2012 USC Preview – Offense
USC WR Robert Woods
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - USC Trojan Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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From the moment Matt Barkley announced on Dec. 22 that he'd be returning for his senior year, it was a foregone conclusion that Troy would boast one of 2012's most potent passing attacks. The quarterback, who could have been a top 5 overall pick in April's NFL Draft, figures to be unstoppable as the triggerman for the Trojans' dynamite corps of receivers. Robert Woods is already an All-American, who could join Barkley as a first round pick next spring, and Marqise Lee is on the verge of being every bit as talented. The duo, plus seam-busting tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, will be virtually impossible to shut down this season. Until just a few days ago, USC was concerned about its depth at running back. And then Silas Redd transferred from Penn State to give the program a pair of potential feature backs. Senior Curtis McNeal was a surprise 1,000-yarder, but still needs to stay healthy now that Dillon Baxter and Amir Carlisle have transferred. If the offensive staff experiences any sleepless nights, it'll probably be having nightmares about the offensive line. The comforting news is that four starters do return, headed by All-Pac-12 C Khaled Holmes. The doubt centers on left tackle, the position that had been manned so competently by Minnesota Viking rookie Matt Kalil. Current RT Kevin Graf held the job at the beginning of spring, but was displaced by enormous sophomore Aundrey Walker. Assuming he stays put, all the 6-6, 320-pounder needs to do this fall is make sure Barkley absorbs as few hits as possible.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Matt Barkley
Passing: Matt Barkley
308-446, 3,528 yds, 39 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Curtis McNeal
145 carries, 1,005 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Robert Woods
111 catches, 1,292 yds, 15 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Aundrey Walker
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Randall Telfer
Best pro prospect: Barkley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Barkley, 2) Junior WR Robert Woods, 3) Senior C Khaled Holmes
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, the passing game, protecting the ball, big plays, third-down conversions
Weakness of the offense: Overall depth, left tackle, red-zone conversions
When senior Matt Barkley announced his plans to put off the riches of the NFL for one more year, all of a sudden it became Game On for the Trojan program in the 2012 national championship race. The 6-2, 230-pounder returns as the most complete passer in America not currently being paid with terrific poise, smarts, and an even-keel personality – he's not exactly Los Angeles when it comes to acting big-time. A starter since his rookie year, he peaked in 2011 by going 308-of-446 for 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. From a leadership and intangibles standpoint, he is to USC what Andrew Luck was to Stanford, an intelligent player who helps elevate those around him. More of a timing and touch passer than a power pitcher, his placement is impeccable, often putting the ball where only the receiver can access it.
And now the knocks will start coming as he's scrutinized as a top NFL draft pick, and possibly the No. 1 overall selection if everything breaks right. He has the exact make-up and personality to be the face of a pro franchise for 15 years, but he's barely 6-2, doesn't have much mobility, and has a good, but not elite, arm. It also helped that he's been able to work behind an outstanding line that has given him time to work. However, he has grown and last year he blossomed with 468 yards and four scores against Arizona, 318 yards and six scores against Colorado, and most impressively, a 26-of-34, 323-yard, four-touchdown, one pick day in the win at Oregon. With the receiving corps he has to work with, expect more of the same and a likely trip to New York in December. If all goes according to plan, he'll be the signature player of the 2012 college football season.
There's an interesting battle taking place for the No. 2 job, which ended as a dead heat at the end of spring. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler are a pair of four-star redshirt freshmen from the 2011 class who are battling for a lot more than just the backup job. Whoever gains the upper hand just might run his competitor out of town. It certainly would not be unprecedented for a gifted USC athlete to leave the program in a search for more playing time. Heck, former can't-miss recruit Jesse Scroggins recently announced that he was transferring to El Camino (Calif.) College.
If Wittek succeeds Barkley, it wouldn't be the first time it happened, having filled his shoes at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School. Yup, same prep school as former Trojan Matt Leinart, too. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he has archetypal size and arm strength for the position. Kessler is doing his part to go stride for stride this offseason, showcasing tight spirals, underrated athleticism and uncommon polish from such a young player. Both have a star's ceiling, though it's unlikely both can reach it via Troy.
