In the world of Trojan football that has been created by Pete Carroll there is no worry about who may not be here, there is only genuine excitement about the opportunities to compete that are now available for the other players. It's an amazing environment that many coaches strive to achieve but there is nobody in the country putting that spirit into practice better than the current group of USC Trojans.
Other programs may experience a malaise or arrogance that comes with winning yet Carroll seems to have fostered an atmosphere that, at least so far, is staying away from those obvious roadblocks to success. When you hear USC strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle say that 40 guys were ready to workout at 6:00am on the first day of winter conditioning drills it gives you an idea of what kind of mindset is at work these days. The players know that competition is the name of the game and that is what keeps everybody on their toes. There is no relaxing among upperclassmen who know there are several former high school All-Americans chomping at the bit behind them waiting for a shot. The guys on the team are well aware that the incoming freshman coming in the fall will get every opportunity to enter the competitive fray so this spring will be the final opportunity for the current players to showcase their skills for the coaches before the talented youngsters get here in August.
To help keep those competitive fires stoked Carroll has brought in new coaches who reflect the kind of intensity he wants at practice every day. Carroll firmly believes that the players will react to the energy the coaches bring to the field so he wants guys who are jacked up to come to practice and coach the Trojans. With coaches such as Pat Ruel, Jethro Franklin and Ken Norton (not to mention former USC linebacker and new GA coach Sam Anno) he has guys who possess that intense style and passion for the game.
Perhaps no coaching change on the staff will be under as much scrutiny this year as the new co-offensive coordinator set-up with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian calling the shots for the dynamic Trojan offense. USC fans have gotten used to this explosive machine that we call an offense and whenever you have a high-powered sports car it always brings a certain amount of trepidation whenever you do any tinkering to the engine. If we were going to lose a coach like Norm Chow, however, the absolute one guy you would want to bring in to replace him would be Sarkisian and to combine Sark with Kiffin, another coach who Carroll has a lot of faith in, is a good way to go about trying to replace one of the greatest offensive minds in the history of college football.
There probably won't be many obvious changes to the offense because these coaches are smart enough to realize that the system has worked pretty good in recent years. We will likely see a little more motioning and shifting to take advantage of the potential mismatches that can be created and there will also be more of a focus on running the ball with consistency. That "power" running game element will be an important factor of the overall gameplan but it's not like we will be abandoning the passing game by any means.
We will not have Matt Leinart available for spring as he rests from recent tendon surgery so that means John David Booty will get the opportunity (there's that word again) to finally take control of the team in the #1 spot. A lot of people within the program are anxious to see where John David is at in terms of his development as a quarterback as he has put together an excellent off-season of workouts and seems to be growing in his relationship with his teammates. John David has sat in Leinart's hip pocket for two seasons learning like a sponge (much like Leinart did with Carson Palmer) and now it's time to wring that sponge to see what he soaked up.
There are so many other topics to follow in spring ball as well:
* With LenDale White sitting out spring for academics it gives Chauncey Washington and newcomer Michael Coleman a chance to establish themselves in the power run game.
*Brandon Hancock, another key returnee, could also be in that power mix from the fullback spot.
* Whitney Lewis comes back after missing last fall and he knows that the #3 receiver spot is his for the taking this spring with a talented freshman, Patrick Turner, arriving in the fall.
* Dom Byrd will sit out in spring, also concentrating on academics, so a host of young tight ends will get their chance to earn the #2 role.
* Winston Justice looks terrific thus far in his return and this spring figures to see a lot of different combinations on the line as the coaches look to find the right group.
* Can Sedrick Ellis step up to be the everydown player at NG? The coaches say he is on the right track. What about Manuel Wright and the DT spot? Manny will sit out spring for academics so the door is open for someone like Fili Moala to establish himself for the future.
* The battle at MLB should be fun to watch with Thomas Williams and Oscar Lua as the frontrunners ahead of Ryan Powdrell at this point. Lua has made great strides in his recovery from two knee surgeries but he faces strong competition from a heavy hitter like Williams.
* Terrell Thomas and Josh Pinkard are two young guys in the secondary who will get a lot of playing time as both have impressed coaches this off-season with their effort.
* Most people assume Troy Van Blarcom will enter in the fall and handle the placekicking duties but this spring will present Mario Danelo with an extended audition to show what he can do.
All in all it should be a tremendous spring session for the Trojans as they look to build on the success they have seen in recent years. There is no denying the talent level or the motivational tone that has been set with this team and if they can maintain that in the future there is no telling how far they can go.