The Not So Obvious – While fans will certainly be observing the progress of such intriguing Trojan position battles such as quarterback and linebacker, the feeling here is the Cardinal and Gold offensive philosophy may also be a hidden area of intrigue. Will the Trojans revert back and hone their "vertical game" that was so potent against the likes of Hawaii and Arkansas or will the Trojan offense continue their controlled passing game to set up the run? Spring practice may provide a clue to the direction of the Trojan offensive philosophy.
The Obvious – Trojan coach Pete Carroll, who will assume more command of the Trojan offense this year by his own admission, likes to say that his boys were only two yards from a third consecutive national title.
The Not So Obvious - No less an authority than brilliant Texas safety Michael Huff recently said in interviews he was shocked and surprised that Trojan Heisman winning tailback Reggie Bush was not on the field for the Trojans' fateful fourth-and-two. With the Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White departure, this spring may provide a major clue to what really is the Trojans' new or old offensive philosophy. Although playing-calling is a real art form and can never be really measured until the fall, there is no question that the Trojan offensive philosophy now falls squarely on the shoulders of its head coach.
The Obvious –The famed Olympic Auditorium and the Staples Center may have been the stage for some memorable boxing bouts over the years, but the opening of spring practice on Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Fields will provide a number of main events beginning with quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez and sideshow undercards matching linebackers Oscar Lua and Rey Maualuga, and defensive ends Kyle Moore and Jeff Schweiger, just to name a few.
The Not So Obvious – While all the above headliners will certainly gain the spotlight, there are other mysteries to be solved like the Trojans' secondary and the vacated defensive tackle slot of LaJuan Ramsey. Perhaps the most captivating aspect, the measured impact of newcomers like finally-here defensive tackle Walker Lee Ashley, JC transfer tight end Gerald Washington, and early admit freshman safety, Antwine Perez.
The Obvious - A major story worth following will be the return of Nick Holt as defensive coordinator and defensive tackles coach.
The Not So Obvious – There is not a walking Trojan soul that doesn't agree the return of Holt is a major boost both on the field and in the recruiting arena. It should take as long as it takes to blow the whistle this week for Holt to begin reshaping the Trojans front four attitude. There are some that wish to place responsibility for the Trojans weak pass rush in the Rose Bowl at the feet of the departed Jethro Franklin. Fair or unfair, for the Trojans to return to their "normal" defensive prowess, it will take a return of the front four pressure to place the Trojans in championship contention.
The Obvious - One of the more important searches this spring will be which Trojans ascend to leadership and captain roles.
The Not So Obvious – Fiery leaders Frostee Rucker and Fred Matua are gone and it's anybody's guess who steps up on each side of the ball. While the 2006 schedule poster includes the likes of All-America receiver Dwayne Jarrett, tackle Sam Baker, center Ryan Kalil, and defensive end Lawrence Jackson, none, with the exception of Kalil, have yet demonstrated the vocals to take command. That, of course, is not to say they won't, but we felt that last season's leadership loss of Lofa Tatupu hurt, especially in the Rose Bowl against Texas.
The Obvious – No doubt about it, all eyes during spring ball will be on the quarterback battle to replace the awesome shadow of three-time All-America Matt Leinart, considered by most, the finest quarterback in Trojan history.
The Not So Obvious – The pressure of competition may begin with junior John David Booty (6-3, 195) and freshman redshirt Mark Sanchez (6-4, 215) this week, but chances are the real pressure may come for head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback coach Steve Sarkisian at the end of spring ball. In a perfect coaching world, Booty would at least play even with the ambitious Sanchez, therefore using the baseball rule of a tie goes to the runner, or in this case to the upperclassmen Booty. However, we are led to believe through are our own observations last season that Booty will be in a real competition war with Sanchez, and this could create a rather exciting but uncomfortable changing of the Matt Leinart guard. In the opinion of the O/NSO, Booty still must prove that he can stay injury free, interception free, and provide the necessary leadership skills. John David, who is reserved by nature, has the ultimate endorsement coming into spring with Pete Carroll saying that Booty is "in the lead position." Sanchez, who can be awesome at times, has the leadership and natural charisma skills that have all the earmarks of even surpassing those of Heisman winners Leinart, Bush, and Palmer. Booty has indeed earned the right prior to enter spring ball as the man, and it will be a "cleaner" situation if he can maintain it through next month. May the best man win.
