O/NSO: Spring Hindsight edition

The sizzle of John David Booty passes, the crushing blocks of Sam Baker, and the lethal tackles of Rey Maualuga fell silent this weekend as the Pete Carroll's 2007 USC Trojans completed spring ball, but there was nothing silent about fans who dissected copiously Friday's depth chart and meticulously made their own evaluation on the progress of the probable No. 1 team in the country come August.

The Obvious – The sizzle of John David Booty passes, the crushing blocks of Sam Baker, and the lethal tackles of Rey Maualuga fell silent this weekend as the Pete Carroll's 2007 USC Trojans completed spring ball, but there was nothing silent about cardinal and gold fans who dissected copiously Friday's depth chart and meticulously made their own evaluation on the progress of the probable No. 1 team in the country come August.

The Not So Obvious – So what's a Trojan fan to do with the deafening silence? Prior to spring ball, your humble O/NSO correspondent looked into our cardinal and gold crystal ball to make some "Not So Obvious Pre-Spring Predictions." Now that the dust has settled, how did we do and what was accomplished as we reflect upon the final depth chart? We take time now to reflect upon our spring prognostications and give our own personal insight to the meaning of it all.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – We wrote, "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 will emerge 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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – John David continued to grow as a leader throughout the spring along with Baker, and as for the center position competition, by spring's end it continued to be the least cemented choice, although senior Matt Spanos emerged as the name on the final spring depth chart. Defensively, the leadership might come from those that didn't participate in spring like senior corner Terrell Thomas, although it's hard to argue against senior reserve linebacker Thomas Williams, who brings Pete Carroll energy. Aside from the publicized injuries and the academically injured, it appears that the Trojans got almost all they could from their spring stint. The bottom line? Despite all the injuries and some academic issues, the 2007 Trojans are as deep a team as this columnist has seen in over 45 years of following the Cardinal and Gold. Even the legendary John McKay would marvel over the current roster, a tribute to Pete Carroll and his staff.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – We wrote, "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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result - Yes, a large number of Trojan fans were delighted to see the Trojans, under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, incorporate the shotgun as a little extra diversity in the offense. Most regular observers to spring practice, including the O/NSO, felt there was just a different "feel" to the offense. The shotgun was a mixed bag of success early as both the centers and the quarterbacks went through the kinks of snapping and receiving the pigskin. By the end of spring, however, "The Gun" had improved markedly, and, yes, Booty and Mark Sanchez both looked like graduates of Evangel Christian. The late addition of running plays out of the shotgun created a new threat, and it figures the Trojans may have found themselves something good.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – In regards to the quarterback competition, we wrote, "Mute and moot point. Rhetorical question. No brainer. Case closed. Next category, Alex Trebek. Potential Trojan wide receivers for $100."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – To the shock and surprise of nobody, senior John David Booty firmly entrenched himself as the starting quarterback and why would anybody think a returning All-Pac-10 signal-caller and Heisman Trophy candidate would be beat out in the spring? Booty looked much smoother in running the club, but he still had moments of tipped passes and interceptions. Sophomore Mark Sanchez, who fought rumors of continued back discomfort, had a mixed spring bag, looked very much a former national player of the year one day and a quarterback who looked like he was rushing things to make plays to show his worth the next. After the Huddle, a public scrimmage that didn't showcase his vast potential, Mark settled down the final week by his own admission and played the way most Sanchez supporters had come to expect. Third string senior quarterback Mike McDonald would be selected to the All-Huddle Decade Team if such award existed for leading scoring drives in the annual spring public scrimmage, and he proved once again he would be very serviceable if needed in the fall. If former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain transfers to Troy, will versatile sophomore Garrett Green return to defense or be assigned to another position? Only time will tell.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Turning to the wide receiver position, we wrote, "It's (Patrick)Turner and (Vidal) Hazelton's jobs to lose, although watch out for redshirt freshman David Ausberry (6-5, 215), who could push Turner. (Travon) Patterson showed flashes of a real long distance threat, if the Trojans place him in specific situations. (Jamere) 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 (coach John) Morton's wide receivers will be the biggest constituency in John David Booty's Heisman campaign. The final starting spring depth chart will read Turner and Hazelton, but as our old Alhambra High geometry teacher Henry Gaul would say, "I guess you knew that."