Mid-Spring Report: Top Performers

With eight practices in the books, SCPlaybook's Kevin Carden takes a look at which players have done the most to elevate their stock this spring. Look inside to see which Trojans made the list.

Curtis McNeal (22) - RS Freshman - Tailback

There is no denying the fact that tailback Curtis McNeal has been the breakout performer for the Trojans this spring.

The elusive redshirt freshman has received the bulk of the carries during practices and has taken advantage of the opportunity by making big play after big play.

In Saturdays' scrimmage, McNeal keyed the ground attack, rushing for a team-high 101 yards on 13 carries.

"He ran the ball beautifully," Carroll said of McNeal's 100-yard performance. "He ran tough, made guys miss him and showed good speed on the edge.

"He did some really good stuff."

With the way the 5-foot-8 tailback has performed this spring, Pete Carroll and the offensive staff are going to have to find a way to get him touches in the crowded backfield.

McNeal would be a great weapon on third down situations, catching the ball out of the backfield and as a possible return man on special teams.

Curtis McNeal (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

Matt Barkley (7) - Freshman - Quarterback

What Matt Barkley has been able to do in his first eight practices as a Trojan has been truly remarkable. The strong-armed freshman from Mater Dei arrived on campus with a good deal of hype and has surpassed all expectations with his play and maturity this spring.

"I'm really surprised that he is able to handle the stuff as well as he is handling it," Carroll said. "He's eight practices old and he's hanging in there."

Many felt it was nearly impossible for a player with no college experience to compete with Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain, but Barkley has more than held his own and is getting better with every practice.

Barkley has outperformed the competition in the past two practices and was the star of the group during Saturday's scrimmage, passing for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

"We haven't seen a freshman able to do this in all of the years," Carroll said. "It's giving him a chance to compete for the job."

It appears that Aaron Corp still has a slight lead because he has made the least mistakes, but Barkley has made the most plays and is making a real run at the starting spot.

If Barkley can limit his mistakes things could get very interesting.

Matt Barkley (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

Malcolm Smith (6) - Junior - Outside Linebacker

Malcolm Smith has solidified his role as the starting weakside linebacker with a very impressive showing so far this spring.

Smith is a very active, athletic linebacker that has come into his own and become one of the most productive players on the defensive side of the ball.

Smith was the star of the Trojans' first scrimmage where he scooped up a fumble and weaved his way down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown.

"There is no doubt that he is a unique athlete. He's really fast, he's really nifty and we got to see him run," Carroll said after Smith's touchdown. "You can see he is like a running back playing linebacker."

The junior linebacker has six tackles, 2 fumble recoveries and a tackle for loss in the Trojans' two scrimmages.

Malcolm Smith (Paul Pinner Photo)

David Ausberry (9) - RS Junior - Wide Receiver

Wide receiver David Ausberry has been one of the most consistent playmakers this spring. The big, physical junior appears to have a slight lead over Brice Butler for the No.3 receiver position after eight practices, and could emerge as a serious contributor in 2009.

Ausberry has been very productive during practice and has used his big frame to become a real weapon in the redzone.

"David (Ausberry) is playing huge. David's really finally playing consistently," Carroll said. "Everyday he's had a good day.

"He's always been spectacular at times but his consistency is the best it's been. That's really a good sign for us."

David Ausberry (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

Everson Griffen (93) - Junior - Defensive End

After missing the first practice of spring because of disciplinary reasons, defensive end Everson Griffen has responded by playing with great passion and effort.

The talented junior, who is suddenly the veteran on the defensive line, has spent most of his time chasing down the Trojans' quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage.

Griffen has lacked focus in the past but has benefitted greatly from his time with new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.

"Everson and Jethro are hitting it off now," Carroll said. "He's very determined to grow up and play like a really big time player and Jethro's all over him every snap."

Griffen has recorded a sack in each of the Trojans' two scrimmages.

Everson Griffen (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

Just missed the list: Malik Jackson, Tyron Smith, Armond Armstead, Rhett Ellison, T.J. Bryant, Kevin Thomas

*Discuss more on the SCPlaybook.com message boards

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at kevin@scplaybook.com

USCFootball.com Top Stories