O/NSO Spring Fling Review

The sounds of violent collisions on Howard Jones Field, the grunts and groans of linemen drills on Brian Kennedy Field, and the daily film evaluations have been placed into pigskin hibernation with the conclusion of spring ball, but as Pete Carroll allows his USC Trojans a brief respite till August, the staff begins their annual cross-country star search for the recruiting class of 2007.

The Obvious – The sounds of violent collisions on Howard Jones Field, the grunts and groans of linemen drills on Brian Kennedy Field, and the daily film evaluations have been placed into pigskin hibernation with the conclusion of spring ball, but as Pete Carroll allows his USC Trojans a brief respite till August, the staff begins their annual cross-country star search for the recruiting class of 2007. What remains is the meaning of the just completed Cardinal and Gold spring practice sessions and tantalizing discussions on the final "two-deep" depth chart, a labor of love for most Trojan football aficionados.

The Not So Obvious – The WeAreSC staff, including your humble columnist, spent long but immensely enjoyable hours observing the spring proceedings. The O/NSO, of course, was able to watch a combination plate of practices, a closed Coliseum scrimmage, and that open Coliseum recital, known affectionately as The Huddle. In the end, the basic conclusion here was that much was learned on an individual player basis, but the 2006 Trojans remain perhaps as much a mystery as Pete Carroll's first season. The difference, good reader, is that the talent on the 2006 Trojans is All-Universe compared to that first year, when the talent and depth was, well, somewhat underwhelming. With the conclusion of spring ball on Tuesday, it's now time for the O/NSO to do the imperative dissection, scrutiny, and just plain sleuth work sorting out "just the facts, Tommy Trojan."

The Obvious – The Trojans were at their best last season when the offensive philosophy of the "vertical game" was banished into Exposition Park's Museum of Science and Industry and returned to the shorter, controlled passing game.

The Not So Obvious – If this spring was any indication, the offensive philosophy will be an extension of 2005 when the Trojans combined that measured passing game with a vaunted rushing attack to shatter offensive records by the truck load. Not that the Trojans didn't go deep during the spring, but the impression was that those original long hours of developing the Trojan offense from the early mind-melt of Pete Carroll and Norm Chow still is the linchpin. However, there are continued new wrinkles by offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and associate head coach Steve Sarkisian, as well there should be. It would be foolhardy not to let these two promising offensive minds do some creative implementation. However, make no mistake about, despite the high-octane offensive numbers of 2005 and the reality that two yards might have been the difference for a third consecutive national title, valuable game experience was gained by then rookie coordinator(s) Kiffin and Sarkisian. It figures in their second season in controls of the Trojans' offensive horse, this added experience of last year's perfect regular season and tough Rose Bowl loss could spell trouble for future Trojan opponents.

The Obvious – New defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Nick Holt concluded his first spring practice with the Trojans after returning to Troy after a personal triple play of coaching options.

The Not So Obvious – There certainly was a high comfort level with Holt back on campus. It may sound a bit syrupy, but there really was an extra bounce in the step in the defensive Trojans, especially with Holt's constant prodding of his linemen to "step it up" and "don't let me down." In the world of Nick Holt, there is no walking from drill to drill and there is no time for taking a play off. A number of Trojan defenders were reacquainted to this type of intensity and expectations that once was provided by former Trojan coach, Ed Orgeron, now headman at Mississippi. Watching Holt move around the field with his charges is like watching a stalking lion looking for prey. On one occasion, the O/NSO watched one linemen flash that "fear" look as Holt chastised the player's lack of 110% effort. It was, to say the least, what Pete Carroll intensity has been all about and quite frankly, a welcomed sight. The real philosophical defensive news is with a loaded arsenal of superstar linebackers, Trojan fans saw a morphed form of a 3-4 defensive alignment. Yes, it wasn't an O/NSO figment of imagination open to debate but a blossoming part of the Pete Carroll defensive package.

The Obvious – The depth chart says junior John David Booty has retained the starting quarterback position, despite being out the majority of spring recovering from back surgery.

