We headed into spring not really knowing what we had in John David Booty or Rocky Hinds but, to be honest, both guys ended up showing us a lot of what we thought they could do. John David turned in a very efficient performance while running the team and Pete Carroll was clear in his praise of the results Booty saw on the field. He has good command of the huddle, showed a lot of leadership within the offense and can make all the throws. Rocky showed a lot of raw ability, a lot of big time plays and he's a physical presence at the spot. He wasn't as consistent as John David, however, and that was a major difference between the two as this offense demands consistency from the quarterback position as much as anything. In the fall we will see Matt Leinart come back as the starter with John David firmly established as the #2 guy. If Rocky continues to progress as much as he did from last fall to this spring he could become more of a factor in the competition for the back-up role. Mark Sanchez only missed one spring practice and says he knows "80%-90%" of the playbook at this point. A special note needs to be made about Michael McDonald, he wasn't even supposed to be out here this spring but he did so at the request of the coaches (we would've been shorthanded in drills without him) and he ran the team well including some nice drives during the Coliseum scrimmage.
We know what we have in Reggie Bush so anything he did this spring was simply expected by Trojan fans. We saw glimpses of Desmond Reed and his playmaking ability last fall and, after missing the first week of spring, Desmond showcased his dazzling moves on a regular basis and really turned it on with big plays in the Coliseum scrimmage and the spring ball ending scrimmage. There's little doubt at this point that Desmond will play an increased role in the Trojan offense next year. We also had a pleasant surprise with the successful return of Chauncey Washington. Chauncey had basically been "out of sight, out of mind" for almost two years and he wasted little time in reminding us that he has some skills of his own. He broke long runs on a consistent basis and showed a good mix of speed and strength. Michael Coleman didn't do enough to make anybody forget about LenDale White but he did show enough to make us look forward to seeing more of him in the future. Coleman is very physical, it's hard to imagine that he was a quarterback only a few months ago, and it won't take him long to adjust to the college game. Andre Woodert is a walk-on who could play for several schools in the Pac-10. At fullback, David Kirtman was one of the unsung heroes of spring as he did everything well enough to come out of spring at the top of the depth chart. Many Trojan fans expected Brandon Hancock to immediately reclaim the starting job, and he still might do so in fall camp, but Kirtman is an experienced senior and he's playing well right now. No matter who starts, both players will play a lot as Hancock showed flashes of his old self as a pass catching weapon out of the backfield this spring. Jody Adewale is a young guy who is starting to show that he can be a factor next fall.
It's amazing how much Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett are starting to mirror Keary Colbert and Mike Williams. Smith is just so smooth, such a good route runner and he makes the difficult catches in similar fashion to Colbert. At 210 pounds, Jarrett is not only physically resembling Williams but he is also going out there and making the type of dynamic and jaw-dropping catches that Mike was known for. As was the case two years ago, it's hard to imagine a better pair of starting wide receivers than the ones you will find lining up for the Trojans. We were hoping to come out of spring with a solid #3 receiver and most Trojan fans assumed that the spot was being kept warm for Whitney Lewis but William Buchanon and Chris McFoy were both more productive than Whitney this spring and are listed ahead of him on the depth chart. Buchanon has made big plays in practice before but the difference this spring is that he was doing it on a consistent basis, Will is one of the best athletes on the squad with a combination of length and surprising speed so if he can put it together this fall it would be a major boost. McFoy had some of the best blocks of the spring and he is also showing improved hands and route running. Chris is becoming a very solid receiver. With Whitney, you know he is a gamebreaker waiting to happen but we didn't see it too often this spring. He came to camp a little out of shape and eventually worked his way through it during drills so hopefully by the fall he will be more comfortable and we can see his natural talent take over. We know what Greig Carlson can do, he runs good routes and catches the ball. One interesting walk-on who had some good performances was John Zilka, a tall receiver who has pretty good hands.
