O/NSO - Trojan Huddle edition

As the last week of USC spring football returns to seclusion, Trojan football fans were treated on Saturday to that off-Broadway football play known as The Huddle, giving fans and friends a sneak preview in April of the 2004 fall college football team many still believe will be the number one team in the nation.

The Obvious – As the last week of USC spring football returns to seclusion, Trojan football fans were treated on Saturday to that off-Broadway football play known as The Huddle, giving fans and friends a sneak preview in April of the 2004 fall college football team many still believe will be the number one team in the nation.

The Not So Obvious – The 103-play spring game brought Advil-type of relief to the announced 10, 000 Trojan fans at the Coliseum as Pete Carroll's offensive line units opened up enough holes on the ground to send a fever to the Trojans' 2004 opponents. No matter what the unit may look like as it morphs to August 28th against Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland, it appears there will be "fall" running room for Hershel Dennis, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and possibly Desmond Reed.

The Obvious – Last year's Huddle star was Justin Wyatt, who earned his praise last spring as a wide receiver but had six tackles on Saturday afternoon as a defensive back.

The Not So Obvious – It would be hard to pick one player as the star on Saturday, but the choice here is for the ground game, including all the running backs and various offensive line units. Considering the offensive losses from last year's national champions, it is indeed remarkable to watch the maturation of this group during this spring.

The Obvious – While Dennis, Bush, and White were running with authority, none of the Trojan fullbacks had a carry on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – Oh that Norm Chow. You just know that when you least expect it, fullbacks Lee Webb (6-0, 240) or David Kirtman (6-0, 220) will get that unexpected carry or pattern out of the backfield to dagger a 2004 opponent's defensive coordinator. With starting fullback Brandon Hancock out for the year and watching from the sidelines, both "backup" fullbacks, who can also catch, looked solid as lead blockers for Dennis,White, and Bush.

The Obvious – Saturday's offensive line provided enough encouragement for a ground game, but showed there is still much work to be done when it comes to blitz identification and general backside quarterback protection.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the inspiring ground game, the eight quarterback sacks by Pete Carroll's defense were an ominous sign. If the Trojan quarterbacks had been allowed to be"hit", any one of the potential sacks could have been lethal. On one particular play, Heisman quarterback candidate Matt Leinart could have been counting broken ribs had his Mater Dei teammate, blitzing linebacker Matt "The Missile" Grootegoed, been allowed to come full blow.

The Obvious – Forget about the final score, Saturday's performance in that renowned football theatre known as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a positive glimpse of life without All-Americans Mike Williams, Kenechi Udeze, and Jacob Rogers.

The Not So Obvious – It was a coming out party for players such as defensive end Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 250), the former Inglewood star, and offensive tackles Sam Baker (6-5, 315) and Kyle Williams (6-6, 290). Williams showed enough potential to receive praise from quarterback Matt Leinart after the glorified scrimmage.

The Obvious – Redshirt freshman offensive left tackle Sam Baker is the "current" replacement for departed All-American Jacob Rogers.

The Not So Obvious – Talk about a complete body makeover, nobody on the team looks more physically rearranged than Baker. Up close Saturday, the former Tustin High All-American is a classic example of the strength and conditioning program under coach Chris Carlisle. The kid looked lean and fit and did a fine job on Saturday bringing a huge smile from Daddy Dave, the czar of Arena football. One observer commented that Big Dave, the former UCI basketball great, looked remarkably like a larger version of Babe Ruth.

The Obvious – The Trojan marketing department was in attendance passing out season ticket brochures.

The Not So Obvious – Inside the colorful brochure, there is an overhead photo of the Coliseum engulfed in cardinal clad fans. Obviously computer generated, there was only one thing missing from the sky-high photo. There was no famed Coliseum player tunnel entrance. Ah, details, details, details.

The Obvious – Defensively, Trojan fans got their first glimpse of Shaun Cody at defensive end, the spot previously held by the departed Kenechi Udeze

The Not So Obvious – Cody's transformation to end is an indication of the emergence of big Manuel Wright (6-6, 285) as a starting defensive tackle. Where the move to end for Cody (6-4, 285), who had no tackles on Saturday, becomes a future factor will be when San Jose prep star defensive end Jeff Schweiger arrives in the summer. Cody figures to mentor Schweiger as his eventual replacement.

