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USC addressing key questions as spring football practice begins

The Trojans face a number of issues as they begin preparation for Coach Lane Kiffin's second season. Staff writer Gary Klein identifies the top 10.

March 21, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC Coach Lane Kiffin has Matt Barkley (7) returning at quarterback, but there's plenty of questions surrounding the team that will need to be answered during spring camp.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin has Matt Barkley (7) returning at quarterback, but… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

After a disappointing 8-5 season in 2010, USC Coach Lane Kiffin begins his second year with the Trojans. And he'll make it an early start with weekday workouts at 7:25 a.m. Staff writer Gary Klein takes a look at 10 questions facing the Trojans as USC opens spring practice Tuesday.

Who's No. 2?

Starting quarterback Matt Barkley was sidelined because of injuries for one game in each of the last two seasons — and he might be bound for the NFL in 2012 — so developing a capable backup is paramount.

Because of NCAA sanctions that kept the Trojans out of a bowl game last season, Jesse Scroggins missed out on an opportunity to run the offense during bowl preparations. Now the redshirt freshman will try to hold off freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, who enrolled in January.

David Sills, an eighth-grader from Delaware who was offered a scholarship by Kiffin last year, will be on hand to observe workouts.

What about USC's appeal of sanctions?

It has been eight weeks since USC's contingent returned from Indianapolis, where it argued the Trojans' case for cutting the bowl ban to one season already served and, more importantly, modifying the three-year scholarship reduction from 10 a year to five.

The NCAA's decision could come at any time, though probably not during the NCAA basketball tournament.

What's happening at running back?

Senior Marc Tyler finally enters spring practice as the projected starter and Dillon Baxter gets a fresh start after a rocky freshman season.

But this spring is about D.J. Morgan. The redshirt freshman was brought along slowly last season after suffering a major knee injury during his senior year at Woodland Hills Taft High. When given the go-ahead to perform without restriction, Morgan impressed with toughness, shiftiness and breakaway speed. Coaches also lauded his work ethic and are looking forward to seeing him push Baxter.

Freshman Soma Vainuku is the only scholarship fullback on the roster.

Who's starting at receiver opposite Robert Woods?

After earning freshman All-American recognition last season as a kick returner and split end, Woods will move to flanker to provide versatility and more opportunities as a deep threat.

Redshirt freshman Kyle Prater is sidelined because of a foot injury, so Brandon Carswell, De'Von Flournoy and Markeith Ambles should get plenty of opportunities.

Ted Gilmore is the new receivers coach.

Are there finally enough linemen?

Starting left tackle Matt Kalil is sound, but guard/center Khaled Holmes (neck), center Abe Markowitz (foot) and tackle Kevin Graf (shoulder) will sit out all or part of spring drills.

JC transfers David Garness and Jeremy Galten should provide depth, though they are still learning the offense.

Defensive end Wes Horton (foot) could be limited. End Armond Armstead has not been cleared to play after being hospitalized this month to undergo tests for an unspecified condition. Senior tackle Christian Tupou will probably be sidelined after sitting out last season because of knee surgery.

Who's playing middle linebacker?

Senior Chris Galippo is on track to start after the coaching staff moved Devon Kennard back to the outside. Kennard and Shane Horton, however, are expected to be sidelined while recovering from hip injuries.

Hayes Pullard, Marquis Simmons and Simione Vehikite will get plenty of reps, as will redshirt freshman Dion Bailey, who is moving from safety.

How is the secondary shaping up?

Starting cornerback Nickell Robey is available but Torin Harris and T.J. Bryant are sidelined while recovering from shoulder surgeries.

Brian Baucham and Tony Burnett, a former walk-on safety who earned a scholarship, will compete with redshirt freshmen Anthony Brown and Demetrius Wright.

T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling, Marshall Jones and Drew McAllister are the safeties.

Who is Rhett Ellison's backup at tight end?

Blake Ayles' transfer to Miami opens the door for sophomore Christian Thomas and redshirt freshmen Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

Graduate assistant Justin Mesa replaces Keary Colbert in charge of the position.

Anything special going on with the specialists?

Freshman kicker Andre Heidari and long snapper Peter McBride enrolled in January to begin working with assistant John Baxter. Heidari also punts.

Are practices still closed to the public?

Yes. Because of the sanctions, USC's policy of limiting access to family of players, media and guests of senior administrators continues.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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