Watch Out For .... the scrutiny of Barkley to begin in earnest now that he's being considered as a top NFL draft pick, and possibly the No. 1 overall selection if everything breaks right. He has the exact make-up and personality to be the face of a pro franchise for 15 years, but he's barely 6-2, doesn't have much mobility, and has a good, but not elite, arm. None of the nit-picking is going to make a difference in his 2012 performance, but it won't stop scouts and would-be scouts from putting every aspect of his game under the microscope.
Strength: Chemistry. Obviously, in Barkley, USC boasts one of college football premier passers. However, beyond No. 7's physical ability as a passer, he also enjoys a unique chemistry with his wide receivers and tight ends. Barkley intimately knows his weapons' tendencies, getting the ball to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee before they're even done getting out of their breaks. Defensive backs are at an immediate disadvantage as soon as the Trojans break the huddle.
Weakness: Proven backups. About the only thing that could go wrong behind center this year is if Barkley is injured and misses time. Wittek and Kessler have terrific futures in Los Angeles, but neither has taken a live snap, a concern for a program that has such high aspirations. In an ideal world, a Mitch Mustain-like veteran would be holding a clipboard on the sidelines, but USC has no such luxury this season.
Outlook: Barkley didn't pass on the riches of the NFL to simply pile up big numbers in 2012. No, this is a legacy run for the senior, who'll have a shot of winning every individual and team award that's available for a quarterback. With his talent and experience, plus the elite corps of USC wide receivers, it's hard to imagine Barkley not living up to—or exceeding—expectations. Besides the obvious reasons, the Trojans would love a handful of routs that allow Wittek or Kessler to earn some valuable reps.
Depth was a concern in the backfield … and then Penn State got smacked around by the NCAA. The Lions' loss was the Trojans gain, as junior Silas Redd announced on July 31 that he'd be transferring out of Happy Valley. The addition of the 5-10, 200-pounder completely transforms a ground game that appeared as if it was going to be a one-note attack in 2012. Redd was one of the country's premier young backs in 2011, breaking loose for 1,241 yards and seven scores on 244 carries en route to a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team. A shifty back when he first arrived in State College, he transformed into a more complete and physical runner, who can work between the tackles with equal effectiveness.
The face The ground game is going to be talented up top, but still perilously thin beyond the starter, the result of graduations and transfers. Senior Curtis McNeal was a very pleasant surprise in 2011, going from a completely overlooked option to the team's leading rusher. Despite starting just four games a year after missing all of 2010 as an academic casualty, he rushed for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns on only 145 carries. He zipped for at least 85 yards in the final seven games, burning Notre Dame, Stanford, Washington and UCLA for more than 100. While only 5-7 and 190 pounds, he's tough to bring down, and was responsible for the Trojans' five longest runs of the season.
In the all-important job of backing up McNeal and Redd, 5-10, 190-pound sophomore D.J. Morgan is firmly entrenched in the role. After starting the first two games of 2011, ball-security problems and nagging knee problems wound up limiting him to 42 carries for 163 yards. A sprinter on the USC track team, he has the jets and acceleration to get back into the good graces of the staff in the fall.
At least for now, redshirt freshman Buck Allen will occupy the No. 4 hole on the Trojans depth chart. While raw and clearly inexperienced at this stage of his career, the 6-0, 215-pounder is a prototypical between-the-tackles bruiser that the offense is lacking right now. If he can impress the staff in the summer, there could be four or five carries a game available this year.
With the graduation of Rhett Ellison, Soma Vainuku is slotted to take over at fullback. At 6-0 and 250 pounds, he can clean defender's clocks as a run blocker. He's a powerful, no-nonsense operator who will also pitch in as a short-yardage bulldozer from time to time.
Watch Out For … McNeal to pick up where he left off in 2011. Yeah, he'll be sharing carries with Redd, but the unassuming senior was just getting started when the 2011 regular season ended, denying him a chance to build on a brilliant second half of the year. However, with opponents spending so much energy trying to stop Matt Barkley and the passing game, McNeal should once again experience the wide running lanes needed to rank among the Pac-12's most productive rushers.
Strength: Big plays. McNeal averaged just under seven yards a carry, while ripping three runs of at least 60 yards in 2011. Morgan has the speed and vision to perforate defenses before going untouched to the end zone. USC is home to a couple of homerun hitters who'll serve as ideal complements to the aerial attack.
