When the doors swing open at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, USC fans will get their first opportunity to see the 2009 USC football team in action. The sidelines at Howard Jones Field will be filled with excited fans, energy and optimism as the Trojans take the first steps in their quest to the top of the college football world.
The players that will become household names in the fall begin honing their skills with hard work and determination throughout the spring.
“I’m stoked! I have been waiting for this since my high school season ended,” Matt Barkley said. “Saturday will kick it off and hopefully all of this work will pay off.”
For the Trojans, finding a new quarterback to take the place of Mark Sanchez will be the top priority with Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp, Garrett Green and Matt Barkley all vying for the starting spot.
All four quarterbacks bring a different set of skills and leadership qualities to the position and are expected to get an equal amount of reps when spring ball opens.
Unlike years past when the quarterbacks were tutored by Steve Sarkisian, this season the four talented signal-callers will be under the watchful eye of new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
Bates is one of three new assistants on the staff, all of which spurned NFL opportunities to join Pete Carroll’s staff at USC.
“My first year in the NFL I won a Super Bowl and the last six I haven’t been back to the playoffs. USC wins and I wanted to get that formula again,” Bates said. “I wanted to see how Coach Carroll wins 90% of his games over the last eight years.
“I think that’s what drew me back the most, was the winning attitude, how to become a winner again.”
While Bates joined the staff at USC to learn from Pete Carroll and be around the winning tradition, the players feel he is the perfect person to help continue the Trojans’ successful run.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Barkley said. “I was pretty bummed to see Sark leave, but I don’t think Coach Carroll could have brought in anyone better than Coach Bates.”
Aaron Corp added: “I’m real excited to get to working with him out on the field. I mean just in the meetings and stuff it’s been exciting. I think the stuff he’s going to bring to our offense is going to be really, really helpful.”
For the quarterbacks, returning nine starters from an offense that averaged 37.5 points per game has to be a comforting feeling as well.
“We should be strong,” Corp said. “All we lost was Patrick Turner and Mark (Sanchez).”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans lose a number of big names, but have plenty of young players that are capable of stepping in and making an impact in 2009.
One position that will have all new faces in the starting lineup is linebacker.
Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith are the frontrunners to take over for Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava.
Senior Luthur Brown is another player that is healthy heading into spring and looking to make his presence felt.
“It’s a relief because I have been dealing with injuries my whole career here,” Brown said. “I am just going to keep my fingers crossed and expect the best.”
While most feel their will be a natural drop off with the loss of so much NFL-caliber talent, don’t tell that to the players.
“I don’t expect there to be a drop off,” Brown said. “I know we are practicing against our own team but I have talked with all the linebackers and we are coming out full throttle. If you have the ball in your hand, we are going to be laying you down.”
The defensive line has a ton of upside and is stocked with talented young players that got experience last season like Christian Tupou, Jurrell Casey, Armond Armstead and Malik Jackson.
If defensive end Everson Griffen can reach his potential this season, the group could develop into something special by the end of the year.
The strength of the defense will be in the secondary, where All-American Taylor Mays, sixth-year senior Josh Pinkard and Will Harris supply the hard hits and experience, to go along with the swagger and cover skills of Shareece Wright, Kevin Thomas and T.J. Bryant.
With the talent and depth that the Trojans have in the defensive backfield it is hard to imagine a better group exists anywhere in the nation.
This spring a number of position battles are up for grabs and the team leaders are still to be determined, but with nine returning starters on offense and plenty of talent on defense, the optimism and expectations are still sky high for the Men of Troy.
“The expectations don’t change here,” Chris Galippo said. “We expect to shut down every team we play and we expect to win with precision and class.”
Taylor Mays and the secondary will be the strength of the defense in '09. (Paul Pinner Photo)
*Discuss more on the SCPlaybook.com message boards
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at firstname.lastname@example.org