O/NSO - Spring Preview edition

The hallowed spring practice doors of the defending two-time national champion USC Trojans will swing wide open this week with hopes and dreams of a third consecutive national title as Pete Carroll's club begins the arduous task of reconstructing the heart of a championship defense, polishing an explosive offense minus its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, and integrating a veteran club to an inordinate amount of coaching changes.

The Obvious – The hallowed spring practice doors of the defending two-time national champion USC Trojans will swing wide open this week with hopes and dreams of a third consecutive national title as Pete Carroll's club begins the arduous task of reconstructing the heart of a championship defense, polishing an explosive offense minus its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, and integrating a veteran club to an inordinate amount of coaching changes.

The Not So Obvious – While the rest of the country has rubber stamped the Trojans as the nation's number one team for 2005, the fact remains that one cannot be blinded by the fact that the core of Trojan All-Americans on Pete Carroll's 2004 defense is missing. Throw in a coaching makeover, surgeries, unexpected academic issues, and there is nothing routine about this cardinal and gold spring exercise.

The Obvious – Beginning Pete Carroll's fifth season as Trojans' head coach, the Men of Troy return 51 lettermen including eight starters on offense and six starters on defense from the 2004 national champions.

The Not So Obvious – Watching the development of returning "forgotten" players such as tailback Chauncey Washington, tackle Winston Justice, and fullback Brandon Hancock are all spring stories worth following. Of course, there will be the usual suspects listed as "surprises" such as reassigned redshirt freshman offensive lineman Travis Draper to defense, the potential impact of redshirt freshman defensive tackle Fili Moala, walk-on placekicker kicker Mario Danelo, and physical inside linebacker Ryan Powdrell.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking to replace All-American defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson in the middle of their 4-3 defense.

The Not So Obvious – The move of redshirt freshman offensive lineman Travis Draper (6-4, 275) to defensive lineman is a signal that there are issues in the Trojans' defensive belly that Carroll openly acknowledges. The fact that junior Manuel Wright (6-6, 290) is on his "annual" academic hiatus compounds a situation that puts added pressure on this group's inside lack of experience. Sophomore Sedrick Ellis (6-2, 275) figures to be a "beast" as the season progresses, but replacing Mike Patterson at tackle will be the ultimate challenge. The key players up for inspection this spring will be the development and health of senior LaJuan Ramsey (6-3, 285), who could provide solid security along with redshirt freshman Fili Moala (6-5, 300), an intriguing wildcard prospect in the interior. The real question mark may be how this group reacts to the change of coaching.

The Obvious – The Trojans return starting defensive ends Frostee Rucker (6-4, 255, Sr.) and Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 270, So.).

The Not So Obvious – Throw in sophomore Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 250) and the Trojans lose nothing off the edge – if Schweiger and Rucker can remain healthy. Lawrence Jackson, the former Inglewood prep star, should now be considered All-America timber, especially coming off national title game experience in Miami. Sir Lawrence should be the linchpin of the defensive front. This is area that would greatly appreciate the continued development of redshirt freshman Lawrence Miles (6-3, 270) and undersized junior Travis Tofi (6-4, 255). There is work to be done along the entire defensive front in terms of depth both inside and on the edge.

The Obvious - New defensive coach Jethro Franklin has gotten high marks as a "field" coach, but the former Fresno State DT All-American may have a tougher act to follow than the players that will replace Cody and Patterson.

The Not So Obvious – Franklin will have his hands full in gaining the chemistry that was so unique between one-of-a-kind Ed Orgeron and his players. Unfair or not, the returning players are used to high-power intensity and even Franklin may find himself challenged to maintain the pace that the fanatical Orgeron set in practice. This spring's cohesion between Franklin and Orgeron's returning players will be of great interest and great importance.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking to replace twin All-American linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed, two of the four integral parts of the inside of a Trojans defense that has been the rock of each national championship.

