Spring Ball preview

The Trojans take the field on Tuesday to open the spring ball practice session and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the team right now. Some of the top position battles to watch will include QB, LB, safety and corner. Click below for more details:

Offense

Anytime you lose a Heisman Trophy winner there will be concern for the continuity of the offense but Norm Chow has so many weapons at his disposal, including a veteran line, that we should continue to see good offensive production.  The key, of course, will be to find a consistent QB and you can be sure that Chow will put the candidates through the paces to find out which is the right man for the job. 

Quarterback

As the Trojans prepare for life without Carson Palmer the battle for the starting QB spot promises to be one of the more exciting contests of the spring.  So much has been made of the big shoes to fill but let's not forget that these are four talented players who will be competing and the position will be in capable hands no matter who wins the job.  Matt Cassel is a good athlete who served as the primary back-up for Palmer last year and his intangibles bring a lot to the table in terms of what you want for a leader of the offense.  Matt is emotional and energetic, a sharp contrast to the low-key Carson.  Brandon Hance made a good impression on Norm Chow last fall when he sat in the press box during games and provided a good understanding of the offense.  It remains to be seen how strong his shoulder is after surgery last year so his action might be limited in spring but his precision passing and decision making indicate he will be in the running come fall.  This will be a huge spring for Matt Leinart as the competition is open and the opportunity he has waited for is finally here.  Billy Hart will take part in the first half of spring practice before determining how much he will alternate the remainder of the spring between football and baseball.  Chances are a clear starter will not be determined until fall camp. 

 

Running back

 

It's time for the Hershel Dennis era to get underway and this spring will be the first extended action for the young RB as he prepares to carry the load.  Hershel showed enough promise last season to get Trojan fans everywhere excited about the future and he has added bulk to his body in anticipation of the extra work.  The coaches had planned to give Brandon Hancock some reps at tailback this spring but a recent hand injury will keep him out of action for a while.  One player who could take advantage of the spring shortage at TB is Darnell Bing as he has made it known that he would like a chance to carry the ball and he will get a look during the coming weeks.   Darnell brings a unique combination of size and speed to the position.   With Hancock out, look for David Kirtman and Lee Webb to get more action at fullback and Kirtman in particular has shown a variety of skills including the ability to catch the football out of the backfield. 

 

Wide receiver

 

The Trojans return as fine a pair of wide receivers as you will find in the country with Keary Colbert and Mike Williams.  Colbert is the senior technician who has been so consistent with his game throughout his career while Williams is the explosive freak who shattered freshman receiving marks last year and who could dominate the record book by the time he's done at Troy.  Whoever wins the QB derby will sleep a lot better at night knowing these two receivers will be on the field.  We'll see a couple star freshmen arrive in the fall so the key this spring will be to find one or two dependable reserves to add depth and candidates include Chris McFoy, Jason Mitchell, Greig Carlson, D. Hale, Sandy Fletcher and possibly even Justin Wyatt on a limited basis.  We don't need a superstar from that group, just somebody to provide a dependable option when needed. 

 

Tight end

 

We're as deep and talented at TE as we've been in years.  Alex Holmes has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat and his blocking remains a joy to watch in the open field.  Gregg Guenther has really improved his blocking with an increased toughness and if he can stay healthy it would be a tremendous boost with his height advantage as a receiver.  Dominique Byrd has the potential to be a dazzling playmaker but needs to work on his blocking as he earns more playing time. 

 

Offensive line

 

After so many years of frustration, so many seasons of unfulfilled play on the offensive line we finally saw the line come together last season and mold into a unit that consistently dominated teams and provided the Trojans with an opportunity to control the football.  The great news is that the bulk of the line returns and we should see even better results this year.  At the tackle spots, we're set with Jacob Rogers and Winston Justice although Winston has some shoulder problems and won't be at full strength for spring so Kyle Williams will likely alternate between RT and RG.  Williams had been moved to compete with Fred Matua for the open job following the graduation of Zach Wilson.  It appears as if Fred will be healthy and ready to claim the spot that was his prior to an injury just a few days before the opener against Auburn last August.  Norm Katnik returns at center with Kurt Katnik hoping to lock down the role as primary reserve to his brother.  Lenny Vandermade was on his way to post season honors when a bicep injury sidelined him late in the year and he is looking to see partial action in the spring but the most important thing will be to see Lenny healthy in the fall because he brings a level of nastiness to the line.  Eric Torres will not take part in spring ball after his injury in the Orange Bowl.  Travis Watkins and Nate Steinbacher, who returns from defense, will provide depth in the spring.

 

Defense

 

Overall there's no denying this defense has a chance to be one of the best in the country as long as Pete Carroll is around calling the shots.  What should be exciting for Trojan fans to watch this spring is the continued emergence of the recruits that Carroll has brought in the past few years to build the depth and talent level of his defense.  Carroll has recruited these players with an eye on a specific style of play and as they emerge we will see that style take effect more and more. 