The Not So Obvious – Perhaps the least shocked of the Booty announcement was his competition, redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Sanchez. It has been Pete Carroll's philosophy that a starting player doesn't lose his spot in spring due to injury. As for Sanchez, the kid couldn't do anymore in spring than he did. Yes, at times Mark looked great and, yes, there were times when his inexperience and decision-making was truly that of a pressing rookie. However, perhaps the greatest spring pressure placed upon Sanchez was by the kid's own expectations. Sanchez saw the rare opportunity to showcase is skills and he gave it the old college try.

The Obvious – Should John David Booty have been given the starting position without having to "compete?"

The Not So Obvious - The answer is "yes" and this is no slight at the talented Sanchez. Booty will still have to prove in August that he is ready, but judging by his effortless movement on Tuesday, J.D. figures to be good to go. Aside from the "John David has paid his dues" factor, the Louisiana native has limited game experience, something that Sanchez has no answer for. No player benefited more in this spring quarterback situation than junior Mike McDonald. He continued to impress with his ability to move the club and stay away from turnovers. As we all know, strange things happen in a football season and in a pinch, Mike can handle the offensive steering wheel; he is definitely serviceable.

The Obvious – The depth chart says senior Ryan Powdrell was named the starting tailback for the 2006 season.

The Not So Obvious – What a difference an NFL draft can make. The Trojans went from "Tailback U." to "Tailback Who?" It does figure that Powdrell will play some fullback, but the O/NSO won't be surprised at all if Ryan sees more running back duty than some have predicted. What other big back do the Trojans have who has shown anything? Call Powdrell a spring practice extended warranty.

The Obvious – Despite not carrying the ball once this spring or last fall for that matter, junior Chauncey Washington is listed behind Ryan Powdrell in the two-deep depth chart.

The Not So Obvious - While Powdrell was almost literally the last running back standing and performed admirably, the O/NSO believes it's not who performed well in spring, but whether Chauncey Washington finally is finally eligible in August. If Powdrell returns to fullback fulltime as many expect, we are looking at Washington assuming the tailback poll position. How ironic that the possibility exists that two-thirds of the Trojans starting backfield in Fayetteville, Booty and Washington, will have had scant to no spring practice and even less game experience. In case you may have forgotten, yes, my friends, Washington is that good and don't forget his body has not taken any big hits recently, unless you remember the spring of 2005 when he and former starting safety Scott Ware had a "meeting of the minds" collision. With Hershel Dennis and Desmond Reed out for the season (we don't expect the competitive Reed to see action anytime soon) and the physical condition and endurance of sophomore Michael Coleman still a question in our mind, the pickins are currently talented but slim.

The Obvious - Senior Brandon Hancock is listed as first-team fullback (no shock there) and he, too, had a fine spring as a surrogate tailback.

The Not So Obvious – Hancock opened some eyes with his powerful runs between the tackles and raised some eyebrows with some wiggle, as well. Although both Hancock and Powdrell performed well, talk still seemed to center around the incoming freshmen, namely Stafon Johnson, who was seen as late as last Tuesday sizing up the competition. While all the incoming freshmen backs have glittering press clippings, none, we repeat, none, have any experience in the Trojan system or have proven they can take a hit from the likes of linebackers like Oscar Lua or Rey Maualuga. Don't trust the two-deep chart to give you any indication of the pecking order for the young Troybabes, they are listed in alphabetical order (Ashley, Gable, Johnson, and Moody).

The Obvious – The depth charts says that junior All-American Dwayne Jarrett will start at split end and senior Steve Smith will start at flanker.

The Not So Obvious – No shock there, so put away the smelling salts. The real spring intrigue was watching sophomore Patrick Turner and senior Chris McFoy show their value. On the face of it, the depth chart was a surprise with Turner being listed behind Steve Smith at flanker and McFoy behind Jarrett split end. It would seem that Turner would be backing up Jarrett, just from a size similarity (both 6-5). However, more than a number of spring formations saw Jarrett, Turner, and Smith in the game, so this can be a game of position semantics? It's all about getting the best players on the field at the same time and this is certainly one of the options.

The Obvious - The award for improved receivers has to go to junior walk-on Brad Walker, listed a third-team split end, and senior Ryan Ting, converted from the secondary, who is listed as third-team flanker.

