One Man's Opinion - End of Spring review

As the spring football season draws to an end at USC for this 2005 spring practice session, many thoughts come to my mind. It's hard to believe that the Trojans have finished their fifth spring practice season under Pete Carroll and man, what a ride it has been. This April, there have been some major differences to any prior year since Pete arrived on the scene.

First, Pete was working with almost all his own recruits. There are very few guys returning that were offered or recruited primarily by the prior staff. Of course, one major exception is David Kirtman and what a pleasant success story he has become. Second, this was the first spring that the offense was not headed by Norm Chow and the defensive line was not headed up by Ed Orgeron. In addition, the Trojans have never before, to my recollection, completed a spring practice session with a chance to win its third consecutive national title in the upcoming year. Yes sir, things have definitely been a bit different this year and the upcoming season should be lots of fun.

As Garry posted on the WeAreSC Web Site, Coach Carroll gave an excellent and thorough end of spring press conference and during that time he listed the depth charts as they exist. Pete also addressed many of the issues that have been on the minds of fans and the press as well. It was a complete speech with few, if any topics, avoided. However, there are more questions and comments that come to mind after reading what the Coach had to say and his conference and comments may actually provoke some interesting discussion amongst his supporters and detractors( if many exist,) alike.

First, let's talk about the actual play of the team and some of the development and holes that have surfaced. Coming into spring there was a question mark along the defensive line, in the defensive backfield and amongst the linebackers. The cornerback situation went from one of some depth and excellent talent to one of uncertainty and possible lack of experienced depth. The situation is not yet resolved and until the fate of suspended cornerback Eric Wright is determined, there is no answer that can be given with certainty. However, based on the prior four years under Pete Carroll it is fair to say that by season's start a competent if not superb solution will be found. Whether it means that senior John Walker takes a big step up and makes the best of his opportunity or that one of the two heralded freshmen, Kevin Thomas or Cary Harris sees very early and meaningful playing time, or that surprise walk-ons Jerry and Jamel Williams contribute , or that the often unfairly maligned Ting twins see prime time minutes, something good will happen. Pete's defensive schemes call for excellence on the part of the corners and I have faith that the level of play will meet the needs of the team. As for the safeties, will any team anywhere have a trio better than Scott Ware, Darnell Bing and the emerging Josh Pinkard backing them up? I suspect not!

The defensive line lost arguably the best inside tackle tandem in recent history at USC if not in college football period when Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody completed their eligibility. I was among the very concerned at the start of spring ball. However, I believe that the Dline has stepped up and under Coach Jethro Franklin the unit will continue to blossom. Three big-time guys have emerged in LaJuan Ramsey, Sedrick Ellis and Fili Moala. Preliminary concerns that might have been around concerning Fili's speed were seemingly unnecessary and this big, strong man is a player. Now, if the team can find one more solid and steady contributor, the country will once again face a most imposing Dline at the University of Southern California. Of course, there is the possibility that either Manny Wright and/or Gabe Long will be on the field for USC come the fall and if either or both is available, the rest of college football will wonder how SC can lose what they lost and seemingly not miss a beat. With these two young men, there will not be a definite answer till all the academic issues are settled. If neither is on the team, then there is still reason to be optimistic. The others around include, Travis Draper, Lawrence Miles and a couple of newcomers in Ashley Walker and Averell Spicer. I am confident that at least one, if not more than one big-time player will emerge to solidify this dline. One should also remember that the play of the DE's next season will be better than it was last season. Lawrence Jackson or LoJack and Jeff Schweiger are both simply better than they were. There are also the backups like last year's starter Frosty Rucker--who might still be starter, redshirt Rashad Goodrum, the immensely talented but often hurt Chris Barrett and the incoming frosh sensation, Kyle Moore. The Dline will not disappoint.

The issue at linebacker is not solved but it will be interesting to watch. Two positions seem to be in great shape. Although Keith Rivers is not yet as accomplished as Matt Grootegoed, I believe he has already shown some physical abilities that others can only dream of having. Dallas Sartz is solid as the other OLB and the mike position is still up for grabs. Ryan Powdrell, Oscar Lua and Thomas Williams have all had their moments, but none has seized the moment. What that tells me is this. If either of the two incoming freshmen is really special (and I believe one or both is), I would be surprised if either Luthur Brown or Rey Maualuga does not see many minutes as a true frosh. I realize that is not easy for a true frosh to do, but Chris Claiborne did it and the way Pete lets young talent rise quickly, if either or both of these kids play like I think they can, I will stick by that opinion.

