Matt Leinart looks in mid-season form. Check that, he looks even better at times than last year because of the improved arm strength that he showed at various points in camp. In four scrimmages Matt led the offense on 15 drives and they scored touchdowns on 12 of those drives. He is in complete command on the field right now and he's making it look effortless. John David Booty has been solid but he didn't show enough to build further separation between himself and Mark Sanchez for future competitions. Booty is definitely the #2 guy these days though and he will get the opportunity to show what he can do in some early games. Sanchez had a very nice start to camp and showed flashes of real good arm strength, including a pair of deep TD passes in the opening scrimmage. Mark has such a presence on the field and he scored leadership points with the way he handled a mid-camp hazing incident. Michael McDonald had a nice showing in the Coliseum scrimmage by moving the ball against the first team defense.
Reggie Bush has been nothing short of dazzling. He bulked up this past off-season in an effort to prove that he can be an everydown running back and the results have been impressive. He made long touchdowns a common occurrence in camp. LenDale White sat out a portion of camp with a cracked toenail but when he was out there it reminded us of how good he can be. LenDale is leaned out a little at 232 pounds and ran very well in the Coliseum scrimmage. LenDale doesn't get enough credit for how good his hands are as a pass catcher. Desmond Reed continues to make plays and there's no question he can be a real weapon when given the opportunity. Right now he's just waiting for that opportunity. Michael Coleman did not practice in camp as he continues to sit out with injury. Chauncey Washington won't be eligible this fall but his talent should provide an excellent test each week for the defense while working with the scout team. Chauncey broke his share of runs in camp. David Kirtman is bigger and thicker than ever as he has become a dependable fullback in this offense. It has also been great to see Brandon Hancock back and he flashed a couple nice plays in camp to show his playmaking ability. This is a real nice pair of fullbacks who can carry the ball when needed (both were TB's in high school) and we've got a pretty good option coming up as well in Jody Adewale who is reminding onlookers of Kirtman more and more every day.
Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett did nothing to change our opinion that they will be the top pair of starting wide receivers in the country. Smith is another player who has bulked up in the upper body and he continues to show great routes and hands as well. Jarrett is playing with a lot of confidence right now and you can see it in his body language. He made his share of leaping grabs in camp and there is no sign of hesitation in his game. Chris McFoy is an example of how much players can grow in this program as he has developed his pass catching abilities to the point where he is a real weapon, not just a good blocker who can also make a few plays. Chris had a very good day last week at the closed Coliseum scrimmage which included a 48 yard TD reception but his main work will come on the tough mid-range patterns and routes over the middle. The only thing that would prevent Chris from being the #3 receiver is the continued progress of freshman phenom Patrick Turner. Patrick was slowed the first week of camp with a bruised heel but since that point he has showed what all the hype is about. He has better speed than you would guess and his body control is impressive for a man his size. What a bright future. William Buchanon had a couple flashes of brilliance, particularly a pair of long touchdown catches from Sanchez in the opening scrimmage, and his speed is certainly tough to deal with. William did not show the consistency he did in spring, however, and that will be a key for increased playing time. Another player who will need to improve his consistency is Whitney Lewis. Whitney showed up to camp is good shape and showed his terrific hands early on but he didn't make an impact in any of the scrimmages and that is where you catch the coaches attention the most. Greig Carlson is so dependable and it is only the fact that we have so many other weapons that he doesn't have more of a role in the offense. Greig, who starred in the open scrimmage at the Coliseum, also had one of the biggest hits in fall camp on an interception return by Clay Matthews when he came from behind Clay and popped him in full stride.
Dominique Byrd missed the early days of camp but ever since he came back he's reminding us why he is one of the more acrobatic and athletic tight ends you will find. Byrd is down to 248 pounds and the increased mobility certainly showed in the closed Coliseum scrimmage last week when he caught three touchdown passes including one 73 yarder where he outran several members of the secondary to the end zone. There is some good depth behind him too with Fred Davis, Jimmy Miller and Dale Thompson. Fred came to camp in great shape and has showed improvement in his overall skills. Miller was probably one of the more pleasant surprises in camp and he's made great strides since his redshirt year as a big guy who can catch the ball and be a solid blocker. Thompson is a moose, a huge guy who will be an excellent blocker and has shown he can catch the ball as well. Nick Vanderboom was having a good camp until an ankle injury sidelined him. Charles Brown only got cleared for the last week of two a days so it's hard to get a read on his abilities, he sure is big though.