The Not So Obvious – The unexpected loss of Tatupu hurts no matter how you "tackle" it. Grootegoed was the expected; Tatupu was the migraine. The loss of both was a blow considering the gridrion IQ of both performers. With the coming of three of the most highly decorated prep linebackers in Trojan history, one "forgets" that sophomore Keith Rivers (6-3, 220), once considered the nation's best linebacker, is still around. Rivers figures to shine with spring experience, and senior Dallas Sartz (6-5, 220) is a steady returner who must assume a leadership position. We think the most intriguing move is sophomore Thomas "Big Hitter" Williams (6-3, 225) to the inside, a move that Williams openly endorsed. On paper, if Rivers and Williams can cut it together, the Trojans will have two of the most explosive "hitters" they have had inside in recent memory. Savvy senior Collin Ashton (6-1, 215) could be a steady force and you know how Carroll likes smart players on defense. If you like to watch the changing of the guard, then the linebacker spring development should whet your appetite. For veterans like junior Oscar Lua (6-2, 240), this is a golden opportunity to reopen some eyes, especially with the heralded incoming freshmen linebackers just months away from marching onto Brian Kennedy Field.

The Obvious – Former grad assistant Ken Norton has been promoted to full time linebacker coach.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the numerous coaching changes, this was one promotion that brought a quiet sense of calm and excitement. Along with respected veteran coach Rocky Seto. Norton will continue to bring a "typical" whirlwind of fire to the defense. However, Norton and Seto will be challenged at the highest level to bring together a workable duo for the departed Tatupu and Grootegoed.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking to replace reliable Jason Leach at safety, the type of player it takes to win championships at the highest level.

The Not So Obvious – What a difference a year makes as the Trojans' secondary is the strength of this year's defense. With the return of corners Eric Wright (5-11, 190, So.) and senior Justin Wyatt (5-10, 180), Pete Carroll can continue his mastery of blitzes and defensive disguises. Trojan fans should keep an eye out for sophomore safety Josh Pinkard (6-1, 200). This kid is a player and another big hitter. In a curious way, Trojan fans should continue to watch the maturity of junior safety Darnell Bing (6-2, 220), who showed improvement last year and continued growth is expected throughout the spring.

The Obvious – The Trojans return four of five starters on the offensive line from last season's national champs, including junior center Ryan Kalil (6-4, 275) who is on the recently released 2005 Rimington Trophy watch list.

The Not So Obvious – With the apparent move of right tackle Taitusi Lutui (6-6, 370) to right guard, a move that quite honestly shocked few due to the return of tackle Winston Justice. The message is quite clear; junior starter Fred Matua (6-2, 305) better step up his game. By putting Lutui at right guard, the competition challenge is "on" for both Matua and Lutui. Sophomore Jeff Byers (6-3, 275) appears to have the inside advantage at left guard, but the Lutui move also frees up an opportunity for sophomore Drew Radovich (6-5, 290) to compete against Byers. With the return of sophomore starting left tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 290), junior Kyle Williams (6-6, 290), and the return of rejuvenated and NFL-talented junior right tackle Winston Justice (6-6. 300), the battle for Trojan line spots should be as fierce as it is entertaining. A key will be finding a competent backup at center for Kalil. A wildcard along the line should be the development of redshirt freshman lineman Chilo Rachal (6-6, 310) and the return of freshman Thomas Herring (6-6, 315), two extremely talented youngsters the size of Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain.

The Obvious – The Trojan offensive line will get its first on-field direction of respected new coach Pat Ruel, a longtime Pete Carroll buddy.

The Not So Obvious – Ruel has apparently already shaken up some Trojans during the approach to spring ball. Rumors of depth chart changes has turned the players' attention to Ruel from the departed Tim Davis. While insiders say Ruel has a number of Tim Davis traits as a fiery competitor, the new O-line coach doesn't have the daunting task of finding starter replacements. He will, however, be forming his own evaluations and from that perspective, the spring may exercise some surprises.

The Obvious – The Trojans are in search of a replacement for graduated placekicker Ryan Killeen, a three-year starter who finished his career by having a major impact on last season's championship drive, especially in crunch time in the final two months.

