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USC's cornerback position is a cause for concern

Trojans corners, who have been consistently vulnerable, are burned for touchdowns and long gains and outmuscled for possessions several times by receivers in a 52-play situational scrimmage.

March 31, 2013|By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times
  • USC cornerback Torin Harris grabs the facemask of Arizona's Garic Wharton during a scuffle in a game last season.
USC cornerback Torin Harris grabs the facemask of Arizona's Garic… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

After three weeks of spring practice, it's evident that USC has a major position-group issue to address before its opener at Hawaii in late August.

Yes, quarterback is still up in the air, though third-year sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek showed Saturday that both are making progress if not separating themselves.

Unfortunately for the Trojans, their highlights came at the expense of a secondary that has proved consistently vulnerable at cornerback.

After a 52-play situational scrimmage at the Coliseum, Coach Lane Kiffin described the cornerback spot as "a huge concern."

Receivers Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer burned corners for touchdowns or long gains and outmuscled them for possessions.

New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has indicated that he would like to play a more aggressive scheme that includes man-to-man coverage. But experienced cornerbacks such as Torin Harris and Anthony Brown struggled Saturday as did newcomer Chris Hawkins.

"We've got the big men up front giving it all they got and then on the back end we gave up a few big plays, which can't happen," senior safety Josh Shaw said. "You'll lose a ballgame like that."

Shaw said the problems were fixable and attributed some to inexperience. Hawkins and safety Su'a Cravens, for example, graduated from high school in December.

Sophomore Kevon Seymour has been sidelined because of an ankle injury and Kiffin lamented the departure of Nickell Robey, who declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining despite not being projected as a potential high-round pick.

Kiffin hopes to find some solutions at cornerback in the final two weeks of spring practice and during training camp.

"They're not going to come out of somewhere," he said, "so we've just got to play better with the guys we have, get them better and coach better."

Quarterback growth

Kessler, who continues to display growing confidence, connected on a 58-yard touchdown pass play to Agholor, the first time this spring that Kessler really aired out a long, accurate throw.

"You feel like a kid, it's like candy," Kessler said of going to the line of scrimmage and seeing Agholor facing one-on-one coverage. "You're just, 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' And then … the play comes and all I'm thinking in my mind as I threw it was 'Don't overthrow him.'"

Kessler completed five of nine passes for 99 yards and also threw a touchdown pass to Blackwell.

Wittek also looked good, completing three of five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Another certain touchdown pass was dropped.

Quick hits

Freshman tailback Justin Davis rushed for 54 yards in 11 carries and scored two touchdowns. Third-year sophomore Javorius Allen rushed for 71 yards in 13 carries…. Junior Marcus Martin continues to work at center, a move that Kiffin indicated could become permanent. Sophomore Max Tuerk has been playing left guard…. Kiffin said 17 players did not practice because of injuries, including tailback D.J. Morgan, who suffered a knee injury Thursday. Kiffin, however, said the injury was not serious.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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