As this fall camp starts, several ideas come to mind. First, the internet itself, and the amount of information available about USC is more awesome than ever. The guys from Scout.com (and their competitors) do an incredible job providing up to the minute information and updates and with all the information out there, it is not hard to keep up with what is going on. It should also be noted that as this season starts, Pete Carroll is bringing a team to the field that is oh so much more talented than the first team USC fielded under Pete's leadership. In fact, there are those who are privately saying that although this team has many many young players, it is quite possibly the most talented Trojan squad that Carroll has coached. For sure, SC has lost a ton of talent and there are many huge holes to be filled. There are question marks about some vital spots such as quarterback, defensive line, tailback, defensive tackle and defensive back. There are those who seem to feel that the Dline did not develop as it should have last year and we are all waiting eagerly to see how the dline and defense as a whole will perform under the leadership of Nick Holt who returned to USC in the offseason after some rather convincing persuasion by Head Coach Pete Carroll. There are also many questions to be answered on the offensive side of the ball where Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian enter their second season as the so-called Sarkiffian Unit to call the offense and to coach the quarterbacks. Despite the fact that last year's team was the most explosive SC offense in recent years, there are still questions that arise when discussing those two. This year, if there really are some unanswered questions at the outset, we should get plenty of information as the season unfolds. With an entirely new offensive backfield, a productive offense will not be able to brushed off as merely an "expected situation". This time around, if SC's offense is lights out, these two guys will certainly deserve much credit and even their biggest detractors will have a hard time claiming otherwise. Of course, should the Offense sputter, the questions and flames will no doubt start to come, and surely they will get louder as the season progresses.
Each day there are more and more detailed reports coming out of training camp and the interviews and photos available speak for themselves. Interpreting the information and trying to figure out what it all means and figuring out what is about to unfold is still as challenging and as much fun as always. With regards to the running back situation, at this early date, several exciting options come to mind. First and foremost, I think that if the veterans are healthy and if Desmond Reed can actually continue his amazing comeback against all odds, it will be difficult for any of the new guys, namely Stafon Johnson, CJ Gable, (the CJ that the Trojans did actually land) and Emmanuel Moody to get major minutes as true freshmen at the tailback position. Of course, if Chauncey Washington goes down with an injury, or if Michael Coleman does not make it all the way back, or if Ryan Powdrell is restricted to duty as a fullback, that may change quickly and in a big way. And how ironic is it that the guy who is being predicted as the main man, Chauncey Washington, is the sole remaining member of the last great trio of Trojan Tailback recruits to come in at one time. (Chauncey Washington, Reggie Bush and LenDale White--all members of the 2003 recruiting class). From everything that I am told, USC will actually be in very good shape should any of the newbies be called upon. All three are awesome prospects and any of the three could break out if given the opportunity.
With regards to the defense, it is really intriguing to think about what formation the Trojans will use and how often they will use it. For years, we have all be told and many have all come to believe that Pete Carroll is a 4-3 guy and that is that. He has come all this way with that alignment and there is no way he will change. I may be proven wrong, but I think Pete and Nick will once again show how intensely they like to win and both will do whatever it takes to win. USC has significant size, speed and talent on the defensive side of the ball, with perhaps the most talented and deepest unit being the linebackers. After suffering through last season when SC could not field a healthy first unit of linebackers against Texas, the Trojan staff's biggest challenge this season may very well be trying to get enough of their incredibly talented backers on the field at one time. As much as Pete likes to run the 4-3, I believe that he likes to win even more. It might just be that playing four linebackers at one time gives this defensive unit their best chance to be dominating. With guys like Lua at 260 lbs, Rey Rey at 250, Brian Cushing at 240 plus, and Luther Brown at 235 and chomping at the bit to hit somebody from the other team, getting some of these big, fast, dynamic combos onto the field at one time might turn out to be the most effective strategy for USC. The arguments against the 3-4 are numerous and they show up on the message boards on an almost daily basis. One argument that I have read and heard, but disagree with is that SC does not have the right NG available to run the 3-4. I have to say that in my opinion, Sedric Ellis is the perfect type of Nose Guard to play in a 3-4. He has a low center of gravity, he is very fast and quick and he is incredibly strong. I have reason to believe that Sedric is actually amongst the strongest, if not THE STRONGEST man on the team. SC might be without any other proven superstars on the Dline at this point, but having guys like Lawrence Jackson, improving Kyle Moore and a healthy Jeff Schweiger at DE can't be a bad thing. For all the pieces to fall into place, SC will also need some redshirt frosh or true frosh to step up along the dline, no matter what formation that is used. And it goes without saying that a healthy Chris Barrett could do wonders for the effectiveness of the defensive unit in general.
