O/NSO: Huddle center of attention edition

When Pete Carroll trots out his spring 2007 Trojans for Saturday's noon Trojan Huddle scrimmage at the Coliseum, the real center of attention will literally be the competing Trojan centers, and knowledgeable Trojan fans may find themselves transfixed with the competition amongst Nick Howell, Matt Spanos, and Jeff Byers.

The Obvious –When Pete Carroll trots out his spring 2007 Trojans for Saturday's noon Trojan Huddle scrimmage at the Coliseum, the real center of attention will literally be the competing Trojan centers, and knowledgeable Trojan fans may find themselves transfixed with the competition amongst Nick Howell, Matt Spanos, and Jeff Byers.

The Not So Obvious – It's hard to believe that the contending Trojan center position would be getting this much pub, but it's been a long time since somebody other than Ryan Kalil snapped the ball to a Trojan quarterback. It has been public knowledge that there has been snapping issues this spring, regardless of quarterback, shotgun or no shotgun. Most Cardinal and Gold fans will come to see the skills competition amongst quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez, running backs C.J. Gable, Chauncey Washington, and Desmond Reed, and wide receivers Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton, David Ausberry, and Travon Patterson, but like a key in the ignition, the Trojans need a good snap to get their expected high-powered offensive machine started.

The Obvious – Weather for Saturday's Coliseum Huddle celebration calls for a high of 66 and mostly cloudy.

The Not So Obvious – The real whether report will be whether the average fan will take the opportunity to be ‘honorary" Cardinal and Gold Club member for a day and sit in those normal 50-yard line pricey sections. Not that most Trojan fans are totally unhappy with their regular season spots, but the chance to sit in the shade under the Coliseum press box and enjoy the good life makes it all worthwhile. It will also be interesting whether the additional news that Trojan students with an ID card get into the Huddle for free will greatly increase attendance. A 15,000 to 20,000 is the guess of the O/NSO.

The Obvious – Tickets for the Huddle are $10 for adults and free for children 10-years and younger.

The Not So Obvious – Gates open at 11:00 a.m. and Coliseum concession stands will be open for all the Hungry Jacks out there. There is also the tasty rumor that the popular Lawry's prime sandwich booth will be open for business. And, yes, there will be the usual Trojan Fan Fest and that should tire out the younger set. For our tastes, the O/NSO enjoys the available merchandise, especially those got-to-move'em post-Rose Bowl merchandise.

The Obvious – A plaque unveiling ceremony commemorating USC's 125th Anniversary and the USC All-American Football Players who have received first team honors since 1925 will be unveiled at 10:30 a.m.

The Not So Obvious – You early birds will want to head to the Coliseum's Peristyle's Memorial Court of Honor (Gate 31) to view the ceremony. Among those All-Americans expected to make an appearance are Hal Bedsole (1962), Adrian Young (1967), Mike Battle (1968), John Vella (1971), Anthony Davis (1974), Bill Bain (1974), Paul McDonald (1979) Jeff Bregel (1986), and Judy McKeever, widow of USC All-American Marlin McKeever.

The Obvious – Offensive line coach Pat Ruel begins his third season with the Trojans, and he took time in preparation for Saturday's Huddle to talk this week with the O/NSO about the center competition.

The Not So Obvious – Pat said, "We‘ve got three candidates working there right now in Nick Howell, Matt Spanos, and Jeff Byers. All three are taking reps. Nick started off with the first group for the first part of spring and now we're going to take a look at Matt Spanos and Jeff Byers and see how they do. We'll make some decisions when we get towards the end of spring on who we think will be the No. 1 guy. At this point, we've had a couple fumbled snaps here in the middle of spring, which by this time those should be gone. The quarterbacks are getting adjusted to those guys and those guys got to stay focused. We're addressing the problem and I am expecting us to get better."

The Obvious – The initial spring starter for Ruel was Nick Howell, the sophomore out of Fresno Bullard High.

The Not So Obvious – In accessing Nick, coach Ruel said, "Nick Howell has got some natural knee bend, a natural bender. He's a little light, but he's fairly quick. He's a little new to the position because he never played it in high school, but we're teaching it to him. He's done some really good things. Pass protection is probably his forte."

The Obvious – The current leading candidate is Matt Spanos, the senior from Corona High.

The Not So Obvious – Concerning Matt, who was running with the first unit on Thursday, coach Ruel says, "Matt Spanos is a more physical type of guy, but Matt has had some academic issues. He looks like he's going to be okay and we are going to give him the opportunity to see if he can win the spot. He's a much more physical guy and a 300-pounder who can come off the ball on ya, but yet he needs better pass pro; his weakness is pass pro right now."

