Matt Leinart is ready to take his game to another level and this spring he looked as calm and in control as ever. It's to the point where his strong performances in practice are almost taken for granted because he is so consistent. He's become more vocal and often took the time to praise the young offensive line which will be so important in protecting him this year. John David Booty got the vast majority of snaps as the #2 quarterback and he has made excellent progress over the past year. John David has a strong arm and his knowledge of the offense is increasing. There is a possibility Booty could redshirt next year depending on how the season plays out but there's little doubt he's the best option at this position behind Leinart. Brandon Hance can be an effective quarterback if needed. He's got experience as a starter and good scrambling ability. It was nice to see Brandon healthy and making plays. Mike McDonald, son of Paul, had a touchdown pass in a Coliseum scrimmage which caused dad to comment "not bad for a righty".
This spring we saw what we normally see from this running back group. On one day it would be one guy breaking the big runs and then on the next day it would be somebody else. Reggie Bush probably had the most big plays, he was equally dynamic running or catching the ball and he also dazzled on special teams returns. Reggie put on a show in front of a large group of recruits at Junior Day with a pair of touchdowns in a Coliseum scrimmage. Hershel Dennis was the most consistent producer, giving us a constant reminder of his overall skills. Hershel looked bigger this spring than he did at the end of last season and that's a good sign. LenDale White was slowed by injuries for much of spring but he was the star of the Trojan Huddle scrimmage in front of 10,000 USC fans. LenDale ran hard through tackles and looked like the power back that he is on that day. Chauncey Washington sat out the spring due to injury but we did get a long look at Desmond Reed in a new role. Reed will play the same spot at Reggie Bush and there were times this spring when Desmond showed a little shake and bake of his own with the ball in his hands. With Hancock out at fullback we got an extended look at Lee Webb and David Kirtman as well as Jody Adewale. Webb was slated for linebacker until the Hancock injury forced him to stay on offense. Lee is known for his blocking but he did have one impressive long touchdown catch this spring. Kirtman is a solid all-around player who can do what the coaches ask him to do. David got a lot of carries in the final scrimmage of the spring and had some nice runs. Adewale has shown improvement and could contribute on special teams this season.
A lot of eyes were on the receiver spot as we looked to replace two of most productive receivers in Trojan history. Fortunately, the current group came through with flying colors and the future of the position looks bright. Steve Smith came in as the odds on favorite to replace Keary Colbert and he didn't disappoint. Steve was smooth, he ran good routes and he caught the ball. On the other side it was hoped that Whitney Lewis would step up and he certainly did that. Whitney made great strides in the off-season training program and from the first practice of spring he was fast, powerful and he had arguably the best hands on the team. Whitney was slowed for a few days with a dislocated finger but that didn't stop him from having a big day at the Huddle scrimmage. There wasn't a clear cut guy who grabbed the #3 spot but instead there were several who showed that they will be in the mix this fall. Chris McFoy has come a long way and he's also a good blocker. William Buchanan had more than a few days where made an impact, he has tremendous athletic skills and if he develops consistency it would be a great bonus to this group. Greig Carlson is a crafty receiver with instincts for the game and we know how tough he is from his work on punt returns. Jason Mitchell is a solid senior who can get the job done if needed. Fred Davis was a much ballyhooed arrival this spring but a lingering injury prevented him from making a big impact. There were times when his skills were obvious and there's no doubt he has a great future in this offense. This is a deep and young group that will only get better in the fall with the addition of more young and talented freshman in Jarrett, Jones and Stuart.
Another pleasant sight to see this spring was the return of Alex Holmes. After missing a full year due to injury we saw the old Alex as he was catching everything in sight and knocking defenders to the ground as they tried to tackle him. He was actually moving better than we've ever seen from him and it was obvious that Matt Leinart had a lot of confidence throwing him the ball in traffic. It's a great boost to get his production and leadership back on the field. Dominique Byrd was able to go through non contact drills after suffering an injury last fall. Dom was moving very well with the work he was able to do. Gregg Guenther sat out spring drills to rest after basketball season. Nick Vanderboom and Kurt Katnik got a lot of snaps although Katnik sat out the last part of spring due to concussions.
