The Not So Obvious – If this Trojan spring practice had a theme, it would be "The Spring Window of Opportunity." It was clear at the end of Saturday's final scrimmage that all that could be done had been accomplished. The on-the-field competition was brisk, spirited, and Pete Carroll-ed disciplined, but the off-the field "accomplishments" brought forth questions that will only be answered by those select players themselves in due time, something that will keep Trojan fans in a suspended state of inhalation throughout the next four months.
The Obvious – Starting quarterback Matt Leinart, the Heisman darling of Los Angeles, showed that despite recovering elbow surgery he could still lead the Trojans in the spring as a "quarterback grad assistant," working the head phones and perhaps laying the groundwork for a long term goal as future USC offensive coordinator.
The Not So Obvious – Speaking of Leinart, The O/NSO had a wonderful chat on Saturday with his father, Bob, who informed us he played basketball and baseball at Playa del Rey St. Bernard, alma mater as well of Trojan backup QB Rocky Hinds.
The Obvious – There was a growing legion of Leinart fans and historians throughout spring practice that believe that he may be the best college quarterback of his era and the best quarterback that Trojan football has produced.
The Not So Obvious – Speaking of eras, in the course of that Saturday conversation with Bob Leinart, who did his university education at Loyola Marymount, we began discussing our same "era" of high school sports life when we mentioned that Monrovia High was a respected athletic power in those days. Almost on cue, Bob remembered Monrovia superstar athlete Fair Hooker, who not only went on to Arizona State and the Cleveland Browns as a wide receiver but was also one heck of a prep basketball player. We both agreed that Hooker, with that one in a million name, was one of the most intimidating athletes of our time. And if you remember Fair Hooker in high school, you better whip out your AARP card, buddy, and, yes, Hooker could have been one of the great Trojan receivers of all-time had he not been a Sun Devil.
The Obvious – Quarterback John David Booty solidly finished the spring as the logical successor to Matt Leinart and will be a valuable "vice-president" in Lefty Leinart's offensive administration.
The Not So Obvious – The window of opportunity at quarterback pretty much went down with the anticipated results. Sophomore Booty proved that he is ready in the bullpen should Leinart encounter football's harm's way. Redshirt freshman Rocky Hinds displayed the type of anticipated athleticism that came with his resume. While both made big plays, Hinds, who had a good throwing day on Saturday with three scoring tosses reminds veteran observers of exciting past Trojan quarterbacks Jimmy Jones and Vince Evans. However, The Rock will need to maintain his exciting pass/run production and do some turnover maintenance adjustments to pull even with the Bayou Booty Bomber.
The Obvious - Both backup Trojan quarterbacks were reminded daily of future competition as 2004 Parade Player of the Year Mark Sanchez was more than just a daily visitor from Mission Viejo.
The Not So Obvious - On Saturday, Sanchez not only spent time on the field learning the ropes, but the "Anointed One" spent time with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin high atop Dedeaux Field interacting in the process.
The Obvious – Although he did not participate on Sunday, Heisman Trophy finalist tailback Reggie Bush will be the starting Trojans tailback when the Men of Troy open in Honolulu.
The Not So Obvious – Much was accomplished this spring with running back coach Todd McNair's stable of stallions. The tailback window of "academic" opportunity allowed Desmond Reed to showcase he is the most explosive tailback in the West this side of Roadrunner Bush. In Saturday's final scrimmage calling card, Reed swept left, read a key block by junior guard John Lanza, created a hole along the sidelines where none existed, and snaked his way through a minefield of potential tacklers for a 61-yard score.
The Obvious – The running backs opportunity window was extra-wide due to academic casualty LenDale White, who allowed South Bay physical flash Chauncey Washington to create a botox smile on Pete Carroll's face and some realistic fall playing time.
