Fall Camp recap

With less than a week to go before the Trojans open the season against the Auburn Tigers we take a look back at fall camp by reviewing the 2-deep depth chart with an analysis of each position:

QB – CARSON PALMER, Matt Leinart

Carson looked extremely solid and his teammates showed their respect by voting him as a team captain.  The battle for the back-up spot was thrown a curve when Matt Cassel went down with a knee injury during the first scrimmage.  Cassel had clearly outperformed Matt Leinart to that point but Leinart entered that scrimmage and accounted for four touchdowns. Since then, however, his play has not been as impressive and although Leinart is listed at #2 right now the competition will be opened once again when Cassel is healthy.  Billy Hart brings exciting footwork and he showed a lot of progress.

TB – MALAEFOU MACKENZIE or SULTAN MCCULLOUGH, Darryl Poston or Hershel Dennis* FB – CHAD PIERSON, Sunny Byrd or Brandon Hancock

This is a deep and talented group of backs but the difference maker is Fargas and we need for him to be healthy.  Justin has been waiting a long time to run down the tunnel for a game at the Coliseum and the encouraging news is that he's on the brink of returing to action but we won't know until closer to game time if he will be a factor against Auburn.  It looks like Mal will get the start and it has been wonderful to see him healthy and back on the playing field.  Sultan and Poston both suffered through hamstring injuries with McCullough being the healthier of the two right now.  Waiting in the wings and coming off an eye opening fall camp is Hershel Dennis, it would be a surprise at this point to see him redshirt.  Chad Pierson entered camp as the starter with hamstrings bothering him as well so that's left the competition primarily to Sunny Byrd and Brandon Hancock.  Hancock has played well enough that if Pierson can't go then we may see Brandon as the starter. 

SE – KAREEM KELLY, Mike Williams FL – KEARY COLBERT, Grant Mattos

Kareem Kelly looked as good as we've seen him early in fall camp before injuries also slowed him.  What we saw when he was healthy is how much of an impact he can have when he is catching the ball and then utilizing his speed.   Keary Colbert will be the other starter and he had a solid camp including two touchdowns in the first scrimmage.  Grant Mattos will be 3rd in the rotation and so far we've seen the dependable hands we need to see from Grant.  Perhaps the most impressive of the playmaking group of freshmen was Mike Williams.  This tall, talented receiver has shown the ability to go up and battle for the ball while running routes in a smooth fashion, he has a chance to be special.  Jason Mitchell and walk-on Greig Carlson should also see plenty of action.

TE – GREGG GUENTHER or ALEX HOLMES, Doyal Butler

Pete Carroll caused quite a stir when he announced that Gregg Guenther was in position to take over the starting job from Alex Holmes.  It wasn't that Alex hadn't performed well but he wasn't playing at his highest level while Guenther was showing what is possible when you have a healthy, athletic big man who is 6-8.  Regardless of who starts they are two solid weapons for Norm Chow.  Doyal Butler will be used primarily as a blocker.

LT – JACOB ROGERS, Winston Justice, LG – LENNY VANDERMADE, Chris Doyle, C – NORM KATNIK, Derek Graf, RG – FRED MATUA, Travis Watkins*, RT – ERIC TORRES, Phillip Eaves or Kyle Williams

The good news is that we saw progress in the pass protection but a key injury on the line and a depleted running back corps made it hard to judge how far we've come in the running game.  Zach Wilson went down on the first day of camp but will be returning any day now, he could see action at either RG or RT in the opener.  There aren't too many questions about the physicaly abilities of Fred Matua to handle the starting RG job but has he absorbed enough of the offense to get it done?  It remains to be seen.  If he can't then one option we may see is Norm Katnik moving from center to guard with Wilson ending up at tackle.  One of the reasons this move can be considered is the improved play of Derek Graf.  Derek is playing on two healthy feet for the first time in his USC career and he was one of the more pleasant surprises of fall camp.  Eric Torres is now listed as the starter at RT and how he performs early will help determine where Wilson plays when he comes back.  The left side of the line is set with Lenny Vandermade at guard and Jacob Rogers at tackle.  Jacob was the best overall offensive lineman in camp.