With Dominique Byrd sitting out the spring it was a prime opportunity for any one of four different players to step up at this spot and become the clear back-up in the fall. We didn't see anybody separate themselves but we did learn that we've got a very bright future at tight end with several young guys who can play. Fred Davis is probably the most dynamic player at 230 pounds with athletic ability and he's the best deep threat of the group. Fred started strong in spring drills and he also finished off the session by catching a nice TD in the final scrimmage. Dale Thompson and Jimmy Miller are both putting on real good size (240-250 range) and they are also good athletes who can be weapons catching the mid-range ball. Nick Vanderboom is a dependable guy who can make a play if called upon.
One of the most pleasant things to learn during spring was the fact that our offensive line is as talented and deep as we have seen at any time in the last 25 years. We knew this would be a good group but what we saw on the practice field was a complete two units of high quality players. On top of that, we also saw a real good interaction between the line and new coach Pat Ruel, who seems to be more of a teacher during practice while former coach Tim Davis (who was very successful) seemed to focus more attention on raising the intensity level. There are three returning starters who are set at their positions; Sam Baker at LT, Ryan Kalil at C and Fred Matua at RG. Baker showed no ill effects of his pre-spring illness and Kalil was simply Kalil, a player who has become a major leader for this team. At the midway point of spring we saw Winston Justice move back into the starting line-up at RT and that put Deuce Lutui in the reserve role at that spot. It's hard to imagine Deuce, who started on the national championship team last fall, doing anything to lose his position but Winston just came to camp in great shape and outright won the job with the play. If he stays healthy Winston is headed for All-American consideration this year. Kyle Williams, who split time with Deuce last season, moved over to LT in the spring to back-up Baker but there's no doubt Kyle is ready to be an everydown player. Kyle looked very good this spring. Possibly the biggest eye-opener on the line was the performance of Drew Radovich as Drew seized the open opportunity at LG (Jeff Byers was expected to be the starter but he sat out most of spring with shoulder and hip problems) and played at a high level. It could be quite a battle this fall with Byers and Radovich going at it for the starting spot. Tiny Malu served as the #2 LG in spring drills. Matt Spanos has made the transition to center and is a very capable back-up to Kalil. A future star is Chilo Rachal, he settled in at the #2 RG spot behind Matua this spring and it won't be long before this young road-grader starts to make some noise in terms of playing time. Thomas Herring served as the #3 LT and he is certainly a big man, Thomas will need to get in better shape as we approach fall camp in order to have more of an impact. Two walk-ons of note are Ross Burruel and John Lanza.
Heading into spring the biggest concern for the coaching staff was the middle of the defensive line. Not only did we need to replace a pair of All-Americans in Cody and Patterson but one of the key players expected to ease that transition (Manuel Wright) was facing an uncertain future of his own with academic issues. As often happens under Pete Carroll, however, the results were promising as we saw one young player step up while an experienced veteran added weight and switched positions to help make the situation work. Sedrick Ellis has waited his turn behind Patterson and when given his chance he definitely made an impact. Sed was one of the first players mentioned by Carroll at the end of spring when talking about guys who jumped out. The play of LaJuan Ramsey at DT was also a bright spot as LaJuan is now at 295, he played most of his career at 275, and he is now settled in the middle of line after also playing end at various times. When healthy Ramsey has shown that he can be a valuable contributor and if we are forced to play next fall without Manuel it would be tremendous to have a veteran like LaJuan to plug in. Fili Moala served as the back-up to Ramsey in spring and Fili has a good future but he's not quite ready to be the everydown guy. If he can learn for one year he should be ready to take over as the starter in 06. Travis Draper switched from offense to NG and he seems to have the frame and athleticism for the spot. At the end spots, Lawrence Jackson is poised to become the next USC All-American defensive lineman. LJ is pretty physical and he's also a savvy player. On the other side, Frostee Rucker sat out the spring so Jeff Schweiger had an opportunity to show what he can do. Jeff battled a sore back for part of spring but he came on toward the end with a good showing in the final scrimmage. Rashaad Goodrum was the back-up to Jeff and Rashaad recovered several fumbles during the Trojan Huddle and end of spring scrimmage. Travis Tofi can play either end or tackle. Michael Stuart was moved from LB to DE prior to spring, he can be a good one in time but will need to spend time with Carlisle in the weight room to add bulk. Alex Morrow has yet to make a consistent impact.
