Pete Carroll comments on spring ball

The Trojan coach shares his thoughts on the performance of the team during the spring ball practice period

from usctrojans.com

"I'm really pleased with a lot of aspects this spring. We had some issues to address coming out of the fall football-wise and we've really attacked them in a way I'm upbeat about. We needed to develop our style of how we're going to run the football and we're on our way now. We've adjusted some things and worked hard at it and I'm really pleased. The chance to improve it has been enhanced by the tailback situation that we have, which is really exciting for us.

"What follows is the growth of an offensive line and the ability to bounce outside our tackles to utilize Carson (Palmer), and he's had a great spring. I'm really pleased about that. By no means have we attained a level that I can put a label on it, but I know we're on track and our principles and approach has been nailed down. We're really specific with what we're doing and it fits our style of players and I'm real positive about where we are. Comparing to where we were at the end of the season last year, we're much further down the road.

"We've established a work ethic about the program that has come through the season and the off-season through Coach (Chris) Carlisle in the strength and conditioning program. We've been really consistent in the way we've worked in practice and the way we approach our work. I'm thrilled about that.

"We're still scrambling at the moment with our depth. Our offensive line depth is just tenuous and our defensive line is too. At linebacker, we thought we might not be able to get through the practices, but we've made it to the spring game. Cornerback depth is a question. It calls for us, philosophically, to ask our young guys to work right in, start playing and be actively part of the competitive side of things for the opening game. That's how we went about it anyway, but it's really come to the front that our freshmen have got to compete and push the guys that are there to find their spots and play for us. That's not the situation I hope will always be here at USC. I'm hoping that when guys come in, it's obvious that they'll have to work their way in and take time to get to first-line playing. Right now, that's not the case.

"Carson has had a tremendous spring. He's got one pick throughout all the spring drills. He's been very sharp. He really understands what we're doing. He's in command of the offense. We're moving him around a lot and he's doing it well. I'm very pleased with his progress. That combined with the running backs situation has given us a spark in the running game. You see Sultan McCullough, Justin Fargas and Malaefou MacKenzie all giving us frontline play and have competed very well. Justin's been the biggest surprise, but we were really counting on him doing something special. Those elements of our offense have given us a nice feel how we'll approach the fall.

"Keary Colbert has really been stellar. He's had a great spring. He'll be a go-to guy, no question. He's just a leader by the way he works and I like the heck out of the way he plays. Kareem Kelly has not played much. He's had a hamstring that's bothered him. He was fine earlier in spring, but has missed the bulk of it, so it's given the opportunity to Donald Hale. Devin Pitts has competed well. Jason Mitchell has done some good things. Grant Mattos has looked like he looked early last year and is playing with a good feel for the game. Frankie Candella has done some good things. Those guys have given us a spark. William Buchannon at times, but his development is a ways down the road. I'm excited to see what Michael Williams brings too.

"At tight end, Alex Holmes has been really consistent, catching the ball really well. He's our best blocker, so we have a real solid starter. The back-up spots are still in question. Gregg Guenther has done some good things battling with Doyal Butler, but it's clear that Alex is the top tight end and Gregg looks like he has a chance to help us catching the football.

"Norm Katnik has settled in at center. He got hurt and will have an operation on his thumb, but he'll back in the fall at center. Lenny Vandermade has played left guard for us when we've looked at our best and we've decided to stay that way. Jacob Rogers has looked real solid at tackle. Zach Wilson has been sharp at right guard. The right tackle with Eric Torres, Nate Steinbacher and Phillip Eaves are all competing and it's not settled and the back up spots are still unsettled. We need help from the young guys. We're counting on Winston Justice to be a factor. Fred Matua will likely start on the offensive side, competing at guard, and Chris Doyle and Kyle Williams will compete. We're really counting on those guys fighting for spots and we'll see how they fit. We have experience, but still have question marks. I hope we get a good surge from the young guys. They've been around a lot and they might have a chance to compete in the fall to play a lot. We'll see how that goes.

