O/NSO: Shotgun edition

It wasn't exactly Junior Walker and the All-Stars playing that old rock and roll hit "Shotgun," but for many Trojan fans, seeing or hearing that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was "experimenting" with the shotgun formation brought forth a bevy of Monday morning quarterbacks with the general consensus overwhelmingly positive.

The Obvious – It wasn't exactly Junior Walker and the All-Stars playing that old rock and roll hit "Shotgun," but for many Trojan fans, seeing or hearing that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was "experimenting" with the shotgun formation brought forth a bevy of Monday morning quarterbacks with the general consensus overwhelmingly positive.

The Not So Obvious – Yes, there was certainly a Tuesday buzz on Howard Jones Field when quarterback John David Booty, that former shotguntologist from Louisiana, took the center nap from six yards away and looked cool as that proverbial cucumber. In fact, backup QB Mark Sanchez looked just as comfortable as Booty, and if there was one thing apparent, it was the bazooka arm of each quarterback, which was prominently on display. By the end of Thursday's practice, the Trojan shotgun quarterbacks looked almost smooth as peanut butter compared to Tuesday. There is a large contingent of Trojan fans glad to see "The Gun," and there are some that are traditionalist that say this puts too much pressure on inexperienced centers and is not a UCLA quick fix. The feeling here is that the Trojans' offense just got a little harder to defend when The Gun is used judiciously.

The Obvious – The move towards experimenting with the shotgun also means a snapping challenge for current Trojan center candidates Nick Howell and Matt Spanos, both whom have stayed after practice this week to work on their snaps.

The Not So Obvious – So is the shotgun snap a real challenge? Nick Howell said, "Actually it is some because I am use to snapping the ball back fast, but this is sort of like a little lob with the ball, so you have to get the ball fast but not too fast so the quarterback can handle the ball." Facing a Sedrick Ellis on your nose in the shotgun formation also adds extra responsibility and increased technique. Nick added, " You want to think about getting your hands up first, so that kind of gets me going and a little confused sometimes as to whether to snap the ball fast and bring my hands up. I am going to mess the ball if I snap too fast. I just have to get use to it over time."

The Obvious – Nick Howell continues to run with the first team offensive line, and it looks as though he has positioned himself nicely as Ryan Kalil's heir apparent.

The Not So Obvious – However, Nick is taking nothing for granted. He told the O/NSO, " I am not necessarily the starting center right now. Right now I am with the first group, and we'll see what happens toward the end of spring ball. Right now, I am having a great time. Sed (Sedrick Ellis) is making me work pretty hard and going against an All-American, no matter what happens, you are just going to get better. I am having fun though."

The Obvious – Center Nick Howell is the son of former Trojan All-World and NFL guard Pat Howell, who was watching intently along with his wife at Thursday's afternoon practice.

The Not So Obvious – So, Nick, is dad excited about his son's starting possibility? Nick smiled and said, "He's real excited and proud of me right now." The younger Howell knows replacing a center like Ryan Kalil is not only a challenge physically, but in leadership role as well. Nick said, "I am making the line calls now a lot better than last year. I understand it, and Coach Ruel is helping me, going in for extra hours, and even the rest of the first team is helping me right now. This year I've actually gained a lot of weight, and I am about 6-5 1/2 and probably around 280. I was probably playing at 265 last year, so I've gained some weight."

The Obvious – If you asked Pete Carroll if he'd like to have a playoff for the national championship, he would be all for it.

The Not So Obvious – According to an article in the Tampa Tribune, the Southeast Conference presidents are willing to talk about a college playoff, and you remember it's the SEC that got the current system started. In a story by Andy Staples, Staples wrote, "University of Florida president Bernie Machen said Sunday that he and his fellow Southeastern Conference presidents will discuss his proposal for a college football playoff at the conference's spring meetings in Destin in May. Machen said the fact that other presidents are receptive to discussing a playoff is a major step forward for those who want to see a Division I-A football national champion determined in the same fashion as all of the NCAA's other team sports." A few more Pete Carroll Trojan national titles and there could be more than just the SEC presidents doing the playoff talking.

The Obvious – When it comes to recruiting, it never hurts to have a family member that has graduated from that pursuing university.

The Not So Obvious – Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley, who was in attendance at last Sunday's scrimmage, has such a connection. Matt's father, Les, was an All-America water polo player for Troy in 1979 and was known at that time as Les Wulk.

The Obvious – As 2007 appears to be the year that most expect to see Pete Carroll's club in New Orleans, so increases those dirty little rumors that this will be Carroll's final season at Troy, and now Stanford's new head coach has fired a salvo that has made its way into Friday's Los Angeles Times.