The biggest concern heading into spring was the offensive line as we look to replace four starters from last season but the good news for USC fans is that the young guys fighting for playing time are pretty talented athletes and they could form a nucleus for years to come. Sam Baker received a lot of praise from coaches and teammates for his performance at left tackle. Sam has tremendous size and natural ability. Kyle Williams also played well after suddenly being thrust into the starting line-up following the departure of Winston Justice. Kyle looked comfortable and it showed in his performance. Fred Matua is the vocal leader on the line and he was the only o-lineman this spring with any starting experience. Ryan Kalil had a solid spring at center and it will be interesting to see what happens this fall with the arrival of Jeff Byers, who was in attendance at several spring ball practices. We could see some position changes as the coaches try to get the best possible players on the field. It was great to get so much practice time for these young guys but the starting rotation could be altered dramatically in the fall with the presence of Byers and Deuce Lutui as well as the health status of John Drake. John spent the spring drills on the sidelines riding the bike as he patiently waits for the ankle to heal. The battle at left guard could involve Drake but in the spring we saw Travis Watkins as the starter with Tiny Malu as his back-up. A couple other young reserves who looked good were Drew Radovich, who was moved to the right side and is very athletic, and Matt Spanos, the back-up on the left side who is known for his nasty style of play. Travis Draper took part in his first spring drills as a Trojan and he looked athletic at right guard, now he will spend some time in the weight room with Carlisle.
The Trojans return Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson so you know we're going to be in good shape on the line. Cody is a dominant player who is thick and quick, he will be one of the top defensive players in the nation. Patterson hasn't received as much attention but that could change this year. This spring we saw Cody move to the end spot vacated by Kenechi Udeze in part due to the progress shown by tackle Manuel Wright who is down to 280 pounds. Cody didn't miss a beat in the transition as he is at 292 pounds and faster than ever. Another reason for moving Cody was the lack of available bodies at the end spot. Expected contributors Frostee Rucker, LaJuan Ramsey, Chris Barrett and Van Brown were all on the sidelines for the majority of spring due to injuries. Lawrence Jackson took advantage of an extended look with a solid performance at the Trojan Huddle that showed how much he's improved in the off-season. Travis Tofi also impressed at end as Travis has really bulked up. Sedrick Ellis has a lot of the same physical skills as Patterson and he'll be the top reserve at NG this year. Alex Morrow has improved his upper body size.
With three solid starters a unit that could end up being the cornerstone of the defense will be the linebackers. It was great to see Matt Grootegoed back on the field after missing the final half of last season due to injury and Matt was his old self flying around and disrupting the offense. Lofa Tatupu looked as comfortable as ever as he returns in the middle. Dallas Sartz moves into the open spot and combines with the other two to form a trio of ballhawking starters who know how to play the game. A rising star is Thomas Williams based upon what we saw this spring. Williams is physical and he's a good athlete. Oscar Lua took part in drills and during the final week he showed flashes of the speed which has helped allow him to make big plays in the past. If Lua can return to form this could be a special group, especially with the fall additions of Keith Rivers and Ryan Powdrell. Collin Ashton and Marco Chavez were steady reserves this spring.
There were many Trojans concerned about the departure of two senior corners but this spring we saw a blend of experience, youth and talent fighting for playing time in a battle that has yet to be decided. Ronald Nunn and Justin Wyatt were the starters throughout spring but they figure to face stiff competition in the fall from Kevin Arbet. Kevin was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility but he didn't take part much in spring drills while continuing to rehab the foot. Nunn is a fifth year senior who is a good athlete while Wyatt seemed to be playing with a more physical style this spring. A couple redshirt freshmen who impressed were Terrell Thomas and Eric Wright. Thomas is tall and lanky, Wright has good coverage skills and is a hitter. Ryan Ting and John Walker are also in the rotation. The starting safeties are certainly settled as Darnell Bing and Jason Leach both looked solid this spring. Bing is absolutely huge and he had several big time hits during the spring session. Brandon Ting and Greg Farr are the primary reserves at safety with Scott Ware and Josh Pinkard being added to the rotation in the fall.
Tom Malone is the best punter in the nation and he looked like it this spring. Ryan Killeen improved on his consistency and the coaches think he is going to have a big year. Mario Danelo is a walk-on who could fight for the job when Killeen leaves. The Trojans have been spoiled in recent years at snapper with a pair of scholarship players in Joe Boskovich and Matt Hayward but now we must find their replacements. Will Collins is getting the first shot along with Collin Ashton while Alex Holmes has taken snaps as well. Reggie Bush got a look at both kickoff and punt returns along with Carlson, Mitchell, Reed, Bing and others.