Has there ever been as much anticipation for the arrival of an offensive coordinator as we have seen this year with Norm Chow? The Trojans somehow led the Pac 10 in total offense last season despite seeming to struggle with play calling, time management, penalties, etc. and the presence of Chow has Trojan fans dreaming of a wide open offense that will finally take advantage of the incredible speed that has been stockpiled on the offensive side of the ball.
The player with as much to gain this year as any in the country is Carson Palmer. Carson entered USC in what seemed like an ideal situation to learn from a quarterback "guru" and while his career has certainly seen a few bright moments it is not a stretch to think that Carson could be headed for a breakout year. Carson has all the tools one could want in a QB and the presence of Houston Texans coaches at spring and summer practices to scout him in anticipation of the NFL draft is an indication of the skills that Chow will look to maximize. Matt Cassel is a talented athlete and leader who could contribute if needed but the hope is that Carson learns the system and performs at a high level.
There is a common perception that this offense will focus on the passing game and that may be true to a certain point it is also expected that the open lanes created by that passing game will only help the running game, primarily with the speed of Sultan McCullough and the multiple talents of Malaefou MacKenzie. The coaches are working with Sultan to teach him to trust his blockers on runs up the middle and not to try and break so many runs to the outside, in the past he has been able to outrun many defenders but the wholes will be there with this offense and if he can use his speed properly the results could be tremendous. MacKenzie seems tailor made for this system which often calls on a single back who can run, block or catch the football and don't be surprised if Frank Strong gets some carries as well as he pulls double duty on both sides of the ball. Charlie Landrigan and Chad Pierson will get the bulk of the work at fullback and can be solid weapons.
The wide receiver position is deep and fast this season with Kareem Kelly leading the way. Kareem is one of the most skilled receivers in the country with his phenomenal quickness and graceful ability but his production and demeanor slipped a little last season. His attitude is good at this point and a focused Kareem will go a long way in the success of this offense. Marcell Allmond returns from his leg injury and hopes to be a physical presence but he could be challenged for his starting spot by Keary Colbert, a promising freshman last year who has been a star of off season passing drills. Steve Stevenson and newcomers Grant Mattos, Frank Candela and Devin Pitts should see plenty of action as we rotate receivers throughout the game.
Tight end has gone from being a position of relative weakness to arguably one of strength. The emergence of Kori Dickerson is certainly a highlight as Dickerson made the transition well in spring, showing that he is enough of an athlete to make the move but he will need to work on his hands in order to stretch the defenses and make them pay attention. Alex Holmes will line up at various spots this season to take advantage of the skills he brings as a 270lb athlete who can move. Alex is a devastating open field blocker and has more speed that most give him credit for. Doyal Butler, Gregg Guenther and Scott Huber round out the rotation.
Where have we heard this before…One of the keys for this team will be the need for improvement on the offensive line. Quicker drops and imaginative play calling will help but there is no getting around the fact that this group needs to improve for the Trojans to see improved results on the scoreboard. It has been a long time since we had a line that was worthy of the glory lines of past Trojan teams and while this line will probably not make anybody forget the likes of Munoz, Budde, Foster, etc. it is a very strong group in the middle which could be fortified by players such as Joe McGuire or Norm Katnik stepping up with solid efforts at the tackle spots. Lenny Vandermade is the anchor at center with Zach Wilson and Faaesea Mailo at guard, the move of Mailo being one of the keys after his performance slipped last season at tackle. At this point the health of Jacob Rogers will have a major impact on the line and we could see McGuire flip back to RT if Rogers is healthy and can be ready for the start of the season. Katnik has been one of the more pleasant surprises this year as Norm may not be the biggest lineman of the bunch but he has bulked up to 287 lbs and has tremendous technique. Eric Torres provides versatility with his ability to play tackle or guard.