The Not So Obvious – The latest mud slinging has Pac-10 roots in Palo Alto. In CBS Sportsline columnist Dennis Dodd's blog, newly appointed Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who tells the Times that his blog quotes are accurate, is the latest to try and derail the Carroll Express. Dodd wrote, "Jim Harbaugh says USC's Pete Carroll will be gone after next season. That came across in a conversation with the Stanford coach last week. ‘Perhaps the reason it's been up and down here (Stanford) is that no one has stayed here 20 years ...' the Stanford coach said. ‘Charlie Weis is going to do that at Notre Dame. Tressel at Ohio State. Pete's doing it. He's only got one more year, though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff.'" Inside the Trojan staff? Mama Mia, somebody stop the spinning; the O/NSO feels like he's riding that old carnival ride where the floor gives out and you're stuck to the rotating drum. Hmm, wonder if Jim EVER thought his Dodd conversation would get in print for recruiting purposes? Nah. Sure. Right. No way. Of course, Harbaugh did.

The Obvious – One of the more encouraging and surprising developments since spring practice has begun has been the "return" of tailback Desmond Reed, who is moving with much of the speed, power, and acceleration that was missing last season after a near devastating knee injury against Notre Dame in 2005.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO caught up with Desmond after Tuesday's practice and asked him if he, too, recognized his rapid return to his old self. Desmond said, "Yeah I definitely feel like I am more quicker and faster at this point because I believe my knee has loosened up and it has given me more mobility. I feel I am more fluid. My range of motion is more fluid you might say."

The Obvious – The Trojans are loaded at tailback and the competition between C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford, and Emmanuel Moody has been relentless.

The Not So Obvious – However, perhaps even Pete Carroll has to be surprised with the spring improvement of Desmond Reed, who is suddenly looking like a real factor for 2007. As for his personal goals, Desmond told us, " My goal is get out and rush and get back to where I was before and that's what I am really shooting for is to get my speed up and to tighten up all the screws and get back on track to where I was."

The Obvious – One of the most informative and entertaining sessions for onlookers is the daily pit battle between Pat Ruel's offensive linemen and Nick Holt's defensive linemen.

The Not So Obvious – Neither side gives an inch and after one particular intense one-on-one pass rush drill on Thursday, junior defensive end Kyle Moore made some unheard comment to All-America senior offensive tackle Sam Baker after their combat and Baker jumped right into Moore's face. Sammy, who is usually quiet and just goes about his business, was so riled up that Coach Ruel had to cool the senior from Tustin down. Order was quickly restored and both players went about their business without further incident. All in a day's work in Pete Carroll's world of healthy competition.

The Obvious – Junior linebacker Brian Cushing continues to be sidelined with a pulled hamstring that was injured during the first week of spring ball.

The Not So Obvious – After Thursday's practice, Brian told the O/NSO that he would like to be back by next week, but he understands that there is no real rush and he doesn't want take a chance. Brian said, "I am getting better and better each day, but I don't to rush things. It's not like we have a game next week. I need to be patient and just work every day with the weights. It's kind of up in the air." So what does he miss when he isn't out there? Brian said, " I miss trying to do the new things. Practicing stuff on the field is different than learning it off the field. I do miss being with my teammates."

The Obvious – Unless a Nebraska "Trojan" season ticket holder doesn't renew "his" 2007 application, there could be a few Coliseum season tickets available.

The Not So Obvious – So what does UCLA basketball have to do with USC football? In Monday's Times, there was an ad for 2007-08 UCLA basketball season tickets with the promise of being eligible for tickets to this weekend's Final Four in Atlanta. Sounds like a good deal, but it raised the eyebrow of the O/NSO when a photo of Bruin guard Aaron Afflalo accompanied the ad. Even Bruin insiders have told the O/NSO that they don't expect the junior All-America guard to play his senior season in Westwood. Truth in advertising for next season? To your humble scribe, it would almost be like running a 2007 Trojan football season ticket advertisement with a photo of Dwayne Jarrett, who was busy this week with Pro Day activities.

The Obvious – While the Trojan offensive line continues to consist of tackles Sam Baker and Drew Radovich, guards Jeff Byers and Chilo Rachal, and center Nick Howell, coach Pat Ruel has been pleased with formation of player depth for 2007.

The Not So Obvious – A trio of offensive linemen have caught the eye of the O/NSO, and they include guards Thomas Herring and Zack Heberer and right tackle Charles Brown. Herring worked at both right guard and tackle, and Heberer showed impressive progress working with the second unit. Brown, too, has had his moments. True freshman Martin Coleman continues to show no fear as he has practiced at both tackles spots.

The Obvious – Former Trojan running back and Tennessee Titan LenDale White has attended practice this week.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO spent some time with "Thunder" to get his thoughts on a variety of subjects. On weather the NFL met his expectations, a more somber and serious LenDale replied, "The NFL is great." Naturally, talk turned to his impressions of this year's Trojans and with no reservation old No. 21 boasted, "We going to win another national championship. You can bet on that. We're going to win the national championship." As far as the adjustments it took going from college to pro, LenDale said, "It's really about the speed of the game; it's just a lot faster. Just like you have to adjust from high school to college, it's the same going from here to the pros. I will say that the adjustment from high school to college is harder than going from college to the pros." And as for his Tennessee Titans goals in 2007, LenDale revealed, "I want to start, gain around 1,400 to 1,500 yards, and go to the Pro Bowl."

