Spring Preview: Wide Receivers

With the departure of Damian Williams, who was the Trojans' best all-around offensive player in 2009, there are some very big shoes to fill at the top of the depth chart, and Ronald Johnson will be relied upon to become Matt Barkley's go-to receiver this spring. Look inside for more.

One of the most intriguing position battles when USC opens spring practice this coming week will be at wide receiver, where a number of different players have a legit shot at earning significant playing time in 2010.

With the departure of Damian Williams, who was the Trojans' best all-around offensive player in 2009, there are some very big shoes to fill at the top of the depth chart, and Ronald Johnson will be relied upon to become Matt Barkley's go-to receiver this spring.

Johnson missed the first five games of the 2009 season with a broken collarbone, and still finished the year as the Trojans' second-leading receiver with 34 catches and three touchdowns, but with his lofty expectations, his junior season was a disappointment.

After a solid offseason, Johnson is healthy and as excited as any player on the team to get back on the practice field and show that he can be a true No.1 receiver.

The senior from Michigan certainly has the work ethic of a No.1 receiver. Johnson is usually one of the last players to leave Howard Jones Field, sticking around to get extra reps with Matt Barkley or John Manoogian after everyone else has headed back to the locker room.

Prater gets first chance to impress.
With a rare combination of focus and hard work, Johnson has quietly become a team leader on the offensive side of the ball, and a great role model for younger players like Kyle Prater and De'Von Flournoy, who are learning what it takes to be successful on the college level.

With Johnson likely to be Barkley's top target, there are a handful of talented receivers that will be battling for the No.2 and 3 spots this spring.

Sophomore Brice Butler will definitely be in the mix for increased playing time after getting some valuable experience as a redshirt freshman, as will Travon Patterson, De'Von Flournoy, Brandon Carswell and David Ausberry.

Butler had some struggles hanging onto the ball at times last year, but he has some of the better hands on the team, and is a polished player that runs good routes. His smooth style would be a good compliment to Johnson, who can stretch the field and is explosive in the open field.

Fellow sophomore De'Von Flournoy showed plenty of potential on the practice field in 2009, making big plays and scoring touchdowns in almost every scrimmage during fall camp. Flournoy looked like a player that was ready to contribute as a true freshman, but never quite found a role, which was due in part to his struggles picking up the offense.

Flournoy has good speed, has shown the ability to get behind the defense and is dangerous in the open field. With a year of experience and time to get comfortable with the college game, he is a player that could emerge as a big play option for Lane Kiffin's offense in 2009.

Another potential deep threat is senior speedster Travon Patterson.

There has been plenty of talk amongst the players for the need to be more aggressive, and take more chances on offense, and Patterson could benefit if Kiffin opens things up and looks to stretch the defense by taking shots down the field.

At 6-4, 235 pounds, David Ausberry looks like the prototypical big receiver that could dominate smaller defensive backs, but he has struggled to become a consistent contributor in the passing game at USC.

Ausberry will likely get a look at wide receiver, but don't be surprised to see him converted to a tight end or H-back in the spring. He has been playing both positions during the offseason workouts and could be a good fit as a pass catching tight end for the Trojans.

Brandon Carswell is one of the players that doesn't get mentioned much in the discussion of the receiver position, but make no mistake about it, he is one of the more well-rounded players at the position, with the ability to do a little bit of everything.

Highly touted freshman Kyle Prater from Proviso West High School in Illinois is a prospect that USC fans are excited to get a glimpse of this spring.

The 6-5, 215-pound early enrollee was Scout's No.2 receiver in the 2010 recruiting class and quickly impressed observers during the players-only workouts this offseason. Prater has the size and skills to contribute as a freshman, and maybe more importantly, he has shown a willingness to work hard and learn from the veterans like Ronald Johnson.

Unfortunately, Prater recently tweaked his hamstring and will likely be less than 100 percent for the opening of practice on Tuesday, but he has the look and attitude of a player that will contribute early in his career.

Like all of the position battles this spring, we could see some changes on the depth chart because of the coaching change, and fortunately for Lane Kiffin, he has a talented group to choose from at wide receiver.

Travon Patterson will battle for playing time in 2010.

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