Matt Leinart is as set as one could be as the starting QB for the Trojans but he will sit out much of spring ball following tendonitis surgery in January. What that means is we should see John David Booty and Rocky Hinds get an early start on the competition to replace Leinart in 2006. Mark Sanchez will eventually join that fight in the fall but Sanchez will be forced to watch from the sidelines this spring as Booty and Hinds get first shot at impressing the new offensive coordinators. The #2 quarterback is expected to get a lot of work this fall so that makes the spring competition all the more important.
Dominique Byrd is the starter but we need to come out of spring with an idea of which of the young tight ends will be his top reserve. There were three freshmen at the spot last fall in Fred Davis, Dale Thompson and Jimmy Miller but none of the three stood out enough to call them a clear leader in the battle for the back-up spot. Nick Vanderboom will also be in the mix as well. Davis is the most physically talented of the group with the chance to be a real downfield weapon if he is focused and ready to play.
The Trojans only need to replace one starter on the offensive line from last year and there are plenty of guys lining up for the opportunity to earn the vacant left guard spot. Jeff Byers started four games at LG last fall and would seem to have an early advantage to take over for John Drake. However, there are others looking for their shot as well. Deuce Lutui was a starter at right tackle throughout a national championship season but he could find himself out of a job with the return of Winston Justice. If that happens, look for Deuce to join the fight at left guard. Drew Radovich saw a lot of practice time at guard last fall and performed well as did Chilo Rachal. Rachal is a barrel-chested player who is ready to step up and be considered for playing time. We may even see versatile guys such as Kyle Williams, Matt Spanos and Tiny Malu get a look. One important factor for this competition is the fact that new OL coach Pat Ruel has no preconceived notions of how these players perform so they will be starting with a clean slate this spring.
The loss of Cody and Patterson cannot be overestimated, you just don't lose two All-Americans in the middle of your defensive line without it leaving a huge hole. Manuel Wright has tremendous talent at the DT spot and he is first in line to take over for Cody. Assuming Manuel takes care of his business on the field and in the classroom we should be fine. Look for Fili Moala to be his primary reserve. Where things could get interesting is at the NG spot. Sedrick Ellis is currently first in line to replace Patterson and his primary competition will come from a pair of oft-injured reserves in LaJuan Ramsey and Travis Tofi. Could we see a possible position change to bring somebody in from another spot? It could happen. This will be a key position to watch in spring. The bar has been set high in terms of performance from the interior of the d-line and Carroll won't be satisfied until he finds somebody who meets his expectations.
The unexpected departure of Lofa Tatupu leaves us with a hole up the middle of the defense when you also factor in the loss of Cody, Patterson and Leach. Lofa was the signal-caller for the defense and his absence leaves a critical void. At this point it looks like there will be three players involved in the competition this spring with Oscar Lua, Ryan Powdrell and Thomas Williams. We could also end up seeing Collin Ashton getting some reps as well. Lua looked to be the MLB of the future a few years ago but a pair of knee surgeries seems to have robbed him of his burst of speed and that is what separated him from other players as a freshman. Lua is considered a grizzled vet at this point and he's seen a lot. Powdrell has a lot of the physical attributes but academic problems caused him to miss some important practices toward the end of the season. Williams had played at SLB last season and his hitting prowess, especially on special teams, has forced the coaches to ask him to learn the plays for the MLB spot with an eye on a possible position switch. Ashton could be a wild-card in the group, he's a heady player with a lot of experience who doesn't make mistakes. It would be a surprise to see a true freshman get the start in the middle this fall, in part because of the added play calling duties, so it stands to reason the starter will come from this group competing in spring ball.