The Not So Obvious – No other replacement equation is as critical to the Trojans chances of landing in the Rose Bowl come January than finding a competent replacement for Killeen, who was on fire in the final critical games against Notre Dame, UCLA, and Oklahoma. If there is an Achilles heal for the Trojans, this, my friends, is a potential panic button issue. The Trojans will give sophomore walk-on Mario Danelo (5-10, 210) first opportunity. Danelo, whose father is former NFL kicker Joe Danelo, will get no breathing room as incoming freshman Troy Van Barcom of Orange Lutheran is expected to get his shot in the fall. However, you can bet that Danelo will be given every opportunity to get it done since he was Killeen's designated competition last season when Ryan was having his "Killeen moments." Killeen's hot streak of kickoffs into the end zone will also be sorely missed. There is no way to practice in the spring for the pressure of the fall, so despite how the offensive and defense shakes down, we won't know the true character of this tender position until the action heats up in the fall.

The Obvious – The Trojans return starting wide receivers Steve Smith (6-1, 195, Jr.) and Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 205, So.) but will be looking for depth for these two gifted receivers.

The Not So Obvious – The biggest story of last season was the development of the Trojan receiver corps from the shaky start at Virginia Tech to the glorious performance by Smith and Jarrett in the Orange Bowl. With both starters heading down All-American Blvd., depth will be the featured viewing beginning this week. Outside of who will replace Killeen as kicker, no offensive player will be given a bigger look than the return of sophomore Whitney Lewis (6-1, 225), once the chosen one. The star of last spring's Trojan Huddle and returning after academic issues, Lewis is caught in a make or break situation. He figures to have the inside position as third receiver if he doesn't pull another flub-a-dub, but he will be severely challenged by incoming freshman Patrick Turner from Tennessee, considered by most the best prep receiver in the land last season. While attention will be focused on Lewis and dreams of Turner in August, the feeling here is that junior Chris McFoy (6-1, 195) will have a say in the competition.

The Obvious – The Trojans return starting senior tight end Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260), but academic issues now cloud his future.

The Not So Obvious – Trick or Treat! Just as Byrd, figured to be one of the stars of spring ball, out pops the academic card and, poof, no Byrd in the spring. A definite All-America candidate in a conference that is loaded with stellar tight ends, Trojan fans will have to wait till summer practice to see how this one plays out. With Byrd on the academic shelf, competition should be as hot as a Palm Springs summer. Some would like to see inconsistent sophomore Fred Davis (6-4, 215) "mature" into Byrd's protégé. Now also may be the opportunity for sophomore Dale Thompson (6-4, 255) to step up and show new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian he is a factor. There is concern with the development of the Trojans' tight ends, especially with the graduation of "gamer" Alex Holmes. A sign of concern may be the switch of sophomore defensive end Chris Barrett (6-5, 270) back to tight end, although the wear and tear of his shoulder on defense may also have also been a factor in the switch.

The Obvious – The Trojans return All-America Reggie Bush (6-0, 200, Jr.), powerful LenDale White (6-2, 235, Jr.), and tough-as-nails Desmond Reed (5-9, 180, So.) at running backs.

The Not So Obvious – Well, all you can say about these returners is nobody in America has as more powerful a stable of backs than the Trojans. Running back coach Todd McNair may be the most relaxed coach in spring as the depth chart is almost set. With LenDale White out of spring ball as another academic casualty, look for a young early-entry stallion named Michael Coleman (6-1, 220), the 2004 Inland Empire Player of the Year, who has been moved from quarterback to tailback, to get a golden opportunity. Coleman had already verbally challenged incumbent White, the proven veteran. Coming out of San Bernardino Arroyo Valley High this past prep season as a quarterback, the powerfully built Coleman still ran for 1,077 yards and 17 TDs while LenDale, coming out of Littleton (Colo.) Chatfield High, ran for a senior year 1,683 yards and 21 TDs in 2002.

The Obvious – With little fanfare, sophomore tailback Chauncey Washington (6-1, 205) returns from injury.

