As we pass the midway point of fall camp and are less than two weeks away from the season opener, here is an update from fall camp on the 2001 Trojans:
Optimistic. We continue to see progress in the passing game and the combination of the best offensive coordinator in college football teaching the quarterback with as much potential as any in college football should only get better as the season goes along. Norm Chow is as good as advertised and if anyone can bring out the best in Carson Palmer it will be Chow. Matt Leinart has made it a contest and he certainly has a nice future but the back up job at this point belongs to the athletic Matt Cassel.
The injury to Malaefou MacKenzie put a scare into fall camp and the fact that he should return early in the season is great news because of all he brings to the table in this offense. Foo looked great before his injury and he should combine with Sultan to be one of the best back combos in the league. Sultan is running very well and showing the best hands we have seen from him, another of the more pleasant surprises is camp has been Chris Howard and his hard running style. Chris has been limping slightly and wearing a brace to protect his knee but he is going to be a good one. Perhaps the most electrifying runner in fall camp will not suit up for the Trojans but Justin Fargas has caused fits for the defense when he runs wild with the scout team.
Catch the damn ball. To borrow a page from Keyshawn's book, the ability for our receivers to catch the ball will be the biggest key for our offense. Norm Chow will call the play, Carson will put the ball where it needs to be but the ball has to be caught. Kareem Kelly has a renewed attitude and has looked great at times but needs to step up big to be the type of elite player he wants to be. Keary Colbert and Marcell Allmond have looked fine but the presence of Grant Mattos could be the biggest surprise of camp. Mattos is a big, strong receiver who catches everything and is one of the hardest workers on the team. We moved Kori Dickerson because we wanted a player with speed who can stretch the defense and there is no doubt he can do that but his problem with dropped balls is not going away. The coaches will be patient because of his potential but it is a problem that needs to get better. Doyal Butler was fairly solid at the #2 spot before his rotator cuff injury early in the week and Alex Holmes has taken advantage of the extra snaps in his absence to put together a couple very nice days of practice.
Wait and see. We came in knowing that this spot would be a concern and we knew Norm Chow would design an attack to take pressure off but we still are not set on a rotation with the line. The leadership of Vandermade has been a bright spot and the minor injury to Mailo could be a blessing in disguise as it has given us our first real look at Joe McGuire who has played well at right guard. With Jacob Rogers solidly at left tackle, a pleasant development in it's own right after his shoulder problems, the coaches seem ready to head into the season with Eric Torres as the starter at RT which gives them two quality reserves in McGuire and Norm Katnik who could fill in at any spot along the line if needed.
Wow. This should be the best line we have seen under Ed Orgeron. Lonnie Ford and Ryan Nielsen are dominant seniors, Bernard Riley is poised for a breakout season after dropping 30 lbs in summer workouts, and the move of Kenechi Udeze is yet another position switch that looks very promising. On top of that we have terrific depth with Omar Nazel, Shaun Cody, Nate Goodson, Mike Patterson and Malcolm Woolridge. Jason Wardlow missed some time with a concussion and he could contribute if needed but it would be great to save his redshirt year.
Speed. We won't know how this group will really perform until game time but so far the moves of Matt Grootegoed and Frank Strong seem to have energized the linebacker unit and brought a key element of added speed. The football instincts of Groots and Strong have allowed the moves to be successful so far but one major surprise has come in the middle as Mike Pollard has pushed slightly ahead of Aaron Graham for the starting spot. Pollard was a MLB in his Trojan career until the spring when he was moved outside in Carroll's initial attempt to bring more speed outside but once Pollard was moved back he has made an impact. Graham is smart and physical but the one area that Pollard has on him is speed and that is a very important element in a Carroll defense. John Cousins will have an impact and we could also see him at rush end while Chris Prosser has not had a very productive camp.
Depth and talent. Pete Carroll is known as a defensive specialist with an emphasis on the secondary and he has a terrific group to work with in his first year. The loss of two talented players like Strong and Groots to another position would seem to leave the secondary depleted but fine play by Kevin Arbet at corner has allowed Antuan Simmons to move back to his more natural free safety spot and we can go two deep at every position. Chris Cash, Darrell Rideaux, Kris Richard and Arbet will be almost interchangable and we should see more interceptions from that group now that they are able to look back for the ball. Troy Polamalu has been as active as expected and he is just a big time hitter. DeShaun Hill has made it a battle with Simmons at free safety and Jason Leach had the hit of the day in the Saturday scrimmage with a pop he put on Kori Dickerson.
David Davis to the rescue. Trojan fans couldn't have cared less if it was Davis, David Newbury, John Wall or Kennedy Pola himself, we just wanted to see someone come in who could kick the ball with consistency. Davis could be that guy. Newbury looks very good handling kickoffs while Mike MacGillivray is punting as well as we have seen him.