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – As expected Turner and Hazelton finished the spring as the starters. Turner stepped it up and provided some real spring success and Hazelton highlighted the ability to be a major threat after catching the ball. Ausberry was perhaps the biggest headliner of the receivers and reminded more than a number of observers of Mike Williams. Both Hazelton and Ausberry dropped some balls that probably will be caught as their careers and confidence develop, but there is no doubt here that they will get better with each game. Senior walk-on Brad Walker was his usually reliable self and drew praise from new receiver coach John Morton. A lot of late pub was pointed in the direction of the small but fleet sophomore Travon Patterson, and the former Poly star certainly had moments of explosiveness during the final two weeks of spring. Holland briefly excited the masses, but in the opinion of the O/NSO, must demonstrate he is not injury prone after again being placed on the shelf before the end of spring with a hairline fracture of his collarbone.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – In regards to the running back competition, we wrote, "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 (Chauncey)Washington goes to the head of the pack? No, nobody would be shocked, but neither should they be shocked if somebody like, um, (Allen) Bradford emerges. See, the O/NSO sticks by his guns, unless AB is moved to fullback and then all bets are off."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Have the Trojans improved their running game? The truth is only time and commitment to the rush will tell. The surprise did turn out to be Dennis, who seems to have the very best attribute of each of the competing backs. Staying healthy and receiving the NCAA acceptance for another season, Hershel should be ready to compete for the starting spot. Sophomore C.J. Gable showed no reason why he shouldn't be the No. 1 tailback, even though he didn't finish spring with a neck injury. Senior Washington looked the best we have seen him, but it seems it's always something with CW, so the O/NSO will take a wait and see attitude. CJ and CW finished spring listed as co-starters and that comes as no shock. Senior Desmond Reed was probably second in surprising developments behind Dennis as Desmond continues to improve his speed and quickness. With Dennis, Washington, and Reed as experienced and hungry vets, along with a workmanlike Gable, it will be challenging in the fall for any of the underclass returnees like Emmanuel Moody or Allen Bradford, both of whom had their moments until cut down by spring injuries, or any of the heralded frosh except for the multi-dimensional Joe McKnight. It is our opinion that a player like Bradford, who can play both tailback and fullback, might best served in 2007 to volunteer to do both to get on the field. The same could be said of sophomore Stafon Johnson, who did not compete in spring due to injury rehab and whose status now has more rumors and innuendo than a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – About the fullback competition, we wrote, "Just by shear numbers it would appear that (Stanley) 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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – So far we're batting a thousand and the spring depth chart lists Havili as the starting fullback for 2007. This is not a case of winning a job due to lack of competition, although right off the bat, Thomas Williams returned linebacker. Sophomore Stanley Steamer did it all, being exceptional as a pass receiver, blocker, and running back. With his improvement as a blocker, the Trojans are in business. Redshirt freshman walk-on Cooper Stephenson, listed as a tight end, drew raves for his ability to execute plays and the former San Diego Torrey Pines star could be a contributor if Bradford doesn't make the move to fullback. The big winner could be feisty incoming freshman Jordan Campbell, a frequent spring visitor who looks positioned for a great fullback opportunity if Bradford or Johnson isn't repositioned.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – In regards to the offensive line, we wrote, "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 (Jeff) 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 (Sam) Baker, (Drew)Radovich, (Jeff) Byers, (Chilo) Rachal, and (Matt) Spanos."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Oy veh, are we going to be penalized on our predictions because we got the right five offensive starters but not necessarily in the right positions? Our matrix blew up immediately like an NCAA first-round basketball bracket pool when the Trojans surprised a number of "experts' by immediately moving returning senior starting left guard Drew Radovich to right tackle to compete with sophomore Charles Brown. Most expected that senior Matt Spanos, who is hoping to be eligible for his final season, would be the end-of-spring right tackle, but he ended up winning the center position from sophomore Nick Howell. The Radovich moved was done for the mere fact that he could bolster a rushing attack better than Brown, who told the O/NSO that pass blocking is his best suit and that he still had work to be done on the rushing end. The Radovich move also made sense since Drew's natural position is tackle. The other big winner with the Radovich move was junior Jeff Byers, who until a final-week flu bug sidelined him, was playing his best ball at Troy. It's conceivable that the center competition, thanks to snapping exchange issues, is far from over and the academic status of Spanos will go a long way with that competition. A by-product was the development of a very solid second unit, which showed much improvement in redshirt freshman left tackle Butch Lewis, guards sophomore Thomas Herring and redshirt freshman Zack Heberer, and let's not forget senior Alatini Malu, who could see action if Byers is moved to center. We're not so sure this second unit wouldn't start for many Pac-10 squads. The bottom line is that the best five offensive linemen in the program are the starters.