Weakness: Depth. Okay, this is far less of a concern than it was just a few days ago, but wasn't it just last year that the Trojans were home to Marc Tyler, Dillon Baxter and Amir Carlisle to go along with McNeal? Tyler has graduated, Baxter is at Baker University of the NAIA and Carlisle is on the roster of rival Notre Dame. USC is dangerously thin in the backfield after the first two workhorses, meaning an injury to McNeal or Redd would be a blow to the offense.
Outlook: Talk about irony. The team coming off the NCAA most wanted list, USC, benefits from the program, Penn State, about to go on it. The signing of Redd is a transformational get for head coach Lane Kiffin, giving the Trojans two terrific and experienced 1,000-yarders to complement the high-flying passing attack. And do not forget about McNeal, a revelation in 2011 who'll pop off a game-changer every so often. The pair will learn to share, potentially hurting each player's individual numbers. However, the whole on the ground will almost certainly be greater than the sum of the parts now that the Trojans have beefed up their running game.
Unit Rating: 9
If there's a better tandem in the country than the one currently at USC, it's getting paid to play on Sundays. Less than two years. That's about how long it took for 6-1, 190-pound junior Robert Woods to evolve into an NFL-ready receiver. If the league allowed it, he probably would have been taken in the first round of last April's draft. The total package at the flanker position, and a reigning Biletnikoff Award finalist, he caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. Woods has the jets to get behind a secondary, but is so much more than just a straight-line burner. He has picture-perfect ball skills, runs tight routes and can make acrobatic catches appear routine. With Matt Barkley returning as his battery mate, Woods will once again be unstoppable for Troy.
Incredibly, the Trojans will boast a near-equal to Woods at split end in 6-0, 190-pound sophomore Marqise Lee. As a rookie on campus, he erupted out of the gates to catch 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns in a rousing Freshman All-American debut. Also a long jumper on the USC track team, he might be the most explosive all-around athlete on the roster. Lee can glide past defensive backs with his smooth stride, or leap high above them on jump balls. He's still a little raw with his ball skills, especially when compared to Woods, but he's only one year into his college career, and continuously getting better.
Backing up at flanker will be 6-0, 180-pound junior De'Von Flournoy, who is still looking for his first career reception. He's suddenly pretty important since Woods is rehabbing his surgically-repaired ankle. The elusive and hard-working Flournoy is eager to start making his mark on the offense after basically being idle since arriving.
The fastest of the wide receivers is sophomore George Farmer, Lee's caddy at split end. Not only does he have blazing speed, but also has the 6-1, 210-pound frame to create a physical advantage on defensive backs. The elite recruit from the 2011 class is looking to build on last year's four catches for 42 yards now that there's less of a logjam on the outside.
Troy's depth and talent in the receiving corps is not limited to the wide receivers. The tight ends are rather impressive as well. Southern California's version of Stanford at the position, the Trojans will have more than one starter, depending on the week and the situation. Sophomore Randall Telfer is the most exciting pass-catcher of the group, a speedy 6-4, 245-pounder who can perforate the seam of a defense. As a five-game starter, he caught 26 passes for 273 yards and five touchdowns in his 2011 debut.
The starter in the other seven games was 6-5, 260-pound sophomore Xavier Grimble. He is the more prototypical tight end of the pair, an assertive and physical blocker who is tough to blanket as a receiver near the end zone. In fact, of his 15 receptions for 144 yards, four wound up resulting in a touchdown.
Watch Out For … the health of Woods' ankle. As of the middle of June, the All-American was still sitting out summer workouts after an MRI revealed lingering bone inflammation in his ankle. While he's expected to be available once fall camp begins in August, this remains a delicate situation that bears a very close watch in the coming weeks.
Strength: Elite options and athleticism. The Trojans would be in fine shape if they had just one receiver of Woods' caliber. However, they've got two, and Lee was one of the stars of the spring, raising the level of his play to an entirely new level. The backups are unproven but physically gifted, and the tight ends promise to rank among the most productive duos in the country this fall.
Weakness: Proven backups at wide receiver. So what happens if Woods' ankle flares up during the season? Sure, Lee will have no problem becoming the No. 1 option, but all of the backups combined accounted for just four receptions in 2011. The Trojans will need to develop both Farmer and Flournoy in the summer and fall, because both might be asked to step up and make plays this season.