The Obvious – The Trojans game at Nebraska on Sept. 15 figures to be nationally televised.

The Not So Obvious – Ironically, Nebraska running back Kenny Wilson broke his leg moving a television and will likely be out for the season. The Huskers are becoming razor thin at running back, even with the return of local product Marlon Lucky, who is now okay after an earlier health scare.

The Obvious – The Trojans appear to be riding high into next Saturday's Trojan Huddle, the annual spring game at the Coliseum, which will "kickoff" at noon.

The Not So Obvious – It figures to be another enjoyable outing for family and friends or just the curious that want to glimpse at next season's No. 1 team. The real bargain, aside from fun festivities around the Grand Old Gal, is that kids 12 years and under will get in free. Wouldn't shock us a bit if that suggestion came from Pete Carroll, the great Trojan public relations innovator, or have you forgotten his now traditional Trojan Walk? If isn't wasn't Coach Charisma, credit to the Heritage Hall minds that saw this kids-for-free innovation as one grand future recruiting tool.

The Obvious – The Trojans are relying heavily on junior David Buehler to replace the late Mario Danelo as the Trojans field goal kicker.

The Not So Obvious – Prior to Thursday, Buehler's accuracy appeared to be a work in progress. On Thursday, there was some positive consistency in his accuracy. The tragic irony of Mario Danelo's passing is the fact that the Trojans once had an opportunity to recruit current UCLA redshirt freshman kicker Kai Forbath, who came out of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame with All-America prep credentials. Don't jump on Pete Carroll for this one folks. We saw first hand Forbath's Trojan tryout in front of the coach, and saying he had an off day would be an understatement. It is indeed a tangled gridiron web we weave.

The Obvious – Incoming freshman running back Broderick Green was in attendance on Thursday.

The Not So Obvious – The Arkansas native spent some time after practice with the O/NSO and told us that he is staying until Sunday. His four-day rotating roommates are C.J. Gable, Damian Williams, and Martin Coleman. Broderick, who told us he is now 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds and had a smile from here to Little Rock, said, "Watching the team practice is driving me crazy and I am so anxious get out there and play. I feel like a little kid in a candy story. I will tell you one thing, I won't be one of those people that says he is homesick. You'll never hear that come out of my mouth. I will be returning in June to attend summer school."

The Obvious – It was only a matter of time before sophomore receiver Vidal Hazelton began displaying his skills that once made him one of the most sought after prep receivers in the land.

The Not So Obvious – Well, this week Vidal started living up to the hype as he not only made a number of fine catches but was a terror after the catch. You could see the excitement in the eyes of quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez, both of whom were recipients of Vidal's elusiveness for big gains after catches.

The Obvious – Wednesday's Pro Day brought out a number of NFL celebrities including former Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

The Not So Obvious – I t must have been mixed emotions for the play-calling legend as he strolled the campus which he helped bring back to football greatness. However, it's all about pro ball now for the good doctor, and he must have felt good seeing All-American Dwayne Jarrett, who said one of the reasons he came to Troy at the time was one Norman Chow.

The Obvious – Much attention was made this week concerning the 40 time registered by Dwayne Jarrett during his Pro Day run.

The Not So Obvious – Depending whose watch you trusted, Jarrett's time was either okay or troublesome. Perhaps the most compassionate time belonged to former fullback Ryan Powdrell, rebounding from last season's devastating leg injury. Ryan, who showed so much future promise before his injury, ran a reported 4.9 40 time. Here's hoping that Ryan gets other opportunities as his leg heals and has the good fortune that seems to be currently running through the leg of Desmond Reed.

The Obvious – The USC Rising Senior Camp, spotlighting high school seniors for the 2007 fall season who plan on playing at the collegiate level, takes place on June 21 and 22.

The Not So Obvious – This is the camp of the year for Trojan recruiting evaluation. The highlight last season was watching the excitement of incoming defensive end Everson Griffen come running down the Coliseum tunnel, and you knew then the Trojan were in the recruiting driver's seat. You can bet this camp, which is run as impressively as it gets, will again be the ultimate proving ground for Trojan prep hopefuls.

The Obvious – And finally, while this is a column mainly devoted to Trojan football, we would be remiss in not mentioning the passing this week of Don Mead, once considered the premiere basketball prep talent scout for the West Coast.

The Not So Obvious – For over a generation, Don was prep basketball's best friend and goodwill ambassador, always taking time to always put the athlete's best interest first. He was never a "flesh peddler" and we considered him a close friend. Don's main passion always remained USC football, and he knew many of the players and many of the football coaches, as well as the basketball staffs. We saw Don three weeks ago and he was very frail, but he still wanted to know how the Trojans were going to be in 2007 and what was happening with recruiting. From Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott to Paul Westphal and Harold Minor, Don knew then all and they all liked him. College and prep sports has lost a true gentleman, and he will be greatly missed by all.

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