JJ spring thoughts

John Jackson currently serves as the radio sideline analyst and pre/post game host for USC Trojan football in addition to his roles as high school football announcer and host of the Lexus Gauntlet show on Fox Sports Net. In this feature the former All Pac-10 wide receiver gives his thoughts on the upcoming Trojan spring ball session.

* The most important thing to see this spring is the interior of the defense, in particular I'm talking about the run defense. I want to see just how much the Trojans will miss Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. The basic philosophy behind all good defenses is that that you play from the inside out so you must be able to stop the opponent from running up the middle. Cody and Patterson were the best in recent history to prevent teams from establishing a consistent running game. When they faced double teams other guys like Tatupu and Groots were able to make plays and if they were single teamed they made the tackles on their own. Pete does have some players with limited experience along the d-line, but it will be important for him to find out how much depth and talent he has at these positions. The intriguing thing is that the jobs are wide open for intense competition, which will make spring practice exciting and of vital importance to the teams success next year. It is similar to the situation that was present on the offensive line last spring. The coaches knew they had a lot of good, young and raw talent, but nobody knew who the starters would be and how they would gel as a unit. The obvious thing was that the "young" o-line would get quality work in practice against one of the best (if not the best) defensive lines in college football. Now the tables are turned as the o-line is the unit that has experience, depth and talent, while the d-line will be trying to find its identity, depth and cohesion.

* Not having Manuel Wright available in the spring is big. Without his presence the competition at the two defensive tackle positions will be intense and wide open. You know Pete's theory on competition: it brings the best out of everybody. Manny will have to earn his job when he comes back, and that's a good thing, but his absence will put a strain on the development of the d-line. One good thing about spring ball is it allows new guys to step up and prove that they deserve a chance. We will find out quickly how good this unit is and who will step up to the challenge. One constant in the Pete Carroll era is that someone has always filled the void left via injury or graduation. I have full confidence that this group will be ready, but I just don't know who it will be. Although the departure of Lofa Tatupu will be felt due to his experience and feel for the game, I feel this position is loaded with young talent. We will have to wait and see who steps up at this spot, but the competition is so close that I don't think it will be decided even after spring football ends.

* There should be some great battles this spring along the offensive line. It reminds me of the depth and talent USC had when Brad Budde played. There could one or two guys on the bench this season that could possibly play in the NFL in the future. The bad thing is that you can only start five guys and choosing those five is no easy task for new O-line coach Ruel. I haven't seen this much competition on the o-line since my playing days when players like Pat Harlow and Matt Willig had a hard time getting on the field early in their careers.

* It will be interesting to see how guys like Whitney Lewis, Winston Justice, Chauncey Washington and Brandon Hancock come back into the fold after missing the previous season. How do they progress? What kind of shape are they in? What is their mindset? It will say a lot about their mental toughness to see how those questions are answered. Having to sit out and watch your team win a national title has to inspire you to do one of two things; workout and stay in shape or eat and enjoy watching the celebration. I'll be curious to see how they look because football is about pride and character and all of the previously mentioned guys should be extremely motivated to return for various reasons. What were they doing last fall while the Trojans were beating UCLA and Notre Dame? Were they partying and enjoying life or were they saying "hey, my day is gonna come soon and I have to be ready for it".

* With all the excitement that has surrounded John David Booty throughout his career we finally get a chance to see him under live fire. Things change for most QB's when the spotlight is on. Now John David will go from a back up and learning to an incumbent starter who now must lead. This spring gives him a chance to be the man and that's important for any guy looking to set himself up as the heir apparent to Leinart. The timing of his injury could really hurt Rocky Hinds a lot as it remains to be seen how much he will be able to take part this spring. This is his best chance for head-to-head competition with John David because when Matt comes back there won't be enough snaps for everyone to get an even chance. He may not get another opportunity to get equal snaps in practice until next spring and by that time John David may have the inside track for the job.

* Carroll has been great so far with preventing complacency and so far we haven't seen the demeanor of the team change. The team appears to recognize that they won the title with a lot of hard work and spirited competition. Pete always keeps the team focused and you can expect that to continue. There will be a lot of guys missing this spring so keeping that focus will be vital. The main goal for Carroll for this spring should be maintain the focus and desire amongst the players, assess the d-line situation and assess the comeback of some key players.

* Everything is going to be heightened this year with all the hype of being the back-to-back national champions. There was a divided opinion on who was the true National Champs in 2003-2004 because of the BCS. This year not only do the Trojans come in as the defending national champs, but also the favorite to win it again. How the team embraces that hype will be key and if the Orange Bowl is any indication they will be fine. The Oklahoma team/coaches looked frustrated and annoyed at having to deal with all the media prior to game day while the SC players and coaches enjoyed the experience and didn't act like it was a burden to play for the National Championship. The Trojans didn't change their demeanor or game preparation prior to the game and played relaxed and poised. This is a team that understands its obligations and responsibilities so expect them to prepare and play like it.

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