Another in a series of looks at Pac-12 spring-football camps. Today, USC.
Starters returning — 16 (8 offense, 8 defense), plus PK Andre Heidari.
Refresher on 2012 – After a lot of hoopla about bidding for a national championship, the Trojans went 7-6 and dropped five of their last six games, including a rare loss to UCLA and an unseemly Sun Bowl defeat to Georgia Tech, 21-7, without starting QB Matt Barkley. The Trojans were only No. 7 in the league in total defense and eighth in run defense.
Coaching changes – Head coach Lane Kiffin made four staff changes – that brings it to a total of seven in two years – none bigger than removing his dad Monte as defensive coordinator and replacing him with Clancy Pendergast, former Cal assistant who had two league-leading defenses with the Bears in recent years. Pendergast is installing many odd-front looks with more frequent blitzing.
Major spring concerns – Finding a quarterback after the four-year starting run of Barkley . . . improving the offensive line . . . unearthing players in a depleted secondary.
Developments – Third-year soph-to-be Cody Kessler seemed to be the leader of a three-way QB derby, although he, Max Wittek and Skyline High product Max Browne are listed as “or” on the spring-ending depth chart . . . Browne was one of seven early enrollees who took part in spring drills . . . Kiffin promised a physical spring camp and Kiffin told SportsIllustrated.com, “At the end of the day, we were not a physical football team the entire year. You can’t be at USC and give up more yards rushing than you run for.” But the Trojans eventually had 20 players miss the spring game with injuries and soon after he said that, Kiffin seemed to backtrack: “I don’t see any way we could practice like this in the fall.” . . . RB Silas Redd missed most of spring with a torn meniscus, and primo receiver Marqise Lee also had a knee issue that put him out of most of the session, but he ended it well, and long-jumped 24-4 ¾ in the UCLA dual track meet with little preparation . . . knee injuries also took out touted freshman safety Su’a Cravens and TE Randall Telfer, both with relatively minor cartilage damage . . . Kiffin said he was giving thought to using Lee and another gifted receiver, Nelson Agholor, as spot-duty cornerbacks in the fall because of the shortfall there, but any wholesale two-way approach is unlikely . . . Lee will be front-and-center in the early Heisman Trophy reckoning . . . in an LA Daily News poll asking for the “least popular coach in LA,” Kiffin polled 53 percent, the Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni 37 . . . Pendergast will oversee a secondary that is getting its fourth position coach in four years . . . Kiffin said the four defensive standouts of spring were lineman Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin and LB Lamar Dawson . . . Zach Banner, 6-9, 335-pound Lakes product, is slotted at right tackle . . . Trojans just got through the second NCAA-limited February signing class of three, and AD Pat Haden told SI.com, “It hasn’t been easy, and I think the toughest years are coming up.”
Spring game – With no tackling because of the injuries, it was a “game” in name only. Kessler had the best day of the quarterbacks, going 15 of 22 for 242 yards and three TDs. Browne was 7 of 11 for 80 yards, with one TD and one interception.
2013 schedule – Trojans have a Thursday-night opener at Hawaii Aug. 29, followed by a Pac-12 home game with Washington State Sept. 7. It’s a manageable schedule, especially because Oregon and nemesis Washington aren’t on it.