Outlook: No one in America can boast a better passing game or corps of receivers than USC, especially when tight ends are factored in. Woods and Lee are future first round NFL Draft choices, and with so much attention going to the outside guys, Barkley will play pitch-and-catch with Telfer and Grimble whenever he sees fit. All that's left to do now is monitor the health of Woods' ankle, and continue to build depth for the fall and the future.
Unit Rating: 10
The good news is that four starters are back from last year's front wall. The bad news? The lone departure was LT Matt Kalil, the All-American and No. 4 overall pick of the Minnesota Vikings in April. The job of succeeding Kalil—and protecting Matt Barkley's blindside—belongs to second-year sophomore Aundrey Walker, a top recruit from a year ago. He's had an eventful first year, switching from the right side and losing considerable weight to become a more nimble pass protector. A 6-6, 320-pound mauler, with an ideal wingspan, he has a tremendous future, but will be facing a lot of pressure in his first season in the lineup.
Back for a second season as the starting right tackle will be 6-6, 295-pound junior Kevin Graf. For a time, it looked as if he might supplant Kalil on the left side, but the staff opted to stay put instead. He overcame a slow start at the beginning of 2011 to become a more competent blocker as the season progressed. A physical blocker, he's most comfortable creating space for the backs.
The unquestioned leader of the Trojans O-line is 6-4, 305-pound senior Khaled Holmes, a rock at the pivot. The third-year starter can play any position on the interior, beginning his career at guard before emerging as a Second Team All-Pac-12 center in 2011. He brings certain intangibles to the middle of the line, such as intelligence and leadership, which the coaching staff covets at the position. Holmes is powerful at the point of attack, yet has the light feet to quickly kick out and get to the second level on running plays. He'll be in the hunt to be the first center chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The guards will be young and talented. On the left side, 6-3, 325-pound sophomore Marcus Martin is looking to build on an auspicious debut with the program. He started the final 10 games as a 17-year-old rookie, showing signs of improvement as the season moved along. He is a prototypical guard, tough at the point of attack, tenacious and at his best when he can drive opposing linemen off the ball.
Lurking behind Martin is 6-3, 295-pound redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi. The blue-chipper from the 2011 class was named the Offensive Service Team Player of the Year for his work on the scout team. He has played well enough during the offseason to look as if he's ready to become a regular part of the rotation.
At right guard, the staff is very high on 6-2, 300-pound junior John Martinez. The former center started every game a year ago, displaying a blue-collar work ethic and a steadiness that resonates to the younger players. Outside of the program, he may never get the recognition that he deserves, but he plays mistake-free football, which the program really cherishes.
Providing experience from off the bench will be backup RG Jeremy Galten. The 6-5, 290-pound transfer from San Mateo (Calif.) Junior College started the opener against Minnesota, and appeared in all dozen games. While no threat to Martinez, he's a luxury to have coming off the bench.
Watch Out For … Walker's comfort level. He has some of the biggest shoes to fill, and one of the biggest responsibilities of any left tackle in the FBS this year … and he's just a year removed from Glenville (OH) High School. He played well enough in the spring to keep Graf on the right side, but the real test of his maturity won't come until September.
Strength: The interior of the line. Holmes is the team's most talented blocker, and he'll be surrounded by a pair of returning starters, Martin and Martinez. The Trojans are tough to penetrate from the interior, building a fortress up the middle. They should be able to generate a push between the tackles on running plays, while getting out to the second level in a hurry.
Weakness: Depth. This is a prevailing problem that's impacting multiple areas of the depth chart. Thin and inexperienced on the second team, USC will open up the competition for playing time when three talented true freshman, Max Tuerk, Jordan Simmons and Zach Banner arrive in the summer.
Outlook: The Trojans did a fantastic job of regrouping along the offensive line in 2011, finishing No. 2 nationally in sacks allowed. However, Kalil leaves a gaping void at left tackle that Walker will be tasked with filling. If the sophomore can hold up under difficult circumstances, the balance of the line will take care of the rest. However, despite returning four starters, Troy is thin after the first unit, so injuries and down time must be avoided.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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