Top Overall Performer
Kevin Carden: Allen Bradford
Dillon Baxter has created the most buzz, Ronald Johnson has made several big plays and Matt Barkley has looked much improved, but no player has been better than tailback Allen Bradford. The bruising back sets the tone at practice with his physical running style and will be the workhorse in 2010. Bradford’s dominance at practice has become such commonplace that it often goes unmentioned, but make no mistake about it, the senior from Colton is poised to be one the best players in the Pac-10.
Dan Greenspan: Ronald Johnson
It’s all come together for RoJo. He has the chemistry with Matt Barkley, the consistency to execute at a high level every day and the opportunity to be a true No. 1 receiver. Lane Kiffin is also playing to Johnson’s strengths with the necessary routes to be an All-American. It’s been obvious from day one the Michigan man has elite deep speed, but now Kiffin is giving him opportunities to run past defenders after the catch.
Carden: Devon Kennard
Whether it’s at middle linebacker or back at outside linebacker, one thing is clear; Devon Kennard has a ton of talent and a very bright future. The sophomore from Arizona, has shown that he could be a impact player at defensive end and outside linebacker last year, and now he is on the verge of emerging at a third position – middle linebacker. With an NFL body, great instincts and a passion for the game, Kennard will be a star before his career at USC is over.
Greenspan: Khaled Holmes
He’s been in there play after play against the likes of DaJohn Harris and Jurrell Casey and held his own. If that isn’t enough to show Alex Holmes’ little brother won’t be a breakout performer, what will? With the limited numbers on the offensive line, Holmes has proven he has the physical and mental toughness for Saturdays.
Carden: DaJohn Harris
Easily the biggest surprise of the spring has been the play of defensive tackle DaJohn Harris. The 6-4, 295-pound lineman has gone from an afterthought to one of the most talked about players on the team by making two highlight reel plays, and showing some fire on the practice field. Harris is at a position with a lot of talent and needs to keep up his high level of play to see significant playing time in 2010, but he has certainly helped his case this spring.
Greenspan: DaJohn Harris
Afterthought to starter? That might be the path for Harris in just 15 practices, who has emerged to make as many big plays as anyone on the defense. Clearly taking to the new staff, a bigger and quicker Harris dominated the first scrimmage and will find time in a deep defensive tackle rotation.
Carden: No.2 cornerback
The biggest concern right now has to be the No.2 cornerback situation. T.J. Bryant has the most experience and has had his good moments this spring, but he hasn’t taken hold of the starting spot. Torin Harris was making a push for playing time but is currently sidelined with an injured hamstring. Brian Baucham returns in the fall, but the overall lack of experience is an issue.
Greenspan: Depth at linenbacker
The offensive line will be healthy in the fall, same for the suddenly depleted crop of cornerbacks. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees at linebacker, where there are only four proven performers on the roster. Barring the emergence of a freshman or two in the final few practices, there will be immense pressure on newcomers Hayes Pullard and Glen Stanley to provide some needed depth.
Best Position Battle
Chris Galippo is working to keep the starting middle linebacker job.
Carden: Middle linebacker
The battle for middle linebacker has been the most intriguing competition of the spring with Chris Galippo trying to hold off Devon Kennard. Galippo has responded with a solid spring but his back has limited him at times, and Kennard is making a strong push for the starting spot. This competition will likely carry over into the fall and in my eyes there is a very real chance that Kennard will eventually be named the starter.
Greenspan: Middle linebacker
Both Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo can play. That much is clear. Both can contribute at an extremely high level, an NFL-caliber level. That much is very clear. Who is going to start and how playing time will be divvied up is clear as mud.
Carden: Special teams
The biggest change was on display from the start of the first practice of the spring, when the team spent 30-plus minutes on special teams. John Baxter is known as one of the best and most innovative special teams coordinators in college football and he has already had a big impact with his infectious enthusiasm and attention to detail. Special teams was often overlooked the past few years but that is no longer the case at Howard Jones Field.
Greenspan: Emphasis on special teams
Before this season is over, associate head coach John Baxter will be right there with Ed Orgeron as a message board favorite. The longtime Fresno State assistant has brought a variety of innovative drills all but guaranteed to improve special teams play. On Thursday, he had kickers working from beyond the hashes at a truly ridiculous angle. They made every one, but why did Baxter have them do it? “No thought process, it’s just the only patch of grass I had.”
Most Memorable Play
Carden: Baxter’s TD
Even those fans who haven’t made it down to practice know the answer to this one. Dillon Baxter’s 50-yard run during Saturday’s scrimmage drew comparisons to Reggie Bush and has been viewed well over a million times on the internet. The run was not only electrifying but it was the first glimpse of Baxter’s seemingly unlimited potential.
Greenspan: Dillon Baxter’s scrimmage TD run
It’s all there, the wow and balance and decisiveness and creativity. Everything recruiting analysts said the true freshman could do was on display in the first scrimmage of the spring. Baxter will be special and this one run announced it to the world.
Strongest Position Group
Carden: Defensive line
The defensive line will be the strength of the team in 2010. Ed Orgeron has plenty of talent and depth to work with in his return to USC, and he hasn’t hesitated to say he is expecting this group to be dominant in 2010. Jurrell Casey, Nick Perry and Armond Armstead headline this impressive unit.
Greenspan: Defensive line
Ed Orgeron is back and again working wonders with the front four, but not even the big Cajun could have imagined that group would develop this quickly. Players written off under the old regime, like DaJohn Harris and Derek Simmons, have instead become consistent playmakers. With Jurrell Casey and Nick Perry leading the way, they could emerge as one of the nation’s best.
John Baxter has brought a focus to special teams.
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