O/NSO: Spring prediction edition

Pete Carroll, who knows this is considered "The Year" and begins his seventh season as the Trojans' celebrated head man, returns a defense that most believe will be harder to penetrate than the old Berlin Wall, but an offense that has major holes at wide receiver, offensive line, fullback, and a "new" titled offensive coordinator. Time to panic? Hardly.

The Obvious – Unlike the spring practice of 2005 when the USC Trojan offensive returned a myriad of irresistible forces and a defense that was searching for immoveable force replacements, Tuesday's opening of 2007 spring practice appears to have the reverse scenario. However, what both spring practices have in common is the anticipation of a pre-season No. 1 ranking and the expectations of raising the BCS championship trophy in January.

The Not So Obvious – Pete Carroll, who knows this is considered "The Year" and begins his seventh season as the Trojans' celebrated head man, returns a defense that most believe will be harder to penetrate than the old Berlin Wall, but an offense that has major holes at wide receiver, offensive line, fullback, and a "new" titled offensive coordinator. Time to panic? Hardly, but the reality is there are more questions about the 2007 offense, despite the acknowledged talent, than an objective Trojan fan would like. To add some additional uncertainty, it also appears that a number of projected regulars will miss all or reduced spring activity due to rehab. So, Trojan spring ball has its own set of interesting challenges, and the O/NSO has burned the candle the past several weeks trying to sort things out.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – And to show our loyal and knowledgeable good readers the O/SNO has learned his lessons well from Carnac the Magnificnet, we will are willing to "throw" into heavy analytical double-coverage and project the final spring depth chart when all the dust has settled at Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Fields. In other words, let's play a Trojans pre-spring edition of football Jeopardy.

The Obvious – The Trojans return seven starters on offense and coach Steve Sarkisian, who has assumed the new title of offensive coordinator to go along with assistant head coach and quarterback coach.

The Not So Obvious – According to George Young, WeAreSC math extraordinaire, that would mean the Trojans are missing four starters and three of them were all-stars in receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith and center Ryan Kalil and the fourth, resilient right tackle Kyle Williams. Jarrett and Smith, as the 2007 Rose Bowl illustrated, were major arteries in a Trojan offensive body that was lacking a consistent running game. Kalil brought leadership at the highest level, not only awarded Co-Most Inspirational Player at the team banquet but also Team Captain and Co-Lineman of the Year. The bodies will be replaced, but the search will be on for the team's offensive heart and soul.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Quarterback John David Booty figures to be a team leader and has grown more comfortable with the role. All-America tackle Sam Baker is a quiet leader, so just who emerges as the vocal leader is still anybody's guess. Based on the job description, of all the positions on the team, the O/NSO believes the center position may be the most difficult to fill.

The Obvious – One burning question heading into spring ball will be the effect of coach Steve Sarkisian's influence on the Trojan offense.

The Not So Obvious – The one major area of interest in offensive philosophy that should attract the attention of Cardinal and Gold followers is not the selection of "Sark's" play calling, which won't be known till fall, but in formations as in "shotgun" formations. There has been public comment that the Trojan offense may be inclined to incorporate the shotgun in its vast arsenal. There has been lots of debate of what a difference a shotgun formation might have had in the offensive struggle against the UCLA fierce pass rush. While we would be more than surprised to see it this spring, there is a sneaking suspicion here that some future variation of the spread option could be also a possibility with the arrival of Aaron Corp and possibly Mitch Mustain.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – We'll see the shotgun and nobody will be happier than John David Booty, who will think that he has been given an extra season of eligibility at Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian, home of the ultra-deep shotgun formation and prep All-America quarterbacks one upon a time.

The Obvious – The Trojans return senior All-Pac-10 quarterback John David Booty (6-3, 210), sophomore Mark Sanchez (6-3, 225), senior Mike McDonald (6-2, 185), and sophomore Garrett Green (6-2, 200).

