Tuesday marked Steve Sarkisian’s first official practice as the official head coach after the Trojans opened spring practice with fans in attendance, plenty of expectations and a whole new feel to the game itself.
As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take months, if not years, for Sarkisian to help build the program back form a middle-range PAC-12 team to a perennial power in the country.
Here’s a look at five big points surrounding Sarkisian's program, and the answers that may come relatively quickly, at the end spring ball in five weeks, or even through summer practice but will come to define the Trojan’s 2014 season.
How will the Trojans embrace Sarkisian?
Though Sarkisian certainly gained lots of respect around campus after turning an NCAA-sanctioned recruiting class into one of the best in the country and has handled himself around the media much better than the last non-interim head coach at USC, Sarkisian still has big shoes to fill after replacing beloved former interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
#USC QB Cody Kessler comparing Sark's practice to Kiffin's: "It was way different. We did literally nothing the same."— USC Football News (@USCFootballNews) March 12, 2014
Players over the course of the season will certainly come around and adjust to his leadership style, but Sarkisian has to keep a fun, tight-knit environment around the team for the group to be successful. And after one week of practice it seems more than evident these players embrace the up-tempo style, as long as it helps them win during the season.
How will the Trojans embrace the speed?
In addition to major turnover in the coaching staff, the Trojans will be making pretty big changes schematically. The offense will be upping its tempo significantly this season, and the Trojans have already pressed the fast forward button in practice, running many more plays in succession instead of taking breaks after each play to walk through details.
This new offense, which ran 120 plays in 105 minutes on Tuesday, will require the Trojans to be in much better shape physically and require the offense to make decisions quickly. The scheme should keep opposing defenses of balance so if the Trojans can figure out how to balance everything themselves they should be well on their way to success.
Who will be the starting quarterback?
After last season’s quarterback battle drew all the way out to the third regular season game, the Trojans hope to have an answer to who will be starting at the team’s most important position by the end of Spring Football. But as Sarkisian hinted after the first practice, he wants to wrap up this totally open competition in the coming weeks.
Cody Kessler has to come in as the top guy on the depth chart after a strong campaign as the starter last year, but Max Browne should definitely challenge him for the starting spot (which may have already started after a strong opening performance on Tuesday) with Jalen Greene as a dark horse dual-threat quarterback on the roster, who could even fill some roles on special teams or reserve quarterback in case of injury this season before Ricky Town arrives in 2015.
Browne was a five-star recruit and the top-rated pocket quarterback out of the 2013 recruiting class, while Greene ranked as a three-star recruit in this recruiting class as a dual-threat quarterback. Greene could make a splash, as the new up-tempo offense favors the style he ran as the quarterback of Serra High School in Gardena, the same school that brought USC Marqise Lee and George Farmer.
However, the competition will likely come down to the two more prototypical USC pocket passers in the young phenom Max Browne and experienced starter in Cody Kessler. Kessler has 14 starts over Browne, but this style of offense would tend to better suit Browne's skill set, so the question is whether potential will trump experience.
What can we expect from the early enrollees?
Five Trojans practicing this spring either graduated high school early or transferred form a junior college to make the team before the summer. Another 17 freshman will join in the summer, but the five current newcomers have a chance to make an impression that carries into the start of the season.
USC OL Coach Drevno on Fresh. "I am really impressed with Toa and Jordan Austin. They all have tremendous want to and they want to be good."— Evan Budrovich (@evanbud) March 13, 2014
The early enrollees include Greene, offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn and Jordan Austin, defensive end/outside linebacker Don Hill and defensive lineman Claude Pelon–the only junior college transfer of the bunch. Lobendahn and Pelon are probably the most likely of the five to actually crack a starting spot due to depth at their respective position, but all will be worth watching throughout the beginning of camp especially in this competition heavy practice slate.