2005 Special Teams preview

Any discussion of the USC special teams must begin with our All-American punter Tom Malone, a unanimous selection as the punter for the All-Time USC team which will appear in the next issue of WeAreSC magazine.

By coming back for his senior year Tom will be competing against his own standard by trying to improve upon the numbers he has already put together in his stellar career. It's impressive to look back upon the expectations that were placed upon Tom when he arrived at USC and to think that he has pretty much met them all. Tom has always featured a booming leg and last year we also saw him drop a lot of kicks deep into opposing territory. It has to be frustrating for teams facing the Trojans in those rare cases when they actually stop the USC offense because they are then forced to watch as Malone launches another one of his patented bombs that pins them back in their end.

Malone, who is as unassuming off the field as he is dangerous on it, is a terrific athlete (golf is his latest passion) who uses his long arms to help drop the ball in the best spot possible. He also serves as the holder on all placekicks for the Trojans, a job that usually goes unnoticed unless something goes wrong. As usual, Malone has handled the role without any problems. Trojan fans know what we have in Tom and it will be nice to appreciate him for one more season.

As settled as things are at the punter spot, the placekicking and kickoff jobs will not be decided until some point in fall camp although the coaches have a pretty good idea of how things are going to work out.

Mario Danelo is a walk-on who has been a pretty consistent practice performer over the past two years and he will get first crack at the placekicking job. Danelo (photo) is solid from 40 yards and in but lacks the strong leg to be counted on from beyond that range. From what we saw in spring ball, his steady performance should be enough to earn him the role. Mario is known as a tough competitor and he has the genes as his father Joe is a former NFL kicker with the NY Giants. One possibility is to split the job with incoming freshman Troy Van Blarcom handling long field goals and kickoffs. Van Blarcom has a very strong leg but he is coming off knee surgery a year ago and it could make sense to save the wear on his leg if Danelo can handle the medium and short range kicks. Van Blarcom is known for his kickoffs and he should definitely continue the Ryan Killeen trend of putting the ball into or out of the end zone.

Both snappers return from last year in Collin Ashton (punts) and Will Collins (placekicks).

There are several walk-on kickers available including Phil Mellinger (K), Taylor Odegard (P) and Sean Limahelu (P).

As far as the return game is concerned, we've got a guy named Reggie Bush coming back and he's a pretty good one. In fact, there might not be a better return man in the country. Reggie is equally dazzling on either kickoff or punt returns and he can change the momentum of a game as quick as anyone. There were some Trojan fans (this writer included) who were initially wary of putting Bush back on returns because of his overall value to the offense but those concerns disappeared right away as he broke big play after big play. His performance this year as a return man will be critical to his Heisman hopes.

A couple other special teams stalwarts deserve mention. Thomas Williams has gained a reputation so far with his big hits on special teams and it's something he takes a lot of pride in. Desmond Reed has proven his value as he can back-up Reggie as a return man without hardly missing a beat or he can hustle down on coverage teams and deliver a crushing blow.

This should be a good year for the Trojan special teams with coaching headed up by Todd McNair, with assistance from graduate assistant Sam Anno, and a bevy of talented players to choose from including some stud freshmen linebackers who will be looking to make their mark.

Returning Stat leaders

Bush punt returns (24 attempts, 376 yards, 15.7 average, two TD, 65 yard long)
Bush kickoff returns (21 attempts, 537 yards, 25.6 average, 84 yard long)
Malone punt (49 kicks, 2144 yards, 43.8 average, 20 kicks inside 20 yard line)

2005 USC Position Previews

Thursday, July 7th - Linebacker
Monday, July 11th - Defensive Line
Thursday, July 14th - Defensive Back
Monday, July 18th - Special Teams
Thursday, July 21st - Offensive Line
Monday, July 25th - Wide Receiver
Thursday, July 28th - Tight End
Monday, August 1st - Running Back
Thursday, August 4th - Quarterback

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