Obvious/Not So Obvious - Fall practice

The time has come. It is finally here. The 2003 University of Southern California Trojans, preseason ranked as the nation's No. 8 team by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and picked by West Coast media to win the Pac-10, open fall camp this week amidst high expectations following a successful summer of off-season training accomplishments, yet humbled by a human tragedy in the loss of life by a heralded, incoming freshman linebacker.

The Obvious – The time has come. It is finally here. The 2003 University of Southern California Trojans, preseason ranked as the nation's No. 8 team by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and picked by West Coast media to win the Pac-10, open fall camp this week amidst high expectations following a successful summer of off-season training accomplishments, yet humbled by a human tragedy in the loss of life by a heralded, incoming freshman linebacker.

The Not So Obvious – As the Trojans return 15 starters and numerous all-star candidates from last year's fourth-ranked and 11-2 team, Pete Carroll and staff will be asked to shepherd the Trojans from an emotional Monday morning Huntington Beach memorial service for freshman linebacker Drean Rucker of Moreno Valley Canyon Springs, and then transcend into Tuesday's fall practice gathering in perhaps the most surreal two days in recent Trojan memory.

The Obvious – The NCAA has been concerned for several years over the fall practice heat exhaustion issue and has created new guidelines for college practices.

The Not So Obvious – Those hoping to get a glance of Trojan fall practices might need a RTD bus style schedule that Pete Carroll and staff have had to create to accommodate the new NCAA ruling. Some days there will not be the traditional two-a-days and some days there will be just one practice. The frosh reporting three days early is gone, and now the poor rookies are now in with the vets, cold feet. Even the times of the practices have had to be creative with some designed to match the Auburn kick-off time. Check your local listings as they say for practice times.

The Obvious – Despite the graduation of their entire pro-drafted backfield including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer, for the first time since 1996, the Trojans are picked by one first place vote over Arizona State to win the Pac-10 title by a vote of West Coast media members.

The Not So Obvious –. With the current trend of veteran quarterbacks leading their teams to Pac-10 glory, it was probably a shock to Sun Devil followers that media members dismissed the fact that ASU returns heralded junior ASU quarterback Andrew Walter and more importantly play their early Pac-10 showdown with the Trojans in Tempe.

The Obvious – Until his tragic drowning at Huntington Beach, Drean Rucker, who was one of the crown jewels in last year's No.1 recruiting class and considered the premier prep linebacker in the state of California, was considered for extensive freshman playing time.

The Not So Obvious – It is known that the USC football staff and Trojan family is going to great lengths to help the Ruckers make it through their mournful family transition. A couple of thoughts here that may have already been instituted would be to leave his Trojan uniform No.54 unclaimed for at least this season, honor the late linebacker by having his parents as honorary co-captains for the coin-toss for the home-opener against BYU, and to create an annual Drean Rucker Award for the best contribution to the team by a freshman.

The Obvious – Most Trojan historians can't recall when an incoming freshman passed away before even stepping foot onto campus.

The Not So Obvious – The last freshman most recall that suffered a near fatal accident was highly-touted, former Oceanside fullback Arthur Hemingway. A number of articles have been written about Hemingway's paralysis from an automobile accident.

The Obvious – As fall practice begins, much of the attention will be turned to the starting quarterback position currently held by former Mater Dei lefty Matt Leinart with Brandon Hance and Matt Cassel waiting in the wings.

The Not So Obvious – While Carroll admits the starting quarterback position is still a work in progress, the feeling here is that Leinart has the tools and a history of past successes to guide the Trojans to victory. If he can avoid a turnover and interception disaster at Auburn, Trojan fans might be pleasantly surprised at the lefty's growth from game to game. Losing games to eventually get to frosh phenom John David Booty is the type of formula that should not be appealing to any Trojan fan.

The Obvious – Junior quarterback Brandon Hance, who many maintain would have been the eventual starter at Auburn except for his bout with meningitis, has not been cleared to participate this first week.

The Not So Obvious – Now imagine if Leinert had transferred out of Troy after spring practice, Billy Hart had gone to baseball, and Hance's condition continued to be ongoing through fall camp Okay, all you John David Booty fans, just hold your Trojan horses. The Bayou Bomber will get his a chance.

The Obvious – Running back Ashton White from Santa Margarita, son of Heisman Trophy winning Trojan tailback Charles White, will not be enrolling to complete the legacy walk-on backfield headed by Newport Harbor quarterback Mike McDonald, son of former USC All-America signal-caller Paul McDonald, who is now the color commentator on the Trojan radio network.

The Not So Obvious – Young McDonald's roommate this season is another late addition to this year's roster. Some kid from Shreveport Evangel Christian High in Louisiana named Booty.

