular contributing place in his first two seasons, his potential break out as a junior was dashed by a devastating knee injury. Now as a redshirt junior, he is running short on chances to make his mark.
7. Is Chris Hawkins ready at cornerback?
With reinforcements set to arrive in the summer, the slim pickings at the cornerback position in the spring will look quite a bit more crowded in just a few month’s time. That means a young talent like Chris Hawkins will need to take full advantage of the reps he sees during the next 15 practices. He has the ability to take over the vacant spot opposite Kevon Seymour.
8. Is Delvon Simmons as good as advertised?
The Texas Tech transfer had to sit out 2013 and will now have his shot to light up Los Angeles. He started 13 games for Texas Tech in 2012 and made Rivals’ Big 10 All-Freshman team the year before so the accolades he has received seem warranted. Conveniently enough, the early departure of George Uko has opened up a spot on the line tailor made for him to step into.
9. How will Tim Drevno use Max Tuerk?
Tuerk is arguably USC’s best offensive lineman and certainly the Trojans’ most versatile. Drevno, the new offensive line coach, has a valuable tool to use, but we still need to see how he will deploy him. Specifically, will the offensive line form around Tuerk’s best position or will Tuerk step into whichever spot is left open by other competitions along the line?
10. Can Anthony Sarao take control?
Sarao took over for Lamar Dawson at the will linebacker position in the middle of the season when the latter went down with injury. That injury will keep Dawson out for spring practice, thus giving Sarao prime opportunity to get a head start on the battle for the position in 2014. Dawson had just hit his stride when his season ended, but there’s always the question of whether he can pick up where he left off. Sarao, meanwhile, established himself as a starter and could be tough to knock from that perch.