Spring Review: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Robert Woods' challenge isn't to compete for All-Conference honors, but to earn All-America accolades as one of the best in the nation. That's how high the ceiling is for the sophomore-to-be after catching 65 passes for 792 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Post-Spring Depth Chart

Flanker
1. Robert Woods
2. De'Von Flournoy

Split End
1. Brandon Carswell
2. Markeith Ambles
3. Kyle Prater

Tight End
1. Rhett Ellison
2. Xavier Grimble OR Randall Telfer OR Christian Thomas

Projected Post-Fall Camp Depth Chart

Flanker 1. Robert Woods
2. De'Von Flournoy
Split End
1. Brandon Carswell
2. Kyle Prater
3. Markeith Ambles
4. George Farmer

Tight end
1. Rhett Ellison
2. Xavier Grimble
3. Christian Thomas
4. Randall Telfer

Three Questions Answered in the Spring

1. It's All-America or bust for Robert Woods.

The Pac-12 has plenty of elite wide receivers. Juron Criner of Arizona, Chris Owusu of Stanford, Jermaine Kearse of Washington and Marquess Wilson of Washington State all jump to mind.

Robert Woods' challenge isn't to compete with them for All-Conference honors, but to earn All-America accolades as one of the best in the nation. That's how high the ceiling is for the sophomore-to-be after catching 65 passes for 792 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Mind you, he didn't catch a pass against Minnesota and had just 74 yards in a three-game stretch toward the end of the year. With a year under his belt, coaches and a quarterback determined to get him the ball, 10 pounds of muscle added and a summer goal of getting faster, Woods should easily end up with more than 1,000 yards and flirt with 10 or more touchdowns this season.

A future first-round selection, Woods is as gifted as any player I've ever seen at USC and is even more dedicated and driven to greatness. New receivers coach Ted Gilmore summed it up best by saying Woods can be "as good as he wants to be."

If one player that's not named Matt Barkley can will the Trojans to 10-plus wins, it will be Woods. He is just that good.

2. Talent might not overtake character at split end.

Brandon Carswell was on his way out the door last summer. No, check that, he was out the door with plane ticket in hand. Only a late intervention by his parents and Kiffin kept Carswell at USC.

Now he could be starting, a reliable outlet for Barkley, who might need all the help he can get given the state of the offensive line.

Carswell will have to hold off several challengers with more natural ability and glaring flaws. If Kiffin holds to form from his first stint with the Trojans, he will pair the smart and shifty Woods with a big receiver, a la Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams. But Kyle Prater has been felled by a string of injuries since arriving on campus as an early enrollee last January.

Prater has shown the skills to be dominant, but all that talent doesn't matter if he can't get on the field.

With Prater (foot) out in the spring, it offered the mercurial Markeith Ambles a major opportunity. Frankly, he wasted it with too many drops and too much attitude.

Ambles was late for several team functions and subsequently went AWOL for one practice, this after quitting last winter and looking into a transfer. He is likely one strike away from being off the team for good.

The other option would be true freshman George Farmer, a product of Gardena Serra, same as Woods. Asked to describe his former and future teammate, Woods said Farmer is a bigger, faster and stronger version of the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. But will Farmer have the same mastery of the playbook, so crucial in getting Woods on the field immediately last season.

It all adds up to Carswell seeing a major role and giving Kiffin a joyous resolution to the storyline for the guy that stuck around.

3. Depth at tight end takes USC back to the future.

"It's not like it was before" has become a favorite catchphrase for Kiffin when he compares the overall talent level to where it was under Pete Carroll. That was evident at several positions this spring, from offensive line to receiver, where walk-ons were seeing significant reps.

But not at tight end, where the Trojans have four legitimate NFL-caliber talents. Each is capable of contributing this season. In Rhett Ellison, you get a steady senior, who could also double as an H-back. Trimmed down to 245 pounds, Xavier Grimble is a ferocious in-line blocker. Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas can split out wide and create mismatches.

More importantly, the quality competition has produced noticeable improvement that will continue throughout the summer. Each player must continue to develop to see the field, no one can rest on his laurels. That's the approach that made USC so formidable during its epic run of the last decade.

And that's the challenge for Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, to build up the roster again in spite of impending scholarship reductions. At one position anyway, that goal has been met.


Rhett Ellison has become one of USC's most complete offensive players.


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