What are we hoping to see in fall camp? We want to see it all come together for Carson Palmer. He looked terrific in spring ball; relaxed, accurate, making good decisions. There is a certain calmness that often comes over fifth year quarterbacks and if the running game can provide any kind of support then Carson could be in for a very big year. The ability of the line to also give him that extra time in the pocket is key to allowing the Norm Chow system to let routes develop and take advantage of the defense. One of the top battles of the fall will be for the reserve spot between Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart. Cassel originally agreed to a switch to TE but changed his mind right before spring ball and ended up peforming well enough that he came out of the spring slightly ahead of Leinart. This competition is by no means over, however, and whichever player shows a better command of the offense will earn the back-up role and the coveted playing time that comes with it. Billy Hart needs to show improvement this fall if he wants a chance for the open job in spring 2003.
The hopes haven't been this high for the Trojan running game in a long time. Can Justin Fargas stay healthy and consistently deliver the types of performances we saw in spring ball? We sure hope so. Fargas gobbled up chunks of yardage during the final two scrimmages in a manner we haven't seen since Marcus Allen. We complement Justin with Sultan McCullough, who is healthy and re-united with the coach who brought out an 1,100 yard season in him as a sophomore. If anyone can get the most out of McCullough it is Kennedy Pola. The wild card in the mix could be Malaefou MacKenzie. It's hard to say how much Mal will be able to contribute after missing last season but if healthy and on top of his game he gives Chow a major weapon to help with the creativity of the offense. We go three deep at tailback with seniors but as needed Darryl Poston has shown that he is more than capable of getting the job done. He has a bright future as does Hershel Dennis but it would be ideal for Hershel to redshirt. Chad Pierson will likely start at fullback and he's a capable blocker who could be utilized more as a runner with his excellent running ability for a man his size. Sunny Byrd will always be a fan favorite for what he did last year but now he returns to his more natural spot at fullback. Brandon Hancock will get his opportunities, with all his talent he is the fullback of the future.
The Trojans return two veteran receivers but behind them the experience is slim and we need some new players to shine. Kareem Kelly remains an enigma, a player who is on the verge of breaking the all-time receiving mark yet not since Rob Johnson has a Trojan put up such big numbers and been criticized so often. Keary Colbert has simply been the more dependable of the two but Kareem could benefit if Carson gets time in the pocket for more developed deep routes. Colbert stepped into the role of go-to receiver during the spring and he has worked hard with Palmer over the summer to improve on their timing. With the loss of Devin Pitts the reserves are suddenly very green. Grant Mattos looked good early last year but injuries and a case of the drops leave us wondering what kind of player we will see this season. Jason Mitchell had a strong second half of spring and it would be quite a bonus if he could become a major contributor. We will also need someone like William Buchanan, D Hale, Frank Candela or even freshman Mike Williams to rise up and immediately be a consistent part of the rotation.
Alex Holmes thinks this could be his breakout season and we see no reason to disagree with him. It will be interesting to see how he is used this fall to take advantage of his various skills. Doyal Butler has earned his playing time with his blocking skills while Gregg Guenther will hopefully continue to show the kind of pass catching ability we saw this spring. Dominique Byrd is a talent but a redshirt season may be best.
Disregard all of the above if we don't see improvement in the offensive line because none of it will matter. The need for an upgrade was such a priority that a 2nd coach was added in the off-season and so far Tim Davis seems to have had a positive effect. This is also the time we should start to really see the results of 18 months training with Chris Carlisle. Jacob Rogers is a solid player who earned honorable mention All-Conference honors in only his second year of playing the position and he's coming off his first injury-free summer workout period. Lenny Vandermade is set as the starter at left guard, Lenny is a tough, physical player who should thrive now that he will stay in one spot. Norm Katnik had surgery on his hand coming out of spring but is expected to be fine for camp. Zach Wilson enters his fourth year as a starter but he has yet to emerge as the dominant player many thought he could be after such a strong early showing in his career. The right tackle spot is where things get interesting as we could see Nate Steinbacher, Eric Torres or even one of the freshmen Winston Justice or Kyle Williams get into the starting role at some point this season. It stands to reason that either Steinbacher or Torres will win the job, it's not to say that Justice or Williams won't earn playing time eventually but it's a lot to ask for a freshman to earn that time over a veteran at a spot like the offensive line. The same can be said for Fred Matua, these young linemen have bright futures but any early success should be looked at as a pleasant bonus.
One of the major keys to the Norm Chow system is the ability to achieve balance in both running and passing so that you can keep the defense off balance not knowing what you will do next. Last season with the injuries at running back combined with a young line learning a new system we just weren't able to achieve any kind of threat while running the ball and for Chow that must have felt like he was operating with one hand tied behind his back. This season all the signs are there that we could see improvement in these areas; a healthy, deep and talented group of running backs and a line that returns with an additional year of experience and only needs to show improvement for this offense to really take off.