With the departure of Patrick Turner, the Trojans will be looking for a No.3 receiver to go along with the talented duo of Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson. One player that appears ready to step into that role is the always-smooth Brice Butler.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver has looked terrific in the Trojans' players-only off-season workouts where he has emerged as one of the most productive offensive players during 7-on-7 drills.
Butler arrived at USC a very polished player that ran great routes and had above average hands. Now, with a year to get comfortable with the college game and learn the offensive system, he is ready to step up and secure an important role for the Trojans this upcoming season.
Outlook: With a year of experience under his belt, Butler has been much more confident this off-season, and has become one of the favorite targets of all four of the Trojans' quarterbacks. Look for the talented young receiver to battle with David Ausberry, Brandon Carswell and Travon Patterson for the No.3 spot and emerge as a regular contributor on the offensive side of the ball in 2009.
A key member of the 2008 recruiting class, Tyron Smith quickly showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of Rancho Verde High School. The athletic offensive tackle appeared in 10 games as a true freshman in 2008, and made great progress throughout the season.
At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds and no body fat to speak of, Smith has the frame, athleticism and work ethic to develop into a truly special player in the very near future. He received valuable experience as a backup last season, and benefitted greatly from the coaching of offensive line coach Pat Ruel.
The Trojans return all five starters on the offensive line in 2009, but with Smith's unlimited upside he could eventually crack the starting lineup at left tackle.
Outlook: Smith will definitely push for the starting left tackle spot, and many feel he has the potential to work his way into the starting lineup in his sophomore season. Whether Smith becomes the official starter or not, he will be a major contributor on the offensive line in 2009, and has the upside to develop into a high-level NFL prospect in the next few years.
Shareece Wright was penciled in as one of the Trojans starting cornerbacks in 2008, but only participated in the first two games of the season before suffering a hairline fracture in his neck that ended his season.
Wright is a very physical corner that has great one-on-one coverage skills, and has been compared to former Trojan cornerback Will Poole, because of his toughness, blitzing ability and willingness to come up and make a play in run support.
The secondary should be the strength of the defense in 2009, and the return of Wright provides Pete Carroll and Rocky Seto the flexibility to play Josh Pinkard at both the cornerback and safety positions.
Outlook: Wright has worked tirelessly this off-season on the practice field with Ronald Johnson, Damian Williams and Brice Butler. The confident cornerback from Colton has the ability and swagger to develop into one of the top cornerbacks in the Pac-10.
As a freshman in 2008, Casey came into fall camp a bit out of shape, but quickly got acclimated to the college game and was a solid contributor while appearing in 12 games his first year.
Casey proved to be a natural at the nose tackle position because of his low pad level and quickness of the ball. His quickness and ability to cause havoc in the backfield have led to comparisons to former USC defensive lineman Mike Patterson.
Casey has benefitted from having a year to work with Coach Carlisle and the strength and conditioning staff, and will be a key member of the young, but very talented defensive line.
Outlook: Casey will look to build on his impressive freshman campaign with a breakout season in 2009. The big defensive lineman from Long Beach Poly will team up with Christian Tupou to give the Trojans a solid duo at nose tackle.
Jurrell Casey (Getty Images/Jeff Golden)
Michael Morgan is one of the more experienced linebackers on the Trojans roster, following a very productive sophomore season in which he recorded 22 tackles (5 for losses) and a fumble recovery, while appearing in 12 games as a backup.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound outside linebacker opened some eyes with his production and steady play last season. He has a very thin frame but proved to be a sure tackler and has great speed and instincts.
Outlook: Michael Morgan is expected to start for the Trojans at strong-side linebacker this season. With his exceptional speed he has the potential to cause headaches for opposing offenses.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at firstname.lastname@example.org