The Obvious – Many feel that in Jeff Schweiger and Jeff Byers, the Trojans captured the nation's two finest linemen on either side of the line of scrimmage.

The Not So Obvious – Schweiger and Byers were in attendance on Saturday, and Schweiger told WeAreSC.com that he currently weighs 268 pounds, up from his February signing weight of 250. Earlier, Pete Carroll remarked how big and developed Schweiger looked since the end of the last prep season.While Byers is remarkably built for a high school senior, Schweiger has made Trojan recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron make comment that even though Byers has deservedly received the high recognition, folks may be very surprised by Schweiger's performance next fall. The kid has the "eyes" of a future Trojan sackmaster.

The Obvious – Hershel Dennis, who rushed for 661 yards last season, again demonstrated with 10 carries and 91 yards on Saturday that he could start for almost any team in America.

The Not So Obvious – Scoring on a "typical" bounce off, breakout 25-yard "overtime" scoring run, Dennis looked nothing short of sensational on Saturday. Dennis gave no indication that he isn't better than last season. The former Poly flash looked stronger and more physical but just as quick.

The Obvious – It was mentioned in the last O/NSO that it would have been a Trojan blessing if the Huddle could have been televised on Fox Sport Net2.

The Not So Obvious – USC coach Pete Carroll told the Times's Gary Klein that he did not want the game televised because his Trojan staff learned much about Auburn last spring when the Tigers' spring game was on cable. It's not so much about formations that can be dissected, but a breakdown of individual player strengths and weaknesses. You don't think VaTech coach Frank Beamer and staff would have been watching back in Blacksburg?

The Obvious – There was some concern during spring that powerful tailback LenDale White (6-2, 237) was too heavy and was having an uninspiring March.

The Not So Obvious – Maybe it was the Trojan band or the thousands of fans decked out in April cardinal and gold, but White's rushing performance was vintage LenDale, who gained 96 yards on 11 carries. White had one play where the former Colorado prep star hit the hole and completely knocked linebacker Lofa Tatupu back to Martin Luther King Blvd.

The Obvious – Offensive line coach Tim Davis used freshman guard Matt Spanos (6-5, 285) at offensive tackle.

The Not So Obvious – Spanos teamed with Drew Radovich (6-5, 280) to form the second unit offensive tackles. Radovich had double duty on Saturday as he also was the designated driver - returning freshman Jeff Byers to LAX for his return trip back to Loveland, Colorado.

The Obvious – A large number of incoming Trojans from the 2004 top-ranked recruiting class were in attendance Saturday, including the aforementioned Schweiger and Byers.

The Not So Obvious – Also seen roaming the field after the scrum were QB Rocky Hinds, DLs Lawrence Miles and Thomas Herring, tight ends Jimmy Miller, Michael Stuart, and Dale Thompson. Future recruits checking things out were the likes of Pomona tackle Charles Brown, a very large and impressive looking specimen, and the heralded Lakewood linebacker duo of Luther Brown and Adrian McCovey.

The Obvious – Following the Huddle, WeAreSC.com's Garry P. was on ESPN radio with Dave Stone and Mike Martinez for a two-hour Huddle call-in session.

The Not So Obvious – Give ESPN's Stone credit for being at the Coliseum first-hand to view the Trojans and giving an accurate account of Pete Carroll's men. Stone, a Cal State Northridge grad, is an admitted UCLA fan but showed no bias on the Huddle show and showered the Trojans with compliments, as did former Bruin, Martinez.

The Obvious – The Huddle provided a glimpse into the potential of redshirt freshman Lawrence Jackson, the former Inglewood stud.