One of the best things about fall camp has been watching the offensive line in action. We've all talked about how this line is as deep and talented as any in recent Trojan memory and it's so nice to see them go out and prove it on a daily basis. The one who jumps out at you is Winston Justice with his sheer size and athleticism. Winston is all business on the field and he looks terrific. Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil are as impressive as ever. Fred Matua held off a brief challenge from Duece Lutui for his RG spot and he has also seen a few snaps at center in case we need him in that role at some point. Lutui saw action at RT, RG and LG before finally settling at left guard for the last week or so after Drew Radovich went down with injuries. Deuce is around 350 pounds these days and he is moving very well. Radovich returned this week after first suffering a concussion then a neck injury and the timing of his injuries couldn't have been worse as Deuce was able to gain critical fall camp snaps and could be tough to move out (literally and figuratively). Kyle Williams is solid as the #2 LT who could also play RT if needed. One star of the future on the line is Chilo Rachal, he backs up Matua at RG these days. Nick Howell has benefited from the move of Lutui to LG as Nick has been able to take a lot of valuable snaps in camp with the 2nd unit at RT.
So much talk these days about the team concerns the defensive line, specifically the interior of the line as we look to plug two new starters into those spots. The good news is that nobody really seems to worry about the end positions since they are filled nicely by Lawrence Jackson and Frostee Rucker. Lawrence looks like he is primed for a monster year, we all know how good he can be at rushing the passer and his run stuffing skills seem to have improved as well. Frostee brings a lot of size to his spot and it was great to see him healthy in camp after battling a toe injury all last season. The loss of Jeff Schweiger on the first day of camp to a broken bone in his foot meant that somebody else needed to step up and it looks like Chris Barrett will be that guy. Chris has loads of potential and he is finally healthy enough to be out there on a daily basis. Chris also seems to connect more with Jethro Franklin as his coach and that can happen sometimes when a new position coach comes in. On the other side we've seen Kyle Moore settle in as the top reserve to Jackson. Kyle has tremendous size and athleticism, he's going to be a good one. Rashaad Goodrum will also see a lot of time at end and he's got a nose for the football. We saw some progress this fall from Alex Morrow, he's bulked up and could see some time in the rotation. On the inside, Sedrick Ellis receives constant praise from the coaches for the job he has done so far. Sed has a good motor and he is relentless with a lot of power. It seems like so much rests with the ability of LaJuan Ramsey and Fili Moala to man the DT spot. LaJuan has been particularly active the last week or so in practice and he caused a fumble on the opening possession of the Coliseum scrimmage on Sunday. LaJuan has a lot of experience and this program under Carroll has a history of guys stepping up when it's their opportunity. Fili will be the primary reserve to LaJuan and he is very athletic for his size. Travis Tofi will be the primary reserve to Ellis and he's playing with a lot more confidence than we saw last year. Travis Draper and Averell Spicer are also at NT, Spicer showed more than we thought he would this camp after moving from the end position.