 

Defensive line

 

Where do you want to start with this line?  On the outside?  How about the return of starters Kenechi Udeze and Omar Nazel, both of whom will be in contention for all-conference honors next year. Udeze, the huge man-child of the Trojan team, is a potential All-American candidate as well who should move even better this year as he adjusts to his new weight while Nazel was a force last season as he finally grew into a physical presence. A whole bunch of help arrives this fall in terms of depth at end but one reserve who should get an opportunity to shine this spring is Van Brown.  A lot was expected of Brown last year but Nazel stepped up and earned playing time while Brown got acclimated to his new surroundings.  On the inside, we return Mike Patterson at one starting spot but Shaun Cody will miss the spring while continuing to rehab his knee injury which means we'll see plenty of LaJuan Ramsey.  Patterson started off strong last season but his production curtailed a little after the loss of Cody.  Mike is another player who has undergone a change in his body structure and we should see him respond as he becomes more comfortable in his new frame.  Ramsey was a pleasant surprise last season as a true freshman with some solid minutes to spell Bernard Riley and he will likely be the top tackle reserve next fall.   Keep an eye on Travis Tofi, he came to the Trojans as a raw athlete with tremendous quickness of the ball and his skills have really improved.  Travis is likely a year away from meaningful playing time.  Ed Orgeron has something special going on right now with the Trojan d-line and we should all enjoy it.

 

Linebacker

 

The critics said his broken leg as a freshman was proof that Matt Grootegoed was too small for the SLB position so all Groots did in his sophomore season was go out and put together an All Pac-10 performance.  His HS coach Bruce Rollinson called him a "heat seeking missle" and that just about describes this quiet assassin.  Melvin Simmons will return for another solid year at the weakside spot.  Where it gets interesting at linebacker is in the middle as the late-season injury to Oscar Lua throws a wrench into the spring plans.  Nick Holt and Pete Carroll were giddy at the thought of Lua lining up at MLB but Oscar will be in rehab through the fall so several others will get a golden opportunity.  Lofa Tatupu, son of Mosi, had a nice fall after transferring from Maine and he will get first shot with Frostee Rucker also expected to see time there after having a terrific fall camp as well.  Lofa is barrel chested and a plug in the middle while Frostee is long, lanky and can really hit.  The coaches will also take a look at Frostee at defensive end during the spring.  Dallas Sartz has added weight and will be the primary reserve at SLB while Bobby Otani hopes to lock down the spot behind Simmons.  Danny Urquhart will move from DE to MLB. 

 

Defensive back

 

The only returning starter in the secondary is Marcell Allmond but there is plenty of talent available for this unit including the return of Kevin Arbet and the debut of Darnell Bing.  Allmond emerged as a solidifying force last year with his physical style of play at corner and there is a chance he could see some time at free safety in the spring.   Arbet was scheduled to be a starter at corner before a season ending injury in fall camp and if he can come back and nail down a spot again it would be a huge bonus.  There will be several others in the corner rotation with Ronald Nunn, Justin Wyatt and William Buchanan all getting some experience last year and John Walker plus the Ting brothers, Ryan and Brandon, looking to earn some time as well.  It has taken a little longer than expected but finally we get a chance to see Bing in a Trojan uniform and it will be worth the wait.  Darnell has worked himself into good shape and his work ethic has been praised during winter workouts so the only thing left for him to do is hit the field and show what he can do as a football player. Mike Ross will compete with Darnell at strong safety and Mike is a formidable hitter who brings some swagger with his game.  Jason Leach moves to free safety and he played extremely well in place of the injured Troy Polamalu last year so this switch is a good way to keep him on the field. 

  

Special teams

 

Tom Malone returns at punter.  It feels very nice to type that sentence.  It also feels nice to know that he will be around for several years to come.  Ryan Kileen returns as placekicker and, while he did have his ups and downs last season, he has shown the leg to get the job done and hopefully we'll see increased consistency.  The Trojans are a rare college team with two long snappers, Joe Boskovich and Matt Hayward, on scholarship.  Greig Carlson performed so well as the punt returner last year that he was awarded a scholarship and we also see the return of Arbet who was All Pac-10 special teams as a junior.  Hershel Dennis was the leading kickoff returner last season and we could see a number of different freshmen in that role during fall camp. 

 

Coaching

 

It can be argued that the Trojans feature the best offensive and best defensive playcallers in college football right now.  On top of that, Carroll and Chow are also surrounded by a quality staff of top assistants including Ed Orgeron who was recently promoted to assistant head coach for the team.  We saw some minor changes on the staff recently as co-offensive line coach Keith Uperesa was let go and graduate assistant Rocky Seto, a former USC walk-on, was hired to take his place.  Seto will work with Greg Burns in the secondary as the coach in charge of safeties and he will also help Kennedy Pola with special teams. 

 


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