The Not So Obvious – Yes, we know the Pete Carroll party line is that all positions are open for competition, but you, the O/NSO, and even Beano Cook know it's all about sharpening skills and not about pecking order at this position. Unless John David goes "Hollywood" or Mark Sanchez never throws an incomplete pass during spring rehearsals, there's as little suspense on the outcome of this "competition" as surviving an atomic blast. Despite his numerous post-season honors and brilliant Rose Bowl game, by his own admission, when John David didn't have All-America receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, arguably the best combo in school history, his comfort zone and confidence was lacking. With national championship expectations, JD will have his own personal challenges in dealing with the new receiver unit. As for Sanchez, there was nothing last season that dispelled the opinion that, in the big picture, he is as physically talented quarterback as on the Trojans' roster, and McDonald is more than an adequate replacement for either Booty or Sanchez if needed.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Mute and moot point. Rhetorical question. No brainer. Case closed. Next category, Alex Trebek. Potential Trojan wide receivers for $100.

The Obvious – The Trojans will be looking to a talented but youthful crop of replacements to replace the likes of All-America receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith to the NFL and don't forget the appreciated Chris McFoy.

The Not So Obvious – As Alex Trebek would say, "Players you have selected Double Jeopardy." Okay Patrick Turner (6-5, 230), this is your chance to be John David Booty's favorite target. We all remember your wonderful Washington game performance; now can you show consistency in the spring? Hey, Vidal Hazelton (6-3, 200), all that suspense during your recruiting, are you ready to be a Steve Smith? There are some that want to see Turner catch those over-the-middle courage passes on a regular basis and others that want to see sophomore Hazelton show he has truly mastered the challenging route running expected in the Trojans' offense. With new wide receiver coach John Morton also being thrown him in the mix, this is as fascinating a competition as there is in the spring. And what about speedy sophomore Travon Patterson (5-11, 180) and ultra-sound barrier sprinter sophomore Jamere Holland (6-1, 180), who is now healthy? Both will get their chances to be the home run hitters Pete Carroll has been looking for.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – It's Turner and Hazelton's jobs to lose, although watch out for redshirt freshman David Ausberry (6-5, 215), who could push Turner. Patterson showed flashes of a real long distance threat, if the Trojans place him in specific situations. Holland figures to dazzle with his incomparable speed, but will he catch consistently? No position on the team will need to step up than this one and Morton's wide receivers will be the biggest constituency in John David Booty's Heisman campaign. The final starting spring depth chart reads Turner and Hazelton, but as our old Alhambra High geometry teacher Henry Gaul would say, "I guess you knew that."

The Obvious – The Trojans are loaded at running back with sophomore starter C.J. Gable (6-1, 190), senior Chauncey Washington (6-1, 220), sophomore returnees Emmanuel Moody (6-1, 195), Allen Bradford (6-0, 230), Stafon Johnson (6-1, 210), the return of senior Hershel Dennis (5-11, 200).

The Not So Obvious – While the "potential" of Washington remains in tact, publisher Garry Paskwietz says watch out for Stafon, but his recovery may keep him out of the fray. Pete Arboblog says that Moody is the shifty maestro. The O/NSO holds to our opinion that given a full spring and no position flip-flopping, Bradford (photo) is the real deal. With all that said and done, what has Gable done not to be the starting tailback against Idaho? Absolutely nothing, my friends. All of which makes little difference if the Trojan offensive line and philosophy doesn't make the running game a priority. Each of the aforementioned tailbacks has shown potential if given the chance and the holes to run through. Just ask Arizona State about Chauncey Washington. This will be the last chance for all the incumbents to use spring to dispel the notion that they are "talented jacks of various trades but masters of none."

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Pete Carroll says, "We expect to have a balanced attack on offense in 2007. To do that, we need to improve the running game and get it to where it was in 2005." Isn't that called being "on the record?" Many are already counting on the best incoming running back recruiting class in recent memory, which is all well and good if you are not going for a national title and aren't worried that your All-Pac-10 quarterback doesn't get nailed when one of the newcomers misses an assignment, runs the wrong hole, or the incorrect pass route. The feel good story of the spring figures to be Hershel Dennis, who seems to have been at Troy since the days of Anthony Davis. The O/NSO says the final spring depth starter will be C.J. Gable until somebody proves differently. All the kid does is everything you ask him to do, works hard, is coachable, and he makes no glaring mistakes. Would we be shocked if Washington goes to the head of the pack? No, nobody would be shocked, but neither should they be shocked if somebody like, um, Bradford emerges. See, the O/NSO sticks by his guns, unless AB is moved to fullback and then all bets are off.

The Obvious – The Trojans have no returning starting fullback and the options are going to be worth watching.

