O/NSO: Spring Surprise edition

The early first-week weather at USC spring football practice may have looked more like a dreary autumn afternoon in South Bend, but by the end of the week, a cardinal and gold rainbow of intense, sunny competition rained down on Brian Kennedy and Howard Jones Fields, not to mention a potential major surprise along Pat Ruel's offensive line.

The Obvious – The early first-week weather at USC spring football practice may have looked more like a dreary autumn afternoon in South Bend, but by the end of the week, a cardinal and gold rainbow of intense, sunny competition rained down on Brian Kennedy and Howard Jones Fields, not to mention a potential major surprise along Pat Ruel's offensive line.

The Not So Obvious – You could tell beginning Tuesday that the drumbeat of the Trojans as No. 1 was in the air as the amount of news coverage from our local LA channels to ESPN were there to capture every moment. Things are such at Troy that with the combination of a large turnout of fans and media, it seemed like everything was back to "normal." The recruits and a number of current commits were there and there was every bit of the anticipation we have seen in previous years when Pete Carroll's Trojans were perched atop the college football mountain.

The Obvious – Perhaps the biggest surprise in the first couple of spring outing has been the alignment of the "new" offensive line, which saw movement of talented senior Drew Radovich from starting left guard to right tackle, the return and insertion of junior Jeff Byers to Radovich's guard position, and the debut of sophomore Nick Howell at the starting center position.

The Not So Obvious - The O/NSO met with Mr. Surprise, Drew Radovich, after Thursday's practice to get the "scoop" about the new right tackle position. We asked the likeable giant from Mission Viejo if the new position was permanent, temporary, or experimental. Drew began diplomatically by replying, "It's neither of any of those. I am just the most versatile offensive lineman on our group that we have. I know left guard, but I want to learn tackle for my own personal gain and benefit." Read on, my friends.

The Obvious – Drew Radovich was a consensus high school All-America tackle at Mission Viejo in Orange County and received almost every honor that a prep star can garner including Parade All-American.

The Not So Obvious – As our dialogue continued with Drew, we asked him about the technique and attitude adjustments he was making and did he like playing tackle? Drew said, "Pass rush is completely different because I am on an island by myself battling one-on-one when I used to (at guard) have center help the whole time or I would be one-one. It's mainly pass rush and different landmarks on my run blocks dealing with defensive ends. This (tackle) is my natural position. I played it in high school and did it fairly well in high school playing tackle. I enjoy it; I like it. I think I have more strength at tackle because I am more athletic and I can get off the ball a little bit quicker because now that I am on the outside. I am enjoying it." Get the impression of possible permanency? Read on.

The Obvious – Position changes, which the Trojans have been quite successful in the past, are usually the norm in spring ball as the team tries to figure out how to get the best players on the field at the same time.

The Not So Obvious – So when did Drew Radovich first learn of his new position possibility? Drew revealed, " I was told beforehand in the morning and met with Coach Ruel and he said it was for the benefit of the team and for ‘your gain for your stock next year' to have on my resume that I played a season at left guard and played a season at tackle. I am fine with it totally." Hmmmm. Read on.

The Obvious – At the Trojan Huddle, the public spring scrimmage at the Coliseum on April 7, Cardinal and Gold fans will get a glimpse of those players that have made position changes.

The Not So Obvious – One of those players at this time appears to be Drew Radovich. So, Drew, what assumption should Trojan fans make if they see you at The Huddle starting at right tackle? Drew smiled and said, "You should not be shocked and you can probably expect it in the fall." And your 2007 goals, Rado? Drew informed, "To start obviously and to make All-Pac-10 honors, and whatever comes after that is great and would be icing on my career." Well, while it's still very early in the spring evaluation process and we certainly don't expect Coach Ruel to make a formal declaration just yet, it clearly sounds to the O/NSO like the Trojans are serious about the Radovich to right tackle "possibility."

The Obvious – The Nebraska Cornhusker defense has been known in the past as "the black shirts."

The Not So Obvious – After the first day of spring practice, a large group of students appeared in black uniformed jerseys. Nope, it wasn't a Nebraska game plan for the Sept. 15 meeting in Lincoln being implemented; it was a tryout day for all those whacky dreamers that want to make the Trojans as a walk-on. Somebody will have to tell the old O/NSO why you would want to have the opportunity to have All-Pac-10 linebacker Rey Maualuga rearrange your molecules for life or All-America offensive tackle Sam Baker turn you into a human pretzel. This Walter Mitty dream comes with a price.