The Not So Obvious - As for true freshman tailback Michael Coleman, the kid had some good spring moments and some learning curves as well, finding that running against Pete Carroll's defense can be at times a "painful" learning experience. If allowed a redshirt year, this kid has some intriguing skills. Although he does not run like Anthony Davis, he shares the same quarterback-to-tailback switch. Coleman runs extremely hard, has good vision but runs so vertically erect that you worry at times he may present too big a target for those carnivorous linebackers and venomous strong safeties.
The Obvious – Senior David Kirtman will be the clear-cut starting Trojan fullback, holding off the challenge from junior Brandon Hancock.
The Not So Obvious – It has become quite apparent that the real difference between Kirtman and Brandon Hancock is a healthy body. Kirtman seems to avoid the injury bug as much as Hancock seems to attract it. If history is to be respected, Hancock could use some Trojan luck to stay out off the trainer's table. With the tenuous health history of Hancock, Trojan fans may eventually get to know the name Jody Adewale sooner rather than later. Redshirt freshman Adewale, the former Los Angeles Roosevelt star, could be a factor depending on the physical status of Hancock.
The Obvious – Sophomore Dwayne Jarrett and junior Steve Smith reconfirmed that their receiving credentials can be put up against any pair in the country.
The Not So Obvious – Who would have thunk that fifth-year senior William Buchanon would find the wide receiver spring window open large enough for one last harrah? While he might not remind you of Mike Williams over the middle, if you want a deep route, Buchanon showed he could deliver and did so on a number of occasions this spring. Junior Chris McFoy held off the return of sophomore Whitney Lewis as a backup for Steve Smith. Of course, much of the receiver rotation and the future of Buchanon and Lewis could be radically changed when Tennessee's Patrick Turner arrives.
The Obvious – Near the end of Saturday's scrimmage, wide receiver Chris McFoy had a chance for a circus catch of a deep ball by stretching out like Superman flying out of the Daily Planet building.
The Not So Obvious – McFoy chose to not "lay out" for the ball which prompted one member of the "media" to cover for Chris by commenting that McFoy would have done it if this had been the regular season. Former Trojan wide receiver great and Fox Sports analyst John Jackson responded, "You don't wait for the regular season. You do it now to be able to get in the habit of doing it." Speaking of J.J., he was accompanied to the final practice exercise by his five-year old John Jackson, a third generation J.J. His athletic little son gave all the indications that he is a future 5-star cardinal and gold future to watch.
The Obvious – Junior offensive tackle Winston Justice returned to regain his starting right offensive tackle slot, a surprise to few and a relief to many.
The Not So Obvious – While "Winne" was flat out dominating at times, the real window of offensive line opportunity spotlighted sophomore left guard Drew Radovich's push to pull "even" with sophomore Jeff Byers, who was unable to perform due to a painful hip issue. You can talk all you want about some of the other position battles in the fall, but Radovich and Byers will be top-drawer competition come August.
The Obvious – A less mild offensive line surprise was at right guard where Fred Matua stepped up his game to perhaps scuttle pre-spring designs of moving former starting right tackle Taitusi Lutui into Matua's position.
The Not So Obvious - The continued development of talented redshirt freshman Chilo Rachel as Matua's understudy could provide a long range domino effect along the O- line. Shhhhhhhh, quietly but importantly, Corona sophomore Matt Spanos, having made the successful transition from tackle to center, earned the spot behind future All-America center candidate Ryan Kalil.
The Obvious – If there is one "or" position on the post-spring depth chart that is as crowded as the 110 Freeway at 5:00 p.m., it's the tight end spot, which had question marks going into spring and may still have some going into summer camp.
The Not So Obvious – Despite the public flogging All-America candidate Dominique Byrd took for his academic and broken jaw issues, expect the gifted senior to be ready come August. Word this past weekend was that Byrd should be eventually cleared to go and this will bring needed relief to a position that is a true logjam. Sophomore Fred Davis started the spring on fire but cooled somewhat during the dog days of April and then picked it up again capped by the final touchdown reception on Saturday. One player that appeared to make a move as the spring progressed was Westlake redshirt freshman Jimmy Miller. Sophomore Dale Thompson also remained in the mix with some positive moments.