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Concerning the tight end position, we wrote, "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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Davis continued to show improvement and his was a job that was never in jeopardy. Heck, Freddie even showed his versatility by lining up at times at fullback. The bigger news was the development of a very functional Jimmy Miller, the junior from Westlake High. Jimmy made a number of nice catches and moved ahead for the moment over senior Dale Thompson.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – In regards to the placekicking, we wrote, "Knowing that the job is his and given the circumstances of his promotion, the O/NSO has confidence that David Buehler 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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – There is no question that it was a very shaky early part of spring for Buehler. Some say it was a new snapper and/or holder, which might be the case, but the bottom line is there was a high level of inconsistency. Near the end of spring ball, David seemed to hit a groove and some of the Trojan hand wringing subsided. He might see some competition enter in the summer, but at this point in time, only time will tell if he becomes a valued Trojan weapon or the Trojans' Achilles heel.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Alluding to the defensive line, we wrote, "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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Ah, we continue our perfect average of predictions as the front line listed at the end of spring was Jackson and Moore at the ends and Ellis and Moala on the inside. The player that needed to step up the most was junior Kyle Moore, who played with more of a sense of urgency than in the past. Part of that urgency could have been the footsteps of ballyhooed incoming freshman Everson Griffen as Pete Carroll continued to expression his enthusiasm for the unproven Griffen. The most improved defensive lineman in the spring was sophomore Alex Parsons, whose "motor" and intensity drew raves from the coaching staff. Another backup that made progress was junior Gerald Washington, the tight end convert, who had a habit of knocking balls down at the line of scrimmage and getting into the backfield. Sophomore Averell Spicer, who will back up Ellis, showed better quickness than in the past with reduced weight. Senior Alex Morrow, perhaps sensing this was his last opportunity to make a statement, displayed some senior intensity and it will be interesting to see in the fall where he fits in the mix.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Regarding the linebacker competition, we wrote, "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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result - The Trojans boast the three best starting linebackers in the country in senior All-Pac-10 outside linebacker Keith Rivers, junior All-Pac-10 middle backer Rey Maualuga, and junior outside backer Brian Cushing (6-4, 245), a second-team All-Pac-10 selection. Any simple twit could have been as right about the final spring outcome. Wow, guess the O/NSO is a simple twit. However, there was some noteworthy competition to back up the three superstars. Valuable senior Thomas Williams finished spring behind Maualuga, junior Clay Mathews, sporting long blond hair that gave an intimidating Viking look, continued to impress, and junior Kaluka Maiava, played like a Matt Grootegoed at times. Sophomore Luthur Brown continued to improve in the middle and as he stays healthy he will be a force in the future.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Concerning the secondary, we wrote, "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 deep and talented secondary is paramount. Unless (Shareece) Wright, or (Vincent) Joseph can unseat Cary Harris, by spring's end it'll remain Terrell Thomas and (Cary) Harris at the corners and Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays at the safety positions."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – As the Beatles once crooned, "And in the end," yes, the final spring chart had sophomore Harris senior and Thomas at the corners and junior Ellison and sophomore Mays at the safeties, although junior Josh Pinkard was given co-billing with Mays despite been out most of the spring with injury rehab. The big winners were sophomore Wright and junior Mozique McCurtis, both of whom delivered some big hits and stepped up to the plate.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – Of special teams, we wrote, "Pete Carroll doesn't want average special teams and coach 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 Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Well, Desmond Reed continued as the Trojans punt returner with his catching reliability and improving quickness and speed. Junior punter Greg Woidneck had little competition so he's still the man, and C.J. Gable will continue to return kickoffs but could be joined by sophomore Vincent Joseph or junior Cary Harris. There were field goal attempts blocked in the spring so you could say that was a good sign on one hand and a bad sign on the other. If anything, the Trojans had a chance to mix and match new applicants in snapping and holding but will rely on the return of senior snapper Will Collins.

The Obvious Pre-Spring Prediction – We wrote, " 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."

The Not So Obvious Hindsight Result – Well, it looks like the old O/NSO passed our own Pre-Spring Prediction test with flying cardinal and gold colors. So what does the O/NSO make of it all? There is no question that this team is equipped to win a national title, but we don't believe it will be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. Even with Pete Carroll national championship teams, there were games in which that championship character was severely tested. It remains to be seen if the 2007 Trojans have the right stuff, but one thing we do know and that is which team will start the season as No. 1 in the country. That answer is rather "Obvious."


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