The Not So Obvious - So, who will it be at this ultra thin position? Will it be converted but oft injured sophomore tailback Michael Coleman (6-1, 230) or redshirt freshman Stanley Havili (6-1, 220), who has recovered from a broken leg in the Arizona conference road opener? The fullback slot has been a snake bit unit for a while, considering the star-crossed careers of the departed Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell and even Malaefou MacKenzie. A majority of players last season told the O/NSO the most impressive freshman was Havili, so Stanley Steamer figures to get first crack. This is one position where a current tailback could be making a switch at some point and some think it could be Bradford or eventually Johnson, despite no indication that it's the case.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Just by shear numbers it would appear that Havili is in the pole position. However, would the Trojans pull a daring move and make a tailback transfer to fullback with promises that the transferee would be a major cog in the offense, both running and receiving? Of course such a move would require the party involved to approve the reassignment, something that Pete Carroll has been very sensitive to his players' mojo. Although senior Thomas Williams has returned to linebacker, might we still see TW spilt some time with the fullbacks if things get dicey? The final starting depth chart at fullback will be Stanley Havili.

The Obvious – The Trojans return three starters from last year's offensive line, including All-America senior left tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 305), veteran senior left guard Drew Radovich 6-5, 305), and All-Pac-10 second-team junior right guard Chilo Rachal (6-5, 300).

The Not So Obvious – Okay, wasn't it nice to start with the good news of returners? Enough of the touchy/feely business. Let's get to the point. There are two huge holes at center and right tackle. Given the fact that senior Matt Spanos (6-5, 305) was rumored to be starting or at least playing a big portion of the Rose Bowl at right tackle, one would assume that with the national championship as year's expected goal, Matt will get every opportunity to finally crack the lineup and seniors tend to play with some sense of urgency at this point in their careers. We do like Charles Brown (6-6, 285) at right tackle, and his battle with Spanos should be hotly contested. Although still light by tackle standards, Brown has that tight end athleticism and the Trojans have a long line of success with converted tight ends.

The loss of All-America center Ryan Kalil is enormous. From a technique standpoint, sophomore Nick Howell (6-5, 265) really gets offensive line coach Pat Ruel's juices flowing. If healthy, junior Jeff Byers (6-3, 285), once considered the best prep player in the land, gets a chance to return to his old center homestead. Even Spanos is considered a possibility, although the O/NSO sees some snaps for depth purposes. Just how Byers, Howell, and Spanos perform against the likes of Sedrick Ellis in the coming weeks will play a big part in the decision-making process. Aside from starting competition, we will keep a keen eye at practice in the important development of rising performers as sophomore tackle Thomas Herring (6-6, 330), redshirt freshman tackle, Butch Lewis (6-7, 300), a potential Baker backup, redshirt freshman guard Zack Heberer (6-5, 285), and, of course, recently enrolled true freshman Martin Coleman (6-5, 285), formerly of Huntington Beach Edison High, whose availability may be limit as he recovers from a leg injury.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction –Like checking out those incomparable Trojan Song Girls, the O/NSO just can't his eyes off the offensive line competition. Given the potential shotgun long distance snaps, line calls, and experience, the battle for center could turn out to be a real Trojan War. Okay, okay, you're twisting the O/NSO's arm for the center answer, so we say that if he can make the snaps, something that was a challenge in his freshman year, we think Byers has the edge and plays with an edge. We believe that Spanos will be the starting right tackle, but given the Trojan program has been let down before with Matt, Brown may be the final Jeopardy answer. Here is saying the final depth chart for spring starters will read Baker, Radovich, Byers, Rachal, and Spanos.

The Obvious – The Trojans return senior tight end and all-star candidate Fred Davis (6-4, 260).

The Not So Obvious – It is paramount that the Trojans find another tight end option and it appears that senior Dale Thompson (6-4, 255) will get that opportunity. Looking for a sleeper? Try junior Jimmy Miller (6-5, 260), but the real ace might be sophomore Anthony McCoy (6-5, 240), who is trying to shake the injury bug and may be another of those "restricted" players this spring. Carroll is very high on McCoy. My goodness, doesn't it seem like just yesterday that Fred Davis was being snuck out on a late night flight from Toledo? So here we are now in his senior season and this spring he can establish that he is, indeed, a Shannon Sharpe clone to pro scouts in attendance.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Like the quarterback position, Fred Davis can only lose his spot if he reverts back to his freshman behavior and with an NFL senior showcase on the line, those days are Vince Scully "gone."