The Not So Obvious – Jackson, who had a game-high eight tackles and two sacks, was seeing extra time with starting defensive end Frostee Rucker on the sidelines with his celebrated toe injury. Rucker was sitting on the bench getting pointers from Greek restaurant chief of staff and former Trojan linebacker John Papdakis.,

The Obvious – For the most part, tailback Reggie Bush had a quiet day at the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – However, Bush was returning punts and was hit hard on one return and appeared to be hurt. He limped off the field and no word has been mentioned on any further damage. It does, however, make one wonder why Bush even needs to be back there with all the other explosive talent the Trojans have at their disposal.

The Obvious – The big three newspaper chains of the Times, Register, and Daily News have done a fine job of covering the Trojans on a near daily basis during spring ball.

The Not So Obvious – It was, however, somewhat surprising that only the Times appeared to have a story in Saturday's edition regarding the Trojans' spring game. The OC Register's regular Trojan writer, Todd Harmonson, was away covering the Final Four in San Antonio and perhaps Scott "Sherlock" Wolf's stuff was uncharacteristically placed in a general sports notes column.

The Obvious – Trojan fans were treated to the public unveiling of wide receiver Whitney Lewis, who collected seven receptions for 122 yards a score, despite an injured finger.

The Not So Obvious – Lewis, who reminds this pontificator of former Notre Dame and current NFL receiver David Givens, showed remarkable hands and the ability to drag a pile after the catch. In fact, it is Whitney's hands that more impressive than his moves..

The Obvious – There was not a better Trojan sight than seeing senior tight end Alex Holmes return to the lineup.

The Not So Obvious – Holmes (6-3, 270) looked in mid-season form as he made two impressive catches (16.5 ave). Showing no fear of hurting his back, Holmes made one leaping catch and proceeded to blast through an attempted tackle by safety Jason Leach. Holmes later admitted that with Dominique Byrd, Greg Guenther, who was not in uniform, and himself, there could not be a better trio of tight ends in the country. No argument here, Alex.

The Obvious – Wide receiver Steve Smith gave Trojan fans Saturday every indication that he will be a capable replacement for Keary Colbert and thank you very much.

The Not So Obvious – Smith, who caught a touchdown grab from Leinart, might even be compared to Lynn Swann at the same stage. Fluid and athletic, Smith is also helping develop some of Pete Carroll's young defensive backs like Terrell Thomas, who fought off one of Smith's potentially acrobatic receptions. Watch for redshirt Thomas, the former Rancho Cucamonga star, to eventually make an impact in the Trojan secondary.

The Obvious – Parking at the Coliseum for the annual Trojan Huddle was $10.

The Not So Obvious – Although previously reported in the media to be $6, many Trojan fans were surprised and somewhat angry that Coliseum parking for a scrimmage would be the same as a regular season Dodger Stadium outing.

The Obvious – By Pete Carroll's own admission, redshirt freshman Desmond Reed is being groomed as a backup for tailback Reggie Bush.

The Not So Obvious – Finally being told by Carroll that he is now an offensive player, Reed, who has what we call in athletics "happy feet", showed the near same wiggle and elusiveness of Bush without the warp-speed acceleration. Like Bush, the kid can catch and even turn a 1-yard gain into an exciting journey.

The Obvious – One of the highlights of any spring game is a memorable "hit" or block.

The Not So Obvious – One of the biggest hits on Saturday was administered by safety Greg Farr, who put his own personal tattoo on Desmond Reed. If you didn't know better, you'd swear it was the "new" Darnell Bing inflicting the flogging.

The Obvious - Speaking of Mr. Bing, the kid looks like he no longer needs to think through his reactions to plays and now just "hits" and, boy, does he now.

The Not So Obvious - Bing is so big and physically intimidating in the Trojans' secondary, one observer said No. 20 looks like one of those intimidating Cylon robots on that old Loren Greene sci-fi television show, Battlestar Galactica.

The Obvious – The Huddle was better organized this year than in the past.

The Not So Obvious – One of the "perks" to this year's Huddle was separate entrances for fans, recruits, and VIPs. Even the In N Out food distribution outlets were well spaced. For those that love to rack up air mileage on credit cards, there was even a ticket window for credit card admittance. However, one negative in the food department was separate lines for food and drink. Waiting in two consecutive long lines was ridiculous to say the least.

