Spring preview

A position by position review of the 2004 season and a look ahead at each position in terms of how we look for spring ball.

QB

2004 – Does it get any better than what we saw from Matt Leinart? A national championship, a Heisman trophy and a decision to stay for one more year.

Spring ball – Leinart will miss most, if not all, of spring after undergoing surgery for tendonitis in his elbow. What that means is that we will get an extended look at John David Booty and Rocky Hinds while you can be sure Mark Sanchez will be in attendance to watch several practices to help learn the offense. Booty looked good in bowl practices and has impressed onlookers with his effort so far in off-season workouts.

RB

2004 – It was the Thunder and Lightning duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White as Reggie was named USC MVP and Pac-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year (along with Leinart) while White was once again the Trojans leading rusher. It was a tough year for Hershel Dennis as the former starter was relegated to a reserve role and then he suffered a bowl practice injury. Desmond Reed showed flashes of real promise with the ball in his hands. Lee Webb took over for the injured Brandon Hancock and was a terrific blocking back. David Kirtman also showed good all-around skills, particularly as a pass catcher.

Spring ball – Bush and White return as two of the top runners in the nation although it remains to be seen how much we will see from either player in spring ball. Bush recently underwent shoulder surgery while White had some work done on his ankle last month. We will probably see a lot of Reed and also of Chauncey Washington who makes his return after missing the fall due to academic reasons. There were some who felt Chauncey was every bit as talented as Bush and White when the three came in as freshmen so it will be nice to finally see him back in action. Dennis will sit out spring, and most likely the 2005 season, with torn knee ligaments. Michael Coleman, an early enrollee, will see some action at tailback and he has performed well in off-season workouts so far. We will see the return in spring of a healthy Hancock with Kirtman still in the mix. Jody Adewale will probably get a long look as well. Ashton White, son of 1979 Heisman winner Charles, is a walk-on and could get a look at either fullback or safety.

WR

2004 – It was a crazy year at the wide receiver spot with the loss of Mike Williams and Whitney Lewis before the season even started. Once things got going we saw Steve Smith emerge as a possible go-to guy but then he went down for half the season. Chris McFoy was solid in his role but he was also hurt for part of the year. One saving grace for the Trojans was the performance of freshman Dwayne Jarrett who simply grew by leaps and bounds throughout the year. Jason Mitchell also stepped up to provide a big boost when the team needed it.

Spring ball – Smith and Jarrett are set as the starting wide receivers and they are an impressive duo who complement each other very well. Smith's performance in the Orange Bowl has marked him as a future star while Jarrett has some whispering that he could be a more complete receiver than Williams by the time his Trojan career is over. Lewis is back and eager to make an impact but he faces a logjam of players fighting for time including McFoy, John Walker, Grieg Carlson and Will Buchanon. If Whitney is in-shape and properly motivated it stands to reason that he would come out of spring as the #3 receiver based on his huge potential.

TE

2004 – Alex Holmes provided solid leadership last year and the sparks were supplied by Dominique Byrd once he recovered from a kneecap injury which forced him to miss the early part of the season. Once he returned to action Dom had several highlight catches which were as good as any you will see.

Spring ball – Byrd is back and he could contend for All-American honors next year, he has that kind of ability. Where things get interesting is the rotation behind Dom. Fred Davis has a lot of potential and he should have a renewed sense of urgency after missing the Orange Bowl trip for disciplinary reasons. Dale Thompson saw action last year as a true freshman while Jimmy Miller sat out as a redshirt. There is also Nick Vanderboom, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last fall. It would be great if one of these four can step forward to become the solid #2 guy but so far we haven't seen anyone jump out yet.

OL

2004 – The play of the offensive line was one of the most pleasant surprises of last year. There was much concern after losing so many starters from the year before but this unit came together and played well enough to help the team to a national title.

Spring ball – John Drake was the only senior starter last fall so there will be a lot of experience lining up in spring ball. Sam Baker has the left tackle spot sewn up and Ryan Kalil is set at center. We could see some movement at other spots depending on the status of returning two-year starter Winston Justice, who has shown up for off-season workouts in great shape. If Winston is plugged back in at right tackle we could see Deuce Lutui move to left guard to compete with Jeff Byers for that open spot. Kyle Williams is another guy who could play multiple positions. At this point Fred Matua is the most experienced guy and he is at right guard although there is much message board speculation about him possibly switching to DL if needed. Chilo Rachal, Drew Radovich and Tiny Malu are ready to make a case for more playing time as well. Travis Draper and Thomas Herring are reserves who are probably a year away from competing for playing time.

DL

2004 – Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson combined to form an experienced and talented duo that was as good as any in the country. Both players earned All-American honors and are expected to be high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson were both solid in their first season as starters at defensive end. Manuel Wright provided a nice option when he was healthy at tackle which allowed Cody to play some at end. Jeff Schweiger showed early promise.

