Spring Cleaning: Wide Receivers

Will the light come on for Brice Butler? Can Robert Woods or Markeith Ambles make an impact? Who will end up starting at tight end? Look inside for the answers to these questions and much more.

Depth chart (spring stats)

Ronald Johnson (4 receptions, 167 yards, 2 TD)
Travon Patterson (12 receptions, 179 yards, 2 TD)
Split End
Brice Butler (14 receptions, 137 yards, 1 TD)
Kyle Prater (13 receptions, 155 yards, 4 TD)
Tight End
Jordan Cameron (11 receptions, 139 yards, 2 TD)
David Ausberry (5 receptions, 107 yards, 1 TD)

Three questions answered in the spring

1. Ronald Johnson has taken the mantle.

Because of a broken collarbone, 2009 was a lost season for Johnson. He averaged just 11 yards per catch and never got on track, outside of a 99-yard, one touchdown effort against Oregon State.

However, he had the opportunity to watch Damian Williams, to see what is demanded of a No. 1 receiver, to develop a complete game. Those lessons, along with coaching by Lane Kiffin, came together in the spring as Johnson was unstoppable.

With his unmatched deep speed now complimented by improved route running, Johnson is poised to become an elite performer.

2. Jordan Cameron and Kyle Prater should fix red zone woes.

Kyle Prater will be a weapon in the red zone.
Every trip inside the 20 was an adventure for USC, scoring only 26 touchdowns on 42 red zone visits last year.

That should change with two 6-foot-5 targets to throw to, endowed with tremendous leaping ability. Prater knows how to attack the ball at its highest point, making a series of spectacular grabs that brought to mind Mike Williams. While Cameron lacks the speed necessary for a receiver, he can create mismatches against linebackers.

Kiffin will use the jump ball and other plays to get them the ball near the goal line.

3. Attrition has taken its toll on the receiving corps.

Chris Polk, Alshon Jeffrey and Randall Carroll were all verbally committed to come to USC at one point or another. Given the injuries and inconsistency that plagued Trojan receivers in the spring, all three would have been major contributors.

Add in the refusal to redshirt Vidal Hazelton and his subsequent transfer to Cincinnati, it's no surprise USC added three receivers in Kiffin's first recruiting class and could do so again next year. The necessary numbers and playmaking ability weren't there.

With Johnson, De'Von Flournoy and Brandon Carswell missing large portions of practice, walk-ons and "Mr. Back-and-Forth" David Ausberry were left to pick up the slack and got manhandled by an equally thin secondary.

After last season's heavy reliance on Damian Williams and the strong showing by Johnson, someone else has to keep the passing attack from being a one-man show.

Three questions for the fall

1. Will the light come on for Brice Butler?

Hot and cold. On and off. That's what you got from Butler on a practice-by-practice basis.

One day, he would make incredible catches, looking like one of the most gifted players on the roster. The next, Butler would drop the easiest passes, be lackadaisical, called out for playing small.

If the redshirt sophomore puts it all together, Butler could end up as a top receiver in the conference, a future All-American. If not, freshmen will take his job and leave him buried on the depth chart.

2. Who will end up starting at tight end?

Two players missed significant time with injuries. Three freshmen arrive in the fall. Five players the staff will have to evaluate, in addition to Cameron and Ausberry, who will have spent the summer months trying to bulk up.

No one has seen extensive game action. All that adds up to one giant mess, meaning that whoever starts against Hawaii might not be the same player on the field 12 games, or even one week, later.

If I had to wager on one player to make that leap, it would have to be Xavier Grimble from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. The nation's consensus top recruit at his position has the physical tools to stretch the field and be effective as a run blocker.

3. Can Robert Woods or Markeith Ambles make an impact?

Both freshmen will certainly be given the chance, given the shaky numbers at receiver. It will be a difficult transition, especially in the USC offense. Only the big receivers like Dwayne Jarrett or Williams were able to make immediate contributions in their first seasons.

Of course, Woods is so elusive in the open field, his dynamic skill set could ease that transition. Throwing him a few screens or go routes or working as a return man might be the best approach.

Robert Woods will get an opportunity to contribute in 2010.

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