Spring Ball Day 7

Tom Malone is averaging a full second to a second and one half more hangtime than his predecessor. On a few drills Troy Polamalu had to wait for the ball to arrive and we all know what that's going to mean for opposing punt returners - extra ambulances at every exit of the Coliseum.

Friday was the last practice prior to the Trojan Huddle. Because of that, it was a light duty workout that was kept to just under two hours in a no contact exercise. Did I say no contact? Someone forgot to tell Troy P. and Melvin S., who both continue to practice like they play - balls out.

Practice opened with dummy drills and then moved to Special Teams. Coach Pola is constantly finding ways to put pressure on our Special Team Units and today featured punting from deep within the end zone as well as field goal work with seconds being counted down. Both drills were successful. The offense would run one play to get within field goal range and then the countdown began, offering the special team unit only 15 seconds to get the kick off. David Davis was on the money five times consecutively from about 35 and 40 yard range. Confidence is not something that Davis lacks and his kicking leg seems vastly improved over last season. In the endzone punting drills, Malone shined. I had the chance to chat with Tom's father today and learned a lot about the work ethic Tom is exhibiting both on and off the field to be an integral part of this team. Right now the coaches are working on his mechanics in trying to shave .10 of a second off his kick time. It might sound simple, but that little extra bit will make a big difference in the overall performance of the entire squad. However, to accomplish that reduction requires changing some footwork and that will take time. Not worry though, Tom is still averaging a full second to a second and one half more hangtime than his predecessor. On a few drills Troy had to wait for the ball to arrive and we all know what that's going to mean for opposing punt returners - extra ambulances at every exit of the Coliseum.

Speaking of Special Teams, Flash Candela is proving to be quite a solid returner. He has excellent presence on the field and lets no ball get by. He also, like Tim Dwight, likes to take punts on the run and get a quick ten before getting popped. With both he and Arbet the Trojans should be in fine shape.

Shape, is what will be discussed now - the shape of some players and the overall appearance of the team. We can begin with and all breathe a little easier over Nate Steinbacher. Most of you have not had the luxury of attending Spring workouts and therefore can't yet see the physical metamorphous the players have gone through. The most noticeable in my eyes are: Cody, Poston, BKU and Steinbacher. Nate has gotten not only huge, but ripped. Add to that muscle mass is swagger. He is ready to, and right now is the starting RT on our offensive line. Nate is the perfect example of why it can take two years or more for some OL to find their place. Nate's found it and for SC fans, he will be a delight on the OL. That said, Nate suffered a tough injury in the last practice to the same foot/ankle that took him out last season. He was very concerned because he has put in major hours to ready himself for this Spring. Thankfully, x-rays revealed no extra damage. They did have to drain a bloodclot off his foot but hopefully, he will be back in time to wrap up Spring. The other OL to go down in the last practice was Jacob Rogers. Both Nate and Jacob were walking under their own power today and Jacob could be back for the last week of Spring practice. He has a slight sprain to his knee and is really just taking it easy. With their absence and that of McGuire's, it was easy to see how thin we are at OL. Thank God that Winston Justice is one of the Poly 4 who have qualified, because SC is going to need him. Once he arrives and the three kids just mentioned are all back for Fall, we should be in good shape. I know that sounds bad, but I failed to mention that Phillip Eaves and Eric Torres both had solid practices. Eaves is getting a lot of attention and he seems to be responding. This kid has put some time in at the weight room and in passing situations can maintain his space against our first DL. Torres needs to move back to Guard, but that can only happen when we get everybody healthy. Overall, I would say that our OL looks better this year than it has in a long while. It appears as though Lenny Vandermade will be our starting LG with Katnick at Center. Norm's just a bit too small to play anywhere else right now. Lenny has put on around 12 pounds from last year and you can see it in his upper body strength.
Other players out due to injury are Groots, Kelly, and Fargas. What is great about pretty much all the other spots on team is that we do have depth. This has been voiced by folks on-line and at some practices, but in watching both the offensive and defensive second and third units play today you could see playmakers on the field. Our linebacking unit, although small, is incredibly tough. Pollard is very muscled and moves quickly to the ball. Simmons is having fun and learning constantly. He will be a major asset to the team. Prosser is just awesome and will play either WL or SL with skill. Lee Webb had an outstanding practice as did Melvin.

Our DB's although having to replace 3 starters are really playing hard. SC has a collection of big, heavy hitters to roam through our secondary. With Allmond, Arbet, Walker, Leach, Polamalu and Hill all able to bring heavy hats it is nice to see that Rideaux and Fletcher can bring the speed to cover corner. Adding Nunn and Wyatt to that mix will make this unit very solid.

Carson Palmer. That is all that needs to be said. Anybody who thinks that Leinart, Cassel and Hart are quality quarterbacks is absolutely correct. They are also the three luckiest men alive because they can all sit back, watch and learn this year from the clinic that Carson is going to put on. In talking to a few of the players parents today, they all said how Carson is head and shoulders ahead of the rest. Palmer has found his touch. He is floating balls both deep and 15 yard outs so beautifully that it, as much as Malone's sky punts, take your breath away. If an injury could ever be considered a positive, Carson's collar bone break two years ago, might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. He is going to wrap up his USC career as our all time passing leader and will wipe away any memories fans have of last season. The principal reason that I guarantee this will happen is that Carson is going to have a running game to support him and receivers who can catch the ball.

As hard as it is to see Fargas standing on the sidelines, it is a joy to see Sultan, Mal and Darryl ripping up. Poston, following one horrible fumble, had the best practice of his Spring. He broke three or four runs for +15 or more. He is lightening quick up the middle and has put on enough muscle to withstand the hits that shook him so hard last year. MM is just a team leader and running without hesitation. Think back to Ucla and Hawaii two years ago and you'll get a quick image of how strong MM looks. Sultan is surrounded by such an outstanding cast of running backs that he's not blowing people away as much this year, even though, he too is breaking big runs. To say that Sultan McCullough doesn't look that much better or sometimes as good as our three other tailbacks must make Kennedy Pola smile. In fact, I know that Kennedy feels like a wealthy man because of the talent he has to work with this year. He feels that this is our best crop of FB and TB's SC has had in ten years. That is exciting.

The two fullbacks that are stealing the show right now, in my mind, are Pierson and Hancock. Pierson is back to 100 percent and just showing great hands out of the backfield. Keep in mind that his natural position is tailback and you'll get an idea on the head of steam he builds coming round end. Hancock is a bigger, faster version of Charlie Landrigan. He also has the intangible that Charlie had - he's a winner. This kid runs big and strong and catches the ball. He is a freshman, but as freshmen go, SC got a great one.

All in all it was a good practice. Manuel Wright was there as was a few other kids, no Jackrabbits that I know of. Jeff Kirin, the former Special Teams coach for SC back with JRII and also head coach at CSUN was there. He looks to be heading off to Santa Barbara to handle the coaching duties there. Again, there was high praise about coach Davis from OL parents. The kids love him and coupled with Uperesa we are in good shape. I'd love to go into detail about what Mr. Malone told me about Tom's recruitment but suffice it to say that Carrol did an outstanding job landing a kid up until his official visit was headed anywhere but Troy. The moral of that story is that we're in good hands with this staff and we have enough athletes and team leaders starting on both sides of the ball to be in every game we play in this season. Things are looking good, but there's lots of work to be done.

I'm in.

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