Trojans are deep, although not completely settled
USC opens fall practice today in preparation for the Sept. 5 season opener against San Jose State at the Coliseum. Seeking an eighth consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl game appearance, the Trojans have nine returning starters on offense, three on defense. A look at the positions where there is the most -- and least -- competition for playing time:
Quarterback -- Wait a minute. Wasn’t this settled during spring practice? Nimble redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp earned the spot with a nearly flawless performance, took the lead role during summer passing workouts and enters camp No. 1. But Coach Pete Carroll did not miss an off-season opportunity to tout freshman Matt Barkley’s chances of earning playing time. Barkley might be the most mature quarterback to arrive at USC during the Carroll era. That said, no quarterback that entered the fall No. 1 under Carroll has lost the job.
Running back -- The yearly conversation about how the Trojans can keep everyone in a crowded backfield satisfied has a different tenor this time: Most of the principals are eager two- or three-year veterans with their eye on the NFL. Senior Stafon Johnson, junior Joe McKnight and fourth-year juniors C.J Gable and Allen Bradford are competing for the bulk of playing time, though redshirt sophomore Marc Tyler and redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal are coming off solid springs.
Nose tackle -- Sophomore Jurrell Casey and junior Christian Tupou are battling for the starting job, but both will play a lot. Senior Averell Spicer, who lost the starting job last season after committing two costly penalties in the loss at Oregon State, is atop the depth chart at the other tackle spot. Junior college transfer Hebron Fangupo could figure in at both positions.
Strong safety -- Sixth-year senior Josh Pinkard and fifth-year senior Will Harris will compete to start alongside All-American free safety Taylor Mays. The savvy Pinkard has started at safety and cornerback. Harris proved his value last season by playing very well in place of injured Kevin Ellison.
Kicker -- Walk-ons Joe Houston and Jordan Congdon finished the spring in a dead heat to replace David Buehler. Now comes JC transfer Jacob Harfman, a scholarship player who also will compete with walk-on Billy O’Malley at punter.
Fullback -- Fourth-year junior Stanley Havili is a two-year starter with big-play capability as a receiver. Versatile sophomore D.J Shoemate and senior Adam Goodman could see spot duty with freshman Simione Vehikite also joining the corps.
Left guard -- Sixth-year senior Jeff Byers anchors the deepest offensive line of the Carroll era, giving coach Pat Ruel plenty of options to mix, match and create competition at the other spots. Byers also could play center if Kristofer O’Dowd is not fully recovered from shoulder surgery.
Wide receiver -- Juniors Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson caught 58 and 33 passes last season.
Defensive end -- Speedy 275-pound Everson Griffen appears poised for a breakout season and regards himself as a leader of the line.
Free safety -- Mays, a senior, has been a starter since the second game of his freshman season. He is the face of the program and a probable NFL first-round draft choice.
At USC’s Howard Jones Field unless noted.
Today, 4 p.m.; Sun.-Wed. 3 p.m.; Thurs., 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Fri., 4 p.m.; Aug. 15, 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Aug. 16, 4 p.m.; Aug. 17, closed scrimmage at Coliseum, 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 18-19, 4 p.m.; Aug. 20, 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Aug. 21, 4 p.m.; Aug. 22, 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Aug. 23-24, off; Aug. 25-27, 4 p.m.; Aug. 28, 4:15 p.m.; Aug. 29, scrimmage at Coliseum, 12:30 p.m.; Aug. 30, off; Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 4 p.m.; Sept. 4, closed walk-through at 4:15 p.m.
Practices are open to the public unless noted.
Times are subject to change.