It didn't take long for the quarterback spot to get turned upside down during spring ball after John David Booty was sidelined following day one with back problems. Booty eventually had successful surgery for the longtime problem and is expected back sometime this summer. That meant the door was wide open for Mark Sanchez to work all spring with the first unit and take the valuable snaps that will give him the experience he needs. Mark made good progress throughout the spring, especially in the early going, and he learned a lot while going against the first defense during scrimmages. Did Mark do enough to take the job from John David? No, it will still be John David's job to lose when he comes back but Mark certainly showed glimpses of what we have to look forward to in the future. Sanchez has a very strong arm and he has a presence about him on the field. One of the pleasant surprises of camp was the performance of Mike McDonald, who went from being a walk-on who wasn't sure if he would continue playing a year ago to veteran back-up taking all the #2 snaps. McDonald did a particularly good job during the scrimmages of leading the team down the field, he isn't flashy but he knows how to move an offense. Garrett Green, who will arrive as a freshman in the fall, was in attendance at the majority of practices.
Running Back (photo - Brandon Hancock)
Memories of Sunny Byrd. It wasn't too many years ago, during the early stages of the Pete Carroll era at USC, that the Trojans found themselves with a sudden lack of bodies at tailback and they were forced to turn to a hard-pounding fullback named Sunny Byrd to carry the ball. His two yards and a cloud of dust style made him a fan favorite because of the effort he showed and this spring we found ourselves in a similar situation. Due to injuries and academic issue we were without such veteran tailback contributors as Hershel Dennis, Chauncey Washington, Desmond Reed and Michael Coleman. Instead, the Trojans turned to Brandon Hancock and Ryan Powdrell to carry the load and they responded with results Byrd would have been proud of. Chances are both will return to the fullback spot in the fall, with their carries severely reduced in number, but this spring they certainly showed that there is some life left in their feet. Hancock was the primary ballcarrier and he simply did a terrific job going out there every practice and working hard, he also showed some nice spin moves that haven't been seen since the days of Clovis West HS. Brandon looked in great shape and primed for a big senior year. Powdrell broke off a 50+ yard run at the Huddle to wow the crowd and he showed nimble feet for a 260 pound man. Ryan is a very good lead blocker who can also catch the ball. We didn't see a lot of Jody Adewale because he was bothered with a groin injury but when he was out there he was taking his place right next to Hancock and Powdrell as a solid contributor. Jody does a lot of things well, kind of like a younger version of David Kirtman. As far as Hershel, the news could not be much worse. He injured a hamstring right before spring ball while running the beach and then, on his first extended day back midway through camp, he took a screen pass and turned upfield only to have his knee give out on him. It was the same knee he had torn ligaments in before (left) and he will need surgery with another year to year and a half recovery time expected. At this point, Hershel plans to appeal for a sixth year of eligibility. The news on Chauncey is encouraging, he needs to pass 10 units this spring to be eligible for the fall and he feels confident he will make it. His availability is crucial to the running game for the Trojans this year (we should hear something in mid-May when spring semester grades come out). Reed was able to attend several practices and he even returned a couple non-contact punts but it's clear the foot issue is bothering him. We should know more this summer on his status. Coleman sat out following hip surgery in January and he should be good to go for summer workouts. The coaches had moved Whitney Lewis to tailback for spring and he ended up getting a sore shoulder early which really limited his playing time. When he was out there though, he actually looked pretty good with the ball in his hands. One walk-on who deserves mention for his performance this spring is John Griffin as he carried the ball quite a bit and took his share of hits.
Wide Receiver (photo - Patrick Turner)
Coming in to spring we predicted that this could be the best receiving corps in the country and, after watching them for the past four weeks, there is no reason to think anything different. Dwayne Jarrett is going to be a dominant performer this year as he now has the upper body size to outmuscle defensive backs and he's playing at such a confident level. It will be interesting to see, however, if he puts up similarly huge numbers to last year because there are so many other good options available this season. Steve Smith looks solid, just what you would want from a senior. The emergence of Patrick Turner will be the key to watch. Turner came to play this spring and he made some spectacular catches including some where he had to go down low to get the ball and some that were one-handed and went for touchdowns. Patrick firmly established himself as the #3 receiver and that's no knock on Chris McFoy. Chris looks as dependable as ever but right now he's the #4 receiving option on this team (an impressive statement about the depth of this unit). You also can't talk about the receivers this spring without mentioning Ryan Ting and Brad Walker. Ting moved over from DB to fill the slot receiver role and he looked natural doing it (he played the position in high school). Walker was a scrimmage star as a favorite target of McDonald and he showed the kind of good hands which could earn him time in the fall.
