2013 USC Spring Football Outlook|
March 1, 2013
If the USC football team wants inspiration heading into 2013, it needs only to look back to 2002.
That was the last time Troy entered a season coming off a 6-loss campaign. That Trojan squad rebounded by going 10-2, capturing the league title and winning a BCS bowl.
The 2013 USC team certainly has the ingredients to put together a similarly successful run.
The Trojans return 16 starters (8 on offense), including the kicker, from 2012 (they also welcome back a 2-year starter who was sidelined last fall with an injury). In all, 79 squadmen are back from last year, including 61 who saw action in 2012, 57 who lettered, 34 who were on USC’s season ending 2-deep and 30 who have started at least once in their career.
Add to that a small (13 players), but highly-ranked, class of recruits. Eight of those new players were listed among the ESPN 100. USC’s average star ranking per player (4.4 stars), as calculated by various recruiting outlets, was significantly higher than any other school. Seven newcomers—including USA Today’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, the Gatorade National and California Players of the Year and Cal-Hi Sports’ California Mr. Football—enrolled at USC this semester and will participate in 2013 spring practice. (USC is in the second of a 3-year NCAA sanction that limits its overall roster to 75 scholarship players annually and no more than 15 signees per year, both 10 fewer than the NCAA maximum.)
The 2012 Trojans, who began last year at 6-1 before dropping 5 of their last 6 games, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 South Division at 5-4 and, after a 2-year NCAA-imposed bowl ban, played in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. All 7 of USC’s victories were by double digits.
As difficult as USC’s 2012 season was for Trojan fans, it was only the 13th time in its 120 years of football that Troy has lost at least 6 games. So, the odds are high that last year’s 7-6 outcome was an aberration in USC’s glorious gridiron history.
“Last season did not finish up as we all hoped, leaving our players, coaches and fans terribly disappointed,” said fourth-year USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “We have worked hard since then to focus on the positives while learning from the negatives. We analyzed our entire program and made necessary changes as we strive to get back to the level of play we had when we won 17 out of 20 games before our slump at the end of last season.
“The most important thing we must do this spring is develop our depth at all positions as we continue to manage our reduced numbers due to our NCAA scholarship sanctions.”
Headlining the 2013 Trojan roster is dynamic wide receiver/returner Marqise Lee, a unanimous 2012 All-American first team selection who won USC’s first-ever Biletnikoff Award last fall when he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. The 2012 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year owns or shares 19 USC records (5 are Pac-12 marks), including most receptions (118) in a season and most receiving yards in a season (1,721) and game (345), all league standards he set last year. He was second nationally in receptions and receiving yards in 2012. He is on target to break USC’s career records for receptions and kickoff return yards.
Also back as starters on offense are tailback Silas Redd, a 2,500-yard career rusher (905 of those yards came last fall at USC after he transferred from Penn State), tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, who have combined for 82 career catches with 18 TDs, offensive linemen Kevin Graf, John Martinez, Marcus Martin, Aundrey Walker and 2012 Freshman All-American first teamer Max Tuerk, and fullback Soma Vainuku.
Starters returning on the other side of the ball are defensive end Morgan Breslin, a 2012 Hendricks Award finalist when he posted 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks (the most at USC since 2003), 2012 Freshman All-American first team defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who was the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year (he had 13.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks), 2-year starting linebackers Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson (they have 451 career tackles combined), defensive tackle George Uko and safety Josh Shaw (he started at cornerback last year). Also back after sitting out 2012 with a chest injury is defensive end Devon Kennard, who had 18 starts and 135 tackles in his first 3 years at USC.
Although USC must replace only 8 starters from 2012, the losses are significant.
--quarterback Matt Barkley, a 4-year starter who set Pac-12 records for passing yards (12,327), completions (1,001), touchdowns (116) and total offense (12,214) as he won the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy, was a finalist for the Manning Award, Unitas Golden Arm Award, Senior CLASS Award and ARA Sportsmanship Award and was a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete;
--2011 All-American and 3-year starting wide receiver Robert Woods, USC’s career pass catching leader (252 receptions) who declared for the NFL after his junior season;
--2011 All-American safety T.J. McDonald, a 3-year starter who had 275 career tackles and 8 interceptions (his 112 tackles last year were the most by a Trojan since 2001);
--2012 Rimington Award finalist center Khaled Holmes, a 3-year starter who made last season’s All-Pac-12 first team, Academic All-American second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team;
--Nickell Robey, a 3-year starting lockdown cornerback who left early for the NFL after making 163 tackles, 7 interceptions and 17 deflections in his career (his 3 picks for TDs tied the USC career record);
--tailback Curtis McNeal, who had 1,739 career rushing yards (including 701 last year while sharing time with Redd);
--defensive end Wes Horton, who had 117 career tackles with 13.5 sacks while starting 32 times;
--3-year starting safety Jawanza Starling;
--and directional punter Kyle Negrete, who averaged 41.5 yards per boot in his career and never had a touchback among his 83 punts (he pinned opponents within the 20-yard line 39 times).
