Obvious/Not So Obvious - Spring edition

As players left the practice field after the first week of spring practice, it was quite apparent that everybody left wanting more, and from atop a large building overlooking practice, a large group of youngsters spotting coach Pete Carroll yelled, "Hey, Coach Carroll." With a large smile, the coach waved back, something you don't get in the NFL.

The Obvious - With the Boys of Summer resonating the sweet music of batting practice from Vero Beach to Tempe, Pete Carroll's Boys of Fall provided a spring symphony of colliding helmets and shoulder pads Saturday, as the Trojans wrapped up their first week of spring practice leaving the impression that the 2003 Trojans are an ignition key away from continuing their drive to a national championship.

The Not So Obvious - While that ignition key will come from a quarterback foursome selection of Matt Cassel, Brandon Hance, Matt Leinert, and Billy Hart, there is no underestimating the importance of what last year's team instilled for this spring's Trojan team. While the likes of Palmer, Polamalu, Fargas, and MacKenzie may not be replaceable, their work ethic has been injected into the 2003 club, and Pete Carroll and his staff are working overtime to keep the cardinal and gold lightening in the Trojan bottle.

The Obvious - This spring practice is unlike any seen in these parts for quite some time. As intense looking Trojan players filed past Goux Gate, even the attending fans had a swagger to them, not the usual sense of false confidence as has been seen in years past.

The Not So Obvious - For long time observers like former Long Beach Press-Telegram legendary writer Loel Schrader, all agree the Trojans are practicing with the swagger, intensity, and desire not seen since the McKay era - a national championship intensity. Schrader even commented that Carroll is doing things public relations wise, like taking pictures with fans and doing fan questions and answers on WeAreSC.com, something McKay would never feel comfortable doing. The scribe-turned-historian even felt that he wasn't sure that even McKay could have done in two years what Carroll has done considering the depths that the Trojan program had sunk and the current state of college football.

The Obvious - This is the time of the year when college football media departments across the country look to take adavantage of spring practice to promote the promise of next year's season and send their "gloss" to the editors of the national football magazines hoping to get "a coverboy".

The Not So Obvious - With Pete Carroll and Norm Chow searching for the right "key" at quarterback, hope springs eternal in the USC media department as the Trojans' spring media guide cover trumpets the imposing USC defensive line as "Wild Bunch ll - The Best Line in the Country", the wide receiving twosome of Mike Williams and Keary Colbert as the "The Finest Receiving Duo in the Nation", and offensive tackles Winston Justice and Jacob Rogers as "The Best Bookend Tackles in College Football".

The Obvious - Pete Carroll originally said that spring practices would be closed to the public and a sign on the door of the football still says as much. However on a radio show, the coach said all Trojan fans are welcome.

The Not So Obvious - Apparently the coach had a change of heart and now Trojan fans are able to watch their heros perform upclose, and it appears the players are more animiated when hearing the applause and groans from the adoring viewing public as each play unfolds. Kudos to the coach who once again shows he is a master at public relations as Saturday's crowd not only extended around the field, but were fans lining the tops of buildings much like fans that watch from apartment buildings surrounding Chicago's Wrigley Field.

The Obvious - The Trojans are searching for quarterback to replace the now departed Heisman Trophy legend Carson Palmer, who is still being called the number one pick of this year's NFL draft.

The Not So Obvious - With all the football parts seemingly in place for another big season except for the glaring quarterback position, spectators got an early eyeful of quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Brandon Hance, Matt Leinert, and Billy Hart. It would be fair to say that if you took the best from each of the candidates, you would have one heck of a Trojan quarterback.

The Obvious - In Matt Cassel you have a fiery leader and a strong arm, but a player who lacks consistency in the intermediate and deep range throws, but a warrior none the less.

The Not So Obvious - Cassel comes from the same mold as former Trojan quarterback John Fox. Both were at one time switched to tight end and then back to quarterback. Like Fox, Cassel has a linebacker mentality, and like Fox, Cassel has a "refuse to lose" mindset. You can go to battle with these guys. Cassel is a real extrovert, but the unknown, like Leinert and Hart, is experience under fire - Auburn type fire.

The Obvious - In Saturday's "scrimmage", if one didn't know by the uniform number and arm strength, you'd swear that Brandon Hance and Billy Hart were the same player. Both have similar movement and traits, but as of now, it is the stronger arm strength of Hart that separates the two.