The Obvious – Center candidate No. 3 is Jeff Byers, the finally heathly lineman from Fort Collins High in Colorado.

The Not So Obvious – On Byers, who has had a wonderful spring at left guard and seems destined to be an emergency center, Ruel says, "Then there is Jeff and he is probably our most versatile guy of the three, but Jeff has been playing a lot of left guard right now, and I think what will happen is we'll see if he can come in and play center. He understands the calls and all that stuff. If you're going to be a good football team, you have to make sure you have three guys. It's like quarterbacks, you just don't know; it's a very critical position."

The Obvious – Parking at the Coliseum will be $10.

The Not So Obvious – In this day and age, hey, you can't complain when the parking cost is equal to the adult admission price. FYI, parking will be available off Martin Luther King Blvd. and Hoover St.

The Obvious – This will be the second week in a row that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and passing game coordinator and wide receiver coach John Morton rehearse their communication for the fall.

The Not So Obvious - Only this Saturday, it's not the roof of Dedeaux Field for Morton but the Coliseum press box. On his role for Saturday and in the fall, Morton said, "All I am going to do on game day is just be another pair of eyes for Coach Sarkisian. He's going to call the plays. I am going to be upstairs doing tendencies and things like that and play thoughts. We will be in direct communication on down-and-distance and blitzes and pressures. I'll pretty much be in control of the press box in what's going on. If I've got any thoughts, I'll give them to him (Sarkisian) and go from there. It's pretty much the same as it was with him and Kiffin. We want to try and keep that going, and he'll be calling the plays on the field as opposed to "Kiff," who was calling the plays upstairs."

The Obvious – Trojan fans will get a chance on Saturday to see the progress of Heisman quarterback candidate John David Booty and backup Mark Sanchez.

The Not So Obvious – On the Loose Cannons radio show on Wednesday afternoon, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was asked about the competition at quarterback and if Sanchez had a chance to beat out Booty. Sark replied, "Every position is up for grabs. Every kid knows that he can complete. John David has a lot of reps and experience and that is what makes him hard to beat out."

The Obvious – There are many that subscribe to the possibility that if Pete Carroll does eventually make a move back to the NFL, Trojan offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who once played baseball at Troy, will be a strong head coaching candidate.

The Not So Obvious – On the prospect of being the future head coach coach at Troy, Sark told the Loose Cannons, "I want to be a head coach at some point and if it happens to be at SC, it would be a tremendous honor." On the rumor that Marc Tyler might be moved to the secondary, Sark quickly said, "Marc Tyler will not be moved to the secondary and he is going to get the opportunity to compete against everybody." On the overload of tailback talent, Sark said, "Give me 50 of them. You never have enough and look at the life span of an NFL running back. You have to be able to take a pounding. If you put your eggs in one basket, somebody's going to get nicked up."

The Obvious – Trojan fans will get their first look at the "new" offensive line that figures to start Sam Baker and Drew Radovich at the tackles, Jeff Byers and Chilo Rachal at the guards, and Matt Spanos at center.

The Not So Obvious – Don't forget to watch the second unit of Pat Ruel's offensive line. There some real comers in guards Zack Heberer and Thomas Herring and keep a sharp eye on left tackle Butch Lewis, who could really be a good one when Sam Baker departs.

The Obvious – Saturday's observers will get their first look at the Trojan tailback competition and, boy, is there ever.

The Not So Obvious – Unfortunately, Trojan fans will not be able to see Allen Bradford, who is out the rest of spring with a reported hip flexor, but you'll enjoy seeing C.J. Gable, who looks bigger, faster, and stronger along with a healthy Chauncey Washington, who teases you with all that potential. Senior Hershel Dennis doesn't figure to play on Saturday, but his performance this week in practice was very encouraging as HD looked mighty good, as did Desmond Reed, who will play on Saturday.

The Obvious – When we last spoke, good readers, we mentioned that Sam Baker had grown a very NFL-like beard.

The Not So Obvious – So if you are in line to get an autograph after the scrimmage, you won't need to ask if he is keeping his beard for the fall. In talking with the articulate Baker after a practice this week, Sammy told us he plans on keeping the beard for the fall. Apparently his girlfriend says she likes it and No. 79 says, "That's on the record."

The Obvious – The Trojans are beyond razor thin at fullback and certainly could have used an extra year from Brandon Hancock. to spell current sophomore starter Stanley Havili.