Kiffin reconstructed his coaching staff in the off-season, bringing in 4 new assistants and re-defining roles for some of the others.
Clancy Pendergast, who coordinated some of the top defenses in the NFL and college (the past 3 seasons at California), is the new defensive coordinator and will coach the secondary. His recent experience in the Pac-12 will be valuable when combatting the many styles of offense seen in the league. Mike Summers, who helped produce some of the most productive offenses in the history of schools such as Arkansas, Louisville, Kentucky, Oregon State and Ohio, is the running game coordinator and offensive line coach. Tommie Robinson, another veteran collegiate and NFL coach (most recently with the Arizona Cardinals), is the passing game coordinator and running backs coach. Mike Ekeler, who helped turn out defenses that ranked among the nation’s best while at Oklahoma, LSU and Nebraska, will coach the linebackers after serving as Indiana’s co-defensive coordinator the past 2 seasons.
Of the returning coaches, quarterbacks coach Clay Helton takes on the offensive coordinator duty. Associate head coach/special teams coordinator John Baxter has added tight ends to his duties. James Cregg will work with Summers coaching the offensive line. Ed Orgeron remains in his role assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach and Tee Martin remains as the wide receivers coach. Graduate assistant Ross Cummings will now work with the outside linebackers.
“We all are looking forward to moving forward,” said Kiffin. “The players understand there is no depth chart going into spring practice. With the new coaches, they get a clean slate and a fresh start.”
The Trojans will play seven home games in the Coliseum in 2013. Overall, USC's 13-game schedule features seven teams that played in a bowl this year, all winning at least 8 games, and four who finished ranked in the final AP Top 25. Four opponents will be guided by new coaches. USC will play twice on Thursday nights, including once at home, and one time on Friday night. The Trojans will not play Pac-12 foes Oregon or Washington in the regular season in 2013 or 2014.
USC will open its 2013 slate with a Thursday night road game on Aug. 29 against Norm Chow’s Hawaii team, the fourth time that the Trojans have opened a season facing the Warriors in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium. Troy then begins Pac-12 play by hosting Washington State on Sept. 7, the first of three consecutive home games for the Trojans. USC then welcomes a pair of squads that last visited the Coliseum in the 1980s: Boston College with new head coach Steve Addazio on Sept. 14 and defending Western Athletic Conference champion Utah State and new coach Matt Wells on Sept. 21. The Trojans return to Pac-12 action at Arizona State on Sept. 28, then have a bye before hosting Arizona in a Thursday night contest on Oct. 10, the first-ever non-Thanksgiving or non-bowl Thursday game USC has played in the Coliseum (the last time USC played a weekday game at home was the 2002 opener against Auburn on Labor Day). USC next travels to BCS Championship Game participant Notre Dame on Oct. 19 for its annual intersectional clash before returning home to host Utah on Oct. 26 on Trojan Family Weekend. The Trojans then go to Oregon State for a Friday night game on Nov. 1, the first of three road trips in a four-game span. After visiting California, guided by new coach Sonny Dykes, on Nov. 9, USC returns to the Coliseum to play defending Pac-12 champ Stanford on Nov. 16 on Homecoming/Reunion Weekend before going to Colorado (under new coach Mike MacIntyre) on Nov. 23. Troy concludes its regular season by hosting crosstown rival UCLA in a Thanksgiving weekend battle on Nov. 30.
“Our focus now is forward looking,” said Kiffin. “Nothing matters but winning the game in front of us.”