The Obvious – Naturally, All-Pac-10 senior quarterback John David Booty received the early week's attention, but some of the quarterback attention was focused on the physical health of backup QB Mark Sanchez and his publicized back ailment.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO caught up with Mark after the first day of practice to find out to get an update on his back condition. He said, "It's nothing. It got a little sore working out for spring and so the strength staff and training staff got together and made a regiment for my workout, quarterback specific, for stretching out real well and working on flexibility. I feel 100% and excited to be out here, to compete, and excited about next season."

The Obvious – There has been some talk that the Trojans under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian might be willing to place his quarterbacks in the comfort of the shotgun formation.

The Not So Obvious – So is there any truth that the Trojans might start experimenting with the old shotgun? Quarterback Mark Sanchez said, "We've talked about it in meetings. I don't know if it's a definite thing, but you saw us work on it out here, center to quarterback, before practice two or three times. Nothing serious, but it is an idea that has been flying around here and we'll see if it comes to pass. We didn't do it at Mission Viejo, but I did play out of it in both (prep) all-star games for most of the game, so I feel comfortable with it. I have good feet so if it's dropping back in the shotgun, I just gotta relax and take it as it comes."

The Obvious – There are a number of people who feel if given the opportunity, Mark Sanchez could lead the Trojans as well to the Promised Land.

The Not So Obvious – Don't expect to hear No. 6 deviate from the team message, but he does understand competition and the importance of being ready when called upon. As for his spring approach, Mark told the O/NSO, "As a team we're hoping to accomplish everything we can as a team. I want to push the offense as hard as I can and push the defense to be the best they can to both of our abilities. I know personally I am working to be the best football player and be the best quarterback and lead this team into next season and then, of course, be a mental technician on the field and be the fastest mental player on every snap."

The Obvious – A number of teams in the past have successfully employed "The Gun" with success against the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious – Trojan fans, get ready for some more gun fun. Word out of Tempe is that new Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson has implemented the shotgun and nobody seems happier than maligned quarterback Rudy Carpenter. In an interview that recently appeared in Azcentral.com, Carpenter said, "That's probably the thing I'm most excited about. We've been out in 7-on-7 (drills), and even the guys on defense are like, 'Damn, dude, this is going to be hard.' That's what I grew up doing (in high school). The perspective is so much different. I will love the shotgun. It's going to give me the chance to be productive. In seeing the field, moving around, I can help the other players to see certain coverages. There's a reason why every team in the NFL uses it. There's a reason why Peyton Manning is so successful."

The Obvious – There was high speculation on the status of "converted" fullback Michael Coleman before Tuesday, but with Coleman relegated, at the moment, to sideline viewing, there is no question that sophomore Stanley Havili (6-0, 230) is da man at fullback.

The Not So Obvious – You could say that Stanley is one, two, and three on the current fullback depth chart. After opening day's practice, the O/NSO caught with Stanley Steamer for an update on his leg and other challenges. On his leg, Stanley said, "It's 110%." As for improvement areas to concentrate during spring ball, he said, "I need to work on my blocking because in high school I didn't have to block. Learning to block is all about technique. As far as the difference between last year and now, I know now what I am doing. I am going to work this spring on the mental part of the game."

The Obvious – When Trojan fans think of No. 5, they will always remember Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

The Not So Obvious – Another exciting No. 5 will apparently be entering the world of Trojan football in the future with the verbal of Venice High's miniature "roadrunner" Curtis McNeal (5-8, 180), who looks good on film as both a runner and a defensive back. In a little "NSO" pre-signing info, the kid is left-handed. There are those in the know that swear that McNeal's actual height is closer to 5-6, but nobody thinks he is too small to play.

The Obvious – Senior offensive lineman Matt Spanos is expected to contend for starting spot at either center, guard, or tackle.

The Not So Obvious – To nobody's surprise, Matt took a number of snaps at each position along the offense line this week, but the feeling here, at the moment, is that he is a center contender. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that he joined junior all-star linebacker Brian Cushing, who suffered a non-contact hamstring injury during Thursday's practice, in the Mohawk haircut look. Brian's Mohawk looks a little more like a grunt out of Camp Pendleton than native warrior. Of course, as one knowledgeable sideline observer remarked, "There is something about a ‘Jersey guy' with a Mohawk that is just a little more intimidating than the others." Oh, and speaking of New Jersey, the Soprano's final episodes begin Sunday, April 8, on HBO.

The Obvious – As expected, a number of Trojan incoming freshmen were in attendance the first couple of days.

The Not So Obvious – As expected, quarterback Aaron Corp was in attendance on the first day and although he is in his final semester at Orange Lutheran, his excitement to take a snap was "obvious" as he walked the sideline of Brian Kennedy Field twirling a football. Corp spent time with Trojan quarterbacks learning from the vets.