The Not So Obvious - More and more the coaches showed confidence in Walker as a possession receiver who rarely makes a mental mistake and rarely drops the ball. The upperclassman also exhibited the ability to cut up field in a hurry, a surprise to many. Another refreshing emergence came from Ryan Ting, who is listed behind Smith and Turner at flanker. So when will Trojan fans stand up and applaud Ting, Ryan or safety Brandon, for their contributions during the career? Okay, we'll do it. You Tings can play for the O/NSO anytime. Sorry for the political grandstanding, but these guys are what good teams are all about.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that junior Fred Davis will be the starting tight end.

The Not So Obvious – Three cheers for Davis who is really looking like a legit force in 2006. Blocking and catching, Fast Freddie has really come into his own. A comparison to Shannon Sharpe, the former NFL star tight end, wouldn't be too out of line. Who knows how good this kid can become based on his continued maturity. The Toledo, Ohio native appears to be raising the curtain on the predicted greatness of the former Rogers High star. As for backups, the depth chart informs us that junior Dale Thompson is behind Davis. Thompson had a solid March/April as did Thompson's backup, sophomore Jimmy Miller. However, the O/NSO saw a mixed message from transfer tight end Gerald Washington, the stud junior from Chaffey Community College. While Washington was mighty impressive early in spring, we were disappointed that he suffered a "hammie" and were even more concerned when the "academic" yellow flag went up and his spring was cut short much too early. Washington now resides as the fourth tight end in the pecking order, and we think the former Navy serviceman now has an anchor to raise.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that the starting offensive line will consist of tackles Sam Baker and Kyle Williams, guards Chilo Rachal and/or Jeff Byers or Matt Spanos, and center Ryan Kalil.

The Not So Obvious – Based on O/NSO observations, there is no reason not to believe that this year's line in time can approach last year's productivity. More importantly, offensive line coach Pat Ruel believes it, too. Junior Baker and senior Kalil are both All-American material, sophomore right guard Rachal will eventually make people forget the departed Fred Matua (shhh, don't tell Freddie for fear of his wrath, but folks, Rachal is going to be that good, a monster), and the O/NSO believes you will see sophomore Byers starting at left guard. The Trojans are hoping that Byers, once considered the nation's premier offensive lineman coming out of Colorado's Fort Collins Loveland, will be able to shake a series of injuries. Jeff, despite missing some time with a back injury, looked mean, nasty, and efficient. You could tell he was so happy to be back on the field. Drill after drill Byers played it to the whistle with a pancake block here and a pancake takedown there all the better. As for Byers' competition, junior Matt Spanos may have shot himself in the foot with his academics. Spanos was really beginning to slotted for a couple of positions along Ruel's offensive line and Big Matt, one of the strongest Trojans, looked like he was close to giving starting senior right tackle Kyle Williams all he could handle.

The Obvious – As happens in all spring practices, one player emerges from the bowels of the depth chart and takes advantage of opportunity. It would appear the big winner of the Spanos setback is junior guard Alatini Malu, the almost forgotten reserve.

The Not So Obvious - Malu got some reps at left guard and appeared to catch Ruel's attention. There is nothing like renewed hope of playing to get a player's juices flowing. Perhaps the two biggest offensive line keys to next season may be two players that saw limited action due to injury. When healthy, Drew Radovich could return as a serious factor in battling for the left guard position and, hey, did you notice that sophomore Travis Draper is listed as Ryan Kalil's backup at center? So far, the career of Radovich has been one big injury and Draper has been a player's split-position personality – offense to defense to offense. Stop, you're making me dizzy! Keep this one under your hat, but you know all those fears about the Trojans lack of offensive line recruits from last season? Redshirt freshmen tackles Nick Howell and Charles Brown performed very well and if redshirt freshman tackle Thomas Herring can step up his game…..shhhhh,we say no more. Turn off the lights and hide the "Top Secret – Tackles" file.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that the defensive front four will consist of ends Lawrence Jackson and/or Kyle Moore/Jeff Schweiger, nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, and tackle Chris Barrett.