Eight starters return on offense from 2012: wide receiver Marqise Lee, tailback Silas Redd, co-starting tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, tackle Kevin Graf, guards John Martinez and Marcus Martin, co-starting tackles Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk and fullback Soma Vainuku. Others back with starting experience are wide receiver Nelson Agholor, quarterback Max Wittek, tailbacks D.J. Morgan and Tre Madden, fullback Jahleel Pinner and center-guard Cyrus Hobbi.
USC’s top rusher (and 7 of its top 9 ground gainers) and leading pass catcher (and 11 of the 13 players who caught a pass) from 2012 are back. USC averaged 32 points and 432 yards of total offense per game in 2012, numbers that were just slightly lower than those from its 10-win season of 2011. Troy was ranked in the national Top 41 in passing efficiency (147.7), passing offense (282.3), total offense (432.9), scoring offense (32.1) and sacks allowed (1.3) in 2012. But the Trojans struggled on third down conversions (34.2%) and in the red zone (74.5%) last season and had 34 turnovers, all areas where improvement is needed.
“With a revamped offensive coaching staff now in place, we anticipate a very competitive spring from our offense,” said Kiffin. “We will strive to put together a balanced offense while shoring up our depth at all positions.
“Our biggest challenge offensively will be to adequately replace a pair of recordbreaking Trojans, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, along with the steady play that Khaled Holmes gave us. Whoever ends up starting in their places will be well-served by the 8 returning offensive starters, led by the play and leadership of Marqise Lee.”
USC’s most pressing challenge in 2012 will be replacing the play and leadership of 4-year starting quarterback Matt Barkley, the Pac-12 career recordholder for total offense (12,214), passing yards (12,327), completions (1,001) and touchdown passes (116). He set 20 USC career, season and game records (10 were Pac-12 standards). Last fall, he completed 63.6% of his passes for 3,273 yards and 36 TDs. USC’s first-ever 3-time captain, he won the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy (athletics/academics/community service) and was a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete.
Three young signalcallers will vie for the starting job in 2013: sophomores Max Wittek (36-of-69, 52.2%, 388 yds, 3 TD, 5 int in 2012) and Cody Kessler (2-of-2, 100.0%, 9 yds in 2012) and first-year freshman Max Browne. Wittek started USC’s final 2 games of 2012 when Barkley was sidelined with a shoulder injury, acquitting himself well against Notre Dame but struggling in the cold and wind in the Sun Bowl versus Georgia Tech. Kessler, who was the holder on placekicks in the second half of 2012, appeared briefly in 2 games last season. Prep All-American Browne (Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash.), who graduated high school a semester early so he could enroll at USC this spring, was the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year and USA Today’s Offensive National Player of the Year as he led Skyline to a pair of Washington state championships and set state career records for passing yards (12,953) and completions (882) while competing 70.4% of his passes for 146 TDs.
Also available is walk-on redshirt freshman Conner Sullivan.
“The biggest individual shoes to fill on our team are at quarterback,” said Kiffin. “We were incredibly fortunate to have Matt Barkley lead our team these past 4 years. This spring, there will be a 3-way competition between our talented young quarterbacks. I’m excited to watch them compete and see how it goes.”
Although Curtis McNeal, who accumulated 1,739 career rushing yards (including 701 last year) while starting 12 times (8 in 2012), is gone, USC is well-stocked at the tailback position.
Returning is veteran senior Silas Redd (167 tcb, 905 yds, 5.4 avg, 9 TD in 2012, plus 9 rec, 113 yds, 12.6 avg, 1 TD and 1 tac), who started 6 games last fall after transferring from Penn State. He has run for 2,583 yards in his career at both schools, including 10 career 100-yard rushing games (3 at USC).
Junior D.J. Morgan (41 tcb, 201 yds, 4.9 avg, 1 TD in 2012, plus 1 rec, 24 yds, 24.0 avg, 1 TD), also a hurdler on the Trojan track team who started twice at tailback in 2011, and sophomore Javorius Allen (6 tcb, 32 yds, 5.3 avg in 2012) add quality depth. So does high-potential soph Tre Madden, who was switched from linebacker to tailback in 2012 spring practice and was very impressive before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him last fall.
Joining the tailback fray as freshmen will be a pair of prep All-Americans in Justin Davis (Lincoln High in Stockton, Calif.), who enrolled at USC this spring after graduating a semester early from high school, and Ty Isaac (Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Ill.), who comes aboard in the fall.