The Not So Obvious - Hance certainly doesn't have his arm strength back from rotator surgery, but he is very accurate, and both Hance and Hart both looked very mobile and effective. Hart was sometimes very good and sometimes not so good, while Hances passes seemed just one hair from an interception. As of now, Hance throws a "soft" ball and one almost wants to reach out and push the ball for the kid to get some velocity. Saturday, however, was Billy Hart's best day. After opening with a fumbled snap, the former Mission Viejo star had TD passes to Justin Wyatt and Mike Williams.

The Obvious - As for Matt Leinert, he remains the big mystery. Could this be a quiet player who shines in games, but struggles in practice due to the intense competition?

The Not So Obvious - Here was a heralded player coming out of Mater Dei that some predicted greatness. You can't help but root for kid because he was such a fine prospect coming out of Orange County. Last year, Leinert saw two snaps at Colorado, had 3 series at Oregon, and took one snap against UCLA. Bottom line, he did not throw a pass last year. There are some that still believe that if he is still number three on the charts after this spring, he will transfer, yet the kid says he plans on staying.

The Obvious - While Cassel might have a slight lead at this point, Carroll and Chow have been playing it close to the vest by giving every poltically correct answer about the four-headed competiton.

The Not So Obvious - Probably the factor working against all the candidates is the fact that the Trojans will open in their season at Auburn, a possible Top Ten showdown in the humidity. Carroll and Chow know that a win at Auburn on national television will propel the Trojans into the national hunt, and that may give Brandon Hance, if his arm strength returns along with his Big Ten experience, an edge. Aside from the rhetoric, USC will not come into the state of Alabama looking to mature and "find" the pieces, but rather to make a statement in the South and to the nation.

The Obvious - As the football program continues its dramatic return, the push for season tickets is getting a fine response as is the interest by Trojan fans for next year's television schedule and times.

The Not So Obvious - For those that need to know, CBS Sports has announced a 6:00 - 9:30 pm window (EST) for their nationally televised Saturday night game (August 30th), which would be a 3:00 p.m. kick-off in the West.

The Obvious - There was no player being viewed more closely Saturday by coaches and fans than the heralded Darnell Bing from Long Beach Poly. Pete Carroll has said, " I want to secure him (Bing) as a defensive player. He looks like he'll really be a factor. He won't have any trouble being a contributor."

The Not So Obvious - For fans viewing Bing from the sidelines, to see the enormous physical presence of Bing in the secondary attacking a ball carrier in the flat is like watching Dudley Doright watching Nell tied to the railroad tracks of an oncoming train. As one Trojan defender twice yelled out after a big Bing hit, "They don't call him 'Bing' for nothin!"

The Obvious - As Carroll watches Bing progress on the defensive end of the ball as an enforcer at safety, it is on the offensive side that may be Bing's greater immediate potential - certainly with the lack or should we say no depth at tailback - behind Hershel Dennis.

The Not So Obvious - For those did not have a chance to watch Bing run on Saturday, he would remind you of Eddie George or a combination Marcus Allen and Sam Cunningham. On one sweep around the right side, the power of Bing, a Pop Warner running back legend in Long Beach, used a block by guard Fred Matua and turned the corner and showed even greater power than Justin Fargas. At running back, Bing is a defensive back's nightmare. Power, speed, and moves, you really have to see it to appreciate it. A good word for it might be frightening.

The Obvious - Sophomore tailback Hershel Dennis was at times spectacular on Saturday, and he certainly is living up to all that is expected. To those heralded incoming freshmen tailbacks Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Chauncey Washington, you'd better be ready to compete.

The Not So Obvious - While much has been made of the incoming freshman running backs, called the best group in the nation by SuperPrep's Allen Wallace, a Dennis and Bing running back combination would be as good as any in the country should the Trojan coaches elect to go that direction. Dennis floats like a butterfly, while Bing stings like a bee.

The Obvious - The thing that is so impressive about Hershel Dennis is his ability not only to run, but his ability to catch passes, something that made Malaefou MacKenzie so dangerous.

The Not So Obvious - While Dennis earned his deserved "oohs and awes" from those in attendance by his rollerskate type of movements, it was his crushing block of blitzing All-Pac 10 linebacker Matt Grootegoed that shook the turf and raised eyebrows of coaches and fans. Simply put, Dennis is a complete football player.

The Obvious - While there was some fear that wide receiver Mike Williams' sensational season was a product of Carson Palmer's Heisman season, Williams was unstoppable on Saturday, and this is truely an All-American in the Keyshawn mold, no doubt about it.

The Not So Obvious - Much has been said about the defensive back Ting brothers, who left Logan High in Woodside mid-year to get a jump on their Trojan careers, and what a jump has been, especially for Brandon Ting, who was lined up a number of times against Mike Williams and was starring in his own version of Trojan Survivor.

