GP - It was amazing, he didn't even take part in any drills until the third week of spring ball but once he got back on the field it didn't take Hershel Dennis long to thrust himself right back into the thick of the running back competition. After sitting out for roughly two years due to injury, we didn't quite know what to expect from Hershel but once he got the ball in his hands we were reminded of his smooth running style and graceful cutting ability. Hershel showed the Trojan Huddle crowd that he was back with a dazzling touchdown catch and run, he followed that up during the final scrimmage of the spring with another solid performance. Assuming he is granted a sixth year of eligibility, Hershel proved this spring that he is deserving of a shot to compete for the starting job in the fall.
GK - Although his stint was not as pronounced in the early weeks of spring ball, there is no question in our mind that the sudden emergence and successful return of tailback Hershel Dennis, both in practice and The Huddle, was a surprise to most everybody. Assuming he gets that extra season of eligibility and stays healthy during conditioning, Hershel has reestablished himself as a major player for 2007, despite the expected intense tailback competition in August. Mr Dennis is back in the mix and with the Trojans are going for a national championship, his experience, hunger, and rehabilitated talent will be hard to ignore. The bottom line to us was that Hershel has the best traits of all the current tailbacks in his game, and it will be hard to ignore when fall practice begins.
GY - The player who helped himself the most this spring was Hershel Dennis. Before the Huddle, I did not foresee Hershel getting quality playing time. I noticed that he was running fluently in practice, but always with a brace, and it seemed to always be in a mop up role after the heart of practice. In the Huddle he got a real chance, played without the brace and showed his old form. When you factor in blocking, I think he is our most complete RB and will see the field often next fall. If he has a very good fall camp, he might even be the starter.
What was your favorite position battle to watch?
GP - My favorite position battle to watch was at running back. Every Trojan fan knows that we have multiple weapons available to us at this spot and it seemed as if they all took turns showing us why they should be in the mix. Early on it was C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington who jumped out to the lead, then Desmond Reed began showing flashes of his old self. Emmanuel Moody didn't get much action this spring but what we saw was very good. Allen Bradford looked natural running the ball in one early scrimmage but then injuries took a toll on Allen, C.J. and Emmanuel to the point where they sat out the last part of spring. That allowed Hershel more opportunities once he got back on the field and he took advantage of them. By the time the last day of spring rolled around we were down to only a few backs and we had to put Stanley Havili at the tailback spot for much of the final scrimmage and all he did was rush for over 100 yards that day. Needless to say, the Trojans are not lacking for candidates to tote the rock.
GK - Our favorite position competition battle to watch was the center position. The battle to become the starting center for the 2007 Trojans between Matt Spanos, Nick Howell, and, to a lesser degree, Jeff Byers was very intense and that pressure may have led to some of alarming fumbled snaps. Although most agree the battle was primarily a Spanos-Howell competition, Byers, who figures to be the starting left guard, is a good safety valve in the event of injury or lack of production from the other two. Watching these guys test themselves against All-America nose tackle Sedrick Ellis was a boon for the coaching staff to try and figure out who the starter would eventually be. Although Spanos appears to have finished as the starter, the fact that Matt suffered the high ankle sprain adds intrigue heading into the off season.
GY - Center was the marquee position battle in spring ball for me. All three aspirants, Howell, Spanos and Byers, had problems with many fumbled snaps in weeks one and two although some of that may have been the QB?s. At first it looked like Nick Howell had the advantage as he was playing with the first unit in week one. Then Matt Spanos came on with his 305 lbs of very physical play. Too bad he went down with an injury but that is only temporary. I was surprised that the coaches moved Jeff Byers onto the #1 unit after Spanos went out. He had some trouble at first but later had several very good days. I?ve noticed that in the spring, sometimes the coaches play someone on the first unit to see what they can do even though they intend for someone else to start ahead of them later. Spanos is now #1 on the depth chart going into the fall. Congratulations Matt!
Name a young underclassman or two who jumped out to you as someone to watch next fall?
GP - There are so many young guys who stood out but I will focus on a few up and coming guys on the offensive side of the ball. First of all, Havili is going to be a big time guy for USC before too long. Can you say Malaefou MacKenzie? That is who Stanley reminds me of with his abilities both as a runner and pass catcher. A pair of young receivers really opened my eyes in David Ausberry and Travon Patterson. They bring different skills to the table but both should be big parts of the Trojan passing game in the fall. On the line, there are many good young players developing but the best story to me was watching the progress being made by Thomas Herring. This guy has gone through so much to get to this point and he is finally looking like a real football player. He has so much power and athleticism, he is probably still a year away from really contributing but it's great to see it all starting to come together for him.