There also are a trio of walk-on tailbacks: senior John Akiba (4 tcb, 17 yds, 4.2 avg in 2012), who will miss spring ball after having shoulder surgery, junior Alec Jaffe and sophomore Taylor Ross, who is out of spring practice while recuperating from surgery on a fractured foot.
USC’s fullback corps is thin and young, but it is experienced. Sophomores Soma Vainuku (7 tcb, 26 yds, 3.7 avg in 2012, plus 8 rec, 50 yds, 6.2 avg and 6 tac) and Jahleel Pinner (1 tac in 2012), used primarily as blockers so far, both notched starts last year.
“We need more production out of our run game in 2013,” said Kiffin. “We will make it an emphasis to establish the run. Silas Redd is a talented veteran runner and we expect a big senior year out of him. We need the younger running backs to step up. And, although we don’t have much depth at fullback, we would like to get that position more involved in the offense.”
USC returns the nation’s best wide receiver—and perhaps the nation’s premier player—in junior Marqise Lee (118 rec, 1,721 yds, 14.6 avg, 14 TD in 2012, plus 13 tcb, 106 yds, 8.2 avg and 30 KOR, 856 yds, 28.5 avg, 1 TD and 2 tac). The unanimous 2012 All-American first teamer and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year won USC’s first-ever Biletnikoff Award last season and he is now a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy (he finished fourth in 2012). Also a dangerous kick returner, he owns or shares 19 USC records (5 are Pac-12 marks), including most receptions (118) in a season and most receiving yards in a season (1,721) and game (345), all league standards he set last year. He was second nationally in receptions (9.1) and receiving yards (132.4), third in all-purpose yards (206.4) and eighth in kickoff returns (28.5) in 2012. Last year, he averaged 16.7 yards every time he touched the ball, the average length of his 15 TDs was 40.8 yards, he had 16 plays of 40-plus yards and more than half of his 118 receptions went for first downs. Also a member of the Trojan track team, he is on target to break USC’s career records for receptions (he is sixth with 191 catches) and kickoff return yards (eighth with 1,141 yards).
USC, however, will miss Lee’s receiving mate, Robert Woods. The 2011 All-American first teamer and 3-year starter, who is USC’s career pass catching leader (252 receptions), declared for the NFL after his 2012 junior season. He owns or shares 12 USC records; in addition to the career receptions mark, he also set game standards for receptions (17) and TD catches (4). His 32 career scoring receptions are second most in USC history. He had a catch in his last 33 games.
Looking to fill Woods’ spot will be often-used sophomore Nelson Agholor (19 rec, 340 yds, 17.9 avg, 2 TD in 2012, plus 1 tcb, 7 yds, 7.0 avg and 5 KOR, 121 yds, 24.2 avg and 4 tac, 1 FR), who also returned kicks in 2012, speedy junior George Farmer (1 rec, 7 yds, 7.0 avg in 2012), who also sprints for the Trojan tracksters, senior De’Von Flournoy (1 rec, 21 yards, 21.0 avg in 2012) and soph Victor Blackwell (1 rec, 9 yds, 9.0 avg in 2012).
Two freshmen who were prep All-Americans will join the wide receiver competition: Darreus Rogers (Carson High in Carson, Calif.), who originally signed with USC in February of 2012 but did not enroll until this spring semester, and Steven Mitchell (Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills, Calif.), who enrolls this fall.
“We have the best player in the country in Marqise Lee and we will continue to take advantage of his skills,” said Kiffin. “But we also lost one of the best receivers in college football history in Robert Woods. So our younger wideouts must to find a way to fill in and help our offensive attack.”
Tight end might be USC’s most solid position, as equally-proficient juniors Xavier Grimble (29 rec, 316, 10.9 avg, 5 TDs in 2012, plus 3 tac) and Randall Telfer (12 rec, 100 yds, 8.3 avg, 4 TD in 2012, plus 1 BLK FG) return as co-starters once again. The duo, which combined for 41 grabs and 9 touchdowns in 2012, has 82 catches with 18 TDs between them in their careers.
Sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (2 rec, 12 yds, 6.0 avg in 2012) adds young talent to the tight end corps.
Two senior walk-on tight ends—Kevin Downey Jr. and J.T. Kerr—also are available.
“Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are exceptional tight ends,” said Kiffin. “They can block, they can catch, they are very coachable and they do all the little things well. We need to continue to find ways to keep them involved in our offense.”
