We learned that the deep ball is back. The deep passing game seemed to be nearly nonexistent at times in 2009, but after seeing the aggressive playcalling by Lane Kiffin during Saturday’s 78-play scrimmage, it looks like the Trojans will once again be looking to stretch the defense with some big plays through the air.
Matt Barkley looked sharp during the first half of the scrimmage, calling an audible and connecting with Ronald Johnson on a 22-yard touchdown strike on the first series of the day. The sophomore signal caller later hit Johnson in stride for a 70-yard touchdown pass that drew a loud cheer from the crowd and had a few onlookers commenting about the return of the vertical passing attack.
We learned that Ronald Johnson is ready to assume the No.1 wide receiver spot. The senior has been one of the top performers the entire spring, getting rave reviews from head coach Lane Kiffin, and Saturday’s scrimmage was no different.
Ronald Johnson has been the clear leader at wide receiver.
Johnson was a key part of the offensive explosion that resulted in five touchdowns in the first half of play. The speedy receiver got the scoring started on a 22-yard touchdown reception from Matt Barkley and later beat T.J. Bryant deep for a 70-yard score. He finished the day with 4 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, and has shown the work ethic, leadership and maturity to be a true No.1 receiver.
We learned that the defensive line will be the strength of the defense. While the secondary is talented but still very young, and the linebackers have plenty to prove, the defensive line has emerged as the top unit this spring.
“They look pretty good,” Monte Kiffin said. “We got some big guys working pretty hard. Coach O and myself are really pleased.”
With the emergence of DaJohn Harris, who has been the surprise of spring ball, and the solid play of Derek Simmons, Ed Orgeron feels he now has five defensive tackles that can contribute this coming season. The fiery defensive coordinator was also pleased with the play of Armond Armstead and Nick Perry on the edge. At Tennessee, Orgeron had defensive ends in the 225-pound range, so he likes the added size of Armstead, Perry, Malik Jackson and Wes Horton.
We learned that the No.2 cornerback spot is still up for grabs. Entering spring, T.J. Bryant was the favorite to win the starting job opposite Shareece Wright, but he hasn’t done anything to standout or secure the spot so far. Sophomore Torin Harris has been impressive but injured his right hamstring during Thursday’s practice and missed Saturday’s scrimmage.
We learned that Dillon Baxter could make a real impact as a freshman. We witnessed his elusiveness and smooth playmaking ability during the players-only throwing sessions this offseason and were impressed with his potential. But after watching him glide through the open field for a 50-yard touchdown run during Saturday’s scrimmage, it isn’t crazy to say that this kid could make a real impact in 2010.
“I thought he was phenomenal,” Lane Kiffin said. “He looked like Reggie (Bush) versus Fresno.”
We aren’t ready to compare him to Reggie Bush like Lane Kiffin did, but we have already seen enough to believe the future is very bright for the freshman from San Diego.
We learned that defensive tackle DaJohn Harris is the most improved player on the team. When discussing the defensive line last year, Harris was rarely mentioned and rarely in the mix for playing time, but after a solid offseason he has made more big plays than any player on the defensive side of the ball. After intercepting a Matt Barkley pass last week and returning it for a touchdown, Harris topped it off by stripping the ball from Mitch Mustain on Saturday and rumbling 52 yards the other direction before being stopped short of the goal line.
The junior defensive lineman has impressed the new coaching staff and likely earned himself some playing time for 2010. “He’s improved immensely on his work ethic and bought into what we are doing,” Ed Orgeron said. “He’s really improved.”
We learned that the Trojans are still looking for a consistent No.2 wide receiver. Ronald Johnson has stepped up as Matt Barkley’s top target, but no other receiver has separated themselves from the pack. Brice Butler and Devon Flournoy have made some nice plays, and freshman Kyle Prater has shown a lot of potential despite being slowed by an injured hamstring, but the competition could carry into the fall.
Armond Armstead gives USC great size at defensive end.
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