USC football is set to open spring camp on March 3rd, but the Trojans will be without a couple of important starters. Left tackle Chad Wheeler and nose tackle Antwaun Woods will miss spring practice according to Michael Lev of the Orange County Register, as they continue to rehab injuries that cost them the end of their 2014 seasons.
The absence of Wheeler isn’t a surprise, as he tore his ACL in the first half against Utah back in October. Without him, it should allow the Trojans to have a heated competition for reps on the offensive line.
Last season, USC had a ton of true freshmen start games, including Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama.
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Lobendahn took over for Wheeler at left tackle after starting at left guard, and with Max Tuerk expected to stay at center, he could get an extended look at tackle in the spring.
As for Antwaun Woods, he tore a pectoral muscle in December during bowl preparation which required surgery. He will be back in time for fall camp, opening up starting reps during the spring for Cody Temple at nose tackle.
Per Lev, three other players will be limited in practice due to injury, including running back Tre Madden, linebacker Jabari Rufin and defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow. Lev reported the news on Twitter this afternoon, along with the Wheeler/Woods update.
All three limited-action players are expected to play a big role in 2015, perhaps none more than Madden. The redshirt senior running back is an important piece to the Trojans’ plan to replace the loss of Buck Allen.
Without Madden last season, USC lost an interior running back that had success in 2013, along with a red zone ground attack. Only Washington State had fewer red zone rushing touchdowns last year than the Trojans.
A spring camp without contact isn’t new to Madden, either. In 2013, he was held out of contact drills during spring camp as he healed up from an ACL tear that he suffered in the spring of 2012, and performed admirably to give him an edge come fall camp.
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Jabari Ruffin looks to repeat that, and his ability to participate even in a limited capacity is big for USC’s defense and Justin Wilcox, who has to decide what to do with the Trojans’ linebacker corps.
Su’a Cravens moved from safety to strongside linebacker last summer after Ruffin’s ACL tear, and his placement in the defense should allow everyone else to find a spot accordingly.
Like Ruffin, Bigelow missed last year with an ACL injury, and plays a position of need. USC will lose five defensive lineman after that season due to graduation, and must replace the loss of high NFL Draft pick Leonard Williams.
Bigelow can play all three spots on the defensive line and could use a strong effort in non-contact drills to fend of incoming freshmen Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel and Noah Jefferson, who won’t arrive until summer workouts.
USC’s spring camp kicks off in just six days at Cromwell Field.