Although starters return at 4 offensive line spots, the loss of 2012 Rimington Award finalist center Khaled Holmes cannot be discounted. To wit: when an injured Holmes had to miss the Stanford game last fall, the Cardinal took advantage with its defensive game plan and upset the Trojans. The 3-year starter starred on the field and classroom as he made the All-Pac-12 first team, Academic All-American second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team last year.
Tackle Kevin Graf (1 tac in 2012) and guard John Martinez, both seniors, and junior guard Marcus Martin all return after starting the past 2 years. Also back are junior Aundrey Walker and versatile sophomore Max Tuerk, co-starters last fall at tackle. Tuerk, a 2012 Freshman All-American first teamer who even started the Sun Bowl at guard, might be tried in 2013 at all the line positions, including center.
Other returners, all relatively inexperienced, angling to get into the offensive line playing rotation are senior tackle-guard David Garness, junior guard-center Giovanni Di Poalo, sophomore center-guard Cyrus Hobbi and redshirt freshmen tackles Zach Banner (he also is on the USC basketball team), Jordan Simmons (he can also play guard) and Chad Wheeler, as well as a pair of walk-ons, junior tackle Nathan Guertler and soph center Erick Jepsen.
Linemen enrolling in the fall as freshmen will be prep All-Americans Nico Falah (St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif.), a tackle, and center-guard Khaliel Rodgers (Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md.).
“We have a lot of returning frontline players on the offensive line, but they need to continue improving,” said Kiffin. “Adding another coach to work with this group will go a long ways in achieving that. This spring, we will make a commitment to having the offensive line return to the toughness and form it had 2 years ago. Conducting more physical practices this spring will benefit this group.”
Seven defensive starters return from 2012: defensive end Morgan Breslin, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, linebackers Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson, defensive tackle George Uko and safety Josh Shaw (he started at cornerback last year). Other defensive players with career starts are defensive end Devon Kennard, cornerbacks Torin Harris, Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour, defensive linemen Antwaun Woods and J.R. Tavai and linebacker Anthony Sarao.
Five of USC’s 6 top tacklers of 2012 are back, as are its leaders in tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions, deflections, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Last season, the Trojans ranked fourth nationally in sacks (3.5) and 11th in tackles for loss (11.5) and were in the national Top 41 in pass efficiency defense (124.0) and scoring defense (24.3). Troy forced 32 turnovers last year, nearly double its 2011 total, including picking off 19 passes (more than twice its 2011 total). However, USC will look in 2013 to shore up a defense that allowed among the most yards and points in school history: the 394.0 total defense average in 2012 was the second highest ever, the 24.3 scoring defense average was fourth highest and the 227.0 pass defense average was the eighth highest.
New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast plans to change USC’s defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 5-2 base (2 outside linebackers on the line bookending 3 down linemen). But he has said this new defense will be adaptable depending on the situation, especially with the various offenses employed in the Pac-12. At times, USC could run a 3-4 or it could even revert back to last year’s 4-3 alignment.
“We’re looking forward to implementing a new defensive system,” said Kiffin. “It will be very multiple up front, able to change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to a 5-2. We believe this new system, which will utilize an attacking style, will make us a better defense, as we really need to show improvement on this side of the ball. We must be more physical and more aggressive, and we need to do a better job of shutting down opponents and taking the ball away.
“Our defensive players are excited to get a fresh start with new coaches and a new system.”
USC lost only 1 defensive lineman of note from 2012—end Wes Horton, who had 117 tackles with 13.5 sacks while starting 32 times in his career—so the depth is good at this position, which will be important as more frontline players will be required this year in the new 5-2 defensive system. USC’s defensive linemen have proven particularly adept at pressuring the quarterback, considering 35 of Troy’s 45 sacks last fall were by the defensive front.
Three line starters return from 2012: high-motor senior end Morgan Breslin (62 tac, 19.5 for loss, 13 sack, 1 FR, 1 FF, 4 dfl in 2012), dominating sophomore tackle Leonard Williams (64 tac, 13. 5 for loss, 8 sacks, 2 FR, 1 int, 4 dfl in 2012) and junior tackle George Uko (31 tac, 9 for loss, 5 sack, 1 FR for TD, 1 FF, 1 dfl in 2012). Breslin, in his first year at USC after transferring from a junior college, was a Hendricks Award finalist last year. He was fifth nationally in sacks (1.0) and 15th in tackles for loss (1.5) in 2012. His sacks and tackles for loss totals were the most at USC since 2003. Williams was a 2012 Freshman All-American first teamer and the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Also back after sitting out last season with a chest injury is senior end Devon Kennard, who notched 135 tackles while making 18 starts in his first 3 years at USC.