How about things on the offensive side of the ball? Well, I agree with many that this could well be the most awesome offense we have seen at USC or anywhere, ever. But, unlike many I have spoken with, I don't think it is a slam dunk. Why would I have any doubts? Well, there are a few reasons and it starts with the offensive line. I think this unit is talented and deep. So what is the problem? I am not yet convinced that this Oline is superb(though I think that they will be) nor have they shown that they can be a lights out run blocking unit. One would think that there should be no problem, and that there won't be. Yet look at spring ball. At the risk of antagonizing many, I will state that if ever there were a spring that the Oline should have been able to dismantle the Dline, this is the year. Certainly I have been around long enough to know that the D line is always ahead of the Oline early on. Nonetheless, this year, the Oline was deep and experienced. The Dline was not. In the huddle, the dline did a very good job shutting down the running game and they did a good job for most of the spring. Yes, I am aware that does not predict bad things for the Oline or great things for the Dline, but it still makes me wonder. The real question I have is this. Can any college Oline, with the limited practice time compared to the pros, really excel at both the running game and passing game? It seemed that all during the Chow years, SC passed to set up the run and they did it quite well. Personally, I love that kind of offense, but with the exception of those games when John Drake was healthy, it never really seemed like SC could run at will. I can't help but wonder if that is going to be the case again. If the results are the same I suspect it makes not difference, but I still have doubts about the teams ability to simply run the ball down anyone's throat. I also can't help but wonder if some on the second unit on the Oline are not better run blockers than some starters, though not better over all linemen! It could be interesting to see how that unit evolves and continues to develop. As for the coaching, it certainly appears that the team has not missed a step in the transition from Tim Davis to new Oline coach Pat Ruel.

As far as receivers go, it is amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. At this time last year, there was legitimate concern about SC's receivers. We were losing Mike Williams and Keary Colbert, arguably the nation's best duo. Now, only one year later, are there any better collegiate units anywhere than Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett? I suspect not. And to make matters even more interesting, the backups, namely Whitney Lewis, Chris McFoy, Greig Carlson , and the surprising William Buchanon are good enough to start on many teams. Many, including yours truly wondered aloud if the receiving corps were missing one small ingredient, namely a true burner to stretch the defense. Well, it turns out that SC has a burner that had not yet stepped it up till this spring. As unusual at it might be for a 6'3 kid to be a jet, by all personal accounts, William Buchanon is possibly the second fastest guy out there and he can fly. Thus, just another bullet to shoot at the opponents. And to top it off, the kid coming in from my area in Tennessee, Patrick Turner, is an unreal talent and he will be even better at SC than he was at Goodpasture High School in the Nashville area. I have spoken to Patrick's "Godfather" on numerous occasions, and this is one kid that is really looking forward to coming in and competing from the getgo. Ya just have to love that attitude and love how Pete and his staff sign one star after another, each one just full of talent. Of course, there is a question mark of sorts at tight end. Dominique Byrd is not eligible and until he is back on the field this fall, it is hard to know for sure what to expect. Of course, each of the three freshmen made some plays this spring. Byrd is a huge talent who is very much needed, but without him, Davis can stretch the Defense, Miller is just solid with good hands and Thompson is a gifted blocker. And we should never forget that it is common for kids to take huge steps upwards between their frosh and sophomore years.

Many were upset and dismayed when Gwaltney seemingly pulled a 180 and signed with West Virginia instead of signing with USC. Well, good luck to him but he won't be missed this season. SC got that big back they needed and wanted and his name is Michael Coleman. He may not have lived up to his own expectations, if not predictions this spring, but he did not disappoint. Combine that with the terrific performances of Chauncey Washington and Desmond Reed along with the great Reggie Bush and the tailback position is in business. I realize that I did not mention LenDale White and that is with good reason. He was not there this spring and until I see him on the field in the fall, I can't assume he will be available. I can't help but comment on Reed. One can only wonder about the accolades this kid would be getting if he were on any other team where the guy in front of him were not named Reggie Bush. If Reggie evokes memories and comparisons to the former Nebraska great Johnny Rodgers, I can't help but feel that Desmond draws comparisons to a former great Oklahoma Sooner named Greg Pruitt. Desmond cuts on a dime, sees the field and changes directions about as well as anyone can. I am not sure that one can question his speed either. When he was caught on the kickoff return at the Huddle, the guy who caught him had a clear angle and Desmond was never open in space. The fullback position is also well staffed with David, "all I do is make plays" Kirtman, the talented but snake bitten Brandon Hancock and the steadily improving Jode Aderwale. That position is another of the many strengths on the offense.