The play of the linebackers this spring was very encouraging and it's easy to get excited about the prospects of this unit when you also consider the type of talent that will be added in the fall. We knew Keith Rivers was going to be the one to replace Groots at WLB and we all know Keith has the potential to be something special. What was great to see on the practice field this spring is the beginning of that greatness as he starts to grow as a football player. He has such quickness for size and an amazing ability to strike when he sees the ball. Dallas Sartz is the experienced starter at SLB and he seemed to be taking on a more active and vocal leadership role this spring. The real battle took place in the middle as three players rotated all spring and Carroll still couldn't come up with a starter. Oscar Lua was the #1 guy for most of spring and it was so good to see Oscar back on the field making plays after being hobbled for much of the past two seasons. Ryan Powdrell showed his abilities as a run-stuffer with some big hits at the Trojan Huddle scrimmage. Ryan is in the thick of the competition and you can see that he's raised his game since last fall. Thomas Williams is not only a viable candidate in the middle but he's also the top back-up to Sartz on the outside. There aren't too many players in the country who make bigger hits than Thomas does on a regular basis. Collin Ashton has taken his game from being a walk-on to a capable back-up for Rivers. Ashton is a great example of how any player can grow within the Carroll program. Clay Matthews Jr is a solid walk-on. It was great to see Luthur Brown at so many spring practices as well as Brian Cushing who came out for an extended 10-day visit.
If there was any area of concern coming out of spring it was the tenuous nature of the cornerback position. We were already thin at corner with Justin Wyatt expected to miss most of the spring but the added twist of Eric Wright being arrested was not something that we anticipated. We will find out tomorrow (Wednesday, April 20th) if charges will be filed against Wright in his case. Terrell Thomas was scheduled to be the nickel back but suddenly he was the only scholarship corner on the roster so he got valuable reps as a starter and performed well. Terrell has good size for a corner and he's starting to use that size to his advantage in a physical manner. John Walker sat out spring with a wrist injury after being moved back to defense and this was an unfortunate time for John to be out as he could've been a key option at corner if healthy. John is an experienced guy though so don't be surprised if he plays a role in the fall. We saw several walk-on corners get an opportunity for meaningful practice time with a national championship team and guys like Alex Gomez, Jim Abbott, Jerry Williams and Jamel Williams all had some nice moments. Jerry Williams in particular had a very good showing in the Trojan Huddle scrimmage. Darnell Bing sat out much of spring after shoulder surgery although he did return to get a little work late in the session. That meant we saw a lot of Scott Ware and Josh Pinkard at safety and both showed that they are big hitters. Ware got the point where he was making crushing hits on a daily basis before hurting his knee in the Huddle (he had interceptions that day and in a previous scrimmage) and sitting out the final week of drills. Pinkard has a bright future with tremendous size and instincts. Brandon Ting and Ryan Ting got a lot of work at safety with Ryan also putting in some time at corner (Ryan had a pick that he returned for a TD in the Huddle). One newcomer who really opened some eyes was Kevin Ellison as he has a habit of always being around the football. Carroll says he played "beyond his years" and that included an interception returned for a TD in the Huddle.
Tom Malone is back at the punter spot so we're set, he looks as good as ever. Taylor Odegard is his back-up. Mario Danelo may have kicked his way into the placekicking job next fall with his performance in the spring. Mario was very consistent from inside 40 yards and that could be enough to earn him the job. Incoming freshman Troy Van Blarcom is expected to handle kickoffs and he will challenge Danelo for the placekicking role as well. Reggie Bush was able to get a lot of work in as a return guy but we do have other options if needed including Desmond Reed, Justin Wyatt, Whitney Lewis, Greig Carlson and Chauncey Washington.