There are plenty of candidates to choose from but we narrowed down the list to five players who have been the most pleasant surprises of the spring:
RB Jody Adewale – a slight hamstring injury has slowed him in recent days but at the start of camp he was showing good running ability as well as nice hands catching the football. Jody has not done much to this point in his Trojan career as he sat behind of pair of pretty good fullbacks in Hancock and Kirtman (Brandon calls Jody a mini-Kirtman) but now that David has moved on this is Jody's chance to have an impact.
TE Gerald Washington – We knew the guy was a physical specimen coming in but what we weren't prepared to see were some pretty nice hands and a decent burst of speed. This was already a deep and talented tight end group but Gerald has shown so far that he will definitely be able to compete with the others for playing time.
OL Matt Spanos – I think most everyone assumed that Spanos was simply keeping the starting LG spot warm until Jeff Byers got up to speed but so far Matt is showing that he has no intentions of giving up his spot without a fight. The coaches say that Spanos really clicked in this off-season and it shows with his performance on the field so far. Matt is also continuing to work as a reserve at the center spot as well.
DL Chris Barrett – We've all known that Barrett had the physical potential to be an outstanding player but injuries have been a consistent issue thus far in his Trojan career. Now, however, we are seeing a healthy Chris Barrett and the results have been impressive. He's really bulked up to the point where he can handle both the DE and DT spots in the fashion of a guy like Shaun Cody or Kenechi Udeze. At this point Chris is working with the first team at DT.
DB Antwine Perez – It's not everyday that a high school player enrolls early and immediately begins working with the first team at a program like USC but Perez has come in and handled himself well. Antwine has the kind of quiet confidence that makes you think this is not overwhelming for him at all, he's got such good instincts for the game and it's just a matter of getting him to know the defense before he turns into a real force.
Is there a player on the team who has been presented with a bigger opportunity than Mark Sanchez? We all wish for a quick recovery for John David Booty with the hopes that he can get back on the field as soon as possible but his back injury has opened the door for Sanchez to really sink his teeth into the starting quarterback race. Mark is the kind of guy you don't want to give this opening to if you are competing with him for a spot, he is one of those players who feels more and more comfortable with each passing day that he is in charge of this team and you can see it in actions both on and off the field. He knows how to handle himself like a starting quarterback. We've seen his ability so far in practices to make some big throws with his strong arm and these valuable reps with the first team will only accelerate his learning curve of the offense.
One senior who deserves a special note is Brandon Hancock for what he has done so far this spring as basically the workhorse runner from the tailback spot. Brandon was an outstanding running back in high school who put up big numbers but during his career at USC his opportunities to carry the football have been few and far between. Due to injuries and absences of other players he has been the primary option this spring as a runner and he has looked terrific doing it. We've seen power running, we've seen some good speed, we've seen spin moves that have left defenders grasping for air and we've also seen his good hands out of the backfield. He's not going to make anyone forget Reggie Bush, or even LenDale White for that matter, but here's to hoping that his increased touches carries over to the fall.
Ready to Shine
Here are six players ready to break through into bigger roles:
WR Patrick Turner – It was only a matter of time before Turner became an impact player and that time is basically now. He won't put up the huge numbers due to the presence of Jarrett and Smith but he is a star waiting to happen.
TE Fred Davis – It's amazing how much things have changed in a year for Davis as he has gone from question mark to dependable and dangerous weapon. Fred has the potential to be a dominant player this year with physical abilities you rarely find in a tight end.
LB Kaluka Maiava – It's getting harder and harder not to think of Troy Polamalu when you watch Maiava flying around the field. Kaluka is a football player, a guy who is always around the football and who really knows how to tackle. He backs-up a pretty darn good player in Keith Rivers but we will definitely see our share of Maiava as well.
CB's Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris – We will list these two together since they came in together last year and since both are playing so well this spring. They offer a little bit of contrasting styles, Thomas is longer and talks more on the field while Harris has bulked up and is very quiet, but they both are in the thick of the cornerback competition right now.
K/P Troy Van Blarcom – We are seeing a lot of good things from Troy this spring and it's impressive when you think of how well he is doing while trying to learn a new job at punter. The skills of placekicking and punting are very different which is why you don't see too many players doing both yet Troy is not only pushing Mario Danelo for the placekicking job but you can also argue that he is ahead of Taylor Odegard right now for the punting spot.
Solid as a Rock
There are three positions where we feature a pair of veteran leaders who have performed as expected this spring.
Wide Receiver – We know that Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are expected to be the top receiver duo in the nation this year and they have looked every bit the part so far. Jarrett has filled out to the point where his upper body is noticeably bigger but he still has those long arms which help to make him such a dangerous threat. I can't imagine there will be a better receiver in college football this year. Smith has looked as good as we've ever seen from him so far in his career (except for maybe the Orange Bowl game).
Offensive Line – Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil are each heading into their third year as starters and it's almost to the point where you take them for granted. Let's hope that doesn't happen. Let's hope we always realize just how good these two are and how dependable they have been throughout their careers to this point.
Defensive Line – Last season the d-line was an area of concern but this season it should be much improved and much of the reason for that goes to Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis. Jackson has increased his size in the off-season and he's ready to compete for All-American honors based upon what we've seen so far this spring. Ellis is just huge and it's to the point where he will not only be a serviceable player in the middle of the line but I think he is ready to step up to become a dominant one.
M*A*S*HThe Trojans could be one their way to fielding a pretty good team just from the players who are injured and sitting on the sidelines right now. Here are some of the bigger names who have been missing in action:
Luthur Brown – Continues to rehab from a sore back
Thomas Williams – had recent surgery for a sports hernia and is expected to miss all of spring
Averell Spicer – suffered a hip related injury but is expected back sometime during spring
Hershel Dennis – tweaked his hamstring while running on the beach during spring break, is out for at least another week.
John David Booty – the most famous sore back in the country right now.
Drew Radovich – he isn't quite back yet from his hip surgery
Brian Cushing – still recovering from shoulder surgery, could see more action later in spring
Sedrick Ellis recently did a bench press of 515 pounds while Averell Spicer did a 635 squat.
Good to see You
There are several players who are recovering from injuries and weren't expected to play much in spring yet they have been out there on the field a lot so far:
Terrell Thomas – Moving fairly well as he returns from a knee injury
Kevin Ellison – You can tell he is slowed by the knee injury but it's a welcome sight to see #4 on the field.
Dallas Sartz – his shoulder is still sore so he doesn't go through contact drills but he has seen a lot of action at SLB in other drills
Thomas Herring – He's been a mystery so far in his career but he is returning from a knee injury and has been able to take reps at the RT spot in the last few practices.