And of course I would be remiss if I were to omit that other little position, "QUARTERBACK". If there were any questions about who is number two, I have to believe they have been answered. John David Booty is now showing why he was so highly sought by USC. He has stepped it up. I have no doubt whatsoever that he now commands the respect of the others and if called upon to lead the team, I don't think SC will take a huge step backwards. Of course, nothing but actual game experience can accomplish some things and JD will have to wait his turn. However, should Heisman Trophy Winner and returning starter Matt Leinart get hurt, or should JD be in the game for any other reason, I am now confident that he can run the show and the team will continue to score points and he will move this team down the field.

On special teams Danelo has improved, Tom Malone has been booming the life out of the ball and SC got some great news regarding VanBlarcom. He will be coming to SC in the fall. With the athletes available and the intense coaching they receive, there is no reason to think the special team play will be anything short of terrific come next fall. With guys like Reggie Bush, Desmond Reed, Whitney Lewis and perhaps even Williams Buchanon available to return punts and kickoffs, I don't think many teams will field a finer unit.

On another note, I think it will be very interesting indeed to see how fans and the press react to SC Football in the coming season. Should SC falter and actually lose a game, heaven forbid, will the "I told you so" start to come out of the woodwork? By all accounts, the transition from Norm to Sarkisian and Kiffin has been smooth as silk this spring. The offense does not look noticeably different and there have not been many rumors of major discontent. For that matter I have not even heard rumors of minor dissention. There were no major timing issues getting the plays in and things seem to be gliding along. However, fans and the press can be brutal. Should SC make what is considered to be a poor call in a critical time in the game, one can only imagine the talk and second guessing. How many times will we read or hear that this or that NEVER would have been the case if only Pete had kept Norm. I know that sounds brutal, but if history has taught me anything, it is that fans are fickle and have short memories.

And how about the off the field issues? I have already read and heard grumblings that Pete didn't handle this well and he should have done that. In the world known as the internet, rumor and innuendos come about and fly about at breakneck speed. The fight between Steve Smith and Dominique Byrd happened. There are those who feel Coach Carroll did not handle it well--like my not so favorite columnist in a major newspaper. There are posts on the various internet sites where opinions are expressed that he needs to do this and that. There is some behind the scenes talk, some very serious, that there is a big academic problem and this business of so many academic problems has to be improved. It seems like there is no way to keep everyone happy--ever! Personally, I could not be more pleased with the way the program is progressing. Yes, there are issues. The off-the field events are an embarrassment and a problem. As to whether or not they can really be stopped, that is a matter of debate. I see no way any coach or staff can completely control their players' off the field antics. When schools like Miami, Florida State and Tennessee would have problems, I shuddered at the way some fans ridiculed those programs. I knew that kind of behavior can and often does surface at other schools, including USC. I don't condone trouble, nor do I suspect that the coaches anywhere do either. It is simply not easy to control everything. Issues that surface in society as a whole are going to surface amongst team members was well. You can count on that. To my eye, it looks like Coach Carroll and staff are doing all they can to keep things controlled and going smoothly. I can also state without hesitation that what we read in public is not the same that is said in private. The problems are complex and without easy fixes. To make matters even more difficult, what can be stated by officials is severely limited by privacy rights and laws so that some assumptions that readers and fans make are not based on actually facts that can't be made public.

Meanwhile, I hope that nobody forgets the incredible run that USC Football has experienced as of late and is continuing to experience right now. One could very easily aruge that USC is currently on one of the ALL TIME GREAT RUNS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY. Yes there are some problems and nothing is a given. But, it is USC that is in the best position of anyone else that I can think of to actually run the table again and bring home an unprecedented third straight national title. To my way of thinking, that is some accomplishment and I can hardly wait for the season to start.


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