Spring ball – Finding replacements for Cody and Patterson will be among the primary items on the agenda for the Trojans this spring. Wright will plug in as the starter for Cody and if Manuel can stay healthy and focused there's no reason to think that he won't be a dominant player in his own right. Sedrick Ellis figures to get the first shot at the nose guard spot vacated by Patterson with others such as LaJuan Ramsey, Travis Tofi and Lawrence Miles also in the mix. Fili Moala was named Service team defensive player of the year last fall and he should be ready to begin earning some playing time behind Wright. Rucker may be limited this spring due to a lingering toe injury so that means Schweiger will get extended work and a chance to develop his overall game. Jackson should continue to improve to the point where he will be a big-time player sooner rather than later. It will be interesting to see how this group responds to new coach Jethro Franklin as a transition from Orgeron. One position move that could play off is the return of Chris Barrett to defensive end as he is the type of player who could respond well to the fresh start offered by a new position coach. Rashaad Goodrum has speed off the end and could be a factor as well. Alex Morrow needs to make an impact this spring or he risks being buried too deep on the depth chart in the fall.

LB

2004 – This was a talented and playmaking trio last year led by All-Americans Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu. Dallas Sartz was a solid starter and we saw plenty of contributions from reserves such as Keith Rivers, Collin Ashton and Thomas Williams.

Spring ball – The early loss of Tatupu leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the defense and we need to see somebody step forward into that role. There will be plenty of candidates including Ryan Powdrell, Oscar Lua, Ashton and possibly even someone like Williams or Rivers moving to the middle. At this point Rivers is scheduled to take over for Groots on the weakside with Sartz starting on the strongside and Williams as his top reserve. Of course, what happens this spring in the linebacker rotation could be changed in the fall after the arrival of such a talented LB recruiting class.

DB

2004 – The secondary was supposed to be the weak spot of the defense but things got solidified with the emergence of the starting corner duo of Justin Wyatt and Eric Wright. Darnell Bing became more of a physical presence as the season went along while Jason Leach was just a steady guy who always did his job.

Spring ball – Wyatt and Wright are set as the corners with Terrell Thomas entering spring as the #3 guy in the rotation. Bing will miss much of spring following shoulder surgery so that will give Scott Ware and Josh Pinkard a chance for extended action. Ware impressed the coaches with his tackling against Cal last year but an injury in that game slowed him for the remainder of the year, Scott is expected to take over for Leach at the free safety spot. Pinkard is a big hitter. Brandon and Ryan Ting can play either safety or corner. Kevin Ellison, another early enrollee, will be at safety as well.

Special teams

2004 – Ryan Killeen struggled at times and came close to losing his job but he rallied and put together a strong close to the season. Tom Malone had some booming kicks but his average fell from the 2003 season and he looks to finish out his career in a big way by coming back for his senior season. Reggie Bush was fantastic on kickoff and punt returns.

Spring ball – Malone will be here for spring but could be slowed a little after recent work on his knee. Walk-on punter Taylor Odegard could get an opportunity to show himself as a possible replacement for Malone after Tom graduates. Killeen is gone but his scheduled replacement, Troy Van Blarcom, will not arrive until the fall (assuming all his academic work is in order). This provides Mario Danelo with a chance this spring to prove to the coaches that he has what it takes to do the job. Mario has performed well at times on the practice field and could end up being a real option.

Coaching

2004 – It was one of the best college coaching staffs in recent memory with the two top coordinators in the country along with a pair of enthusiastic line coaches who helped set the tone for the team.

Spring ball – There will be plenty of new faces strolling the Trojan sidelines with five new coaches (three fulltime, two GA's). The biggest challenge facing the staff will be adjusting to the new play calling tandem of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian (who returns after a year with the Oakland Raiders) following the departure of Norm Chow to the Tennessee Titans. Pat Reul takes over for Tim Davis on the o-line but early indications are that Reul could end up being just as vocal as Davis. Reul brings a lot of NFL experience. Franklin takes over for Orgeron and he also has recent NFL ties coming from the Packers. Jethro attended Fresno State and coached there for many years so he is well known in California recruiting circles. Ken Norton goes from GA to fulltime LB coach and he will probably fill the vocal coaching void left by Orgeron on the defensive side of the ball. Dennis Slutak, who was so important coaching special teams the past two seasons, moves to the administrative side as Director of Football Operations and former Trojan linebacker Sam Anno takes over as GA in charge of special teams. Anno had a lot of success at USC and in the NFL with special teams and he will bring the type of energy and passion to the game that Pete Carroll loves from him coaches. The remaining GA spot has yet to be finalized.


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