The Obvious – Much to the relief of many, it appears the Trojans and new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin have at least patched one of the critical defensive tackle slots vacated by Mike Patterson with talented sophomore Sedrick Ellis.
The Not So Obvious – Ellis reminded all on Howard Jones Field why he was considered a much better prospect coming out of high school than departed All-American Mike Patterson. Pete Carroll says Ellis can be "productive" which is an opponent's synonym for "disruptive." Due to the continuing Manuel Wright academic saga, the word "or" reared its head again with LaJuan Ramsey, Fili Moala, and Travis Tofi all listed as equal window of opportunity competitors. Ramsey looked good early out of the spring gate, Moala continued to show he is one physical specimen, and Tofi displayed a very quick first step and powerful aggression despite being a trim 255. The wild card could be the WEAreSC,com exclusive trumpeting the anticipated entrance of Fullerton JC DT Gabe Long, but the former Esperanza High star figures to need time for his Division 1 adjustment.
The Obvious – The Trojan defensive ends will be sophomores Lawrence Jackson and Jeff Schweiger.
The Not So Obvious – With Jackson, a future All-American, and Schweiger, shaking a nagging back ailment, the Trojans possess no-pass/rush checkpoints on the edge. The Trojan gridiron microscope concentrated on the DE reserves. Junior Rashaad Goodrum established a presence behind Schweiger, but there will be opportunity in the mix for incoming prodigies like Georgia's Kyle Moore and Rancho Cucamonga's Averell Spicer to display their talents in competing as Jackson's understudy. Oh dear, did we forget senior Frostee Rucker? Such is the current memory of inactive players who have academic amnesia or physical maladies or just a bad combination of the two. Certainly the return of Frostee the Sackman would not "be a fairy tale they say" to opposing quarterbacks.
The Obvious – If the University of Hawaii game were held tomorrow, the middle linebacker would be junior Oscar Lua.
The Not So Obvious –The fact that Lua, Ryan Powdrell, and Thomas "The Hitman" Williams are listed as even on the final MLB spring depth chart is either a bit unsettling or is an indication that nobody took control. It could also be a message to incoming MLB candidates Rey Maualuga and Luther Brown that there is Pete Carroll opportunity. It would seem to be a stretch to imagine either freshman making the critical defensive calls for the No.1 team in the nation after just three weeks of fall practice.
The Obvious – The Trojans are in good shape at outside linebacker with the return of senior Dallas Sartz on the strongside and sophomore Keith Rivers manning the weakside as All-American Matt Grootegoed's replacement.
The Not So Obvious – Some might argue that three-year Sartz seems to be the focal point for running teams, but there is no denying that Dallas is a major cerebral force and a major contributor in Pete Carroll's defense. And did we mention a possible Hollywood future if he is so inclined? As for Rivers, wearing No. 55 became even a larger reminder with each spring practice showing why the Floridian was arguably the nation's premier linebacker out of high school. The kid has the whole kit and caboodle – size (6-3, 220), speed, strength, and now last year's situational experience at defensive end. Legacy senior Collin Ashton backs Rivers and remains a most valuable reserve at WLB and Thomas Williams can scrape the edge for Sartz if needed.
The Obvious – The Trojan secondary evolved into serious focal point during spring ball, even surpassing the missing pieces in the defensive tackle and linebacker equation.
The Not So Obvious – Despite losing corner Eric Wright and the injury recovery periods for DB Justin Wyatt and SS Darnell Bing, there were some bright spots. In senior free safety Scott Ware, there is little argument after some lethal spring hits that Ware is the single most devastating Grim Reaper on the club. The only question on Ware, much like Brandon Hancock, is durability. Last season he missed five games and the former Santa Rosa JC star missed the last week of spring due to a recovering knee injury.
The Obvious - The real secondary window of opportunity belonged to sophomore corner Terrell Thomas, who took full advantage of the judicial absence of Eric Wright to nail a starting spot in Pete Carroll's prime time defense.
