You can feel the energy at Heritage Hall on the USC campus, and you can't help but sense that everyone in the Trojan football program is drawing from that power source right now. It's the Spirit of Troy.
I don't want to sound like a booster, but great college football programs begin with the spirit that comes from and expectation of greatness. Along with spirit you have to have correct examples, agenda and a sense of order. It's out of these things USC players and coaches then work in an environment that creates a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
One of the statements that keeps coming out of the mouths of Trojan players at workouts this month is, "We are going to have great football team if what's going on now continues." It's first the honeymoon, then the work, and then the war. If the work ethic continues USC should be ready for, "Wartime" Sept 2nd.
As I watch the Trojans prepare for spring practice and get ready to play their 2010 season, it's evident that there are several USC players that are going to step up and have great seasons in 2010. I could have said need to step up. But I want to talk about players that will step up.
Trojans that will step up in the 2010 season:
QB Matt Barkley: Matt was the first quarterback to ever start USC's opening game as a true freshman. He made the impossibility of a true freshman QB running USC's pro-style offense possible. Barkley toiled the entire year in 2009 with shoulder and wrist problems. He's healthy for the 2010 season and light years ahead of where he was last spring.
Barkley's offensive gun is going to be full of bullets this coming season and a renewed competition with Mitch Mustain this spring will bring out the best in him.
WR Ronald Johnson: ROJO was tearing up fall practice last year before he tore up his shoulder in USC's final scrimmage. Johnson's ready for a big year in 2010. Brice Butler will have to be step up as well, because freshmen Kyle Prater, Markeith Ambles, and my favorite Robert Woods are going to be pressing for playing time early in the 2010 season.
Freshman running back Dillon Baxter, like Woods, is a player that can turn a 1-ard pass into a 99-yard gain. If Butler can overcome his problem with dropping passes, he should have a good year. But he's going to be pressed by the most talented group of receivers USC has ever brought in, and don't forget about De'Von Flournoy.
RBs Alan Bradford and Marc Tyler: It's time for Tyler to fulfill his potential to be an every down back. Alan Bradford stands at the top of the depth chart. If Bradford or Tyler can stay healthy, they will have productive years in 2010. It's not a question of ability with Tyler or Bradford. It's only a question of durability.
FB Stanley Havili: A great all around player. All he needs to do is stay healthy.
MLB Chris Galippo: Chris played too much last year, but he will benefit from his experience. USC's linebackers needed to be more physical last year, and the Trojans will be stronger heading into the 2010 season. If Jarvis Jones can stay healthy and give Galippo some help in the middle then look for Galippo to step up and have a fine year.
WLB Malcom Smith and SLB Devon Kennard: Malcom Smith was the best player on the Trojan defense in the last couple of games in 2009. Devon Kennard could be the most talented player on USC's defense and will be a terror at SLB in 2010. Look for USC's linebackers to be the most improved unit on the team in 2010.
CB Shareece Wright: Shareece is USC's best cover corner. Wright should be an All-American in 2010. He's tough, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will demand that his corners be physical.
It's time for the whole USC defense to step up and play to their abilities. Monte Kiffin will see that they are in position to make plays. Ed Orgeron is going to be the enforcer to make sure the intensity that wasn't there at times in 2009 is back in 2010. I guarantee you Kiffin and Orgeron will step up. I can't wait to hear Orgeron's voice at practice.
I'm hoping USC's defensive line can step up and dominate. Armond Armstead missed the first half of the season last year with a foot injury. The DL struggled with pressuring QBs in the second half of the year and with outside containment. USC's coaches will need all of the spring and fall to find their best four defensive linemen and where to play them.
Here is what my DL depth chart would look like: SDE Devon Kennard, DT Armond Armstead, NT Jurrell Casey and WDE Nick Perry. That would mean leaving the SLB position to Mike Morgan, but it would give USC its best chance to pressure opposing QBs and stop the run. Look for changes.
Ed Orgeron said last week they are just beginning to evaluate each USC player and it will be well into the spring before the coaches have any idea of what the depth chart will look like.
If Kevin Greene can become as good as he looks, Kennard could be moved to defensive end. Greene could supply depth behind Morgan. Glen Stanley is athletic and fast and should be a good 3rd down pass rusher. Stanley was a great get.
There are good reasons to believe Butch Lewis and Matt Kalil along with Tyron Smith will step up in 2010. The whole offensive line has to get tougher. They have got to believe they cannot be stopped on fourth- and-1. I love freshman Kevin Graf because of his toughness. He is going to step up and shine, and if it isn't in 2010 it will be in 2011.
The play of QB Matt Barkley and the USC defensive line are the key to the Trojans success in 2010. If Barkley and the defensive line elevate their game, USC will have a great year, and I believe Barkley will. I hope the defensive line will. Pac-10 quarterbacks were in a haven of rest against USC's defensive line in the second half of the season last year, and that has to change.
Lane Kiffin has a big job ahead getting this group of 2110 Trojan football players to maximize their talents. These are gifted players and coaches that need to strive together for excellence. It takes a great head coach to maximize players talents for a common objective. It takes great courage and commitment to set your own goals aside for the good of the whole.
That is what it means to step up.
Ronald Johnson will be a key member of USC's offense in 2010.
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