Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Spring questions . . . special teams

Big questions for USC football this spring because of the big turnovers in personnel. Here are our questions for that most important group as we head into spring.

The thought was we'd combine our spring questions for both the USC defense and special teams into the same column.

That's how USC does it for weekly media access when the defensive coaches and players and the special teams coach and players are combined into one group on the same day.

But as usually happens, the special teams guys -- except for the one-of-a-kind Adoree' Jackson, who was there talking about his work on defense already, often got short shrift.

As a result, we've decided to split them up and not relegate special teams to third place the way they so often are.

So here we go. All the special teams questions we can think of, many with answers that will only come when spring gets here -- and maybe not then. Some of these could be September decisions.

No coverage questions here or punt- and kick-block team stuff although we do have to wonder if the Trojans will miss one of the veterans like the graduated Quinton Powell who could run and hit and play in space and find the football. With more young athletes ready to play this season, we'll assume John Baxter will be able to fill out those groups.

Here are our 11 questions:

*** 1) Since no position group has been more impacted by defections with four of the six special teams starters in the Rose Bowl gone this spring, how exactly does Baxter make up for the loss of experienced specialists? Is it possible to do that or does it just have to happen?

*** 2) With four-year perfect snapper Zach Smith one of those Trojans whose name almost no one knew, and whose coaches hope you never did learn it because the only time that happens is when there's a bad snap, can his successor, scholarshipped juco transfer Damon Johnson out of Glendora and Citrus JC, step seamlessly into Zach's footsteps and remain just as anonymous for the rest of his USC career?

*** 3) Is there a chance last year's place-kicker and Rose Bowl game-winner Matt Boermeester will be back after a suspension for a student conduct issue for which no details have been forthcoming? Or does the fact that he's not on the spring roster bode ill for his chances?

*** 4) Has scholarship kicker Michael Brown's year on the Scout team getting alternate field goal and kickoff work with Boermeester readied the redshirt freshman to step in to the kinds of high pressure situations Boermeester faced after a year himself as a backup?

*** 5) Can Brown regularly drive his kickoffs into the end zone as Boermeester did in what became a real luxury for the USC coverage people who no longer had to perfectly cover those short directional kickoffs to the pylons?

*** 6) Will USC allow punter Chris Tilbey to drive the ball deep and flip the field more this year or will he keep emphasizing in the shorter no-return wedge shots? Can Chris get some numbers for the NFL? Can he get some rugby style punts?

*** 7) Where will USC miss snapper Smith more -- field goal snaps or punt snaps? Or is there a difference?

*** 8) How important is it for USC with a new place-kicker to have holdover holder Wyatt Schmidt, who didn't get much credit for getting that ball down perfectly in 1.2 seconds in the Rose Bowl, back for another season?

*** 9) Who will replace Adoree', the fearless punt returner who forced teams to change the way they kicked -- or not -- to USC? Or can anyone? He changed games. He won games. Can USC come up with anyone like that. Do the Trojans go with a Deontay Burnett for his sure hands and poise? Or do they roll the dice with a Jack Jones who may be the closest athletically to Adoree' in game-changing ability? Or what about Dominic Davis? He's got the speed. But can you teach punt returning? Or is it something you either can do -- or maybe not?

*** 10) And what about the other return group. Does Ajene Harris get more chances to return kickoffs? Is that the place for a speedster like Velus Jones? Or Pie Young? What about Davis there? And if Steven Mitchell is good to go, how does his senior experience play in to this? Or is that a spot for a freshman like Greg Johnson?

*** 11) And maybe last but certainly not least, will this be the year we get to see Jake Olson snap in a game? We can only hope.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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