To say the Trojans are in good shape at the quarterback spot heading into camp would be an understatement. Matt Leinart returns as the reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and he can currently be found as the cover boy on several pre-season publications confirming his status as one of the top players in the country. Matt seems to take all the attention in stride with a relaxed smile on his face. A young offensive line may cause him to face a little pressure early in the season but Matt has worked in the off-season to increase his athleticism and there’s no reason to think he won’t put up big numbers once again this season. John David Booty enters camp as the second best quarterback on the roster but there is a realistic chance that he could redshirt this season. That’s not a decision that has to be made anytime soon so we will get a real good look at John David in fall camp to judge his progress. If Booty should redshirt the battle for the #2 spot could get interesting. Brandon Hance figured to have a solid hold on that spot but Matt Cassel asked for and received a return to QB after spending time at tight end last season. Billy Hart spent his summer with the Trojan baseball team. Rocky Hinds has a strong arm and is obviously an athlete but he’s likely headed for a redshirt season.
What an amazing trio of running backs the Trojans will put on the field this fall. The group of Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Hershel Dennis boasts pretty much every skill you could want in a tailback and the team-first attitude installed by Kennedy Pola seems to have carried over with new RB coach Todd McNair as the backs are happy with the success they achieve as a unit. Reggie is the most dynamic, a highlight film waiting to happen and he will line up all over the field this year as Chow devises creative ways to get the ball in his hands. LenDale has the unique gift of being a power runner, not many big men know how to run the football the way he does and we should see even more punishment this fall as he is close to 240 pounds these days. Hershel also looks bulked up and as comfortable as ever with his role in the offense. He’s the veteran of the group and a tremendous pass catcher out of the backfield. Chauncey Washington will redshirt. Desmond Reed could get some action while playing behind Bush and learning the same plays that Reggie runs. With Brandon Hancock out it means the fullback is limited as an offensive weapon but there are still some solid options. Lee Webb is a tough blocking back while David Kirtman has good all-around skills at the position. Jody Adewale is a reserve who could see time on special teams. Hancock is doing well in rehab and hopes to return at some point this season.
This could be the biggest question mark heading into camp since we simply don’t know which players will be lining up once the season starts. The uncertain status of Mike Williams means the Trojans will open camp with Williams in attendance even though we won’t know if he’s been cleared until the NCAA makes a final decision on his application for reinstatement (expected Aug 10th or 11th). Seeing Mike is recent workouts with the team only reminds us of how good he can be and there’s no denying the impact his presence will have on the offense if he’s allowed to return. One player will we definitely have is Steve Smith and he’s going to be a good one. Smith has continued to look good in summer drills to pick right up where he left off last spring. He’s savvy, a very good athlete and is ready to take over for Keary Colbert in this system. Whitney Lewis was expected to take over for Williams but right now his academic status is in question. If Williams and Lewis are unable to play it all of a sudden creates opportunity for a lot of guys and USC has plenty of receivers ready to take their shot. Will Buchanan and Chris McFoy will get a long look as will Greig Carlson and Jason Mitchell. Fred Davis was hampered with an injury during spring so we didn’t really get a good look at what he can do. One freshman who performed extremely well over the summer is Dwayne Jarrett and the expectations are high for this freshman to come in and make an immediate impact. Derrick Jones will likely redshirt.
This spot was looking like a major position of strength with the return of both Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd from injury but the recent kneecap injury suffered by Byrd means that he will miss the early part of the season. We will still be in good hands with Holmes as he’s looked very good in summer passing drills. Alex is down to 257 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. He should be a bonus to the young offensive line with his experience and talent as a blocker. Losing Byrd creates opportunity in camp for guys like Kurt Katnik and Nick Vanderboom. Katnik is known more as a blocker than a receiver while Vanderboom is a good athlete who was once Byrd’s high school quarterback. Don’t be surprised if one of the incoming freshmen gets an early look with Dale Thompson and Michael Stuart (or possibly Jimmy Miller).
With four potential new starters there’s no denying that the line will be a major focal point during fall camp to see how quickly a new group can gel together. A big key could be the return of John Drake as the USC rushing numbers when he was in the line-up last season were significantly higher than when he was on the sideline. Drake is a powerful run blocker who will need to continue working his way into shape during camp. Sam Baker came out of spring as the solid starter at left tackle and he should solidify that spot in camp with Matt Spanos getting first opportunity to be his back-up. Drake figures to get a look at left guard with Travis Watkins and Tiny Malu also in the mix. Chilo Rachal will likely redshirt. Ryan Kalil is a smart football player who many people feel has a good shot to hold off incoming freshman center Jeff Byers. If Byers is ready to play right away, he’s already the strongest and fastest OL on the team, then he could be moved to another spot if Kalil has a firm grip on the center job. Line coach Tim Davis will get the five best players on the field and that could easily include both Kalil and Byers. Fred Matua has the job at right guard with Travis Draper backing him up. The right tackle competition could get interesting with Kyle Williams, Deuce Lutui and Drew Radovich fighting for the starting role that belongs to Williams as camp opens.
We’re going to be good on offense, there’s no real question about that, the only question is how good will we be? There are too many weapons for the mastermind Norm Chow to see anything less than success with this unit and the addition of Williams at receiver would border on silly in terms of how much talent would be available in one offense. Look for Chow to be patient as the line develops, lots of quick throws from Leinart, and once the offense hits their stride during the season it should be an exciting show for Trojan fans to watch.