The Obvious – If quarterback doesn't gather all the attention, the least definitive spring outcome figures to be at tailback, which should allow Trojan fans to rekindle their love for senior Hershel Dennis.
The Not So Obvious – Perhaps it is sweet justice that Dennis (5-11, 200) will mainly have the position all to himself after going through a career of misfortune and misguidance. Hershel should be able to show what he has left in the tank and most Trojans will be rooting for the former LB Poly star to come back from the scrap heap. However, this is a position that won't have the marquee names ready for spring competition due to injury and depth, a dilemma for running back coach Todd McNair. In the opinion of the O/NSO, it's not the heralded incoming freshmen in August that figure to battle Dennis the strongest but the hopeful return of junior Chauncey Washington (6-1, 205), who was dynamite last spring and could be right there to take some handoffs in Fayetteville on Sept. 2. Washington has the ability to be the surprise performer of the 2006 season, both locally and nationally. As for the spring, there is a rumor that wide receiver Whitney Lewis may be in line to take some snaps due to the spring injury layoffs of juniors Desmond Reed (5-9, 180, knee) and walk-on John Griffin (6-0, 195, back) and sophomore Michael Coleman (6-1, 235, hip).Wanna grab a running back uniform all you Trojan Adult Fantasy Camp applicants?
The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking for solid replacements for the underrated David Kirtman at fullback.
The Not So Obvious – Well, certainly the "obvious" candidate is senior Brandon Hancock (6-1, 230), who finally gets his chance to be the main bulldozer. Hancock, who must prove he can stay healthy for a spring and regular season, has verified running and catching ability. A consistent receiving threat, which was a Kirtman specialty, is paramount to the Trojans attack out of the fullback slot, and there is good stock in this group. The real O/NSO interest in the fullback position lies in the conversion of senior Ryan Powdrell (6-0, 250) from linebacker and the emergence of junior Jody Adawale (6-0, 230). We love the Powdrell to fullback move and the spring conversion should be relatively smooth. At Mission Viejo High, Powdrell was a stud's stud. Don't be shocked if Roosevelt Jody is also one of the surprises this spring.
The Obvious – The most "overlooked" position this spring figures to be wide receiver, which returns all the billboard players in All-American Dwayne Jarrett, All-American candidate Steve Smith, and the emerging Patrick Turner.
The Not So Obvious – Receivers coach Lane Kiffin may be the most relaxed coach on the staff this spring with the return of junior Jarrett (6-5, 210), senior Smith (6-0, 195), and sophomore Turner (6-5, 220), perhaps the premier group in America. In some aspects, this group may be "overlooked" by the mere fact that they are so established, but Kiffin figures to keep the intensity going. However, no matter how you slice it, the unknown for this unit, in the mindless O/NSO opinion, this spring could be the final opportunity for junior Whitney Lewis (6-1, 225), the one-time legendary prep receiver out of St. Bonaventure. If he doesn't take some tailback snaps this spring, it's put up or shut up time at receiver. With a galaxy of freshmen receivers led by Vidal Hazelton on the horizon, this figures to be the last spring that Lewis will be able to have a window of opportunity to live up to his prep hype. It didn't receive much fanfare, but the return of unheralded but greatly appreciated senior Chris McFoy (6-1, 200) should be a real bonus.
The Obvious – The Trojans must replace talented tight end Dominique Byrd.
The Not So Obvious – This is a position of specific attention for coach Brennan Carroll if not for the reason that it appeared to be the lack of emphasis compared to previous seasons and provided reduced scoring production. After all, departed Dominique Byrd, who figures to go high in the NFL draft, didn't have one scoring reception in 13 games. However, his probable replacement, junior Fred Davis (6-4, 245), did have two scoring catches. Davis, who made a key block on Matt Leinart's now legendary quarterback score at Notre Dame, now appears ready to show he is a primetime player. Spring provides the Trojans a chance to look at JC transfer Gerald Washington (6-6, 255), the former Naval ensign. Whether Washington stays at tight end remains to be seen, but it figures this mature and disciplined athlete, who passes the eyeball test, may become a central figure at some point. Reserves like senior Nick Vanderboom (6-4, 245), junior Dale Thompson (6-4, 255), and sophomore Jimmy Miller (6-5, 250) now will fight it out with Washington to get playing time behind Davis, who has apparently matured greatly after his rocky freshman year.
