2013 USC Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - USC Trojan Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What you need to know:
It's the start of a new era on offense for USC, as coordinator Clay Helton takes command of the offense, and as life after four-year starting QB Matt Barkley begins. While Helton has been promoted, it remains to be seen if he'll take any of the play-calling duties away from head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is hoping to steal a page from the glory days of Trojans football by running the ball with authority and physicality. Barkley is one of just three starters that need to be replaced, including WR Robert Woods and C Khaled Holmes. The biggest storyline of the summer will be the battle to be Barkley's heir apparent, likely either Cody Kessler or Max Wittek. The winner's transition will be eased by the presence of Marqise Lee, the nation's foremost wide receiver, and gifted tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Silas Redd is back for his second—and final—year at Troy, determined to become one of the Pac-12's top backs. And while the line brings back four starters, experience alone won't be enough in 2013. The staff is demanding that the blockers are more physical and forceful than in recent seasons.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Marqise Lee
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 QB Cody Kessler or Max Wittek
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Nelson Agholor
Best pro prospect: Lee
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lee, 2) Junior TE Xavier Grimble, 3) Senior RB Silas Redd
Strength of the offense: Receivers, pass protection, explosive plays
Weakness of the offense: Untested quarterbacks, overall depth, run blocking, turnovers, third-down efficiency
For the first time since 2009, Matt Barkley is not a part of the USC program. Let the battle for the quarterback vacancy ensue. In fact, it already has, though a starter won't be anointed until August. Three contenders will be going for one of the highest-profile jobs in college football. Sophomore Cody Kessler was the third-stringer in 2012, but he was the sharpest of the quarterbacks in the spring. The 6-1, 215-pounder is not the prototypical Trojans passer, a little scrappier than he is statuesque. However, Kessler moved the offense in April, throwing an accurate ball, and showing good footwork and energy. He's made this more of a competition than many anticipated before spring began.
Sophomore Max Wittek looks more like the vintage Troy hurler. He's 6-4 and 235 pounds, with the strongest arm of the challengers. Heck, he's already successfully succeeded Barkley once, as the quarterback of Mater Dei (Calif.) High School. Wittek also has the edge in experience, starting the Notre Dame and Sun Bowl games, going 36-of-69 for 388 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. But he has to play with a little more consistency by cutting down on his errant and overthrown passes.
True freshmen don't compete in their first year for this caliber of job. Max Browne, though, is not your average rookie. The 6-5, 215-pounder is the total package at the position, from his size and his throwing motion to his poise and leadership skills. He graduated early from high school in order to participate in spring drills, but still has a long way to go before narrowing the gap on a pair of third-year sophomores.
Watch Out For .... Kessler to build on the momentum he secured in practice. No. 6 was emboldened by his performance throughout the spring, a much-needed shot in the arm for USC's forgotten man in January and February. Now that he's firmly in the discussion to start in 2013, a lack of confidence will not be an issue in the summer.
Strength: The future. Okay, so there promises to be growing pains at quarterback this fall, but it'll be worth it in the end. The Trojans continue to have few problems attracting some of the best and the brightest at the position. Wittek and Kessler are only going to get better with reps, and Browne is an elite blue-chip prospect, even by USC's haughty standards.
Weakness: Proven players. The Trojans got a glimpse of life after Barkley late last year. And it wasn't especially glorious. Wittek struggled predictably. Now, he'll be more prepared for the job this fall, but will he even win the job? If not, USC will likely give the ball to a kid who has attempted two career passes.
Outlook: It's your move, Lane. The Trojans are about to stage one of the more intriguing quarterback derbies of the summer. Head coach Lane Kiffin is looking for competition and for one of his kids to build separation. While everything has been written in pencil thus far, the most likely scenario has Kessler maintaining his lead, Wittek being the No. 2 for a second straight year and Browne redshirting. Kessler brings a certain spark to the offense that the entire program needs in 2013.
Things haven't quite worked out as planned for 5-10, 200-pound senior Silas Redd so far at USC. Yeah, he led the Trojans with 905 yards and nine touchdowns on 167 carries to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12. But he had a quiet second-half to the year, and his new team won fewer games than his old one, Penn State. Oh, and a torn meniscus on March 16 means he'll be rehabbing the left knee until the summer. Before getting hurt, Redd appeared a touch faster and quicker than he did last fall. Remember, this is the same elusive, blue-collar back who rushed for 1,241 yards in his final year in Happy Valley in 2011.
It looks as if Redd will get support and competition from some of the younger backs on the roster. Five-star true freshman Justin Davis has wasted no time in his quest for an immediate role in the rotation. The 6-1, 215-pounder was one of the storylines of the spring, running with the toughness, determination and instincts to be a bona fide threat to Redd's presumed starting job. Forget a redshirt. Davis is going to be a major factor as USC attempts to establish a steadier presence on the ground.