The Obvious – Many Trojan fans are looking forward following the future appearance of Orange Lutheran lineman Michael Reardon.

The Not So Obvious – Reardon once made Trojan coaches think twice about where this big kid from Orange County should play. Much was made about whether his first year would be spent on defense or offense. Backing up the evidence in the spring media guide, Big Mike was standing on the sidelines watching offensive line coach Pat Ruel bark out the opening day instructions. Mike spent the afternoon trying to suck in as much offensive line information as he could muster. Reardon is listed as a tackle.

The Obvious – Much attention has been placed on the competition at wide receiver with both Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton and both were having their moments this first week.

The Not So Obvious – However, the receiver that caught the eye of the O/NSO in the early going is redshirt freshman David Ausberry, who is just the latest off the Trojans' big receiver assembly line. Ausberry is certainly going to be a good one and while he must redshirt, Arkansas transfer Damian Williams made some nifty moves for offensive notoriety. Williams told both spectators and media that he is unsure about the transfer future of former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain and that he thought Tulsa remained a major player for Mustain's services.

The Obvious – Coach Pete Carroll was a guest on the Petros and Money late afternoon radio show on Wednesday.

The Not So Obvious – Among the topics, Carroll revealed," I have a last concert picture of him (the late James Brown) on my phone. Two positions of concern are the receiver positions. I think the focus for us is the wide receiver spot. On the first day, it was exciting to see the speed and the temp of the receivers. (On the offensive system) We are doing the same stuff with Sark and he has done all the talking to the team. (On his new receiver coach) John Morton picks up where we left off and has the biggest learning curve of them all. We haven't missed a beat. (On the quarterback competition) Mark (Sanchez) has earned his time in the quarterback position competition. We try to equal out their terms (Sanchez and Booty) and we'll see how it all plays out. (Defense) There is no question we have experience and talented kids and we're really, really fast. If they're the best in the past few years, I don't know about that."

The Obvious – Some time ago, the O/NSO had the pleasure of writing a feature story in WeAreSC magazine on Pac-10 official Bernard Samuels.

The Not So Obvious – Last season, "Nardie" took a medical leave from Pac-10 football officiating due to a serious medical condition. Well, Nardie came over to Brian Kenney Field to say hello on the first day of spring practice all decked out in his Pac-10 zebra outfit and with quite a happy and relieved smile. We're happy to report the former Fairfax High linebacker has faced his mortality head on, his illness medically put in remission, and the enthusiastic news is that he may again be officiating Pac-10 football next season. Certainly this would be an early candidate for the feel-good story of the 2007 football season, but please Bernard, let's keep those pass interference flags in your pocket when that "vaunted" Trojan defense is on the field. Pretty please with cardinal and gold sugar on top?

The Obvious – As is usually the case, strength coach Chris Carlisle has increased the intimidating look of this year's squad.

The Not So Obvious – A number of players look much larger and more "cut" and nobody looks anymore impressive from last season than junior linebacker Clay Mathews (6-4, 230), who may replace Brian Cushing temporarily due to Cushing's hamstring issue. At first, maybe it was Clay's new shoulder length blond hair that gave him a bigger appearance, but according to Brian Mathews, crack WeAreSC recruiting guru and brother of Clay, No. 47 has increased is weight by eight pounds and perhaps a little more.

The Obvious – Spring drills feature four preliminary nominees for the 2007 Lombardi Award including offensive tackle Sam Baker, nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, and linebackers Rey Maualuga, and Keith Rivers.

The Not So Obvious – The long list of other contenders also includes such 2007 opposition standouts as Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud, Cal center Alex Mack, Oregon St. offensive guard Jeremy Perry, and UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis.

The Obvious – The Daily News reported this week that Trojan senior tailback Chauncey Washington is again faced with academic issues.

The Not So Obvious – All Trojan fans will be rooting for CW to get his act together, but admitting he did not attend classes early-on, especially for a senior and having gone through so many previous issues, is indeed "mystifying" for lack of a better term. However, in the first couple of practices, there is no denying that CW look pretty darn good as does a resilient senior Desmond Reed, who appears to be gaining back some of his quickness and explosion.

The Obvious – And finally, for those trekking to campus for the open public workouts, you should be aware that there is a $7 parking charge to use campus facilities.

The Not So Obvious – However, after paying the attendant, you'll appreciate the new colorful "Dining Options for 2006" handout you'll receive from the gate attendant. The handout maps out the 11 eating facilities on campus. Don't know if you have to make reservations for the Popovich Café, IRC residential dining, or the Trojan Grounds, but the campus map has all the eating facilities listed in numerical form.


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