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USC's new offense requires QB Cody Kessler to become a dual threat

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Steve Sarkisian is putting a mobile quarterback component into a Trojan offense historically defined by its pro-style pocket passers.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Look out, America: redshirt junior USC quarterback Cody Kessler (career rushing total: -124 rushing yards, one touchdown ) is about to show off his wheels on the field.

"Well, I wouldn't say wheels," Kessler said at Wednesday's Pac-12 Media Days.

Oh.

"That might be a compliment, but we all do stuff outside of the field like play basketball and stuff. My teammates know I've got a little athleticism. Hopefully I'll get to show it off a little. Our pro-style offense [under Lane Kiffin] had a couple roll-outs here and there, but most everything was in the pocket. Now there's a lot of zone read and zone pass read."

For all the changes the USC quarterback and his teammates have weathered in a year's time, transitioning to the shotgun-centric, up-tempo offense of new head coach Steve Sarkisian doesn't seem as threatening as it should be.

Despite the fact Kessler threw for 2,976 yards in a very traditional pro-style last season, this isn't the first time Sarkisian has tried to get him in the shotgun. Sarkisian had recruited Kessler to Washington hard enough that the Huskies made it to the final cut before the Bakersfield native signed with USC.

"It was something like, 'Hey, I've finally got you now,'" Kessler said Sarkisian told him upon their reintroduction.

Kessler said former USC coordinator Sarkisian's system never totally left Los Angeles, even after he took the Huskies job, and that the offense under Kiffin used some of the same verbiage and reads, albeit at a different tempo.

"That's the biggest thing I'm getting used to, how fast we talk between plays, being able to talk fast in the huddle or not at all. I love it now. Coach Sark did a great job breaking it down for me. I already feel like I've got full control of it."

"He can make and see things extremely well and make decisive decisions quickly," Sarkisian said. "I think that comes from his basketball experience, playing point guard, having him make those types of decisions. For us, that's vitally important. [Washington quarterback] Keith Price had really quick hands in our system and threw accurately, and I think Cody can do the same thing."

Kessler, the former Bakersfield Area Player of the Year in both basketball and football, needs to be able to use his mobility as a threat. Especially behind an offensive line inferior to the national title-level USC lines of recent history. Price averaged just over six carries a game last season at Washington, good for the second most rushing attempts on the team.

Kessler said that more players than ever before showed up for voluntary player-led practices this summer and ran through "over 100 plays a time," evidence of bond forged by a hellish 2013.

"We've learned to be prepared for anything to happen. If you would've told us last season we'd have four head coaches in one year [counting two interims], no one would've believed you. A lot of the guys that went through all that are back now, so it's made us tighter."