The Journey Begins for USC

When the Trojans open up Fall Camp on Saturday afternoon at Howard Jones Field many of the faces will be different, and the names won't be the same, but the expectations remain sky-high for the Men of Troy. Look inside for an in-depth look at the Trojans as they prepare to make a run at an eighth straight BCS bowl.

When the Trojans open up Fall Camp on Saturday afternoon at Howard Jones Field many of the faces will be different, and the names won't be the same, but the expectations remain sky-high for the Men of Troy.

Last year's star quarterback is now the toast of New York, Brian Cushing is proving that everything is indeed bigger in Texas and Rey Maualuga's bone- jarring hits are on display in Cincinnati.

Back in Los Angeles the search for Hollywood's new leading men has begun.

Can Corp replace Sanchez? Will the new linebacker corps step up in '09?

Those are a few of the questions that need to be answered this fall, but with nine returning starters on offense and plenty of talent on the defense, Pete Carroll is as optimistic as ever.

"We are getting out there and trying to figure out how we can be the best we can be," Carroll said. "We have the opportunity to have a terrific football season with the kids that we have."

Carroll's bid for an eighth straight BCS bowl is going to rely heavily on his ability to get the Trojans' talented but young defense up to speed, as well as the development of the starting quarterback, whether it's Aaron Corp or freshman Matt Barkley.

The revamped coaching staff will have the challenge of breaking in a new quarterback in a hostile environment early in the season, something Carroll says the Trojans know all about.

"It's one of the challenges that we have been through before," he said. "Who would have thought that Matt Leinart, in his first game, was going to be able to go into Auburn and lead us to a game winner?

"It's pretty much like that situation. And I think we have a more solidified support group on offense then we had at that time."

The supporting cast will certainly make the transition much easier for USC's new signal-caller, thanks to good depth along the offensive line and a diverse collection of experienced skill players.

All-Pac-10 center Kristofer O'Dowd is fully recovered from shoulder surgery and in charge of keeping the quarterbacks safe.

"I got cleared on Tuesday (7-21-09) officially for full contact for camp so I'm there," O'Dowd said. "It took a long period of time, a six month span, but I feel pretty confident in my strength and my ability right now."

The offense received a big boost from the return of sixth-year senior Jeff Byers, who supplies the veteran leadership along the line.

"It's good to have him out there in case something happens that maybe I haven't seen before," O'Dowd said of playing beside Byers.

Sophomore Tyron Smith is another player that emerged this spring and took over the starting right tackle spot. The young tackle is the most physically impressive offensive lineman on the team and has the look of a future star.

While the big guys supply the protection, USC's stockpile of skill players should produce plenty of excitement this season.

Wide receivers Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson combined for 17 touchdowns in 2008, and are looking to add to that total after a very productive offseason for the hard working duo.

The ground attack has the potential to be dominant, with the Trojans' top four rushers (Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, Marc Tyler) all returning from last year's squad as well as a healthy Allen Bradford and redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal now in the mix.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans are young but maybe not quite as inexperienced as they seem.

It's true that they return just three starters from the 2008 squad (Taylor Mays, Christian Tupou and Josh Pinkard) but another seven players on the roster have starting experience including Shareece Wright, Kevin Thomas and Everson Griffen.

The strength of the defense in '09 is the deep, versatile secondary and the clear leaders in the secondary are safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard.

Sixth-year senior Josh Pinkard started at cornerback last season but will primarily focus on strong safety in 2009.

After missing most of the 2006 and 2007 seasons with major knee injuries Pinkard re-emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the Pac-10 in 2008, and will team up with Taylor Mays and Will Harris to give the Trojans the top safety trio in college football.

Two-time All-American Taylor Mays is simply one of the best all-around players in the nation. The senior safety turned down a chance at being a first-round draft pick to return for his senior season at USC.

"He is a guy in our program that is the epitome of maximizing his experience at USC. He had a chance to go out last year, but he wanted to graduate," Pete Carroll said. "He wanted to see what it was like to be a senior and have a chance to be a leader of this team."

Cornerback Shareece Wright was the Trojans starting cornerback last season before suffering a hairline fracture in his neck. Wright, who has a similar set of skills to former USC cornerback Will Poole, will be one of the top cornerbacks in the Pac-10.

The young defensive line which was a question heading into spring practice really flourished under new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and showed great potential.

Everson Griffen was nearly unblockable all spring and players like Armond Armstead and Jurrell Casey looked vastly improved.

Heading into Fall Camp, one of the big unanswered questions is what to expect from the linebackers.

Michael Morgan, Chris Galippo and Malcolm Smith give the Trojans a solid starting group and no coach has shown the ability to develop linebackers better than Ken Norton Jr.

But the Trojans' problem is their lack of depth.

With the recent medical retirement of Frankie Telfort and grade issues of Luthur Brown, safety Shane Horton was moved to linebacker and young players like Jarvis Jones and Marquis Simmons are going to be given every opportunity to contribute.

"We just go to work, practice really hard, battle and develop ourselves and then start playing games and see what happens," Carroll said. "The whole key to it is practicing really hard."

And the practicing starts today.


Chris Galippo will be the man in the middle for USC in 2009. (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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