The Obvious – The Trojans' offensive line must replace the likes of guards Deuce Lutui and Fred Matua and tackle Winston Justice but do return national headliners like All-America tackle Sam Baker and All-Pac-10 center Ryan Kalil.
The Not So Obvious – While junior Baker (6-5, 305) and senior Kalil (6-3, 285), an All-American candidate, are coach Pat Ruel's linchpins, the real buzz in the spring is the return of sophomore Jeff Byers (6-3, 300) to left guard and the elevation of sophomore Chilo Rachal (6-5, 300) to right guard. Both could start for any team in America, and Byers appears recovered from his devastating hip injury. The left guard spot, which Byers is the odds-on favorite to claim, has become the focus of the Trojan running attack thanks to predecessors John Drake and the aforementioned All-American Lutui. Chilo has NFL written all over him and then some. The O/NSO likes the opportunity presented to senior tackle Kyle Williams (6-6, 295). This veteran has earned his stripes and this is your NFL shot, big boy. There are those that swear that redshirt freshman tackle Nick Howell (6-6, 265) will be a spring surprise. Keen eyes will also focus on redshirt freshmen Charles Brown (6-6, 250) and Thomas Herring (6-6, 335), although Brown, like Howell, still is undersized, and Herring's physical recovery and passion still needs to be validated. Brown has made the recruiting gurus look good so far in the tight end-to-tackle prediction.
The Obvious – The Trojans return two starters on the defensive line in junior All-Pac-10 defensive end Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 265), an All-America candidate, and junior nose tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 285).
The Not So Obvious – Solid and sometimes spectacular performances by Jackson figure to dominate the spring and the improvement by Ellis (6-1, 285) in recent workouts gives the Trojans a good foundation. However, a key will be the return of coach Nick Holt, the closest we've seen to replacing the likes of Ed Orgeron, and now accompanied by new full-time assistant David Watson, returning from an offensive line grad assistant to his natural defensive position of expertise. One of Holt's first tasks will be to replace departed defensive end Frostee Rucker and if somebody can help return junior Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 260) to his Orgeron days, it figures to be the charismatic and emotional Holt. Schweiger figures to have more than just stiff competition from talented sophomore Kyle Moore (6-7, 265). It won't shock us, however, if Moore is moved to the inside to replace tackle LaJuan Ramsey. If "Georgia" Moore continues to gain weight, this looks to be a Shaun Cody end-to-tackle natural. Sophomore Fili Moala (6-4, 300) figures to have the inside track for the DT spot, but could get pushed by senior Travis Tofi (6-4, 255) and oft-injured junior Chris Barrett (6-5, 265), a converted end. The reappearance of freshman Walker Lee Ashley (6-5, 295) adds some sugar to the competition; although Ashley is probably still catching up with Coach Carlisle's maniacal workout and weight room regiment. The O/NSO is intrigued with the prospect of redshirt freshman Averell Spicer (6-2, 265), who, too, may be given a shot at Ramsey's old tackle spot. A natural nose guard with Ellis, should Spicer win the DT job, it could give the Trojans their shortest pair of inside starting tackles in memory.
The Obvious – The Trojans return their three starting Rose Bowl linebackers in senior Oscar Lua (6-1, 240), junior Keith Rivers (6-2, 220), and sophomore Brian Cushing (6-4, 235).