The Not So Obvious – No starting shock to anybody in terms of junior All-American candidate Jackson and junior All-Pac-10 candidate Ellis. Competition between Moore and Schweiger could have been even more intense if Schweiger could have avoided the injury bug. Coach Nick Holt seemed to really focus in on the potential of Schwieger and trying to get the speedy junior back on track. However, we believe that Moore is right there to claim the starting spot and it would be less than a mild surprise if the Georgia native got the starting nod in September. Now for those that say the O/NSO likes to tell it as it is, it's our belief that the defensive tackle position is the one glaring area of concern as far as we are concerned. Yes, Chris Barrett is a marvelous physical specimen and the O/NSO and all Trojan fans will be rooting for the former Tustin Tiller, but will his physical potential translate to productivity in the fall. We say, "Prove it!" We were yet to be overwhelmed with this position in spring, but that's not to say Barrett won't cut it. Let's see if the he can provide the type of pass rush that goes up the field and make a quarterback get the nervous twitches. Fili Moala, another academic offender who didn't finish spring, also needs to get it in gear. The clock is starting to tick..

The Obvious – Listed behind defensive tackles Chris Barrett and Fili Moala is freshman Walker Lee Ashley.

The Not So Obvious - As for freshman Ashley, once ticketed for eventual transfer to the offensive line, the kid now seems to understand the challenges of playing for a collegiate powerhouse and really started to assert himself with each passing week. No, he is not in top-notch Chris Carlisle shape, but he is improving and once he started to get his backside kicked early in spring, he stood up and began making that proverbial "statement." Ashley's improvement should send a message to the veterans. If the former Minnesota prep star comes into August ready to roll, the competition could get really intense.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that the three starting linebackers for the Trojans are SLB Dallas Sartz, WLB Keith Rivers, and the MLB is either Oscar Lua or Rey Maualuga.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO will not insult your Trojan intelligence about how stacked coach Ken Norton's the linebacker shelf is these days. Again keeping with his injury policy, senior Dallas Sartz gets the nod on the strong side over Rose Bowl starter, sophomore Brian Cushing, who continues to grow into an NFL body. The competitive war between senior Lua and sophomore Maualuga was intense, but we believe that Lua will be the eventual starter in the fall. Let's just say tie goes to the senior, especially one looking at an NFL career. As for Rivers on the weak side, it's time for him to show the people why he was given No. 55, the Trojans' designated defensive stud number. Call it injuries and whatever, but Rivers will be needed and, yes, he will play some defensive end in the Trojans' 3-4 defense (rush linebacker for you youngsters). Have you forgotten the name Kaluka Maiava? To the O/NSO, sophomore Kaluka is an on-charging threat to many mucho minutes in the fall, especially in a 3-4 defense. More and more, Maiava, listed behind Rivers as a weak side backer, is reminding us of former Trojan All-American linebacker Matt Grootegoed.

The Obvious – A large number of Trojan fans were hoping to see good work out of junior linebacker Thomas Williams in the spring.

The Not So Obvious – Williams was held out due to injury and how he will be used in the fall is truly tantalizing. As of now, Williams is on the third shelf both at strong and middle linebacker. The more the Trojans use a 3-4 defense, the more that Williams figures to see playing time. Speaking of playing time, no matter where you seemed to turn, there was the fine work of sophomore walk-on backer Clay Mathews, who showed the public his progress in a fine Huddle performance. If there is a linebacker to keep an eye on in August, it's the subtle return of redshirt freshman Luthur Brown, who got in some mild reps at the end of spring. He seems like the forgotten man, but he may just be the comer during the season at some point. Some have said he would be a great defensive end, but his body looks like an inside linebacker at this point.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that the free safety will be Josh Pinkard, the strong safety will be Kevin Ellison, one corner will be Kevin Thomas and the other corner will be either Cary Harris or Terrell Thomas.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO felt strongly that sophomores Thomas and Harris were threats to start and that Pinkard would move from corner back to free safety. This wasn't exactly Albert Einstein work by the O/NSO because it was clear that Thomas, Harris, and Thomas were advancing each spring day. The battle between corners Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas figures to continue well into fall camp. Moving Pinkard back to free safety might have been a disappointment for Josh, but for the good of the team, this was a no-brainer. With the return of sophomore Ellison, yes, this group has the eventual potential to be the best secondary group of the Pete Carroll era.

The Obvious - So what's become of New Jersey prep All-America and early-entrance freshman safety Antwine Perez?