There are other experienced linemen who can be called on: senior end Kevin Greene (5 tac, 2 for loss, 2 sack, 2 FF, 1 FR in 2012), junior tackle-end J.R. Tavai (17 tac, 2.5 loss, 1 dfl in 2012), sophomore tackle Antwaun Woods (16 tac, 4.5 for loss, 3 sack in 2012), who started the first 4 games of 2012, and soph end Greg Townsend Jr. (15 tac, 1.5 for loss, 1.5 sack in 2012). Tavai (broken foot in the bowl game) and Townsend (post-season kneecap cartilage surgery) could be slowed in 2013 spring practice while coming back from injuries.
Other less-tested linemen in the mix are sophomores Charles Burks, an end, and tackle Cody Temple (he likely will be slowed during 2013 spring practice while recovering from 2012 ankle surgery), as well as redshirt freshman end Jabari Ruffin. There there is a pair of walk-on ends who saw limited action last year: senior Michael Arakelian and sophomore Jeff Miller (he will miss 2013 spring practice recovering from 2012 surgery on an ankle fracture).
Looking to make an immediate impact on the line is freshman tackle Kenny Bigelow (Eastern Christian Academy of Elkton, Md.), a prep All-American who graduated a semester early from high school and enrolled at USC this spring.
“We have a lot of veteran players coming back up front, some real impact players like Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams,” said Kiffin. “It will be crucial to build our depth on the defensive line and develop a number of players who we can count on to come through for us.”
Linebacker figures to be a position of strength for USC in 2013, as all 3 starters from the past 2 seasons return. But with the new 5-2 defensive alignment that will be implemented this fall, it is possible some of the linebackers will move up and play on the perimeter of the defensive line in hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker roles.
The trio of returning starters, all juniors, are Hayes Pullard (107 tac, 8 for loss, 2 sack, 1 int for TD, 1 FF, 1 dfl in 2012), Dion Bailey (80 tac, 8 for loss, 1 sack, 4 int, 5 dfl, 1 FF in 2012) and Lamar Dawson (77 tac, 2 for loss, 1 FF, 2 dfl, 2 int in 2012). Combined, they have made 451 tackles in their careers. Last fall, Pullard (along with safety T.J. McDonald) became the first Trojan since 2004 with at least 100 stops in a season. Bailey, whose 4 interceptions in 2012 were second most in the nation by a linebacker, will sit out 2013 spring practice while recovering from post-season shoulder surgery.
Other experienced linebackers aiming to make a contribution are sophomore Anthony Sarao (40 tac, 4 for loss, 3 sack, 1 FR, 1 dfl in 2012), seniors Marquis Simmons (9 tac in 2012) and Simione Vehikite (9 tac in 2012) and redshirt freshman Scott Starr (2 tac in 2012), who will miss 2013 spring drills after having 2012 neck surgery that allowed him to redshirt last fall despite seeing action in 3 early-season games.
Joining the linebacker corps in the fall as freshmen will be prep All-Americans Michael Hutchings (De La Salle High in Concord, Calif.), who was the 2012 Cal-Hi Sports’ California Mr. Football, and Quinton Powell (Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Calif.).
“This is another very veteran group for us,” said Kiffin. “All 3 returning starters are high-quality, experienced linebackers. Like elsewhere on the team, we need to shore up our depth here because we will ask a lot of the linebackers in our new defensive scheme.”
USC’s secondary will have a completely new look to it, as a trio of 3-year starters have departed and another starter has switched positions.
Gone are hard-hitting 2011 All-American safety T.J. McDonald, who had 275 career tackles and 8 interceptions (his team-best 112 tackles last year were the most by a Trojan since 2001), lockdown cornerback Nickell Robey, who left early for the NFL after making 163 tackles, 7 interceptions and 17 deflections in his career (his 3 scoring interception returns tied the USC career record) and reliable safety Jawanza Starling.
Junior Josh Shaw (30 tac, 2 for loss, 2 int, 6 dfl in 2012), who transferred to USC last fall from Florida as a safety but was moved midseason to cornerback and started the final 7 games there, has been shifted back to safety for 2013.