The Obvious - It was very clear that the veteran Trojan defensive players have taken the Ting brothers under their wings and are very protective of the twin rookies.

The Not So Obvious - On one play, the 5-11 Brandon Ting tried to "chuck" 6-5 Mike Williams at the line of scrimmage and was tossed aside, recovered, and was still beaten in the end zone with a jump ball type of pass, to which DB John Walker said to Pac-10 back judge Bernard Samuels, "Common ref, Williams pushed off. He (Ting) is just a baby. Common!" Samuels, a vice-principal at Buena Park High, simply shook his head and smiled.

The Obvious - Keary Colbert continues to show on Saturday why he will be one of the nation's premier receivers as he runs pass routes as well as anybody. And those hands are like velcro.

The Not So Obvious - Colbert also brings a tremendous amount of leadership and is a strong candidate to be a Trojan captain next season. After a Trojan score on Saturday, Colbert started singing "Fight On" as a replacement for Art Bartner's band. These Trojans know the touchdown routine.

The Obvious - No player thus far in spring has had any greater impact than former Compton Dominguez star Justin Wyatt, whose electrifying play at wide receiver has trust him into a possible rotation position.

The Not So Obvious - Wyatt was in the end zone with the ball a couple of times on Saturday. He reminded some veteran Trojan observers of the late Kevin Williams, a former star Trojan wide receiver from the late seventies out of San Fernando High.

The Obvious - While Wyatt had been slated as a DB for Troy, there are those who have have watched Wyatt's career at Compton Dominguez and say his best spot is on offense.

The Not So Obvious - Wyatt, who played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver his senior year, averaged 16.9 yards per catch in high school and 5 scores. There was some talk that if the Trojans didn't attain their stellar recruiting running back class, Wyatt would have been given an opportunity at tailback, a position he averaged 10.4 yards in high school.

The Obvious - With the light shining so brightly on the Trojan program, there was some talk at practice how long Carroll would stay before being again swooned by the NFL.

The Not So Obvious - In the Heritage Hall house publication known as Trojan Talk, Pete Carroll sat down with Trojan administrator and former Los Angeles sportswriter Jim Perry for a Q. and A., and Perry asked Carroll if he felt that college is the "perfect environment" for him. Carroll answered, "After the season, I revisited the idea of coaching in the NFL, because I wanted to take stock of my life at this point. And for the way I like to work, there's no comparison between USC and the NFL. It's really clear that this is a great setting to work in, and I love being here."

The Obvious - If there is a Paul Hackett "mystery to me" attitude on who might be the Trojan starting quarterback on offense, there is the less publicized "mystery to me" about the "defensive quarterback" - the middle linebacker position. Trojan fans remember the tough times that Michael Pollard had in trying to learn the position, yet performed so well his senior year.

The Not So Obvious - While starting middle linebacker candidate Oscar Lua remains remains in shorts and is recovering from knee surgery, the Trojans are "trying out" redshirt Danny Urquhart (6-2, 250), once a prize recruit of the Oregon Ducks. Urquhart has shown gradual improvement and could provide size to the linchpin position.

The Obvious - Another serious middle linebacker candidate under the microscope is Maine transfer redshirt Lofa Tatupu (5-11, 215), the son of former Trojan fullback Mosi Tatupu.

The Not So Obvious - Weighting ten pounds less than what his father played at while at USC, Lofa is perhaps the Trojans' most intriging middle linebacker prospect. Lofa started as a middle linebacker as a freshman at Maine and was second on the Black Bears in tackles with 67, and brings a strong competitive spirit, which Carroll loves to see. Despite being a freshman, Tatupu was Maine's Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had arthroscopic surgery last season, a proceedure done prior to the Arizona State game.

The Obvious - One of the keys to the Trojans' offensive line play last season was the development of the versatile Eric Torres, who was severely injuried during the Orange Bowl.

The Not So Obvious - According to his mother at Saturday's practice, Eric has nine screws in his leg and is scheduled to have one of the screws removed shortly. During the practice, Eric spent much of his time on the stationary bike. It is possible that of all the recovering Trojans, none is more important than the rapid recovery of Torres.

The Obvious - Slated starting sophomore fullback Brandon Hancock is out with a wrist injury and will miss spring ball, thus eliminating the opportunity to work on his blocking and relief to the graduated tailback position.