The Not So Obvious – Although the kid is currently listed as the third-string free safety behind Pinkard and sophomore Will Harris, Perez is on line to live up to those lofty expectations, but the word "experience" is a big factor here when you're playing for a program that now expects to be in the national championship hunt on a yearly basis. Antwine, who impressed the veterans with his smarts and physical style of play, admitted on Tuesday he held back on his renowned headhunting in order not hurt any of his teammates. Speaking of teammates, remember the name Mozique McCurtis, the former defensive back out of Grossmont College? McCurtis made his mark with his speedy and physical play and has been rewarded with a Unit 2 position behind Kevin Thomas. At 6-feet-1 and 225 pounds, McCurtis presents Pete Carroll with one very large and fast corner.

The Obvious – The depth chart for special teams says that Taylor Odegard will be the punter, Mario Danelo or Troy Van Blarcom will do the placekicking, Ryan Ting will return punts, and Cary Harris or Steve Smith or Ryan Ting will return kicks.

The Not So Obvious – Replacing punter Tom Malone will not be an easy task. Sophomore walk-on Odegard, who appears to be shorter than his listed 5-9, gets the first crack, having won the spring battle with Van Blarcom. The Mercer Island product is not Malone, but he flashed some promise as spring wore on, so root the kid on. Junior Danelo will handle field goal and extra point attempts and if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Danelo isn't broken and has already proven his meddle. It figures he will get more opportunities on field goal attempts this season with an inexperienced backfield. San Pedro Mario showed a stronger leg this spring as his range looks increased from last year. Sophomore Van Blarcom still needs to work on his kickoff consistency, but nobody questions his leg. There are moments when you say this kid can reach the end zone every time like former kicker, Ryan Killeen. As for Ryan Ting, he'll attempt to be Reggie Bush next season and he actually looked good, especially in The Huddle. He does hit the seam in a hurry and doesn't hesitate. As far as kickoffs, who knows who will actually be back deep once the freshmen get their opportunity? If there is a fear, it's still on kickoff and punt return coverage and that figures to be a fall issue when everybody returns healthy and the Troybabes make their appearance. However, make no mistake about it, Pete Carroll and staff worked and worked and worked on kickoff and punt coverage.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that the incoming freshmen have already been slotted into their first-day positions.

The Not So Obvious – The first thing that jumped out to the O/NSO was Colorado's Butch Lewis being placed at nose tackle. Lewis, compared to Mike Patterson and Sedrick Ellis, would be the largest nose tackle we have seen in the Pete Carroll era. Lewis (6-5, 280) is Wild Bunch 1 size, and we liked what we saw in the U.S. Army All-Star Game. The next surprise was also on defense with the placing of Fairfield Armijo's Derek Simmons at defensive end behind junior Alex Morrow and Lawrence Jackson, and the placement of Irvine Woodbridge's Alex Parsons at defensive tackle. A number of gurus thought that both Simmons and Parsons would be groomed as inside tackles. Some predicted that it would be Parsons who would be switched to defensive end because of his speed. In checking the depth chart, it appears that Pete Carroll has slotted in his future front four or at least his front three from this group.

The Obvious – The depth chart says that Seattle O'Dea's Taylor Mays has been assigned a free safety slot and Colton's Allen Bradford will begin his Trojan career at strong safety.

The Not So Obvious – In the big picture, both of these prep All-Americans are no sure things to remain at their designated positions once the season gets underway. Mayes could be a tight end or linebacker and Bradford has the tools to be an awesome running back and we don't use the term "awesome" very often. As expected, Sylmar's C.J. Gable is listed as a running back and we'll say this, C.J. is a kid to keep an eyeball on. Some claim Gable could be the next Justin Fargas by the way he runs with determination and we find his style of running very intriguing. Of course with history as our compass, there is no telling who or how many of these freshmen will not meet school standards and evolve into greyshirts or transfers. Have you forgotten tight end Eugene Germany and receiver Derek Jones, both of whom actually practiced in the fall only to matriculate to other pastures?

The Obvious – The Trojans will open fall practice in early August.

The Not So Obvious – Well, the Trojan team may be on hiatus, but rest assured, good readers, WeAreSC will not. We've got plenty of info coming your way and the O/NSO always looks forward to the Rising Seniors Camp and the One-Day Skills and Linemen Camps in June. Throw in the usual breaking stories and there is no rest for the weary and who said covering Trojan football is weary? Not the O/NSO. In the words of that famous U.S. Navel hero, John Paul Jones, "I've just begun to write!" Opps, I guess it was "I've just begun to fight" or was it "I've just begun to fight on?"

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