When Pete Carroll says this defense has the most speed of any defense since he's been at USC it is definitely reflected in his linebacker unit. This group has so much speed and talent that the biggest problem in fall camp was figuring out who was going to play where. The only spot that was set throughout camp was Keith Rivers at WLB as the MLB position was very much up for grabs and the SLB spot had Dallas Sartz missing much of camp with a hip pointer. In the middle, Oscar Lua ended up coming out of camp with the job primarily based on his experience and ability to command the huddle. Oscar has waited a long time for this role and he seems mentally prepared. He will be continually pushed by a couple of future stars in Rey Maualuga and Luthur Brown. Both had big play moments in the Coliseum scrimmage, Rey with a hard sack on Mark Sanchez and Luthur with a big pop on Patrick Turner in the end zone, and you can't say enough good things about their bright futures. One guy who has been moving back and forth from MLB to SLB is Thomas Williams and the last couple days he has been in the middle while Oscar rests an injured leg. Williams may have hurt himself a little in terms of gaining a starting spot by going back and forth between the two positions but the coaches are well aware of what he can do and they want to find a way to get him on the field. Dallas Sartz is set as the SLB starter and the fact that his teammates voted him a defensive co-captain shows what they think of him. When Dallas was out with his hip pointer it gave us a chance to see Brian Cushing in action and he is going to be special. He has such terrific football instincts and he will get plenty of action this season. There are also several good reserves backing-up Rivers at WLB. Collin Ashton was in the mix for the MLB job for a few days in camp before he was moved back outside, Collin is a smart player who is not going to hurt you on the field. Ryan Powdrell was also moved to WLB after going for the starting MLB job and his strength is as a run stopper. Kaluka Maiava opened eyes in camp not only for his resemblance to Troy Polamala, both physically and as a player, but for some good one on one battles with LenDale White. For some reason it seems as if those two went against each other several times in scrimmages and Kaluka held his own.
There may be some people who are worried about the Trojan corners but Pete Carroll isn't one of them. Carroll made it clear throughout the camp that he likes this group and right now it's easy to see why he would make that statement. Justin Wyatt is an experienced guy and he brings such great speed in addition to his knowledge of the defense. Terrell Thomas has taken control of the other starting corner spot and hasn't looked back. Terrell showed a good physical style of play in camp and he will be a good match-up for the bigger receivers we see this year. Terrell will also move to the nickel spot when needed because of his experience in that role. We needed someone to claim the 3rd corner role and John Walker certainly did that. In nickel situations John will come in as a corner with Terrell moving inside and right now John is playing with the confidence of someone who has waited his turn and is now ready to contribute. There was a minor surprise to see who was getting the reps as the #4 corner toward the end of camp as Will Harris made terrific strides in camp at both free safety and corner. Will is simply a playmaker and we know how much Pete Carroll likes playmakers. Will sprained an ankle in the Coliseum scrimmage and will hopefully be back soon. The other two freshman corners, Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris, both showed enough to know that they have good futures as well. Mozique McCurtis was brought in to compete right away for the #3 corner spot but he came into camp with a hernia injury and has yet to suit up. A pair of walk-ons worth mentioning are Jerry Williams and Jim Abbott, both can play if needed. At safety we are looking at a pair of starters who could end up being mentioned among the elite pairs of safeties we've had at USC. Darnell Bing is so smooth and confident right now and he has a maturity about him that his teammates have noticed as they voted him as a defensive co-captain. Next to him will be Scott Ware and he brings the hammer. Scott is healthy right now and ready to go. Josh Pinkard had the kind of impact in camp that has Carroll really excited about his future. Right now Josh is the reserve free safety with Kevin Ellison backing-up Bing at the strong safety spot. Ryan and Brandon Ting are also at safety and they will be on special teams as well. They are active players on the field and they will hit you.
The special teams excitement begins with Reggie Bush on kickoff and punt returns. Reggie took a punt return to the house to open the Coliseum scrimmage last Sunday and even though it was called back it gave a glimpse of what he has done all camp. Mario Danelo solidified the placekicking job, and earned a scholarship in the process, with his consistent ability to make kicks from inside 40 yards. Troy Van Blarcom won the kickoff job, he will be fine despite the concern of some fans who saw a shaky outing on Sunday at the Coliseum. One of the benefits of holding a scrimmage like that in front of a crowd is to get that adjustment period out of the way and my guess is Troy will be fine once we get going, he's shown too good of a leg in practice. We haven't seen Tom Malone punt yet in camp as he continues to rest a hip flexor and this could be more of a concern the closer we get to game time. Tom says he could still kick even with minimal practice time and hopefully we will see him on the field next week. If he can't go we will see Taylor Odegard punt and Greig Carlson hold on placekicks.