Tight End (photo - Fred Davis)
This is going to be a solid unit next fall. We're really starting to see the emergence of Fred Davis as a bonafide pass catching threat in addition to his work as a blocker. Fred looked like the clear cut starter and he should put up big numbers this year. One of the bigger surprises early in spring, literally, was the performance of Gerald Washington. It's been a while since a player came in to USC and immediately wowed people with his physical stature like Washington has done and that's because the imposing 23 year old is just a big man. In the opening days of spring he also showed the ability to catch the football and move well with the ball in his hands. He was later bothered by a hamstring and then sat out the last week due to academics. Dale Thompson and Jimmy Miller both continue to show good progress and they will be a major part of the rotation. Nick Vanderboom is the #5 tight end on the depth chart and he could contribute if needed.
Offensive Line (photo - Sam Baker)
It's clear that the Trojans have a pair of All-American candidates on the line with Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil. Both of these guys are playing at such a high level right now and you can see their confidence in the way they handle themselves on the field. Chilo Rachal showed this spring that he is ready to be the starter at RG and he is going to be a good one. The early surprise of camp was the performance of Matt Spanos at LG although Matt eventually saw time also as the back-up center and RT. Spanos is one of the strongest players on the team and he could be a key guy with his versatility. Matt missed the last week of camp due to academics. One of the reasons Matt got moved around was the return of Jeff Byers at LG, if he is healthy you can expect him to be in the starting line-up. Jeff also missed the last week of spring (sore back) so we saw Tiny Malu at LG after also working at RG earlier. Tiny is looking good and he will be in the mix this year. Kyle Williams comes out of spring as the solid starter at RT but he will probably face more competition from Spanos in the fall. We also saw both Charles Brown and Thomas Herring in limited action as back-ups to Williams and they have bright futures. Brown has really grown into his frame and with more time in the Carlisle program he has a chance to be a monster. Herring didn't go much and you could tell he wasn't in great shape but he was able to show some glimpse of real power when he was in there. At the other tackle spot, Nick Howell is backing-up Baker and Nick showed tremendous progress this spring. The main thing Nick needs to do at this point is add bulk to his frame and he should be fine. Drew Radovich and Travis Draper missed the majority of spring while rehabbing from injuries.
Defensive Line (photo - Sedrick Ellis)
We came into camp expecting to see Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson emerge as the two leaders and that's exactly what happened. The one-on-one linemen drill battles between LJ and Baker, along with the competitions between Ellis and Kalil, were simply a joy to watch. Ellis looks physically strong and he seems ready to emerge as a force in the middle of the line. Sed had to sit out the last week of practice due to academics. Lawrence is also physically bigger, noticeable in the upper body, and he's a savvy veteran who has a wide array of moves. LJ also missed practice time toward the latter half of spring, due to an injury. One of the more pleasant surprises of camp was the emergence of defensive tackle Chris Barrett. We knew we needed someone to step in and fill the role vacated by La Juan Ramsey and Chris was the guy this spring. He has battled injuries so far in his Trojan career but the potential has always been there, hopefully we will now see what Chris can do on a full-time basis. With his size and athleticism he could be a dominant player. The remaining starting spot, at defensive end opposite Jackson, has yet to be decided between Kyle Moore and Jeff Schweiger. Both had good moments in spring although Schweiger was banged up for part of the time with a sore foot. Moore is at 255 pounds right now and with his long wing span he can cause so much trouble while rushing the passer. When Schweiger was out there you could see him working at a higher energy level than last year, he's got a lot of speed around the edge and real good instincts for the ball. No matter who starts, those two should provide a real nice mix at that position. The competition for the reserve defensive tackle spot, behind Barrett, is a good one between Fili Moala and Walker Ashley. Fili is a wide body who moves well but he has yet to show the consistency needed to move into a starting role. Ashley came into spring with questions about how he would perform after sitting out for a year but once he got adjusted to the practices he began showing some nice flashes of big play ability. Walker has so much speed and quickness for his size that you have to imagine it's only a matter of time before he becomes a real impact player. Travis Tofi is the primary reserve to Ellis right now and he can play multiple spots on the line although he was bothered late in camp with a sore foot. Alex Morrow is serving as the back-up to Jackson and he is starting to look like he could contribute if called upon. Due to injuries, we didn't see a lot of Averell Spicer (hip), Lawrence Miles (shoulder) or Rashaad Goodrum (ribs) although all three could be key reserves as their respective positions in the fall.