The Not So Obvious - Another hidden nugget like Justin Wyatt will be the progress former Crenshaw star Lee Webb, as of now the starting Trojan fullback. Webb is getting his share of fullback reps with the injury to Hancock. Webb has bounced from offensive to defense and back to offense. Originally brought in as a fullback, Webb brings a physical aspect to the position. Webb played linebacker in the Orange Bowl, but there are some who feel fullback is his lot at Troy, a position in which he gained 1,100 yards and 20 TDs as a Crenshaw High senior.

The Obvious - Once again, Daily News scribe Scott "Sherlock" Wolf broke a story in Sunday's paper by quoting senior-to-be Louisiana quarterback John David Booty, who spent the weekend at USC practice with his Dad, as saying, "USC is my No. 1. I really do like them. I really see myself here. I feel like once these (quarterbacks) graduate, maybe I can step up and play."

The Not So Obvious - Upon seeing Booty (6-3, 180), at practice and seeing his and his dad's interaction with the coaches, players, and fans, and learning that he loves Southern California, it would be more than just surprising if he doesn't commit to Troy. It certainly didn't hurt for the kid from Evangel Christian in Shreveport, La. to have picture-perfect weather, fans surrounding the field, and signed recruits like Taft's Steve Smith and St. Bonaventure's Whitney Lewis doing some Booty recruiting of their own.

The Obvious - Also in attendance with Booty and his father was Mission Viejo head coach and quarterback guru Bob Johnson, who has tuitored Booty in his summer Elite quarterback camp. Johnson and Booty's father have formed a solid football relationship.

The Not So Obvious - Having been to the beaches of Orange County and looking like a Southern California model with those Hollywood style sunglasses, John David Booty looks and acts like a player that is ticketed for the beaches and the Coliseum gridiron, a place he visited after Saturday's practice. While many will rightfully remind those of last year's Kyle Wright disappointment, the stars in this case seemed to be tightly aligned.

The Obvious - One big benefit of the Trojans' football rebirth is the now intense interest and competition of the local media covering spring practice. The Daily News and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group papers, the Orange County Register, and the Los Angeles Times now have their beat writers attending practices on a daily basis.

The Not So Obvious - While the Daily News' Scott Wolf was getting the scoop on John David Booty recruiting process, the Times Gary Klein broke the news of Ashton White walking on from a conversation with his father Charles, the Heisman winner. It is the belief here that a healthy Ashton White Santa Margarita High will be a tremendous coup for the Trojans. If healthy, this is a monster fullback in the making. Having seen the kid play a number of times, he competes, is a tremendous athlete, and cardinal and gold runs in his veins. Ashton White could be the walk on success story of the decade.

The Obvious - As the Trojans return to prominance, it will be interesting to see how many other former Trojan players' sons such as White come to Troy. During the "down" years, the Trojans missed out on a number of "sons" with one of the worst examples being offensive tackle Mike Munoz of Ohio, son of Hall of Fame Trojan tackle Anthony Munoz, going to Tennessee.

The Not So Obvious - One Trojan player along with Lofa Tatupu on the Trojans' spring roster whose father played at USC is junior safety Kyle Mathews, son of former Trojan and NFL great Clay Mathews. Clay was in attendance to watch his son on Saturday. The amazing thing about Clay Mathews is the former Trojan linebacker never seems to age. The guy looks like he could don a uniform and open up against Auburn. Of course that wouldn't be possible considering he coaches high school football in the San Fernando Valley. And no we didn't forget losing Ronnie Lott's son to UCLA.

The Obvious - For the record, former Poly star Manuel Wright was in attendance wearing a Warren Sapp No.99 Tampa Bay jersey and watched the action from the sidelines.

The Not So Obvious - While many Trojan fans hope that at some point Wright will attain his SAT score and be part of the rising Trojan empire, it should be noted that there are many non-athletes who desparately want to attend USC and are awaiting their acceptance notice as we speak. With the current GPA and SAT requirements at USC at an all-time high, there is some compassion here for those on pins and needles waiting for their "ride", but who may still fall short due to the intense academic competition. Good luck to those that are hoping for positive news, and we hope that you will be waving a cardinal and gold pom pom next football season.

The Obvious - The Times Gary Klein also broke stories recently of coach Ed Orgeron declining a coaching position with the 49'ers' Dennis Ericksen and being promoted to assistant head coach of the Trojans, and Pete Carroll's release of offensive line coach Keith Uperesa.

The Not So Obvious - Klein revealed the Uperesa move was done during the Orange Bowl in Miami, so that Keith could look for other job opportunities. What was revealing about the early release was the fact that Uperesa had one year remaining on his contract. This leads one to believe there was a sense of urgency with the coaching change. It is often difficult for a coach like Upersea in his late forties to assume an assistant's roll after having been a successful community college head coach at Snow Junior College (1995-98 in Ephraim, Utah . We wish him well.