The Not So Obvious – While Trojan fans sighed over the loss of powerful New York recruit Jason Gwaltney to West Virginia, the feeling here and at Heritage Hall is Washington, if healed and healthy, may be as good a "re-recruit" as there was in the land. For those that remember Chauncey's freshman practice performances, this kid was spoken with the near same reverence as LenDale White and Reggie Bush. This is one kid to stay focused upon and could be a candidate for The Huddle MVP if things work out. With White out of spring, Washington is another who could make an immediate impact.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking to replace the depending Lee Webb at fullback.

The Not So Obvious – Will somebody please give senior David Kirtman (6-0, 225) the love he deserves. Kirtman is another one of those reliable blocker-receivers that has made the Trojans offense so potent. Kirtman will be joined with the return of junior Brandon Hancock (6-230), who is coming off yet another damaging injury. If these two can stay healthy, the Trojans take a backseat to nobody at the fullback slot. Keep an eye out for sophomore Jody Adelwale (6-0, 215), the former Los Angeles Roosevelt star.

The Obvious – The Trojans return Heisman Trophy winning senior quarterback Matt Leinart (6-5, 225), who will stay clear of spring ball after elbow surgery.

The Not So Obvious – Okay, Mr. Franchise, Mr. Hollywood, Mr. Icon is sitting this spring out. Good!!!!!!! The real battle is Leinart's backup and barring an earthquake along that famous fault, sophomore "legend" John David Booty (6-3, 195) figures to be the offensive "star" of the spring. Good for the kid, but the real story at quarterback as we see it is the limbo situation of redshirt freshman Rocky Hinds (6-4, 225). With Mission Viejo All-American Mark Sanchez coming in the fall and standing near the Trojan huddle during spring, this figured be the best chance Hinds had to show he is a "legend" in his own right. Now a potential injury situation has appeared and Hinds' status seems to in question. How the departure of Norm Chow effects Hinds is also a great unknown, but it would be a real tragedy if "The Rock" was unable to take advantage of his window of opportunity.

The Obvious – Steve Sarkisian returns to the Trojans as assistant head coach and quarterbacks mentor, and Lane Kiffin enters spring ball as the new offensive coordinator as well as veteran receivers coach.

The Not So Obvious - The Trojans new dynamic duo on offense should sail smoothly through spring ball as they work on their system of communication and teaching with the Trojans stable of quarterbacks. Expect to see Kiffin at times overlooking the festivities from Dedeaux Field with the headset rehearsing the plays down to "Sark" during various scrimmages. Of course what matters is what happens in the fall and you can't coach Autzen and Notre Dame Stadium in the spring.

The Obvious – All-America senior punter Tom Malone (6-0, 190) returns his 43.8 average after considering a jump to the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – Thankfully for the Trojans, Malone's return is that weapon that every national championship contender must have, especially for games at Eugene, Tempe, South Bend, and Berkeley. Just who backs up Malone is the Jeopardy question, but walk-on redshirt freshman Taylor Odegard (5-10, 160) is the current candidate. For trivia buffs, Odegard is from Mercer Island High (WA), the same school as fullback David Kirtman and you know that has turned out.

The Obvious – The Trojans special teams were among the best in the country during last season's national championship run.

The Not So Obvious – While Reggie Bush needs no introduction and neither does Desmond Reed, the Trojans also return senior snapper Collin Ashton and sophomore Will Collins (6-2, 220) and holder Malone, the nation's premier punter. Didn't remember that that these Trojans handled these "glamorous" jobs? If you forgot, that means they did their job.

The Obvious – The Trojans are the two-time defending national champions heading into the spring of 2005.

The Not So Obvious – If the Trojans are seriously going to make a run at a Three-Pete, they will have to spend the spring trying to find a defense for defending their titles and preparing for the possibility of losing three all-star starters in the White brothers and the Byrdman of Minnesota. While all three are expected to be ready in the fall, suddenly the Trojan Huddle on April 10 just got a whole lot interesting, so help me John David Booty.


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