Linebacker (photo - Keith Rivers)
The battle that we expected to see take place between Oscar Lua and Rey Maualuga definitely took place as both guys are making a strong case for the starting middle linebacker spot. Maualuga is the talented youngster who many have assumed would step into the role at some point but Lua continues to make plays, particularly as a run stuffer, and Oscar seems to have regained some of the speed that was lost earlier in his career due to a pair of knee surgeries. This is probably a competition that will continue into the fall as these two fine players push each other even more. We didn't see a whole lot of Dallas Sartz or Brian Cushing as both continue to rehab from shoulder surgeries but apparently Pete Carroll saw enough of Sartz to say that he will be the SLB starter heading into fall. Thomas Williams also sat out most of spring due to injury so the guy we saw the most on the strongside was Clay Matthews and he looked pretty good. Clay has put on a lot of size during his time at USC and he made more than his share of plays in the Trojan Huddle. You can expect Clay to be a major factor on special teams and the only reason he won't play more in the LB rotation is because of the amazing depth we have at the position these days. Keith Rivers seems ready to become that terror on the field that people expect from the Trojan who wears #55. Keith moved around a lot in spring (DE, SLB, etc) as the coaches will look to use him in a variety of ways, he is a smart enough player to do it. Behind him is Kaluka Maiava and there is no doubt that he is ready to play as well. Kaluka has such terrific instincts and he can definitely hit. One guy we didn't see enough of was Luthur Brown as he continues to rehab his back, look for him to be ready in time for summer workouts. It remains to be seen how the rotation will work out at the linebacker spots with so much available talent but we do know that the backers will be the core of the special teams this year and that should help in that area.
Defensive Back (photo - Kevin Thomas)
I can't wait to see what this unit looks like in the fall when all the injured guys come back healthy and ready to go. We didn't get to see enough of potential starters Josh Pinkard, Terrell Thomas or Kevin Ellison this spring as all three were limited in their practice time due to injuries. Pinkard began the spring at corner but by the time spring was done it now looks like he could be returned to safety, thanks in part to the performances of the young corners like Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris who took advantage of their opportunities this spring. Pinkard will have surgery for a sports hernia next week and should be sidelined for up to two months. When he was out there, especially in the last week of practices, Terrell Thomas showed why secondary coach Rocky Seto is calling him the next great USC cover corner. Terrell has such nice size for the position with a long wingspan and he's playing with the confidence of a veteran right now. Ellison still looked slowed by his knee but there's just a comforting feeling you get when he is on the field. If healthy, Kevin should enter fall camp expecting a starting safety spot alongside Pinkard. The emergence of Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris was nice to see as both really stepped up their game this spring. Thomas is very aggressive on the field while Harris has bulked up and uses his speed well. Both players have a bright future at USC. Another player with a bright future is Antwine Perez, a freshman who graduated high school early in order to take part in spring ball and he spent the majority of time holding his own with the first unit. Perez has all the intangibles you want in a big-time player including an intense demeanor on the field. Brandon Ting looked like a veteran senior while taking a lot of reps with the first unit at strong safety and he provided some of the biggest hits of camp. Mozique McCurtis showed enough to let us know that he can be a part of the corner rotation in the fall. We didn't get to see Will Harris, unfortunately, but he says he is healthy enough to be ready to go by the time fall camp rolls around. Let's not forget about Will and how talented he is, he will be a great addition when he's back on the field.
Special Teams (photo - Troy Van Blarcom)
It looks like the Trojans could have three different players handling the three kicking chores with Mario Danelo (placekicks), Taylor Odegard (punting) and Troy Van Blarcom (kickoffs). We saw Van Blarcom give Odegard a run for the punting role in spring, Troy definitely had some strong kicks but they haven't been consistent enough so far. Danelo also continues to hold off Troy for the placekicking job so, at least for now, Van Blarcom will stick with kickoffs. Mark Sanchez will be the holder for placekicks with Will Collins continuing as the long snapper for both kicks and punts. We saw both Steve Smith and Ryan Ting work as the punt return man in spring and, thanks in part to his impressive 75 yard punt return for a TD during the Trojan Huddle, Ting will leave spring with the job. There has been no decision made on a kickoff return man.
USC End of Spring depth chart (released 4/14/06)