Speaking of the defensive line and of the defense in general, it will be very interesting to see what kind of a difference Nick Holtz makes. Many people liken Nick to Coach Orgeron in terms of intensity and from his days coaching the defensive line at Louisville, Nick has a history of producing competitive and highly effective defensive units. It will also be very intriguing to see how much Pete keeps his hands on the defense now that he has a guy in whom he can place his trust to run that side of the ball. I think everyone who watched the Rose Bowl and is not brain dead could see that Pete was torn between his duties with the defense and his desire to be involved with the offense at crunch time. At this time, the best anyone can do is give one's opinion. Fans and opponents alike will simply have to wait and see how it all works out. From my viewpoint, the biggest reason Pete pulled out all the stops to bring Nick back to SC was straightforward. He trusts Nick to run a defense that Pete can relate to and Nick's return will allow Pete to keep his hands on but to take a step back as well.
Without going into boring detail, I think it is reasonable to say that this year's offensive line has the potential to be awesome, perhaps the best since the 1979 season if not the best of all time. Sam Baker is a legitimate All American candidate and is Oline leader Ryan Kalil. Even though Jeff Byers is not nearly as big and powerful as his immediate predecessor, Deuce Lutui, he is quicker and could end up being even more effective once he is healthy. One of the worst kept secrets about this unit is that most expect Chilo Rachal to be even better than Fred Matua. Kyle Williams has waited a very long time to get his shot at the starting right tackle position, but it sure looks like he will get it this season. Some felt he was even more effective than the guy he replaced at times last season, though I can't honestly say that is the way I saw it. Depth is an issue, but if Radovich is healthy, it will go a long way toward repleneshing the line. We might also get to see if Thomas Herring, Charles Brown, Tini Malu or Nick Howell is ready for prime time this season.
Although it's almost blasphemous to bring up the name of John Wooden in an SC based article, I can't help but think of what he often said about his young teams at UCLA. He would often state that he would rather have young, and inexperienced talented guys, than guys who were older, but who could not play as well. That is just what I think of when I think of the defensive backfield at USC this season. Although only Josh Pinkard might be considered a proven star back there, I can't help but like the db prospects this season more than any other in recent history. I think a group of safeties that includes the likes of Pinkard, Kevin Ellison, Taylor Mays, Antwine Perez and Allen Bradford just has to bring a smile to any coach's or fan's face. It is true that three of those guys are freshmen, but what talents they are. Perez has already shown his stuff in spring practice and summer workouts have provided a glimpse of what we will see from this incredibly talented group. Similarly, at corner, SC can choose from Kevin Thomas, Terrell Thomas, Shareece Wright, Zeke McCurtis, Carey Harris and Vincent Joseph. Once again, there are many youngsters in this group, but these kids are fast and talented. I have to like SC's chances here to field an outstanding and deep defensive backfield. More than at any time in the past, these kids are coming to fall camp having participated in long summer drills and they are ready to go.
This upcoming year might very well dictate a great deal about future quarterbacks at USC. It is hard to say that Matt Leinart was a Steve Sarkesian protege. Any way one cuts it, the name Norm Chow would always come up or Matt's private qb coach would be mentioned. On the other hand, if John David Booty and/or Mark Sanchez develops into the stars we are hoping they become, Steve will surely get the credit he deserves for developing quarterbacks in his own right. So far neither of these kids have proven he can get the job done at the college level in prime time, but I am optimistic that this is the year for at least one, if not both of them. As to how this will really play out, nobody knows. However, with Garrett Green already on board and with verbal commitments from two highly rated current high school seniors to be, the future of the quarterback position at USC will quite possibly be shaped to a major extent this year.
So, how do things seem to be shaping up for the upcoming season now that the kids are ready to put the pads on this coming week? To my way of thinking, despite losing lots talent, there is not one single team on USC's schedule that the Trojans can't match from a talent or coaching venue. Many have written about and mentioned the eerie similarities between the upcoming 2006 season and the season that SC faced in 2003. Both times SC faced or will face a hostile SEC foe in their house, having beaten that same team in Los Angeles the year before. Each time SC was having to break in new qbs and new or inexperienced runners. Each time SC had some young, but talented players. As an SC fan, one can only hope for similar results. Ironically, it is the first couple of games that could prove to be the biggest stumbling block, though no game is ever a given. My main concern with the first couple of games deals with a situation that has not yet been settled. Specifically, USC's strongest unit, their amazing wide receivers could be thinned out if, and this is a big IF, things don't go just right. As of this time, nobody knows with certainty what the status of Dwayne Jarrett and Vidal Hazelton will be. One hears that Vidal should be cleared and this and that. I don't doubt that, but can anyone blame me for not being happy about anything the NCAA does. And with regards to DJ, who knows when the NCAA will do and when they will do it. Should SC have to play the Razorbacks on the road without their proven Offensive Superstar and without their frosh who by all reports is showing maturity beyond his age, the passing game could be strained more than a bit. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it will all play out. Based on prior NCAA actions, we might not know the final answers till the Trojans are boarding their plane for Arkansas.