It was a shorts and shoulder pads practice today under sunny skies with a sideline that resembled a "Who's Who" of USC football. With the Pro Day being held on campus tomorrow there was a strong contingent of NFL Trojans who showed up to offer support for their fellow Trojans including Chris Claiborne, Curtis Conway, Willie McGinest, Brian Kelly, Chris Cash and Frank Strong. Carson Palmer also made his first appearance of the spring as he mingled with a lot of the players. Fili Moala, Chauncey Washington and Ryan Kalil were among the signees who had the opportunity to witness this fine showing of the Trojan family.
One of the things that stood out today was the performances of two tailbacks in Hershel Dennis and Justin Wyatt. It was the first extended look at RB for Wyatt but he didn't waste any time is displaying some reverse field moves that caused chuckles among those watching on the sidelines. Not to be outdone, however, Hershel matched Wyatt with some fancy footwork of his own as he has some of the sharpest cuts and quickest feet you will see. There was one early drill on Brian Kennedy Field which saw them each break off a couple nice runs. Mike Ross also had a huge hit in that drill when he popped Andre Woodert and Dominique Bryd had a crushing block on Danny Urquhart after Matt Cassel tucked the ball and started to scramble on one play. There was one play which illustrated the intensity of Ross when Brandon Ting came up a little tentatively to make a tackle on the ballcarrier but Ross just came out of nowhere to beat Brandon to the tackle with a full head of steam. Mike doesn't weigh more than 175 or 180 at the most but he will certainly hit you with everything he's got.
In other drills, Kevin Arbet had a big hit when he stopped Sandy Fletcher immediately after receiving a pass from Matt Leinart. Leinart also read a blitz well from Jason Leach and tried to hit Chris McFoy open down the middle but the ball was dropped. Brandon Hance completed a pass over the middle to Alex Holmes and it was a rare time when a single tackler brought Alex down as Matt Grootegoed gave him a perfect form tackle to the chest. Hance also hit Mike Williams on the sidelines as Mike made a terrific one-handed catch. The play was ruled out of bounds but it was still a great catch.
Ryan Kileen came on and tried three field goals from 33-38 yards. He missed the first although he had a lot of leg, the 2nd was blocked by Darnell Bing who also came close to blocking the first one and then the final 38 yard effort cleared with plenty of room to spare.
The next drill featured a lot of blitzing and Matt Leinart had a solid showing. He started things off by hitting Wyatt in the flat and Justin made Kevin Arbet miss before heading upfield for 17 yards. Billy Hart also had a couple good plays when he hit Dominique Byrd with a low throw that Dom went down to get for 25 yards before a Sartz tackle and then Billy completed a pass to Lee Webb who added 18 more yards. Lofa Tatupu had a terrific hit to stop Hershel for no gain. Jason Leach picked off a pass, it was ruled out of bounds though, after Billy Hart had all day and tried to hit Wyatt. Cassel came on and found Mike Williams being guarded by walk-on linebacker Collin Ashton, the result was a touchdown pass. Cassel then hit Hershel with a short pass and Sartz came up with a huge tackle. Leinart had two good plays on the final drive to end the day. He hit Wyatt with a good hard throw to the sideline and then he scrambled right from the ten yard line and used his speed to race for the corner of the end zone and a score. His fired up teammates came over to offer congratulations and a few commented about his speed, or lack thereof. It was a good way to end the day.
The team held a dinner after practice tonight in Heritage Hall to honor the seniors from last year's team and to pass out the championship rings. Each position was brought up as a group to receive their rings. Coach Carroll talked about the NFL guys and how difficult it is to make the next step and how he was so proud of the seniors who were competing in Pro Day. It was a nice evening which ended with a resounding chorus from the Trojan Marching Band who had lined the upper ring of HH.
There was one funny moment as the players were gathering for dinner. A projection screen had been set up to show the "History of USC football" video and at one point the highlights were shown from the 1980 Rose Bowl. Pete Carroll took the microphone to remind everybody that he was coaching the Ohio State DB's in that game and, as if on cue, the next play was a Charles White run where he broke into the secondary and rambled for big yardage.