We've looked at the five biggest questions facing the Trojans in 2011 -- the future of the offense, who will coach the defense, sanctions' effects on recruiting, how to replace two departed stars and how to use Dillon Baxter. We've looked at the likely depth charts, position by position, for spring practice -- quarterbacks and running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs and special teams.
Now, with spring practice less than 24 hours away from officially beginning, we'll look at the five questions the Trojans are specifically hoping to get resolved in the month-long period of spring practices that commences tomorrow morning at 7:25 a.m.:
1. Will the lack of a healthy offensive line hinder the development of players at other positions?
USC head coach Lane Kiffin isn't always forthcoming.
But it's been different when it comes to his offensive line this spring.
“There will be a real lack of depth on the offensive line this spring because of injuries, so that will make for some very interesting practice formats," Kiffin said in USC's official spring prospectus, released last week. "We’ll get some help here in the fall when the newcomers come in and, if we can help hasten their development, they’ll have a chance to contribute immediately.”
The Trojans have six completely healthy offensive linemen entering the spring, with one more guy -- guard/center Khaled Holmes, nursing a shoulder injury -- potentially available. Kevin Graf is out with a shoulder injury and Abe Markowitz is out with a foot injury, so USC will have at the most two backup linemen for the month of spring.
And, remember, some of those could easily get hurt -- it's football -- and miss some time, so USC will likely be forced to either take things easy in spring scrimmages or go to walk-ons at times to cover the depth issues.
2. Speaking of Holmes, can he play center effectively and be reliable doing so?
Kiffin hinted at it a number of times last season, but it's not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Holmes will not necessarily be a center this season.
First of all, he's still listed as a guard in the school's official spring prospectus. Second of all, he could miss some or all of the spring sessions with a shoulder injury.
That's not exactly the best recipe for a player making a position switch. Still, if it's not Holmes, who is it at center? Redshirt freshman Giovanni DiPoalo? Markowitz, a former walk-on? Troubled guard John Martinez?
Holmes makes the most sense, as one of the most cerebral, most experienced guys on the line. But if he doesn't take control of the spot early in spring, perhaps the Trojans will find other options.
3. With Kyle Prater out for at least a portion of the spring, who will emerge across from Robert Woods? Will it still be Prater?
Prater was the natural favorite to start across from Woods this season, a redshirt freshman with boatloads of potential who many thought would end up starting in front of Woods across from Ronald Johnson last season.
Of course, that's not what happened. Prater participated in spring practice while Woods attended high school, but he was slowed by nagging injuries for pretty much the duration of the spring -- and fall camp, too. Woods, as you surely know, seized the opportunity and started, becoming a consensus Freshman All-American.
The new favorite in the place of Prater is probably redshirt senior Brandon Carswell, who was close to transferring to Cincinnati last summer before Kiffin convinced him to stay. Now he's a sure contributor in 2011 and quite possibly the starter across from Woods. The other players with opportunities in spring practice to seize the spot are sophomore Markeith Ambles and redshirt sophomore De'Von Flournoy.
Ambles has plenty of potential. In an unusual move, Flournoy redshirted last season after playing sparingly his freshman year under Pete Carroll.
4. Will someone take an early lead at two key spots in the secondary: No. 2 cornerback and strong safety?
Two spots in the secondary are locked up, with Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald holding down the top cornerback and free safety spots, respectively.
The other two are completely up for grabs. Any one of four players could legitimately start at strong safety: juniors Jawanza Starling, Drew McAllister and Tony Burnett and senior Marshall Jones. Any one of five could start at the second corner spot: senior T.J. Bryant, redshirt junior Brian Baucham, redshirt sophomore Torin Harris and redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, plus incoming junior-college transfer Isiah Wiley.
Bryant and Harris are likely out for the spring with injuries, and McAllister's status is tentative at this point while he continues to recover from hip surgery that sidelined him for all of last year. Wiley won't enroll until the fall.
That still leaves five capable candidates auditioning for defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza in the spring: Starling, Burnett, Jones, Baucham and Brown.
5. Devon Kennard is likely out for the spring while recovering from hip surgery. Can Chris Galippo regain hold of the middle linebacker spot that was once his?
Who knows who will end up starting at middle linebacker? Neither of the two players do at this point, and, last year, none of the coaches even knew until midway through fall camp that Kennard would start over Galippo at the Mike spot.
Of course, the decision to move Kennard wasn't the most raved-about of 2010. He clearly experienced quite a few growing pains at the position, and, late in the season, Galippo started to share serious snaps and even take on the majority of snaps in some games.
Both players will almost assuredly start at two of the three linebacker spots, but the spring might be Galippo's best opportunity to seize control of the desired Mike spot over the injured Kennard.
That's it for our spring practice preview. Check back tomorrow for full coverage of the first spring practice of the year and each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday after that until the Spring Game on April 23 at the Coliseum.