GK - Considering the defense is highly experienced upper classmen and not considered "young" compared to the offense, you'd have to look at the offense and begin with redshirt freshman receiver David Ausberry. You could get an argument that at times that Big David was the best receiver out there during spring ball. He reminds us so much of Mike Williams that at times it's downright scary. Defenders just seem to slide off him like he's a human jar of vaseline. Sophomore fullback Havili will be a force coming out of the backfield and looks to be able to do things that made fans get excited about in Ryan Powdrell. Yep, coming into the fall, there are no up and coming spring impact players for the fall than Mr. Ausberry and Mr. Havili. As far as defensive players, you have to like soph corner Shareece Wright and soph defensive lineman Alex Parsons. So much for just a young underclassman or two.
GY - The redshirt freshman that could become a starter on day one is David Ausberry. He won't beat out Turner, but when we had three receivers on the field, he'll likely be there. We thought he was good based on his performance on the scout team last fall, but he solidified that evaluation in my mind with his consistently excellent play this spring. Taylor Mays has moved his game up a notch and become a physically dominating DB. He played well last year but was a little tentative I thought. Well, not now. Travon Patterson has also moved up to become a potential "game breaker" in my mind.
Most impressive position unit?
GP - It's hard to argue against the linebacker group being the most impressive position unit. Even with an early spring injury to Brian Cushing we got to see how much depth and talent is available within this group. We know all about the starters, they are as good as it gets. I'm also here to say that there have been many years when we would have been thrilled to throw our 2nd unit out there as starters with guys like Kaluka Maiava, Thomas Williams and Luthur Brown. Maiava stood out to me as someone who continues to improve his game in an unsung fashion while Williams is a versatile guy who can play any of the backer spots and is as hard a hitter as we have on the team. Don't forget someone like Clay Matthews who can definitely play as well.
GK - Well, it comes as no shock that the most impressive position unit to us is the linebacking corp. Yeah, you're all shocked by that revelation. The fact remains, when Brain Cushing, Rey Maualuga, and Keith Rivers were healthy as a unit in the early parts of spring, boy, they were a sight to behold. Let's face it, all three will be in the NFL and it shows. Equally exciting for Trojan fans and not so exciting for Trojan opponents, the backup linebacking members would be starting for most college teams. We were pleased to see sophomore Luthur Brown healthy, and the former Lakewood star gives reason for Trojan fans to be excited for the future.
GY - As for the most impressive position unit, we're stacked at every position except FB and PK where we were only 1 deep for spring camp. Since there were so many injuries at the RB spot, I'm picking linebacker as our premier position. Cushing was out most of spring but I had the feeling that the coaches were just letting the others have some quality playing time. When Galippo and Smith show up this fall and Michael Morgan gets healthy, we'll be 4-deep with quality linebackers.
What thoughts will you take from this spring ball session?
GP - The thing that I will take away the most from this spring ball session is the optimism for the offense. I'm very pleased with what we've seen so far from Steve Sarkisian and the offensive play selection, we seem to be doing a very good job of getting the ball to our skill players and letting them do the damage. I love the quick hitches, the passes out of the backfield to the running backs, all of the plays designed to get the ball to your best players in open space.
GK - Our overall thoughts are really quite simple. The Trojans are fully capable of winning the national championship, but it is also our belief that this team is no slam dunk to do it. There are some serious questions that remain and with every team, there is always a game or two that is a true test of national championship courage and resolve. The absence of late placekicker Mario Danelo, who would have been a major weapon in those "crucible" games, was evident during spring ball as his replacement, David Buehler, who has a cannon for a leg, was still working on his accuracy and consistency. For all his progress during his 2006 All-Pac-10 season, quarterback John David Booty will be out to prove he is a national championship quarterback by avoiding catastrophic turnovers (interceptions) as were the case against Oregon State and UCLA. During the spring, he ran the offense almost effortlessly and he should benefit from expertise of new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. If the Trojans are going to again be the kingpins of college football, JD is going to have to play at a Heisman winning level. Oh, and speaking of Sarkisian, nobody can convince us that there isn't a different "feel" to this year's offense, at least in the springtime. Near the end of spring, the offense really blossomed and the defense was, at times, on its heels. Don't know if we're ready to say that Sark is the second coming of Norman Chow, but that "feel" sure had a Tennessee directional sensation. Sark certainly had the Trojans putting a great deal of emphasis on the running game in a physical sense, so that in itself should made for interesting "reading" in the fall.
GY - The first thing I noticed this spring was that this team was ready to play from the first moment. They were in condition, knew the plays and had a gung-ho attitude. A few new things were introduced like the shotgun formation but they adjusted well. I believe this team was more polished than any I remember from past springs. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done to be ready for the season. Especially on special teams. The top impression from the spring is that the offensive play calling is already more effective. Maybe I deluding myself, but I think I see an offense building that not only overpowers but also out thinks the opponents.