The Obvious - After a summer of in-again and out-again rumors, former Long Beach Poly star defensive tackle Manuel Wright has FINALLY arrived at Troy to be reunited as the Jackrabbit Fab Four.

The Not So Obvious – It is said in coaching that potential is unproven talent. Nobody disputes Wright's physical gifts, but is the kid the second coming of Tim Ryan, or is he the second coming of Darrell Russell?

The Obvious – Ed Orgeron is considered one of America's premier defensive line coaches and has been compared to Trojan legendary defensive line coach Marv Goux

The Not So Obvious – It will be with great interest to watch the progress of Manuel Wright under the intense guidance of the emotional Orgeron. Orgeron has the Goux mentality of "take no prisoners". It will serve Trojan fans well to remember the remarks of former Concord De La Salle two-way tackle and current Notre Dame defensive tackle Derek Landry who lined up against Wright in high school, Landry said that Wright was incredibly talented, but technically unsound. One thing is for certain, if he can't play and learn from Orgeron, there will be no excuses.

The Obvious – Stellar senior tight end Alex Holmes (29 catches last season - the most for a USC tight end since1993) is a serious question mark to even play this season, and it has been mentioned that a redshirt year is a real possibility.

The Not So Obvious – With the spotlight on the quarterback race, the tight end question has gone under the radar screen. The possible loss of Holmes and oft-injured Gregg Guenther present Norm Chow with more of a blocking problem for the running game than a receiving problem. There are, however, those deep in the program that believe that sophomore Dominique Byrd from Minnesota is more than ready. A much improved player after spring practice, Byrd (6-3-250) has shown good receiving skills and improved blocking.

The Obvious – There are many who consider the USC receiving position to be as strong as any in college football thanks to all-star candidates Mike Williams and Keary Colbert.

The Not So Obvious – While sophomore Williams and senior Colbert should get the big pub, the word on the block is that freshman Steve Smith has simply been awesome in summer competition and is very polished. Smith has been a daily show by not missing workouts. By the way, have you forgotten the explosive spring star Justin Wyatt? Didn't think so.

The Obvious – With recent tragedy and unexpected entrance ineligibility, it appears roster spots may be open for Troy Polamalu clone Salo Faraimo of San Diego Vista and tough fullback Jody Adelwale of East Los Angeles Roosevelt.

The Not So Obvious – It appears that Paso Robles standout offensive lineman Travis Draper and Corona linebacker Johnathon Turner are headed for a fall greyshirt year at their local community college. The greyshirt plan is evolving into college football's version of the NFL's taxis squad.

The Obvious – Much is being said that the real strength of the Trojan offense will be the offensive line, which returns four of five starters.

The Not So Obvious – The question here isn't that last year's line did a tremendous job, especially during the crucial November games, but how much of their improvement was due to the Heisman Trophy performance of Carson Palmer. If this group really is one of the best in the nation, they will have to prove it by taking control while the new Trojan signal-caller gets his feet wet.

The Obvious – One of the proven blocks of granite in the offense line is senior All-America candidate Jacob Rogers (6-6, 305) of Oxnard, who is being considered as a potential first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft.

The Not So Obvious – In the Ventura Star-Free Press, Trojan line coach Tim Davis said of Jacob Rogers, "Some kids are real one-dimensional. He's not. He can pull, trap, and block down. He's powerful enough to do all those things and pass protect. All you need is four more like him, and it's like things used to be at USC when they were so good."

The Obvious – While Pete Carroll and Ed Orgeron get much of the credit for being emotional leaders on the Trojan coaching staff, don't ignore the intensity of the other Trojan coaches, especially offensive line coach Tim Davis.

The Not So Obvious – Of Tim Davis, Jacob Rogers says, "He's very emotional, a very loud guy, which is fine. The defense has Coach "O" and he's always yelling and stuff. The linebackers have coach Holt and he's pretty fired up too, but you couldn't have a guy who is more fired up than our guy (Davis)."

The Obvious – Trojan fans are giddy in anticipation over the array of star-studded freshman running backs led by San Diego's Reggie Bush, considered by many the most explosive carrier in the prep ranks last season.

The Not So Obvious – How quickly they forget just how outstanding Hershel Dennis is and will be for the Trojans this fall. What's not to like about Dennis? Some in the program have said that if Dennis had the same opportunities as wide receiver Mike Williams, the sophomore tailback would have been just as successful as Williams.

The Obvious – USC graduated a number of great players from last season's 11-2 club, but one of the toughest to replace will be all-purpose running back Malaefou MacKenzie, now drawing a Sunday paycheck thanks to his ability to both run and catch.