The Obvious – Junior David Buehler (6-2, 225) will be the Trojans placekicker in the spring.

The Not So Obvious – With the tragic passing of Mario Danelo, it's all about Buehler in the spring. Nobody really knows how the kid will perform in the fall, but his 49-yard field goal conversion against Cal was promising. If he can show in the spring that he can live up to the accurate standards set by Danelo, a puzzle piece will be put in place as well as those crucial extra points.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Knowing that the job is his and given the circumstances of his promotion, the O/NSO has confidence that David will give a good account of himself. The early highlight for Buehler will be the Trojan Huddle, April 7, which will give him a small exposure to the bright lights of the fall. It's all about confidence and nobody questions the strength of his leg. He has a cannon. Whether it's Danelo accurate inside of 35 yards won't be know until he performs in front 90,000 fans.

The Obvious – The Trojans return 10 starters on defense and the depth battle should provide a spring of entertaining spring competition.

The Not So Obvious – Understandably, the Trojans defense is already being called by many the best in the country. Most folks believe defensive coordinator Nick Holt's defense will hold the opposition to under 17 points per game. Certainly on paper the Trojans are approaching the "vaunted" description. However, let's also not forget that in 2006, the defense did allow 20 or more points five times and the 2007 offense may need time to develop, meaning there can't be any slackers on the field with the defense expected to pull the wagon in the early going next fall.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Having given up 22 points to Washington State (W 28-22), 20 points to Washington (W 26-20), 21 points to ASU (W 28-21) in close games and 33 points (L 33-31) in the stunner at Oregon State, don't expect Pete Carroll to rest on any laurels. Pac-10 teams now have a good idea on Trojan defensive philosophy and this presents a bigger challenge than ever, despite the loads of talent that wears the cardinal and gold. The focal point will be the front four, which will need to take a more dominant role at the very outset of the fall.

The Obvious – The Trojans return their entire defensive line from last year's group including All-America nose tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 295) and All-Pac-10 second team selection Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 265).

The Not So Obvious – The names to keep an eye on are sophomores Alex Parsons (6-4, 260) and Derek Simmons (6-4, 275, photo), both receiving Service Team Players of the Year in 2006, and sophomore Averell Spicer (6-2, 295). While the starting front four appears somewhat set, these three will battle for reinforcement duty. The key for the spring will be the continued development of junior DT Fili Moala (6-4, 295) and the health of senior Chris Barrett (6-5, 265), whose whole career seems like an episode of Grey's Anatomy. Georgia junior Kyle Moore (6-6, 260) needs to show more physical dominance at defensive end as he battles improved senior Alex Morrow (6-6, 270).. The bottom line, quite frankly, the Trojans defensive front couldn't put enough seasonal pressure on Pac-10 quarterbacks, not a good sign with as many talented signal-callers in the conference. The sack totals will need to be increased and spring drills and competition will turn a seemingly set unit into a sense of urgency.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – By spring's end, we expect to see a listed front four of Lawrence Jackson and Kyle Moore at the defensive ends and Sedrick Ellis and Fili Moala at the tackles. It will be in the best interest of ends Kyle Moore and Alex Morrow, however, to play their "A" game during spring because the summer arrival of prep All-America defensive end Everson Griffen is not some Arizona mirage and based on EG's recent WeAreSC chat, he admits he's coming to start and kick some booty.

The Obvious – The Trojans boast the three best starting linebackers in the country in senior All-Pac-10 outside linebacker Keith Rivers (6-3, 230) junior All-Pac-10 middle backer Rey Maualuga (6-3, 250) and junior outside backer Brian Cushing (6-4, 245), a second-team All-Pac-10 selection.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO wants to see the steady improvement of healthy sophomore middle linebacker Luther Brown (6-3, 235) and the potential debut of redshirt freshman Joshua Tatum (6-1, 225), the former McClymonds All-American. If there is one disappointment already, it's the up in the air status of swift redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Morgan (6-2, 200), who is dealing with a back issue. As for Rivers, Maualuga, and Cushing, Mama Mia, is this potentially the best starting trio of linebackers in Trojan history? Well, Carroll calls this unit "the best position on the team," and "the three best linebackers in the country." No kidding, PC. Also, the coach isn't just spinning a yarn when he also says there will be others behind Rivers, Maualuga, and Cushing that will push these future pros and nobody has forgotten senior Thomas Williams (6-3, 240) or junior Kaluka Maiava (6-0, 225).