The Obvious - Visitors walking into Heritage Hall prior to Saturday's practice were on a frantic search for the Orange Bowl Trophy, and some wondered why the trophy is not displayed on the main Heritage Hall floor.

The Not So Obvious - Mystery solved. The bowl of oranges is now located in the reception area of the football office on the second floor. The trophy, with oranges and all, rests in front of a stunningly large color ariel photo of a filled Coliseum.

The Obvious - Much is being expected this spring and in the fall from Ed Orgeron's defensive line that some are calling Wild Bunch ll. According to the Trojan Spring Media Guide, every member of the front four (Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Kenechi Udeze, Omar Nazel) is an honors candidate.

The Not So Obvious - Whle not on the honors list just yet, keep an eye on sophomore defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey (6-3, 265), who made his presence felt on Saturday. Showing good quickness and a tough bull rush, Ramsey, the former Compton Dominguez star, is a big hitter and may be as key next year to the defense as Eric Torres was to last year's offense.

The Obvious - The football office has made some rearrangement of furniture for those that have not been to the second floor of Heritage Hall.

The Not So Obvious - The waiting room to the right of the reception area now has large pictures of the national championship teams, but the highlight Saturday was the huge Fujisu monitor screen that was replaying the Trojans 52-21 dismantling of the Bruins.

The Obvious - As one walked into Heritage Hall on Saturday, there were the five Heisman Trophies on display. Carson Palmer's is located in the middle and was flanked to the left by Mike Garrett's and O.J. Simpson's and to the right by Charles White's and Marcus Allen's.

The Not So Obvious - While the five Heisman Trophies were easily seen entering Heritage Hall, one item missing on the main floor was Carson Palmer's retired jersey. The four other retired Heisman jerseys were on display, but Carson's was nowhere to be seen.

The Obvious - One of the most impressive sights entering practice was the booming punts of sophomore Tom Malone. Mean to tell ya that some of his punts looked like the cow jumping over the moon. We're talkin some cannon shots here.

The Not So Obvious - It was also refreshing to see junior kicker Ryan Killeen dialing long distance between the uprights. Much of next year's success may rest on the leg of Killeen as the offense matures with a new backfield. While Killen had some shaky moments, the kid also had some very bright moments, and Trojans fans hope the experience of last year will reap benefits in 2003.

The Obvious - There were a number of Trojans who didn't participate on Saturday including offensive linemen Kyle Williams and Winston Justice, and defensive tackle Shaun Cody.

The Not So Obvious - One source said that Kyle Williams was suffering from food poisoning and as were some of the other players, while Justice was resting his oft injuried shoulders. Williams, from Highland Park High in Dallas, Texas, may turn out to be this year's Eric Torres in terms of versatility. There has been speculation that Williams could battle Fred Matua for a starting guard position.

The Obvious - Thanks to "Championship Saturday" and ABC television, the USC/UCLA games of 2004 and 2005 have been moved into the first week of December and will be the last regular season game for both teams.

The Not So Obvious - The USC/UCLA game has not been televisied nationally by ABC since 1988. For UCLA fans, the 2004 season will have a profound effect on how USC views this crosstown clash. The Trojans play Notre Dame first at the Coliseum, and then the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. It will be the first time the Trojans will be able to give the Bruins their full attention without the Irish looming the following week. Given the current state of affairs, it can't be a comforting thought for Bruin fans.

The Obvious - Guard Fred Matua was his usual animated self, especially leading Darnell Bing on a sweep. Bringing again a defensive mentality, Matua provided fire and brimstone Saturday much to the pleasure of second year line coach Tim Davis.

The Not So Obvious - Charting the career of redshirt Matua since his high school days at Wilmington Banning, the key for Fearless Fred will be his ability to stay out of the injury column, something that has been difficult since his prep days. From knee to leg to hernia surgery, Matua's toughest opponent has been his own body and bad luck.

The Obvious - As players left the practice field after the first week of spring practice, it was quite apparent that everybody left wanting more, and from atop a large building overlooking practice, a large group of youngsters spotting coach Pete Carroll yelled, "Hey, Coach Carroll." With a large smile, the coach waved back, something you don't get in the NFL.

The Not So Obvious - And so Carrol left the field with his players and fans, but out at the far end of the football field alone remained sophomore safety Mike Ross from Florida and his mentor Troy Polamalu, working on technique and angles, the young Jedi and his Obi Wan. As two bystanders left, the message was clear - the Fight On Torch has been passed.


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