The Not So Obvious – Perhaps the one player that could be the missing MacKenzie link is St. Bonaventure prep All-America Whitney Lewis, who has been assigned No. 26, a running back's number. With so much speed, explosion, and strength to go with a 6-1, 230-pound body, it would seem that Lewis is a natural to fill the position. Norm Chow got a lot of mileage from MacKenzie and placing Lewis in the same backfield with Dennis and company would be an opponent's nightmare.

The Obvious – The Trojan defensive front is being touted as perhaps the best in the country and has been referred to as Wild Bunch ll.

The Not So Obvious – With Shaun Cody looking like he has returned to near full health, attention will be concentrated on the backups for this talented group. With Manuel Wright added to the mix, some of the best practice battles in the coming weeks will be watching the competition between returning players like LeJuan Ramsey and young stallions like Ryan Watson, Lawrence Jackson, Fili Moala, Chris Barrett, and Alex Morrow.

The Obvious – Parade All-America offensive tackle Drew Radovich of Mission Viejo did not play in any summer prep all-star games and is being now listed as an offensive guard.

The Not So Obvious – Radovich may be one of a number of eventual position changes as fall camp progresses. Successful changing of positions has been a Pete Carroll specialty.

The Obvious – With the additions of Booty and Wright, this year's reporting freshman team on paper is certainly living up to its number one ranking, but starting Wednesday, we'll separate the contenders from the pretenders.

The Not So Obvious – While there are a plethora of prep superstars arriving this week, there are some that may have been underplayed. This could apply to Servite offensive lineman Ryan Kalil, who did not play in any post-season games in order to be fully prepared to compete this week. Kalil is listed as a center, and a number of high-profile Trojan players watched him during his senior season and came away very impressed.

The Obvious – Last season there was a lot of fear over the lack of depth in the secondary, especially the corners due to injury.

The Not So Obvious – What a difference a year makes. With the return of potential Sunday players in a number of positions, the Trojans look strong. The key this year again will be the play and potential leadership of physical senior Marcell Allmond.

The Obvious – Former USC tailback of the late 60's Steve Grady is the head coach at perennial power Los Angeles Loyola.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the fact that dad played at Troy, Grady's quarterback son has accepted a scholarship offer to Virginia after an impressive outing at the Cavaliers' Camp.

The Obvious – The latest out of Orlando, Florida is the Trojans are still looking very good in the recruiting of linebacker Keith Rivers of Lake Marys , not to mention linebacker Brandon Siler (6-3, 220) of Orlando Evans and athlete Ken Inghram (6-6, 205) of Orlando Edgewater.

The Not So Obvious – Can coach Lane Kiffin continue to work his Florida magic along with linebacker coach Nick Holt? Of USC, Rivers told the Orlando Sentinel, "It has a great tradition, right up there with Notre Dame, and a great education." Rivers says his four visits will be USC, Florida, Miami, and Oklahoma. It should be noted Rivers does not mention South Bend, which would be a good title for a movie – "A Rivers Run Through It".

The Obvious – If it's fall practice, it‘s time for the 2003 USC football media guide to make its debut. The guide also includes photos of walk-ons, a nice gesture and moral booster for all concerned.This year's addition, which is the largest of any Pac-10 media guides, is for the most part a nicely done product with improved pictures and layouts.

The Not So Obvious - However, in order to rate a ten here, the boys in the media department will have to someday include pictures of the incoming freshmen to match media guides like Notre Dame, which includes mugs of their freshman. Common guys, you work too hard to leave out such a no brainer as freshman photos. Oh well, maybe next year.

The Obvious – Before being forced to leave the Trojans' team due to a back injury, former running back Darryl Poston from Huntington Beach Edison
displayed outstanding feet, moves, and explosion.

The Not So Obvious – Despite published reports saying he will not be cleared to return to the team, Poston's medical reinstatement may be far from over. You know the old Yogi Berra malapropism, so stay tuned.

The Obvious – The Trojans will open at home in an ABC nationally televised 5:00 p.m.game against Mountain West foe BYU on September 6th.

The Not So Obvious – Look for the Trojan athletic department to unveil five giant replica jerseys of the USC Heisman Trophy winners. You don't think those displays will be positioned in such a way that those ABC cameras don't pick'em up with those end zone shots facing the scoreboard end of the Coliseum. Nah!

The Obvious – Christmas is not till December 25th, some five months away.

The Not So Obvious – Don't tell that to Trojan fans this past week as the postman came to houses disguised as Santa Claus to deliver 2003 USC football season tickets. In the words of Pete Carroll, "We're just getting started!"

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