How will the players respond to the new coaching staff?
After watching the furious pace of the offseason workouts and listening to the players describe the new coaching staff as more intense and disciplined as in years past, it’s hard not to get excited for the opening of spring practice.
It’s always a difficult task to follow a legendary coach like Pete Carroll, with all that he has done to revitalize the USC football program, but the Trojans have wisely gone about the transition with a mix of old and new.
Head coach Lane Kiffin, defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, running backs coach Todd McNair and wide receivers coach John Morton were all assistant coaches at some point during Carroll’s remarkable run to seven straight BCS Bowls, so they bring some continuity amidst all the change.
The Trojans are also expected to run similar schemes on both side of the ball, so learning the new concepts and plays shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the talented group.
And what about all the energy and enthusiasm that fans have become accustomed to at Howard Jones Field? Well, it’s expected to be just as intense - even without a certain grey-haired head coach, who hustled around the field like a walk-on trying to secure a spot on the roster.
With the return of Orgeron and the addition of Monte Kiffin, Joe Barry, Willie Mack Garza, Clay Helton, James Cregg and John Baxter the Trojans have an experienced staff that has already been preaching the importance of discipline and attention to detail, both of which were lacking during the 2009 season.
With the start of spring, USC fans will get to the chance to see the new staff, their new vision and how the players respond to the new approach.
Can the linebackers step up in 2010?
When meeting with the media before the opening of spring practice, USC head coach Lane Kiffin admitted that the linebacker position will be the most important spot on the field this spring.
Coming off a season when the young unit suffered some injuries and was a weakness down the final stretch of the season, Kiffin is looking to make some changes and find the right combination to fit his scheme.
Will the linebackers be improved in 2010?
One potential move that Kiffin seemed excited about was having sophomore Devon Kennard try his hand at middle linebacker.
Kiffin said that Kennard could be a “special player” and was blown away at how fast he made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker last season.
It was obvious that Kiffin was very impressed by the skills, attitude and instincts that Kennard posses, and he is looking to put him at a position where he can make the biggest impact.
One player that unfortunately won’t be in the mix this spring, and may never play again because of injury is Jarvis Jones.
"I'm not very positive about the possibility of him playing here…at all,” Lane Kiffin said.
Despite the loss of Jones and a thin roster, the Trojans do have reason to be optimistic with three returning starters at linebacker.
How much improvement will we see from Matt Barkley in year two?
Matt Barkley has always had a quiet confidence about him that you usually don’t see in players his age, and this offseason it has been apparent that the sophomore signal caller is ready to take a more vocal leadership role.
With a year of experience under his belt, that included playing on the road against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oregon, Barkley has looked more comfortable, confident and in better shape during the players-only throwing sessions.
After undergoing wrist surgery in January, Barkley has been throwing with plenty of zip during 7-on-7 drills and has looked sharp the past few weeks, drawing praise from Ronald Johnson and Brice Butler after a recent workout.
While the quarterback competition will be “open” this spring, all indications are that Barkley will remain the starter and continue to progress under the guidance of Clay Helton and Lane Kiffin.
Who will start in the secondary?
One thing is for certain in the secondary - Shareece Wright will start at cornerback – everything else is up in the air as the Trojans’ head into spring practice.
Wright is one of the most talented players on the roster and one of our picks to have a breakout season in 2010. The senior from Colton has all the tools to be a lockdown corner and will likely emerge as one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-10.
After you get passed Wright there are a lot of talented, but inexperienced young players that will battle for playing time.
Junior cornerback T.J. Bryant will have a shot to start opposite Wright with a strong showing during the spring.
With Brian Buacham likely to miss spring with a toe injury, redshirt freshman Torin Harris, who has received good reviews from teammates during the players-only throwing sessions, will get plenty of opportunities to impress new secondary coach Willie Mack Garza.
At safety, T.J. McDonald is the frontrunner to win the starting job at strong safety. The sophomore got some experience last season, has good football instincts and certainly has an impressive frame.
With Drew McAllister coming off surgery, Patrick Hall still rehabbing his knee and Jawanza Starling splitting time between the baseball diamond and football field, the free safety position is wide open. Look for redshirt freshman Byron Moore to get a look at both free safety and corner this spring.
Marshall Jones is coming off of a neck injury and will also be in the mix for playing time at free safety.
Spring practice will go a long way in determining which players will be at the top of the depth chart, so sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
T.J. McDonald will be looking to secure the starting strong safety spot this spring.
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