As the practices continue to wind through, we are starting to better put together the picture on both sides of the football. The coaching staff better understands the personnel, players are adjusting to the new systems being put in place, and plenty of competition is flying by on the practice field at this extremely rapid pace.
"We want to see who can do what and what each person's strengths and weaknesses are and go from there. Through Spring and fall it'll still be forming," says defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, addressing the multiplicity and depth at the LB grouping. "Then we'll know what we think we can be good at and build it around those things."
Last season, Quinton Powell's signature moments were delivered with massive tackles on special teams. But the sophomore expects that to change moving forward.
Think of him more as hybrid linebacker, but sophomore stud Quinton Powell will have his hands full this season. Battling the likes of tight ends, slot wide receivers in space, and even rushing after the passer from time to time, Powell understands and embraces the fact that his roles will be vastly divvied out on any given snap.
"It's going good, it's the same exact thing I did in high school. I get to come off the edge or take a receiver, the second-best receiver on the team," said Powell. "What you get on the field...we do everything that's gonna happen on the field (from footwork to hand position) and that makes it easy for us."
After working with the likes of Michael Hutchings and Anthony Sarao up the middle on second-team defense, Powell moves to a position where he can immediately contribute. The position change cost him a few pounds on the scale (now down to 210), but Powell loves the flexibility and demands that come with playing this flex position.
"I've been doing it for a minute. And that's plenty. I love this position right now," said the ever-competitive linebacker.
The self proclaimed hybrid player calls himself a DB on the field at times --something he truly embraces and is genuinely about doing this season-- but remains extremely confident about playing what position he is called upon.
Powell continues to learn how to adjust from MLB to OLB/DB every day and loves the familiarity that comes from playing the spot he thrived in back in high school, which focuses on rushing the quarterback while also having the responsibility to spy the opposing teams best weapon out on the slot.
Let's not forget the offensive side of the ball, and all that versatility extends to another weapon in USC's arsenal behind the line of scrimmage.
Jahleel Pinner, the fullback who caught eyes last season for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, will again be tasked with big expectations and strong responsibilities in the weekly game plan. Beginning his third season with a strong few weeks of Spring Practice, catching the eyes of his position coaches, Pinner finally feels comfortable.
"I've wanted to play running back ever since I came here," Pinner said Tuesday. "I was at the fullback spot for two years. This is the final destination of where I wanted to be."
Now that he's found his comfort zone on the offensive side of the football, it would be wise to properly note how diverse and intricate USC's offense will be this season. Sarkisian continues to note his strong "football IQ" out on the field, and plenty of coaches are singing the praises of their multi-talented fullback prospect.
"He's a very gifted athlete when you see him running the ball," coach Nansen told ESPN's Gary Paskwietz. "And he blocks very well. Again, he's played a lot of football and we are counting on him to do a lot this year.
Pinner finished last season with seven receptions for 33 yards, made his footprint felt on special teams, and wants to build off his five start performance from last season.
We know that the running back position could be four deep this season but with Sarkisian's pace on offense, even Jahleel expects to get his fair share of touches. "With the offense there are going to be a lot of plays. They won't just play one running back, we're going to be rotating guys in. As long as I keep working, I'm going to get a shot."
That is exactly what Sarkisian sees from his emerging tailback, which is why he continues to get quality reps while other backs cycle in and out of practice with nagging injuries.
"We made a cut up of him for the defense and his ability to fall forward after runs," Sarkisian said of Jahleel Pinner. "He turned two yard runs into four yard runs and four yard runs into six yard runs. That's the sign of a good runner."
It will be fascinating to watch how these guys are utilized in the Spring Game (April 19th 3 p.m.) as fans will get their first real taste of what each weapon can truly bring to the table in their newly-crafted roles.