"Chad Pierson has had a good spring and if we were to start right now, he'd start. We'll use Sunny Byrd there and Malaefou there too. Brandon Hancock, who's had a terrific spring for a freshman, not that he's doing so well, but just to have him here competing, he's made so much progress and he's going to be a factor for us next year. He catches the ball extremely well and he's learning how to block and he's really shown a great spirit about battling and competing.

"The next big question is the backup quarterback spot. Matt Cassel is doing really well. He and Matt Leinart have been battling with Billy Hart a notch below. Those two kids are really battling. Probably Matt Cassel has a little more experience, but they both will go into fall camp still battling. Tomorrow, they will share time on their team so they are playing against the same defense and we can get a good comparison. Last week in the scrimmage, they both showed good things. We can count on those guys to really battle. I'd love to see in the fall, whoever is the No. 2 guy, to play in every game so they can develop in case we need to call on them to fill in.

"We're running maybe a little fewer plays. We'll be a mixed two-back and one-back running team. We like our fullbacks, so they'll be a big part. It's a tailback oriented running game. We're just excited about the way it fits with our running backs. They bring it downhill pretty good. In particular, Fargas is really a slasher and Sultan, who has been a guy who ran all over the field, has taken to it and has used his speed quite well. It seems to be fitting well. Malaefou is a natural running back. He reads so well and is well ahead in terms of reading the running game. It gives us a great position. Right now, there's no 1-2-3. We'd mix them and they'd all play. Tomorrow with the first offense, if Fargas is OK to scrimmage, you'll see Fargas and McCullough and we'll just mix them.

"Part of what we're doing is getting the quarterback on the perimeter He's a great thrower on the run, so we've done some things to make sure he has plenty of opportunities to threaten the defense on the perimeter, which we think will add to our running game. It's just an outgrowth of what we saw at the end of last season. You saw at times at the end of last year, when we got the ball on the perimeter and with the option stuff, the guys at tailback really made that a strong point of the offense and we'll feature that more. It's not tackle to tackle, it's sideline to sideline. "

(Is Justice ready to step right in): "We'll find out. When we recruited him, we thought he was as good a prospect as we could find. If it comes together right, meaning does he pick it up well, does he understand the principles, can he be consistent to allow his athletic ability to be expressed, he'll play. We'll see. But guys get confused and can't play. We'll see. Technically, we haven't had him on the field and if he has some problems, it will slow down the process. But if things work right, physically, he's capable of being a frontline player as a freshman. But there's a lot of things to have to come together for an offensive lineman to have that happen. It's a hard position to start at as a freshman. "

(re: incoming players showing up to observe practice): "We've had a great response out of a number of kids. Winston Justice has been really obvious. Fred Matua has been obvious. Ronald Nunn has been around a lot, Daniel Urquhart, Justin Wyatt, Dan Brown have all taken advantage of living close and it's a real plus. Where they take it in the summer time is really important. "

"Defensively, we really hope to pick up where we left off last year, with our style of play and intensity. I've really been pleased with the front of Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody and Michael Patterson, who has had a great chance to be a starter in this group with Bernard Riley on the mend. He's had a great spring. He's really been a factor. When those guys are out there, it's really hard for our offense to block them. Omar Nazel has started with that group. We're farther along than we were last year. This could be a really major part of this team the way these guys play. Hopefully we can get some play out of the young guys so we can maintain a rotation. We're hoping to see what Van Brown and Daniel Urquhart can do at Omar's spot. That aspect of our team is strong right now.

