Most encouraging sign from spring?
Dan Greenspan - Development of quarterbacks - Why did USC dominate the Pac-10 under Pete Carroll? It always had the best quarterback, be it Palmer, Leinart or Sanchez. That certainly wasn’t the case last season, when Matt Barkley found out how steep the learning curve can be from high school to college. But Barkley has improved his decision-making and fitness, not throwing an interception in any scrimmage. The sophomore also benefited from an offense more suited to his skills, throwing deep and allowing receivers to run after the catch. With Mitch Mustain, perhaps the best No. 2 in the country, ready to step in, the Trojan passing attack should dramatically improve in the fall.
Kevin Carden – The coaching staff - In my eyes the most encouraging thing about spring practice was the new coaching staff. I wasn’t sure what to expect when Lane Kiffin and his new staff arrived. He was immediately vilified by the national media - for taking a better job? How could he do such a thing? But after watching Kiffin’s staff work together for the past few months I have been very impressed by their ability to recruit, their discipline and teaching. It’s always difficult to replace a legend, but the current group certainly isn’t intimidated by the task.
Greenspan – Lack of depth - Offensive line. Wide receiver. Cornerback. Did I miss anybody? Those were among the spots where the Trojans were left dangerously thin because of injuries and shaky recruiting by the previous regime. With a 13 game season, intense practice schedule and commitment to use starters on special teams, those issues are likely to flare up again. Backups and freshmen must be ready to step up or else it could be 2009 all over again, when USC couldn’t find ways to replace Damian Williams, Stanley Havili and others at various times.
Lane Kiffin assembled a strong staff at USC.
Carden – No.2 WR and CB - Ronald Johnson is definitely the top wide receiver and Shareece Wright is poised to have a breakout season at cornerback - after that comes the uncertainty. For the receivers, Brice Butler has looked really good at times but still is struggling to be a consistent pass catcher. Kyle Prater has shown good potential but is still a freshman with no game experience. And at cornerback it will be a battle this fall between three inexperienced players: Torin Harris, T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham.
Top overall performer?
Greenspan – CB Shareece Wright - There were plenty of viable contenders, but Wright cemented it with a dominant spring game, posting three pass break ups and forcing throws to the other side of the field. After missing the last two seasons, Wright looks like a quintessential shutdown corner and potential All-American. Wright will also get dirty in the running game, but his biggest impact will be allowing Monte Kiffin to call aggressive blitzes knowing the senior will be there to clean things up.
Carden – WR Ronald Johnson - The senior receiver let it be known this offseason that he wanted to become the man in the passing game and he did just that. Johnson made several big plays and showed great consistency before having to sit out the last few practices with an injured elbow. Johnson sets the tone for the receiving corps with his tremendous work ethic and focus. No player on the team works harder than RoJo and he will see all his hard work pay off with a big senior season in 2010.
Impression of the new coaching staff?
Greenspan - They certainly know how to teach. But what does that mean in terms of scheming and game day coaching? For all the player development seen over 15 sessions, it doesn’t mean a thing unless they are put in the right places to make plays on Saturdays. This staff does know how they’ll approach the game with an aggressive attacking defense and a vertical offense that builds extensively off play action, a far cry from last year’s herky jerky approach.
Carden - Like I said above, the new coaches have been very impressive so far. Lane Kiffin showed maturity and savvy by putting together a staff filled with good, veteran assistants that have experience on both the college and NFL levels. With Ed Orgeron providing some needed discipline and Monte Kiffin teaching the young defense, the Trojans are in very good hands with the new coaching staff.
*Stay tuned to SCPlaybook.com for Part 2 of the Spring Recap.
The Trojans' have two capable quarterbacks in Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.
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