Having fully recovered from last year's torn knee ligament, sophomore Tre Madden is angling for his first opportunity to play on offense. The 6-1, 220-pound converted linebacker is a battering ram between the tackles, lowering his shoulders to run through defenders. Madden was somewhat limited in the spring, which will make the summer that much more important for his quest for carries.
Troy will continue to employ a fullback, a position that'll be manned by either 6-0, 250-pound sophomore Soma Vainuku or 5-11, 225-pound Jahleel Pinner. Vainuku is a no-nonsense battering ram as a lead blocker, with four games of starting experience. Pinner has played fewer snaps, but is more likely to catch defenses napping with his quickness if given an opportunity to touch the ball.
Watch Out For … Davis to keep the pressure on Redd during the summer. The precocious newcomer runs with the authority and confidence of someone who's been here before. In the spring, it was almost as if he didn't know he was making noise at USC as a recently-matriculated freshman.
Strength: Toughness. There's not a lot that's fancy about the current crop of USC running backs. The program's three primary backs have good size, and they run with the assertiveness that the coaching staff is seeking this season. The Trojans want to grind down opponents, believing they harbor the right mix of backs to achieve their goal.
Weakness: Proven depth. Redd is tough, but it can't be dismissed that he suffered a knee injury earlier in the year. Now that ultra-steady Curtis McNeal has graduated, USC no longer has a seasoned veteran to pluck off the sidelines. As much as the staff likes the upside of Davis and Madden, neither player has logged a carry at this level.
Outlook: Assuming the knee suffers no setbacks, Redd is in store for a solid final year in Los Angeles. Last season, he came aboard late, yet still had a decent enough debut in the Pac-12. With a full offseason to get acclimated to the system and his new teammates, he should be good for 1,000 yards. However, the emergence of Davis will keep Redd from contending for national honors, such as the Doak Walker Award. Davis already looks as if he'll be difficult to keep relegated to the bench.
Unit Rating: 8
Junior Marqise Lee is already an NFL-caliber receiver, who'll spend one more year toying with overmatched college defensive backs. Unstoppable through his first two seasons, the 6-0, 195-pound superstar was a unanimous All-American pick and USC's first-ever Biletnikoff Award winner in 2012. Despite drawing every opponent's best cornerback, Lee set or tied 14 school records, including five Pac-12 marks, with 118 catches for 1,721 and 14 touchdowns. He's the total package on the outside, blending explosive speed and acceleration with next-level fundamentals as a pass-catcher. He displays excellent concentration when the ball is in the air, and running back vision in space. Lee is looking to tweak a few of the finer points of his game and stay healthy before jetting off to the NFL once the Trojans' bowl game is over.
Now that Robert Woods is a Buffalo Bill, the Trojans are seeking a complement at split end to Lee. It's a critical position to the passing attack that's going to be filled by 6-1, 185-pound sophomore Nelson Agholor. The Nigerian-born native of Tampa, Fla. flashed some of his potential as a rookie, catching 19 balls for 340 yards and two touchdowns. He's a fluid overall athlete who gets to second gear in a hurry. This past spring, Agholor showcased improved ball skills, one element of his game that needed sharpening.
The passing game needs others to step up in a big way to take some heat off Lee. The receivers have plenty to prove, but the tight ends are among the deepest in the country. Troy essentially boasts co-starters, but junior Xavier Grimble has been the most dangerous pass-catcher. Of last season's 29 receptions for 316 yards, five went for touchdowns. He's a special all-around athlete, with the 6-5, 255-pound frame to be a can't-miss target for quarterbacks. Grimble's measurables and all-around physical talent will be like catnip for NFL scouts, who could project him as a very high draft choice next April.
Grimble's tag-team partner at tight end is 6-4, 255-pound junior Randall Telfer, a player who likely won't get all of the recognition he deserves until he's performing on Sundays. Telfer has started 14 games over the last two seasons, showing a knack for excelling in the red zone. He has big, reliable mitts, using them to haul in nine touchdown catches and 373 yards on just 38 career receptions. On all but a couple of FBS teams, Telfer would be the unchallenged starter.
From where will depth at wide receiver come? No one other than Lee and Agholor caught more than one pass in 2012. As former four-star recruits go, senior De'Von Flournoy has been a big disappointment. The dependable 6-0, 185-pounder has caught just a single career pass, yet he's currently No.2 behind Agholor on the depth chart. True freshman Darreus Rogers has performed this offseason as if he plans on being the heir apparent to Lee at flanker. The 6-2, 195-pounder originally signed with USC in 2012, but had to delay enrollment until 2013. He's fast and physical, emerging at a most opportune time for this unit.