"Michael Pollard has hobbled through spring football but has made it through. He's shown us why he's such a good football player. He's really got our system down and has a great batting average of being right on the money. And he gives us good leadership and experience. We haven't had Matt Grootegoed for a snap, but we know he'll play well for us. The biggest surprise has been Melvin Simmons. He's had a great spring and has just been everywhere. He's been good in all phases, running game, passing game and he's been a great blitzer. He gives us a real boost there where we lose Frank Strong. I'm really pleased with what we have at the linebacker spot knowing that we've got a couple guys we're really excited about. Dallas Sartz will be an outside backer, and Oscar Lua will be in the inside. Lee Webb is maturing into a real player. He's played a lot of middle linebacker when Pollard couldn't take all the snaps and Lee has been a real weapon for us. He's a runner and a hitter that's shown up quite a bit. Aaron Graham has continued to grow. We're very thin, but when you kick Pollard at full speed, and Matt coming back, and Chris Prosser, that spot becomes very effective. You don't see a high draft pick with these guys, but you see really good college players who know our system really well and are so far down the road, that could be a really good aspect of the team.

"Troy Polamalu got nicked late, but had a great spring. DeShaun Hill has really taken over the free safety spot. The big question is at corner. Going into spring it was a big question and it will continue to be a question heading into fall camp. However, Kevin Arbet, I think, will be a good starter for us. We know he's a good playmaker and knows our system. Darrell Rideaux has had by far the most outstanding spring of any of our defensive guys. If you were going to pick a "Most Improved", he'd be the guy. He's had a very good spring with highlight plays throughout. He's been aggressive in coverage, played with great speed, and has made a lot of good physical tackles in the running game. He's been a very bright spot. Marcell Allmond has taken well to the change. He continues to improve. If we were going in a game, he'd be in our nickel package. That has been a good move for us to make. I hope with Ronald Nunn and Justin Wyatt at corner, it will be a young and inexperienced group, but talented and very, very fast. That's a weakness going into spring football, and still on the come, but I think it'll be alright. If we do that, our defense can play like we played last year. With the development of the front four guys, we have a chance to be more effective with the pass rush.

"I think the pass rush we can generate with our front guys and the aggressive style we play with can help out the guys at corner who are on-call playing and starting for the first time. "

(re: Shaun Cody remaining on the inside): "Right now, yes. It depends on what happens on the other end spot. Shaun can play end in a heartbeat. But he's a real problem playing at the three technique. He reminds me of a player at Minnesota, Keith Millard, who was a great player at that spot. They played very similar. Really creates problems for the offense. Shaun is such an instinctive player, he takes advantage of all the things he sees and milks every opportunity for a pass rush. He's a problem for teams. "

(re: Bernard Riley's progression): "He'll make it back. He's on track and doing a great job. He was the hardest working guy last year in the off-season program and I'm hoping he can do it again this year. He's ahead of schedule, as is Bobby Otani. Matt Grootegoed is also on schedule. "

"David Davis, had off-season surgery that has been a factor and has helped him. He's kicking the ball well and elevating well. Late in the season last year, he wasn't kicking well, but is now. He's shown the consistency that led to him being the top kicker in the league last year. Range will always be a question. We're not going to kick a lot of long field goals, but he's good from 40, 45 yards. Tom Malone, in school as an early arrival, has really given us a boost. He's got a tremendous leg. Kennedy Pola has been very hard on him to get him in the style we do things and getting his timing down, but he's got a tremendous leg. The ball jumps off his foot. Without question, we've found a punter that can be a weapon and a factor.

"With returners, we've got Kevin Arbet back with experience in the punt game. Candela is battling at that spot and Kareem Kelly can play back there. We're looking forward to seeing what Frankie can do. It could give Kevin to get a rest. At kickoff return, we have all kinds of guys who can get back there. I'm anxious to see what Darnell Bing looks like back there. Frankie will get a shot. So will Hale. Justin Wyatt will have a chance as well as Fargas and I wouldn't rule out Sultan. Hershel Dennis could also be a factor.

"We made great progress in special teams last year and we plan on continuing that. We need to do a better job on the kickoff coverage than we did. And our kickoff returns were a question. Part of the special teams is the depth you gain.

"The schedule is extremely challenging. We'll play the big BCS schedule and then the Pac-10. By the time we play the first three games, we'll be ready for Pac-10 play. You've got to survive it physically, and be ready for the conference. Starting on Monday Night is a great opener and a great showcase opportunity. Auburn will have our full attention."

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