He’ll battle for a starting job with seniors Demetrius Wright (9 tac, 0.5 for loss in 2012) and Gerald Bowman (11 tac, 1 int in 2012). Also in the safety mix are walk-ons John Auran, a senior, and redshirt freshmen Rob Dooley and Elijah Steen.
And consideration will be given to freshman safety Su’a Cravens (Vista Murrieta High in Murrieta, Calif.), a prep All-American who was the 2012 USA Today Defensive National Player of the Year and the Gatorade California Player of the Year. He graduated a semester early from high school in order to enroll at USC for this spring semester.
Contesting for starting roles at cornerback will be some experienced veterans along with some youngsters. Senior Torin Harris (30 tac, 1 for loss, 6 dfl in 2012) has 9 career starts at corner, including 5 mid-season starts last year. He entered the 2012 lineup after junior Anthony Brown (18 tac, 2 dfl, 1 BLK P in 2012, plus 1 PR, 21 yds, 21.0 avg, 1 TD) started the first 2 games. Then there are sophomores Kevon Seymour (5 tac in 2012) and Ryan Henderson (5 tac in 2012) and redshirt freshman Devian Shelton, as well as walk-on sophomore Ryan Dillard (3 tac in 2012).
Two prep All-Americans who enrolled at USC this spring after graduating from high school a semester early will also battle for time at cornerback: Leon McQuay III (Armwood High in Seffner, Fla.) and Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga High in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.).
“By far, the secondary faces the biggest overhaul on our team as we look for 4 new starters,” said Kiffin. “It’s not comforting when you lose players the caliber of T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey, but we must find a way to replace them. We need to improve our play in the secondary and we need to do that with all new starters. There will be a spirited battle throughout spring among all our defensive backs to earn places in the lineup and it will be exciting to watch that competition play out.”
USC’s placekicker (Andre Heidari), snapper (Peter McBride), holder (Cody Kessler) and kickoff returners (Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor) are back from 2012. But the Trojans will be fielding a new punter and punt returner.
USC continued in 2012 its recent penchant for making big plays on special teams (Troy had 4 blocks, including 1 returned for a TD, and a scoring kickoff return last fall). The Trojans ranked fourth nationally in kickoff returns (26.4) and 29th in net punting (38.6) last year. Only 14 of USC’s 45 punts were returned in 2012 and none of the punts were touchbacks.
“Good special teams play has always been an area of emphasis in our program,” said Kiffin. “The amount of time we spend preparing our special teams pays off with big plays that often turn into game changers.
“Marqise Lee gives us a strong return game. Opponents know he can score every time he touches the ball. We will open up the placekicking competition in hopes of getting better production there. And we hope that we can compensate for the loss of Kyle Negrete, whose ability to punt to a spot took the punt return game away from our opponents the past 2 years.”
Sophomore Kris Albarado, who has yet to punt at USC, will take over for Kyle Negrete, who handled the punting duties the past 2 seasons. Negrete, known as an accurate directional punter, averaged 41.5 yards per boot in his career and never had a touchback among his 83 punts. He pinned opponents within the 20-yard line 39 times.
Junior Andre Heidari (39-of-41 PAT, 10-of-16 FG in 2012) has been USC’s placekicker the past 2 seasons, hitting 25 field goals. After a Freshman All-American and All-Pac-12 first team showing in 2011 when he nailed 15-of-17 field goals, he struggled with his accuracy somewhat in 2012, especially after missing 2 early-season games following arthroscopic knee surgery.
When Heidari was sidelined last fall, sophomore walk-on Alex Wood (8-of-8 PAT in 2012) filled in admirably. Wood will push Heidari for the placekicking job in 2013.
Junior Craig McMahon (3 tac in 2012) handled the kickoff duty in 2012 and could do so again in 2013.
Sophomore Peter McBride (1 tac in 2012) returns after handling the long snapping duties all of last year and the short snapping role up until late last season.
Junior Marqise Lee (30 KOR, 856 yds, 28.5 avg, 1 TD in 2012) is back as one of the most feared kickoff returners in the country. He was eighth nationally in kickoff returns (28.5) last fall. He is eighth on USC’s career kickoff return list (1,141 yards) and has 2 scoring runbacks so far. Sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor (5 KOR, 121 yds, 24.2 avg in 2012) joined Lee returning kicks last year and could do so again in 2013.