Watch Out For … Agholor and Rogers to take the first big steps toward becoming the future at wide receiver for USC. Both young playmakers are abundantly gifted, with exciting trajectories as pass-catchers. While Lee is obviously the focal point of the attack, Agholor and Rogers will be on the verge of busting out by the second half of the year.
Strength: Lee. No. 9 is more than just an elite wide receiver who'll be chosen in the opening round of next April's NFL Draft. He's the kind of weapon that makes opposing coaches scheme specifically to stop him. And when one player is so dominant and warrants so much attention, it makes it easier for the supporting cast to showcase their skills.
Weakness: Depth at wide receiver. The Trojans lost two players to offseason knee injuries, rookie Steven Mitchell and junior George Farmer, who likely would've been in the rotation. With just five scholarship player now available, USC is perilously thin on the outside.
Outlook: While the Trojans won't have the same one-two punch as a year ago, they'll still boast one of the nation's top receiving corps. Lee is college football's premier wide receiver, and the tight end tandem of Telfer and Grimble is dynamic. The key will naturally be the development of the other wideouts, like Agholor and Rogers, and the ability of the receivers to remain healthy throughout the regular season.
Unit Rating: 9
With a new position coach, Mike Summers, and a new center needing to replace all-star Khaled Holmes, the line will be looking for fresh leadership in 2013. The good news is that four starters do return from a unit that led the Pac-12 in sacks allowed last year. Junior Marcus Martin is set to replace Holmes at the pivot after spending the last two seasons as the starting left guard. The tenacious 6-3, 325-pound drive blocker has made a smooth transition so far, an offseason trend the staff hopes will continue into the summer and fall.
With Martin vacating his old left guard spot, sophomore Max Tuerk is expected to slide in and fill it. The ultra-versatile 6-6, 285-pounder actually started the final five games of his rookie year at left tackle, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention. He's athletic, smart and tenacious, the ingredients of a budding star up front for the Trojans.
Rounding out the interior will be unheralded senior RG John Martinez. The third-year starter is a solid component of the USC ground game, drive blocking his man out of the play. The 6-2, 305-pound one-time center earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season, playing the kind of blue-collar, mistake-free football that the coaching staff cherishes.
Junior Aundrey Walker is holding on at left tackle, where he was in and out if the lineup last season. The 6-6, 300-pounder from Cleveland has an enormous amount of physical ability and potential, but his play was spotty in 2012 and again in the spring. Walker is currently backed up by a former walk-on, meaning his spot atop the depth chart is somewhat by default, and tenuous as the season approaches.
Without a lot of warning, the Trojans have a competition for the right tackle job. Senior Kevin Graf appeared to be a sure-thing to be back in the lineup for a third year—and still might be—but currently has an "OR" between his name and that of 6-7, 270-pound redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler. Is it a motivational tactic, or is Wheeler truly on the verge of a shocking upset? Graf has been a steady blocker throughout his career, but the staff has made a statement that it's not afraid to hand the job to Wheeler.
LT Nathan Guertler and C Cyrus Hobbi are returning letterwinners currently occupying spots on the B team. The 6-3, 285-pound Hobbi, a sophomore, played in seven games a year ago, and is capable of filling in at guard as well.
Watch Out For … Tuerk to be considered for a move back to left tackle. He played the position well in 2012, while Walker had his share of struggles. The Trojans need to adequately protect the backside of the new starting quarterback, and they'll do whatever juggling is necessary to keep the pocket clean.
Strength: Pass-blocking skills. Walker's inconsistency aside, USC does a nice job of walling off the edge and sealing gaps in the middle of the line. The 2012 edition, while it did include Holmes, only yielded 17 sacks in 13 games. The Trojans linemen are athletic, with the necessary footwork to avoid getting whipped at the point of attack.
Weakness: Physicality. The program wants to be more assertive in the trenches, bullying defenses off the line of scrimmage. It's a noble pursuit, but USC doesn't harbor the depth or right talent mix to get it done on a consistent basis. A review of last year's Stanford and Notre Dame games, for instance, reveals a front wall that won't anchor the line of scrimmage against the best teams on the schedule.
Outlook: USC wants to get back to the old days, when it could physically manhandle opposing defenses at the line of scrimmage. It remains questionable whether the currently-comprised group can maul on a week-in, week-out basis. The Trojans are experienced and adroit in pass protection. Paving the way for the backs and building depth, though, are two areas that still need addressing between now and the opener.
Unit Rating: 7
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