DE – KENECHI UDEZE, Van Brown NT – MIKE PATTERSON, Bernard Riley* DT – SHAUN CODY, Anthony Daye DE – OMAR NAZEL, Domique Byrd

Not since the days of Ryan, Gibson and Owens have the Trojans put a defense on the field with such potential.  The inspired play by Bernard Riley as he returns from injury has been a welcome boost and his leadership is evident on the field.  Right now Bernard is listed behind fellow Los Alamitos Griffin Mike Patterson as Mike has slimmed down and is even quicker off the ball than last season.  Whatever offensive linemen has to go against these two all day is in for a war.  Shaun Cody will start at inside tackle and he picked up right where he left off last year with a dominating camp.  Another of the big camp surprises was the play of Omar Nazel, a workout warrior in the off-season who held on to his starting job with good play on the field.  Dom Byrd showed after being moved from tight end that he can be very quick off the end on the pass rush and he may have found a new home.  Kenechi Udeze starts at the other end spot and he had two inteceptions this camp to go along with his usual solid effort. 

SLB – MATT GROOTEGOED, Dallas Sartz MLB – MIKE POLLARD, Lee Webb or Oscar Lua WLB – MELVIN SIMMONS, Aaron Graham

With the exception of a minor injury late in camp to Aaron Graham this was one unit that stayed relatively healthy  Mike Pollard is a senior leader in the middle and we need him and his nose for the ball.  Lee Webb provides a solid back-up which allows for the possibility of redshirting Oscar Lua.  What a difference it makes having Matt Grootegoed on the field.  Showing no ill effects from his broken leg we saw Matt return to form and he is just a missle out there.  Groots will be backed-up by Dallas Sartz who really came on toward the end of camp.  Melvin Simmons is set as the WLB starter with Graham and a healthy Bobby Otani as the top reserves. 

CB – JUSTIN WYATT, William Buchanon or John Walker* FS – DESHAUN HILL, Sandy Fletcher or Greg Farr SS – TROY POLAMALU, Jason Leach CB – DARRELL RIDEAUX, Ronald Nunn or Marcell Allmond*

Darrell Rideaux will be the starter at one corner spot, this much we know, but on the other side it's anyones guess with as many as five players in the mix after the loss of expected starter Kevin Arbet to a stress fracture in his foot.  Ronald Nunn and Marcell Allmond played well early but both suffered through injuries, for Marcell it was an infection that resulted from a car accident prior to camp, and both should be returning soon to compete for the job.  Carroll has also brought over two players from other positions, John Walker and William Buchanan, in his search for bigger corners and Buchanan in particular has looked good but the freshman Justin Wyatt is currently listed as the starter.  Wyatt is athletic with excellent change of direction and a physical nature.  There are no such worries about finding a starter at strong safety where Troy Polamalu looked every bit the All-American in camp.  Jason Leach has looked good blitzing the passer.  DeShaun Hill held on to his free safety spot but behind him the experience is limited with Sandy Fletcher, who just moved from wide receiver, and walk-on junior college transfer Greg Farr. 

P – TOM MALONE, Tommy Huff

Malone was another player who battled through a sore leg in camp but he kicked his best at the end and got good work on his hangtime. 

PK – DAVID DAVIS (FG, PAT), RYAN KILLEEN (kickoffs) 

Davis has looked even better than last season while Kileen will hear a loud cheer from Trojan fans the first time he puts a kickoff into the end zone.

KOR – SULTAN MCCULLOUGH, HERSHEL DENNIS PR – KAREEM KELLY, Justin Wyatt

We will see a rotation at kickoff returner while Carroll has said we could also see Greig Carlson at punt return. 

Note: Starters on depth chart listed in all caps. * – Positions likely to be affected as injured players return.


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