Four USC underclassmen emerging this spring on offense

There aren’t too many teams across the country that have benefited more than USC in recent years from the ability of players to come in and contribute early, with guys such as Su'a Cravens, Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith being three notable examples.

But that’s not the norm by any means; in fact, there are plenty of other examples of players who have taken advantage of the opportunity to grow and develop in the system before being counted on to play significant roles.

“In this day and age of rankings and star systems, there is an element of instant gratification that every kid is supposed to come in and start right away. But it doesn’t always work like that,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “There’s a developmental part that we take pride in as a coaching staff that we can work with them to help reach their potential.”

Sarkisian took time after the Tuesday afternoon practice session in the Coliseum to talk about a few of the offensive players who have stood out to him this spring after not having a chance to contribute to this point in their Trojan careers.

Not surprisingly, one of those players was a quarterback, as redshirt sophomore Max Browne has turned a lot of heads in spring ball with the progress he has made over the last two seasons while serving as a backup to Cody Kessler.

“Max Browne is playing lights-out right now for us,” Sarkisian said. “I would not have a problem if Cody were to go down and we needed Max to step into a game. I’m not sure I could have said that a year ago.”

There was also praise for a pair of receivers who have had limited roles, primarily because of injuries: Steven Mitchell (knee) and Ajene Harris (hamstring).

“Steven has had a really nice spring,” Sarkisian said. “Steven has been explosive with the ball in his hands, and that's what that position in our offense needs to be. I also think, quite honestly, he has been motivating Ajene. We saw glimpses from Ajene last fall, but then the hamstring kicked in. Now we’re seeing him perform, and he’s deserving of playing time.”

Along the offensive line, one of the surprise performers of spring is Nico Falah, who battled back issues early in his career but is healthy now and has even taken a place with the first unit at left tackle for several sessions this spring.

“Nico would definitely be a guy who stands out,” Sarkisian said. “He’s entering his third year now and is performing well.”

Among the defensive players who have developed to the point where they appear ready for bigger roles this spring are rush end Scott Felix, linebacker Olajuwon Tucker and defensive back Chris Hawkins.