The Not So Obvious – The competition for middle linebacker between incumbent Oscar Lua and multi-talented sophomore Rey Maualuga (6-3, 250) figures to be a monster for coach Ken Norton. It also figures that the hard-hitting Lua, who has drawn interest from the NFL, will improve even more with another season away from his ACL recovery, and it also figures that the even harder-hitting Maualuga should close the gap with demonstrations in the spring that he can quarterback the defense. Unfortunately, the battle at strongside linebacker between Cushing and senior Dallas Sartz (6-5, 240) won't happen since both are recovering from shoulder injuries. So, this does open some competition for the return of the valuable junior Thomas "Hitman" Williams (6-3, 230). Just knowing the emotional "Hitman" is ready for spring should make it entertaining. Many eyes will be focused on Rivers, who suddenly is a junior. There is some school of thought that the former Florida All-American has not yet quite lived up to his prep hype but credit the injury bug in 2005 for part of the retardation. When healthy, Norton's unit has more talent than a Las Vegas chorus line at the MGM Grand. We look forward to the real debut of redshirt freshman Luthur Brown (6-3, 235), the former Lakewood star, who spent last fall recovering from a back injury. Whether Brown, whose spring could still be limited due to continued rehab, remains at linebacker is also a great Pete Carroll mystery.
The Obvious – The Trojans secondary lost three-fourths of its starting unit, with the lone returnee being junior corner Josh Pinkard (6-1, 200).
The Not So Obvious – It would have been an interesting battle for secondary spot under normal circumstances, but with converted linebacker coach Rocky Seto now in charge, the intensity should also pick up. While secondary inexperience seems to be the order of the day, the truth is there is a lot of talent, although some of the vital parts will miss valuable spring reps due to rehabilitation. For potential starters like junior corner Terrell Thomas (6-1, 190, knee) and sophomore safeties Kevin Ellison (6-1, 200, knee) and Will Harris (6-2, 200, knee), it's doctor's orders to stay clear of the fray. However, the return of experienced senior twin safeties Brandon and Ryan Ting (5-10, 180) gives the Trojans a solid base. The clear spring headliners in the3 secondary may be sophomore corner Kevin Thomas (6-1, 190), who acquitted himself well in the Rose Bowl, and mid-year freshman safety Antwine Perez (6-2, 205) from Camden, New Jersey. Nobody questions Perez's hitting ability, the kids a headhunter, but how fast can he adjust to a powerful college offense, especially a Pac-10 passing game? Perez will be closely watched. Another player of interest is sophomore corner Mozique McCurtis (6-1, 225), who is a gifted athlete recruited by Carroll but was sidelined last season with a "sports hernia."
The Obvious – The Trojan special teams feature the return of junior placekicker Mario Danelo (5-10, 185), sophomore kickoff specialist Troy Van Blarcom (6-2, 210), and junior snapper Will Collins (6-2, 220).
The Not So Obvious – The real underlying aspect of special teams will be the effect of new coach Al Everest, the 2002 NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year. Needless to say, parts of the Trojans' special teams were anything but special. Everest will be immediately challenged with figuring out a replacement for the departed Tom Malone, perhaps the finest punter in Trojan history. Everest will monitor a battle between sophomore walk-on Taylor Odegard (5-9, 170) and Troy Van Blarcom. Speaking of Van Blarcom, the kid must now learn to kickoff with a tee that is an inch shorter if NCAA legislation is passed. Ya know, nobody really cares who holds for field goals and extra points…until there's a disaster. The Trojan will have a new holder in 2006 and it will likely come from candidates including junior quarterbacks Mike McDonald and Tom Harwood and junior wide receiver Brad Walker, who was last scene scrambling madly after Reggie Bush's infamous lateral-turned-fumble in the Rose Bowl. The disgusting knee injury to junior Desmond Reed (5-9, 180) courtesy of Notre Dame Stadium's uncut grass not only leaves a big void for kickoff and potential punt returns but also puts in question the balance of Reed's football career. Hershel Dennis could be a candidate, but the Trojans lack of depth at tailback probably preempts this idea. Oh, for the record, the likeable Sam Anno returns as a special teams and defensive grad assistant.
The Obvious – The Huddle, the Trojans annual spring game at the Coliseum that introduces the general public to next year's squad, will be played on Sunday, April 9, at 1 p.m.
The Not So Obvious – Pete Carroll says that this spring has the same feel of when Carson Palmer, Justin Fargas, and Troy Polamalu departed. Whether there is a Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White waiting in the wings remains to be seen. But that's what spring ball is all about, finding out what you think you've got and seeing if it can measure up to the past. Winners of 45 of their last 47 games, Trojan fans hope the past is prologue.