It was an extremely productive spring ball practice session for the Trojans as we saw progress in key areas such as the offensive line and cornerback spot and we were also able to keep the injuries to a minimum. Pete Carroll and staff were intent on improving the status of the running game and the offensive line seemed to show more fire under the direction of new coach Tim Davis but they also benefitted from the triple threat at running back of Justin Fargas, Sultan McCullough and Darryl Poston. The defense lost 3 starters in the secondary so replacing them at corner was a must and Darrell Rideaux was perhaps the most improved player in the spring while Kevin Arbet was solid and Marcell Allmond showed the he has all the skills to be in the mix come fall. There were a few players dinged up during drills such as Jacob Rogers, Fargas, Nate Steinbacher and Norm Katnik with Katnik appearing to be the most serious as he required surgery last week to repair ligament damage in his right thumb but he is expected to be fine for fall camp.
Carson Palmer enters his final season at USC and he has never looked better. Carson made good decisions, moved well inside the pocket and his touch on deep passes was much improved. Two of the top 3 selections in this past NFL draft (Carr, Harrington) were QB's whose games came together in their 5th year of college and based on what we saw in spring there is plenty of reason to think that Carson could enjoy a similar type of dominant year. Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart engaged in a battle for the #2 spot and it is too close to call at this point with both players having different strong points. This key role will not be decided until fall camp and Chow has said that the top reserve will see more playing time this season. Billy Hart had his moments but right now is 4th on the depth chart.
What a difference a year makes. We all love Sunny Byrd and the effort he gave last season but it was quite a change to look up at times this spring and see a tailback line with Justin Fargas, Sultan McCullough, Darryl Poston and Malaefou MacKenzie. With back to back impressive performances in the final scrimmages of the spring Fargas showed speed and moves with an ability to quickly get into the secondary unlike any RB we have seen in years. Sultan should benefit from the return of Kennedy Pola to RB coach while Poston has added weight and has serious cutting ability. Malaefou was held out of the majority of drills as he recovers from missing last season due to injury and the death of his father but on the few days he did participate he wasted no time in delivering some good blocks, catches and runs. Chad Pierson is the starter at fullback but he is also a threat to do damage as a runner. Byrd is the likely top reserve with freshman Brandon Hancock showing that he is definitely a player to be reckoned with in the future as he is worthy of the "Hulk" nickname.
We have a new go-to receiver and his name is Keary Colbert. After two seasons of trying to convince ourselves that Kareem Kelly can be that type of player it is now clear that Colbert has stepped into that leadership role as he was catching balls over the middle, down the sidelines and was also making some good blocks. That isn't to say that Kareem won't be a major part of the passing game, however, because he still has the blazing speed and graceful ability to be among the elite receivers in the nation. The coaches are well aware that a healthy Kareem can be a major weapon if used properly but a hamstring injury slowed him during spring and it will be up to him to see what kind of performance we see in the fall. We have good depth at this spot with players such as Devin Pitts, Grant Mattos, jc transfer Jason Mitchell and William Buchanan as well as Frank Candela and Sandy Fletcher.
Alex Holmes has emerged as the man this year and his potential is through the roof. He has dropped considerable weight and is playing at 260 lbs with some of the softest hands on the team to go along with his devastating open field blocking ability. Doyal Butler is the best blocker of the group but one of the biggest surprises of spring was the showing by Gregg Guenther as he also has very good hands and that is quite an athletic target running around out there at 6'8".
Progress. Is this line ready to be compared with the USC lines of the early 80's? No. Did we see progress as compared to where we were in recent years? Yes. We all know the value of the line and how it relates to what we are trying to do on offense and as long as we continue to see progress through the fall we should be fine. The interior of the line is set with Lenny Vandermade at left guard, Katnik at center and Zach Wilson at right guard although Vandermade had to play at center after Katnik went out with injury. Jacob Rogers missed the majority of spring with injury but he should be settled as the starter at left tackle in the fall. Eric Torres entered the spring as the starter at right tackle but Nate Steinbacher came in ready to go in the best shape of his career and by the end of spring he had the starting nod. Torres is versatile and can play guard or tackle so that helps with depth and Philip Eaves and Travis Watkins showed that they could play if needed but chances are the depth in the fall will be provided primarily by incoming freshmen Winston Justice, Fred Matua and Kyle Williams.
Right now the most talented unit on the team. Shaun Cody is simply a man playing at defensive tackle and Trojan fans need to appreciate him while he is here. Most fans probably assume that Bernard Riley will step back into the other starting tackle spot in the fall when he is healthy and Bernard is coming along well in his rehabilitation but Mike Patterson was one of the more impressive players on the field throughout the spring and he has such an amazing quickness off the ball that he could easily hold on to his job. Kenechi Udeze continues his weight loss as he is now at 270 lbs and he looks great at one end spot with Omar Nazel currently lining up on the other side. Nazel has bulked up considerably but will face a major challenge in the fall from Van Brown. Austin Jackson looked good at times and will play a key reserve role at end with A.J. Single showing a new aggressiveness as he switches back over to defense.
This group was slowed a little in spring ball for a lack of depth due to injury and academic factors but by the time fall arrives we should have a solid two deep to put on the field. Melvin Simmons was a pleasant surprise as "Champ" moved into the WLB position and was all over the field with an impressive nose for the ball. He will fight Matt Grootegoed, who missed spring with a broken leg, for the starting job with Bobby Otani also in the mix. Mike Pollard is a plug at MLB who gives everything he has when he is on the field but he also has a body that is prone to injury so Lee Webb is a good guy to have as the top reserve with his instincts. Chris Prosser should be the starter at SLB but he missed part of spring after dropping a class so Aaron Graham stepped in and performed better than he did at any point last season when he struggled in the middle.
The strong safety is Troy Polamalu and that statement alone is enough to let anyone know that our secondary is in good hands. Jason Leach is the reserve but don't expect to see him on the field much as long as Mr. Polamalu is healthy. DeShaun Hill is a very smart football player at the free safety spot and he played well the last week of spring although John Walker had a habit of making plays before he also had to miss time due to a dropped class. The open jobs at corner were a primary concern for the coaches and Darrell Rideaux stepped up with aggressive coverage that more often than not found him in the right position to make a play. At this point Kevin Arbet is scheduled to be the other starter and he is solid but keep an eye on Marcell Allmond to make an impact. Allmond has the size and athleticism to match up with the bigger receivers in the conference and he made progress in his cover skills this spring thanks to a lot of coaching from Greg Burns. If Ronald Nunn or Justin Wyatt can step right in to provide a two deep at both spots we should be fine.
David Davis returned from surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot and had a solid camp but the story on special teams was the unbelievable leg of freshman Tom Malone. Our new punter put on a show every day at the start of practice with his booming kicks and it was hard to tell if the hang time or the distance was more impressive. There doesn't appear to be any set return men at this point although Frank Candela, Kevin Arbet and Kareem Kelly could all be in the mix.
Spring Ball Review
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