The Not So Obvious – FYI, Brandon will grace the Coliseum turf once again as he has been added to the highly successful Trojan Flashback Camp for adults. Hancock will be joined by Jaguar Jon Arnett and the original Trojan safety terror, Mike Battle, a player with legendary stories and fables as part of John McKay's championship team of the 60s. Add the return of Anthony Davis and if you have the coin, give it some thought and just check out www.flashbackcamps.com or call (888)28-FLASH for more information.

The Obvious – Saturday will provide Trojan fans a chance to view the candidates at wide receiver who hope to replace the likes of All-American Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

The Not So Obvious – One of those candidates is Vidal Hazelton, the sophomore originally out of New York City. On being projected as a possible replacement for Steve Smith, Vidal told the O/NSO, "I am not trying to think about that. I am just trying to go out there and compete and show the coaches that I am the right person for the job and just keep playing hard."

The Obvious – Vidal Hazelton was involved in one of Pete Carroll's most intense recruiting battles, and Vidal appears to have adjusted well on the field since his freshman year.

The Not So Obvious – Vidal said, " I feel a lot better because I can go out there and play much faster now. Now I don't have to worry about if I am doing the right thing. I can go out there and just play."

The Obvious – Trojan fans figure to get their first taste of the shotgun and any detectable offensive changes with Steve Sarkisian now in charge of the offense.

The Not So Obvious – As a receiver, Vidal Hazelton said he really likes the shotgun as something new and as far as any changes with "Sark," Vidal adds, " Not really. It's just the same concepts and we've got to move with a quicker tempo, and he's a great coach who emphasizes it a lot." On the addition of new wide receiver coach John Morton, Vidal said, " He brings a lot to the table because he was a receiver back in his days, so he like knows the kind of things that we go through. He's trying to guide us through some of the mistakes he made and try to perfect them."

The Obvious – With all the Trojans receiving talent that will be on display on Saturday, there isn't a coach in America that couldn't want to be in coach John Morton's shoes.

The Not So Obvious – Coach Morton, who will recruit the San Diego area for Pete Carroll and will be virtually making his D-1 college coaching debut due to a coaching career in the NFL, is giddy over his new job. Of his fresh Trojan experience and his receivers, Morton says, " This is my first time college experience and it's been a blast. It's been awesome. The practices have so much energy and high tempo, way more than most NFL teams. It's unbelievable, a reflection on coach Carroll. The receiver group is pretty impressive. They are NFL-style receivers. We run an NFL style offense, and you need those prototype receivers. They are big body guys who go up and make plays. We have small guys that are short and quick and do little things inside. (Patrick) Turner is one who has been here and he is the one that needs to be the leader. We're hoping that he does that and he has been working very hard. The other guys that are coming up like David Ausberry and Vidal Hazelton and Travon Patterson are young guys and they just got to keep working hard every day. It's great competition out here and it's all up for grabs. That's the beauty of this and competition. You always have to bring your "A" game every day. If you don't, the next guy is right in line."

The Obvious – Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh continues to back his assertion that this coming season will be the final curtain call for Pete Carroll as the Trojans head coach.

The Not So Obvious – You can give credit for major courage by Harbaugh in sticking to is guns, but you have to wonder what his Cardinal players must be thinking, considering they're the ones playing against Carroll's lads.

The Obvious – The Trojans hosted their Junior Day last weekend.

The Not So Obvious – Stanford hosted their Junior Day last weekend and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist was given the star treatment by Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh and staff. Now, you don't think that Harbaugh's recent comments about Pete Carroll's predicted departure had anything to do with Crist visiting The Farm's Junior Day, do you? Maybe not, but Harbaugh, like the Westwooders, are now playing hardball with the Trojans' recruiting program.

The Obvious – It's expected that a number of the heralded incoming freshmen class will be in attendance on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – A regular visitor to practice already is California State Player of the Year Aaron Corp, the quarterback sensation out of Orange County. On the elevator down from one of the local parking structures, Aaron, who lives in Villa Park, says he tries to make all the practices despite the freeway challenges late in the day. Aaron said, " I usually take the 5 freeway to the 91 and then come down the 110." Of course, Aaron said that it doesn't hurt when he has future Trojan and Orange Lutheran teammate Michael Reardon to help ride the Diamond Lane. Aaron told the O/NSO that it has really helped watching and learning the new terminology and seeing it in spring practice.

The Obvious – And finally, The Prime Ticket Lexus Gauntlet Show was being filmed during Tuesday's practice.

The Not So Obvious – Being taped in the east end zone corner of Howard Jones Field, co-host John Jackson was in his Sunday finest when we approached him about why some of the Trojan special team kickoff players were wearing black mesh over their faces, "J.J." gave a very academic look and then replied, "Ah, they're just messing around." Shhh, don't tell Joe Paterno or Lloyd Carr.


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