USC begins spring practice today with the first of 15 workouts that will conclude April 19 with the annual Trojan Huddle scrimmage at the Coliseum. The Trojans return only four starters on offense, seven on defense. Times staff writer Gary Klein takes a look at five questions facing the Trojans:
Will there really be a quarterback competition?
1Junior Mark Sanchez is the acknowledged leader going into spring practice, but sophomore Mitch Mustain and redshirt freshman Aaron Corp also will get repetitions with the first-team offense, Coach Pete Carroll said.
Sanchez started three games last season in place of injured John David Booty, leading the Trojans to victories over Arizona and at Notre Dame before a loss at Oregon. “I feel like I have a leg up,” Sanchez said.
However, Mustain actually possesses more college game experience, having started and won eight times for Arkansas in 2006 before transferring to USC.
The mobile Corp has made big strides and gained strength since arriving from Orange Lutheran High, but he is regarded as a longshot.
Any movement in the logjam at tailback?
2Junior Stafon Johnson (673 yards) and sophomore Joe McKnight (540 yards) are the top returning tailbacks from last season, but there are four others intent on making a mark heading into the fall.
Redshirt sophomore C.J. Gable started five games as a freshman in 2006 and the first two games last season before an abdominal injury required season-ending surgery.
Junior Allen Bradford has been a special-teams standout while patiently waiting for an opportunity and he is expected to get a long look during spring workouts.
Redshirt freshman Broderick Green impressed during a brief training-camp stint last summer before a foot injury required season-ending surgery.
Marc Tyler also redshirted while recovering from a broken leg suffered during his senior season in high school.
Will the receiving corps be more consistent?
3Senior Patrick Turner and junior Vidal Hazelton combined for only seven touchdowns, and Hazelton’s participation in the spring will be limited after abdominal surgery. Sophomores Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry and junior Garrett Green also return, but Arkansas transfer Damian Williams, who caught 19 passes for the Razorbacks in 2006, is regarded as the receiver to watch.
Junior Anthony McCoy is regarded as the front-runner to replace Fred Davis at tight end.
Where did all the offensive linemen go?
4Senior guard Jeff Byers is the only returning starter. Sophomore Butch Lewis started three games last season at left tackle, junior Charles Brown started the opener at right tackle, sophomore Kris O’Dowd started three games at center and sophomore Zack Heberer started twice at right guard.
Lewis (ankle) and Heberer (back) will be limited in the spring.
Juniors Alex Parsons, Nick Howell and Thomas Herring and redshirt freshmen Martin Coleman and Michael Reardon will also get looks, along with early-enrollee Matt Meyer, part of a freshman class that includes four other top-rated linemen scheduled to arrive in the summer.
Will the defense be as good or better than last season?
5The Trojans ranked second nationally in total defense and whether it will remain a top unit could depend on a line that must replace All-American nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and defensive end Lawrence Jackson.
Junior Averell Spicer and sophomore Christian Tupou are the top candidates to succeed Ellis, but Spicer won’t play during the spring, Carroll said, as he rests an injured knee.
Sophomore Everson Griffen is expected to fill Jackson’s spot. Senior end Kyle Moore and senior tackle Fili Moala are returning starters.
Rey Maualuga is set at middle linebacker. Seniors Kaluka Maiava and Brian Cushing are expected to be starters, but both are recovering from surgeries. Senior Clay Matthews will fill Cushing’s spot at strong-side linebacker in the spring and also play some at defensive end. Junior Luthur Brown, sophomore Malcolm Smith and redshirt freshman Jordan Campbell will work at the weak-side spot. Redshirt freshman Chris Galippo is coming off back surgery.
In the secondary, senior cornerback Cary Harris, a returning starter, and junior Shareece Wright will try to hold off junior Kevin Thomas and senior Josh Pinkard, both of whom missed last season because of injuries. Senior Kevin Ellison and junior Taylor Mays are entrenched at safety, with sophomore Marshall Jones and junior Will Harris the backups.
USC’s spring schedule
Workouts open to the public except where noted.
* Start times: weekdays 4 p.m., weekends 11 a.m.
* Dates: Today, Thursday, Friday (coaches clinic, closed to public), Sunday, April 1, April 2 (Pro Day, closed to public), April 3, April 4, April 6, April 8, April 10, April 12, April 15, April 17, April 18, April 19 (Trojan Huddle scrimmage at Coliseum, tickets required).