The Not So Obvious - If Thomas didn't return a few smiles to DB coach Greg Burns and Pete Carroll, then strong safety sophomore Josh Pinkard and "real" freshman Kevin Ellison did. You don't have to be Trojan radio voice Pete "How do you do?" Arbogast to know the Trojans have major depth issues at corner. The competitiveness of the topical Ting brothers and walk-on athletes Jamel Williams and Jim Abbott were valuable spring tools as competitive contributors.
The Obvious – With senior Tom "The Leg" Malone having an All-America spring, many Trojans were also more than pleased with the field goal accomplishments of sophomore Mario Danelo.
The Not So Obvious – Danelo was a plus from 40 yards in, and that might be all the Trojans need to fill the Killeen gap come September. While many would have us believe that the Trojan offense will be a force for the ages, history tells us field goals at critical times in a game can be the difference or have you forgotten Killeen's critical field goal contributions last year against Cal (3) and UCLA (5)?
The Obvious – Pete Carroll used game officials at nearly every spring practice to instruct players on what would be called during the regular season.
The Not So Obvious – During one session during the final week of spring ball, one official was instructing snapper Will Collins on what he could and could not do in terms of illegal procedure. Speaking of officials, one Pac-10 official said that Pete Carroll always has officials in attendance, but to his knowledge our friends in Westwood rarely use officials at practice.
The Obvious – One of the conversation pieces during last week's spring ball down at Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Fields was the NCAA's probable passage of a 12th game.
The Not So Obvious – While many Trojan fans were excited about potential games at Michigan, Ohio State, or Florida, insiders say the Pac-10 will use the extra game to fill another conference game so there will be no more conference byes. For example, Mike Bellotti's Oregon Ducks have enjoyed a conference scheduling detour of the two-time national champion Trojans the past two years.
The Obvious – The missing O.J. Simpson No. 32 jersey is back on display in Heritage Hall along with the other "non-playing" Heisman winners.
The Not So Obvious – On the day that famed Simpson's attorney Johnny Cochran passed away, O.J.'s jersey was not in its trophy case. Ya know the old saying, "Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction."
The Obvious – One of last season's most valuable Trojans was senior fullback Lee Webb.
The Not So Obvious – As though he had never left the program, Webb was quietly mingling with Saturday's "USC family" during the scrimmage proudly wearing a red "Back-to-Back USC National Championship" shirt. Webb will always be appreciated by Trojan aficionados and historians for his contribution in helping "knit" that popular selling shirt.
The Obvious – Parents of players were given an opportunity for $10 to eat a BBQ lunch on the North end of the practice field on Saturday.
The Not So Obvious – Ooooooh, that aroma of that BBQ for those that hadn't eaten before the noon practice was almost unbearable. For those that tried before the noon affair to digest at the Carl's Jr. walkup near the Trojan bookstore, there was unanimous disappointment the "Famous Star" shop was closed on a Saturday. Oh well, if you couldn't eat, there was always the fine distraction of the Trojan Marching Band playing the usual numbers at the swim stadium next door to practice for the "Swim With Mike" fundraiser.
The Obvious – One of the big hits on Saturday belonged to secondary member Brandon Ting, who laid some extra "wood" on receiver Chris McFoy.
The Not So Obvious – It may have been a little brotherly payback for a previous interaction when McFoy really rattled Brandon's brother, Ryan, earlier with a national championship block.
The Obvious – All Trojan practices end with the sound of three blasts from an air horn.
The Not So Obvious – Like the ringing in of a new year, Saturday's final horn brought a soft players celebration that spring practice had finally concluded. Backup center Matt Spanos raised his helmet in the air to indicate all that could be accomplished in the spring had been accomplished. Now like the drumbeat of an approaching army, the 2005 Trojans and their fans will have ample time to gear up for what may be the most intense season in Trojan football history as the cardinal and gold attempt a place in the top shelf in college football lore. Stay tuned!!!