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Spring preview: USC

The Trojans begin a new (old) era with Sark. Dave Miller

Print This March 11, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

USC begins spring practice on Tuesday following one of the more interesting seasons in the program's storied history.

Let's take a look at some of the issues facing the Trojans as they prepare for their spring game on April 19 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum under new head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Cody KesslerUS PRESSWIREWill Cody Kessler ultimately be able to hold off Max Browne at QB?

The battle under center: Cody Kessler is back after winning the starting job over Max Wittek, who is transferring from 'SC and could end up at Texas. Kessler settled into the role nicely and is coming off of a strong showing in the bowl win over Fresno State, but a new regime means that he has to prove himself once again. The competition this spring comes from redshirt freshman Max Browne, who has been tabbed by many as the future at the position. Early enrollee Jalen Greene will also see a lot of reps, but all eyes will be on how hard Browne can push Kessler, who is one of eight returning projected starters on an offense that will be up-tempo and no-huddle. Who will ultimately be under center for the team's opener against Fresno State on August 30? Kessler completed 65 percent of his passes last fall for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns (against seven interceptions), but Sarkisian recruited Browne when he was in Seattle.

Depth at RB: The Trojans will have plenty of options in the backfield for its ground game, led by Javorius Allen, who recorded 14 touchdowns on the ground and averaged 5.8 yards per carry last fall. Tre Madden and Ty Isaac will also showcase their skills this spring while Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan are likely sidelined with injuries. No matter who is under center, the Trojans have a wealth of talent in the backfield to help complement the passing game.

Star-quality defense: 'SC also returns eight projected starters on defense, including Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard and Su’a Cravens. But the Trojans lose hybrid defender Dion Bailey and tackle George Uko. Leon McQuay III should wow the new staff after being a special teams contributer last season, and he could step in for Bailey. Meanwhile, Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons and Kenny Bigelow will battle to step in for Uko. Williams is one of the best defenders in the country but will miss spring with a shoulder injury, so Antwaun Woods and J.R. Tavai are the healthy veterans of the group up front. Expect coordinator Justin Wilcox's hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense to include multiple looks and different personnel groups as the staff looks to put the best athletes on the field. Outside linebackers often will be utilized as ends to rush the passer, while the secondary could see some movement with Josh Shaw possibly moving back to safety.

Other notes

Five players left 'SC early for the NFL, which means the Trojans will be below 70 scholarship players entering the final year of a three-year period in which the team's scholarship total has been capped at 75. Until 14 freshmen arrive this summer, Sarkisian has 56 scholarship players on the spring roster.

Sark plans to emphasize team walkthroughs as well as group meetings not only because the new staff is putting in their schemes, but the team also has nearly 20 players dealing with various injuries this spring.

Nelson Agholor is the No. 1 option at receiver with Marqise Lee heading to the NFL. But who will be his complement? Darreus Rogers has a chance to be the other starting receiver, but George Farmer and Steven Mitchell will try to nudge their way in once they get back to full health. Both may be limited this spring, but Farmer has immense talent.

Along the offensive line, Max Tuerk (a left guard last season) could see time at both tackle spots, while Chad Wheeler could move around as well as the staff toys with different combinations. The Trojans lost three centers from last season, so Tuerk could even be moved there if early enrollee Toa Lobendahn or redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers do not impress.

Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.

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