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USC Trojans will be looking to spring forward

USC is expected to be a BCS contender in the fall, but first there are several questions to be addressed in spring practice.

March 28, 2009

USC opens spring football practice today, the first of 15 workouts that will conclude with the annual Trojan Huddle scrimmage at the Coliseum. USC is expected to contend for the Bowl Championship Series title this season, but the Trojans have several areas that must be addressed, most notably at quarterback.

Here are six questions to consider:

Sophomore Aaron Corp, junior Mitch Mustain, freshman Matt Barkley and senior Garrett Green are competing to replace Mark Sanchez, who left for the NFL after one season as the starter.

Who will emerge as the starting quarterback?

Corp was No. 2 at the end of last season and can make plays with his mobility.

Mustain, who transferred in 2007 from Arkansas, has the most game experience.

Barkley is equipped with the pedigree, confidence and arm strength to make a strong challenge.

Green is regarded as a longshot because of his value as a utility player, but a strong performance when he gets opportunities might put him in the thick of the competition.

All will be under the watchful eye of Jeremy Bates, who replaces Steve Sarkisian as quarterbacks coach and play caller.

With four linebackers from last season on their way to the NFL draft, is there any talent left?

It will be tough to replace Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava, but there's a reason why USC's recruiting classes have been regarded so highly.

"We're not household names like the guys who left, but we think we have a chance to be good," said sophomore Chris Galippo, who will compete with senior Luthur Brown at middle linebacker.

Both have missed all or parts of seasons because of back problems, and Galippo was stricken with mononucleosis a few months ago.

Junior Michael Morgan played well at the strong-side spot last season and is regarded as the front-runner to start.

Malcolm Smith backed up Maiava on the weak side and appears ready to step into a starting role. Morgan and Smith are visibly bigger and stronger than last season.

Will running backs complain about lack of carries?

Probably not.

Coaches know what senior Stafon Johnson and junior C.J. Gable can do.

Junior Allen Bradford will be held out to fully recover from hip surgery and junior Joe McKnight could be out or limited because of dislocated toes suffered in the Rose Bowl.

So the bulk of the work will go to sophomore Marc Tyler and freshman Curtis McNeal.

Tyler must prove he can stay healthy and is capable of taking a bigger role in the rotation. McNeal, listed at 5 feet 8, was often electric during bowl preparation workouts.

Is there any opportunity along the offensive and defensive fronts?

The Trojans return every starting offensive lineman and several players who were redshirts and could challenge for playing time.

Junior center Kristofer O'Dowd will not participate following shoulder surgery, so sixth-year senior Jeff Byers is expected to move from left guard and play the position at which he excelled in high school.

Sophomore tackle Tyron Smith could push for a starting role on either side and redshirt freshmen Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes will also get long looks.

Under new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, sophomore Armond Armstead will move from tackle to end and compete against freshman Wes Horton.

Senior Averell Spicer, sophomore DaJohn Harris and junior Derek Simmons will get first crack at replacing tackle Fili Moala.

Will there be anything special about special teams?

Coach Pete Carroll hired Brian Schneider as special-teams coordinator to make them so.

Kicker David Buehler's departure leaves a void that might not be filled until the fall, when community college transfer Jacob Harfman, a kicker and punter, is scheduled to arrive.

In the meantime, walk-ons Joe Houston and Jordan Congdon will battle for a role. Walk-on Billy O'Malley will handle punts.

Any other position battles?

The Trojans are looking for a third receiver to complement Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson. Freshman Brice Butler and junior Jordan Cameron are expected to get ample opportunities to see where they fit.

It's getting crowded at safety. Taylor Mays passed up the chance to turn pro and Josh Pinkard was granted a sixth year, allowing for a possible move from cornerback. But senior Will Harris, who played well in place of Kevin Ellison last season, is not expected to surrender a frontline role easily.

Sophomore Drew McAllister was a playmaker in his first season, and Nevada Las Vegas transfer Shane Horton looks ready to contribute.

USC spring practice schedule

All workouts are at Howard Jones Field on campus and open to the public unless noted.

*--* DATE TIME Today 10:30 a.m. Tuesday 4 p.m. Thursday 4 p.m. Friday 4 p.m. April 5 11 a.m. April 7 4 p.m. April 9 4 p.m. April 11 Coliseum (closed to public) April 14 4 p.m. April 16 4 p.m. April 17 4 p.m. April 18 11 a.m. April 21 4 p.m. April 23 4 p.m. April 25 Scrimmage at Coliseum, 1 p.m. *--*

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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