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – See the Trojans' quarterback pre-spring prediction. Alex Trebek, are we back from commercial? Oh, that leadership that is in question on the offensive side? Coach Ken Norton's unit brings enough heat, Meat, and there is no shortage of maniacal leadership potential.

The Obvious – The good news is that all four starters return to coach Rocky Seto's secondary including senior corner Terrell Thomas (6-1, 200), junior corner Cary Harris (6-0, 180), junior strong safety Kevin Ellison (6-1, 220), and sophomore free safety Taylor Mays (6-4, 225).

The Not So Obvious – The bad news is that half of those starters, Ellison and Thomas, will have limited or no spring contact due to knee healings. Considering the rehab Trojans, which could also include junior corner Kevin Thomas (6-1, 180), talented sophomore Shareece Wright (6-0, 185, photo) and sophomore corner Vincent Joseph (5-10, 185), who has added some extra bulk, will be looking to make an imprint. And, no, we didn't forget junior CB/S Mozique McCurtis (6-1, 225), who may get double dipping with the absence of Thomas and junior safety Josh Pinkard (6-1, 215). Once called the best football player on the team, Pinkhard's absence means he won't be able to challenge current starting sensation, Taylor Mays, which will have been a whale of a battle. One player to also keep an eye on will be sophomore safety Will Harris (6-1, 200), returning after a two-year bout with injury misfortune.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Forget about John, Paul, George, and Ringo, the current Fab Four resides in the Trojans' secondary, and in the pass happy Pac-10 and with non-conference foes like Nebraska and Notre Dame, a rich and deep secondary is paramount. Unless Wright, or Joseph can unseat Cary Harris, by spring's end it'll remain Terrell Thomas and Harris at the corners and Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays at the safety positions.

The Obvious – The Trojans return junior punter Greg Woidneck (6-0, 195). The Not So Obvious – Okay, the kid wasn't Tom Malone in his first year, but he did gain valuable experience and has a Rose Bowl under his belt. Statistics tell us that the Trojans ranked in the lower half of the not only the Pac-10 but also the nation in net punting (33.7). Carroll will keep a close on Woidneck's spring improvement, who still managed 38.6 per punt in 2006.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Woidneck appears to be the lone option at this point, but you can bet that Carroll will be looking for an additional punting candidate to give Woidneck some competition.

The Obvious – The Trojans have a new special teams coach in current running backs coach Todd McNair, who is also recovering from torn Achilles surgery.

The Not So Obvious – Yikes, this injury stuff is contagious. Pete Carroll admits he is not pleased with what he has seen and says the Trojans to increase "our productivity in every phase of special teams." Critical senior snapper Will Collins returns for his fourth year on the job, but he, too, will miss spring with knee surgery recovery and the tryout job may feature Matt Spanos and receiver Brad Walker. Backup QB Michael McDonald will return for his second season as the holder. As for kickoff and punt return, tailback C.J. Gable showed great promise, ranking 15th nationally in kickoff returns, and gutty senior tailback Desmond Reed returns for more punt return duty. It figures that Reed will be improved this spring as his leg continues to recover from its brutal injury at ND two seasons ago.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Pete Carroll doesn't want average special teams and Todd McNair knows it. The spring should be educational to see what each special teams unit looks like by April. The O/NSO suspects that Gable and Reed remain starters, but all eyes will center on the arrival of freshmen Joe McKnight and Ron Johnson in the fall, both excelling at returns at the prep level.

The Obvious – Spring ball will conclude April 14.

The Not So Obvious – Spring ball actually ends a week after the Trojan Huddle. At that time, a new depth chart will be handed out and there may or not be some surprises and we will all be reminded when the next heralded class of incoming freshmen arrives this summer, they, too, will be given their traditional opportunity. Many of these freshmen will understandably believe they will be in contention for a starting position and in time, some may follow the example of Taylor Mays, the Trojans' budding second-year star, who proved he could start in his first year.

The Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – As Pete Carroll says, all positions are open for competition this spring and with that disclaimer in mind, the O/NSO cops out and takes no responsibility for any and all erroneous predictions and/or statements, unless, of course, they turn out to be correct. As for the final Jeopardy answer, "The 2007 National Champion foundation begins Tuesday." The question is obvious.


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