I took Mrs. SColdtimer to El Cholo's after practice on Sunday. I've been bringing her to ball games since 1966. She's attended hundreds of games and practices I've participated in and thousands of games and practices I've watched. She was a Pantherette for Long Beach Jordan's drill team when we met, and I had just finished high school at Long Beach Millikan.
Both of our dads taught us how to love and how to work. My love for USC goes back to 1951 when I attended my first game and practice. Some things have changed a lot. Some things haven't. The grass sure is a lot nicer now, and the fence is taller out on Howard Jones field. USC just laid out the new turf and it looks like the fairways at Augusta National in Georgia where they play the Masters each year.
I've been asked a lot of questions at practice over the past two days, but I think Mrs SColdtimer asked me the best one. "How do you think the 2009 team will stack up against the others in this great streak since 2002?"
Let me give you my Take after watching practice this spring, workouts, and now two days of practice with just shorts and helmets. I'll do it quickly by each unit and then a look at the true freshmen.
Quarterbacks: I like all three. Aaron Corp is very consistent. Matt Barkley is more aggressive. Matt goes through his reads quickly and can make all the big throws. Mitch Mustain has started quickly. I would put this group ahead of where the USC QBs were in 2003 when Leinart and Cassell were 1 and 2. I'd put them far ahead of Booty and Sanchez back in '06 when Booty got his first start. Carson Palmer in 2002 and Leinart in 2004-5 of course were ahead.
Running Backs: I'm always looking for that great one to break out of all the good ones USC has. But I'm confident Joe McKnight is going to have a great year. He's strong and healthy and can do magical things. Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable are also going to have great years. Allen Bradford is ready to breakout as well. I think as a group we are going to see USC's rushing average come close to what we saw in 2005. Marc Tyler will have a breakout year in 2010.
Fullbacks: Stanley Havili can do it all. DJ Shoemate has shown himself as an excellent runner and pass receiver. Adam Goodman is a hardnosed blocker. This year's FB compare favorably with any group Carroll has had.
Offensive Line: This year's group has 7 players with 500-700 playing minutes. They are deep and talented and compare favorably with any of the offensive lines in the Pete Carroll era. Certainly they are the deepest with two starters from last year, RT Butch Lewis and RG Alex Parsons, currently backing up RT Tyron Smith and RG Nick Howell. This could be the best OL in CFB this year and compares favorably with other great lines Carroll has had.
Tight Ends: Anthony McCoy probably won't approach Fred Davis' numbers of a few years ago because of the strength and talent of the WRs and FBs, but he's a very talented blocker and receiver. Rhett Ellison is one of the most consistent performers on the entire Trojan's team. Blake Ayles is still nursing a sore knee, but has had two good days of practice. I like this group a lot.
Wide Receivers: Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson are as good a pair as any in college football. I was impressed yesterday and Saturday with how well Brice Butler runs his routes. David Ausberry will probably be the third receiver and has had two great days of practice so far. Watch out for Jordan Cameron. He's bulked up during the offseason. He's USC's tallest receiver and has been brilliant so far in practice.
Defensive Line: In a 10 play stretch on Sunday the defense had 6 sacks, 2 pressures and allowed one completion. When this group turns up the heat, watch out. WDE Malik Jackson, who was sick Saturday showed what a burner he is on Sunday. I loved the defensive line in 2003 and 2004, but these guys are deeper. NT Loni Fangupo is off to a rocket start. SDE Armond Armstead and WDE Everson Griffen will have big years.
Linebackers: Losing Luthur Brown and Frankie Telfort is a blow. But there is a lot more speed in 2009. SLB Michael Morgan, MLB Chris Galippo, and WLB Malcom Smith know how to play hard and play together. Jordan Campbell was praised by Ken Norton. Campbell could see as much time on the field as the above three. MLB Jarvis Jones looks like he's been around a long time. SLB Kevin Greene has to learn a new position, but he's 250, runs a 4.5 40, and there's no harder worker on the practice field.
Defensive Backs: This 2009 version is the best secondary in the nation. If SS Will Harris and FS Drew McAllister were the starting safeties, they would be the best tandem in the Pac-10. Cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas have loads of experience and TJ Bryant is coming on strong. All three have good press coverage, good footwork and are sure tacklers. FS Taylor Mays and SS Josh Pinkard should be in the NFL. This is Carroll's best secondary.
There is a big boost in speed on defense. Special Teams: Punter Jacob Hafman has shown a big time leg in two days of practice. I haven't seen him kickoff. Kickers Joe Houston and Jordan Congdon were dead even after fine springs. Coach Brian Schneider had the team working on punt coverage Saturday and kickoff coverage Sunday. If McKnight can show he can hold onto the ball he could be a great punt returner. USC led the nation in kickoff returns last year.
I haven't seen enough yet to know how this year's special teams will stand, but the Trojan's should be great in coverage this year with their depth, talent and speed. I love the new sense of purpose and focus in practice on special teams.
True freshmen: QB Matt Barkley is the best I've ever seen at USC at this time in their career. WDE Devon Kennard and NT/DT Loni Fangupo are off to terrific starts. MLB Jarvis Jones looks like a good one out there. It's too early to know for sure, but it doesn't look like USC missed on any of these new players. Some like Kevin Greene have to learn new positions. But it's a hardworking, focused group of youngsters.
Penalties: Carroll stopped practice Sunday after several penalties, drew the team together and said, "this is not what we are about at USC." I hope that is true after so many years of lacking discipline in this area.
A tough schedule and a new QB: I like this 2009 USC football team. I'd like it more if Mark Sanchez had come back. Carroll doesn't want to even acknowledge that 6 of USC's first 9 games are on the road to some very tough opponents and in very tough venues.
Pete Carroll said, "I don't care about that stuff, because it has nothing to do with us winning. It's not about who whether we play all ranked teams, or in the Midwest, up North, in the rain or the snow, or what color jerseys the other team is wearing. It's always about us, and it's about what we can control. That is all we are concerned with."
I am concerned. I like the talent, speed and depth of this year's team. I don't like facing a killer schedule with a new QB. This year may be USC's toughest hill to climb since the Pete Carroll era.
Who's better than the 2009 USC Trojans? Maybe no one is. It will be fun finding out.
Josh Pinkard teams up with Taylor Mays to give USC the best safety duo in the nation.