The Obvious – Quarterback Matt Leinart looked in mid-season form, even showing moxie by throwing the ball away when receivers weren't open.

The Not So Obvious – Leinart's backups had their moments and one brought a smile from former Trojan All-American quarterback and radio color commentator Paul McDonald. McDonald's son, Mike, held his own in his appearance on Saturday. McDonald, a typical Newport Harbor High competitor, looked off defenders and made most of the right reads in hitting quick tosses on slant patterns. Don't tell Paul that his kid is "just" a walk-on.

The Obvious – Trojan fans were able to watch extended action of John David Booty, who threw for 115 yards.

The Not So Obvious – Booty was able to show his father, Johnny, his updated skills as a Trojan quarterback. The Booty family was in attendance sitting in Section 5. John David's "other" quarterback brother, Josh, was also able to evaluate his little brother's performance in some comfortable southern California sunshine.

The Obvious – With defensive end Frostee Rucker out, defenisve line coach Ed Orgeron sampled sophomore Travis Tofi, who responded with two sacks.

The Not So Obvious – Once considered a real project from Fagaitua High in American Samoa, Tofi (6-4, 255) is a classic example of how Pete Carroll and staff develop their players as their careers unfold. The bulging biceps on Tofi are strong indicators of the kid's development.

The Obvious – The Trojans' media department was selling the spring football media guide for a reasonable five bucks.

The Not So Obvious - The NCAA is considering legislation to address the problem of college media guides and their effects on recruiting. With all that smells like bad fish in the college recruiting world, press guides are the least of the NCAA's problems. Press guides have become fan yearbooks and there is nothing wrong with that. Of course, it is common knowledge that All-American prep lineman Jeff Byers committed to the Trojans because of Tim Tessalone's fine USC press guide. The kid was obviously swayed by the bio information on assistant athletic director Jose Eskenazi. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

The Obvious – There was a fine selection of USC souvenir items inside the Coliseum grounds near Tunnel 2.

The Not So Obvious – If you were looking for some Rose Bowl attire bargains, you had to love the prices of T-shirts for $5, polo shirts for $10, and jackets for $20. Of course, those national championship items like shirts, clocks, and trashcans were going for the non-discounted rates.

The Obvious - The cost of the Huddle without a pre-sale ticket was $25.

The Not So Obvious – Believe it or not, there were actually scalpers in front of Gate 4 trying to cut deals for those arriving without ducats.

The Obvious – Before each regular season game, the Trojans huddle just outside the tunnel for a spirit rally and then charge onto the field.

The Not So Obvious – Apparently this year's inspirational leader out of The Tunnel is offensive guard Fred Matua. Leave it to Carroll, who even had his team practice coming out of the Coliseum tunnel.

The Obvious – Ohio freshman Fred Davis was unable to play Saturday due to a pulled right hamstring.

The Not So Obvious – Davis suffered the pull at Tuesday's practice. Davis and the trainers immediately put some ice on the hammie, but Trojan fans and Davis were disappointed on Saturday he was unable to showcase his heralded skills.

The Obvious – A number of promotional flyers and items were being passed out before and after the scrimmage, including a flyer for the Trojans' adult fantasy football camp.

The Not So Obvious – Commented here in the O/NSO Spring Cleaning edition, the flyer listed all the exciting adult camp highlights such as coaching from Pete Carroll and staff, playing in the Coliseum, and deluxe hotel accommodations. What wasn't mentioned in the O/NSO last time was price of this "flashback" experience. Tell the little woman it's your next birthday present and the camp fee is a bargain at $1,700. Hey, tell her you even get to tap the "I'm IN" sign as you walk out of the Trojans' Coliseum locker room!

The Obvious – While the scrimmage ended late, fans enjoyed themselves and stayed after the final snap to come down on the field and get autographs and pictures with their gridiron heroes.

The Not So Obvious – Fans were told by Trojans' public address announcer Dennis Packer that they had 40 minutes to get their pictures and autographs, and then the Coliseum clock actually started a countdown. Unfortunately for Trojan fans everywhere, the five months until Virginia Tech will go as slow as the 40 minute autograph and picture session went fast.

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