Bernard Riley is not expected to participate in spring ball as he recovers from a knee injury but his rehab is ahead of schedule thanks to his tremendous rehab efforts as Bernard has a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the team. We all know that Shaun Cody will be one of the starters at tackle and he has as much potential as any player we have seen in years but with the absence of Riley this spring it will be a real opportunity for Mike Patterson to build upon his solid freshman season before the fall comes and brings incoming freshmen Manuel Wright and Fred Matua into the mix. Kenechi Udeze is down to 280 lbs and will be the returning starter at one end spot with a real battle taking place to replace Lonnie Ford on the other side. Van Brown is one hopeful but he will not be able to practice until fall so Omar Nazel will get a chance to show that he can stop the run as well as he rushes the passer. With the off season losses of Jason Wardlow, Jamaal Williams and Nate Goodson the coaches were concerned enough about the depth at end that they have already moved Austin Jackson from linebacker and are planning to put Danny Urquhart at end when he arrives in the fall.
Mike Pollard showed last season that he can be a solid middle linebacker for this system when healthy but the main problem for Mike is that he has trouble staying healthy. Lee Webb will serve as the primary reserve in the spring ahead of Aaron Graham with Oscar Lua expected to get a long look in fall camp. Matt Grootegoed will miss spring ball as he recovers from injury and he will more than likely end up at WLB in part to save some wear and tear on his body. Melvin Simmons is ready to go after sitting out as a transfer and Bobby Otani is a player that fits what Carroll is looking for on the weakside with his tremendous speed. Chris Prosser has the size to play the SLB spot and he also has good speed with a nose for the ball.
One of the most pressing needs will be replacing 3 seniors at corner and at this point Kevin Arbet is the likely choice to earn one of the starting spots after starring as the nickel back last year. Darrell Rideaux will not run track this spring as he wants to concentrate on spring ball to prepare for his senior season and he will compete with former WR Marcell Allmond and John Walker. Allmond was a top corner in high school and with his size it would be a tremendous boost if he can successfully make the transition from offense while Walker is talented enough that he could also see time at free safety. The starter at FS in the spring will be DeShaun Hill, who has been impressive in off season drills, with Jason Leach fighting for playing time as well but the hope among many Trojan fans is that Darnell Bing will qualify and step right in to the lineup during fall camp. The strong safety spot is manned by Troy Polamalu and there might not be a better defensive player in all of college football right now. Pete Carroll used his defensive schemes to put Troy in positions to succeed last year and this season should see even more dominance.
It is a welcome change to see the special teams unit is such good shape right now and there are plenty of reasons to think this will be a major strength next year. David Davis returns after being one of the most dependable kickers in the conference and if Tom Malone can have anywhere near the impact that Davis had in his first year then Trojan fans will no longer have to cringe when we line up for a punt. Kevin Arbet proved that he is more than capable at returning punts although we still may see Kareem Kelly back there and one key player to watch for on kickoff returns will be Jason Mitchell, in recent sprint drills Mitchell was consistently the fastest receiver.