What We've Learned: Spring Edition

After watching every snap, at every practice this spring, SCPlaybook's Kevin Carden lets you know what he learned about the 2009 USC Trojans. What was the biggest surprise? Which players are ready to contribute? Look inside for the answers and much more.

We learned that: Special teams is going to be an emphasis again under the coaching of Brian Schneider. It was nice to see the Trojans focusing on special teams during practice and getting all the players involved. With the talent on USC's roster their special teams should be, well, special.

We learned that: Pete Carroll's best recruiting job this offseason may have been luring Jeremy Bates, Jethro Franklin and Brian Schneider from the NFL to USC. The trio of young, talented coaches have made several positive changes, and received rave reviews from Carroll and the players. Bates came in and made things easier for the offense by simplifying the terminology, Franklin has Everson Griffen and the defensive line playing at a very high level and Schneider has made special teams a priority.

We learned that: The secondary has the potential to be the best group that Carroll has had in his time at USC. The Trojans have playmakers at every spot in the secondary, along with good versatility and depth. All-American Taylor Mays is one of the top players in college football, Josh Pinkard has the versatility to star at either safety or corner, Shareece Wright is a rising star and Will Harris, Kevin Thomas, T.J. Bryant, Marshall Jones, Drew McAllister, Shane Horton and Brian Baucham aren't too shabby either.

We learned that: The young defensive line was the surprise of the spring. Whether it was Everson Griffen taking his game to another level, Armond Armstead making a seamless transition to defensive end or Nick Perry's explosive performance at the Trojan Huddle, everyday a different defensive lineman stepped up and made plays.

We learned that: Matt Barkley was as good as advertised. It's always hard to live up to the hype when you are a top flight recruit, but Matt Barkley was able to do just that with his play and presence this spring. The freshman from Mater Dei has all the physical tools and more importantly has the right mental approach to handle all the attention he receives.

We learned that: The decision to move D.J. Shoemate to fullback is going to pay dividends in 2009. The sophomore from Servite has similar skills to Stanley Havili, and is the perfect fit for what the USC system asks of a fullback. Shoemate was very productive in the passing game and showed during the Trojan Huddle that he isn't afraid to lower his shoulder and run a defender over.

We learned that: Aaron Corp is ready to step in and become the leader of the offense. While Matt Barkley might have more upside, Corp was the right choice as the starter because he manages the offense and doesn't make many mistakes. Only throwing one interception in fifteen practices against USC's secondary is a very impressive accomplishment.

We learned that: Malcolm Smith is going to be a playmaker for the defense. Pete Carroll loves players that can cause turnovers and Smith has a knack for coming up with big interceptions and fumbles. In the first scrimmage of the spring, he scooped up a fumble and raced 70 yards the other way for a touchdown. Just like his older brother, Steve, Malcolm appears to thrive when the pressure is on.

We learned that: Rhett Ellison is a much better player than people give him credit for. While Blake Ayles missed spring and Anthony McCoy was banged up, Ellison showed that he is a solid tight end with very good hands and could start on several teams across the country.

We learned that: Garrett Green is the definition of a team player. Green entered spring with the thought that he would be competing for the starting QB spot. In the first week, he was back at wide receiver and holder and never missed a beat. On a team filled with stars having quality role players like Green are always important.

We learned that: Tiny tailback Curtis McNeal has a very big future ahead of him. McNeal was the top performer this spring, and while he may not get many carries in the crowded backfield this season, he could be used as a third-down back and on special teams.

We learned that: Even though 11 players were selected in the NFL draft, the Trojans still have enough talent left on the roster to compete for a BCS Bowl.

Malcolm Smith had a very impressive spring. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

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

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