In yesterday’s article, I covered the quarterback position, where true freshman Matt Barkley is trying to catch redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp, who was named the starter at the end of spring practice.
Meanwhile, Mitch Mustain hopes to win back that No. 2 spot and even prove to the coaching staff that he deserves to be the starter.
More than likely the quarterback depth chart will remain as is, unless something unforeseen happens. Matt Barkley learning the entire audible system, for instance, and trying not to force passes into coverage.
Now for the rest of the offense.
Who starts at running back?
So, what’s new. The media have been asking the same question for the past three years. In each of the last two seasons, C. J. Gable has been the starter but hasn’t ended the season there. Holding onto the football as well as injuries have been a problem for Gable.
More than likely Stafon Johnson will get the nod if for no other reason than he is the only true senior among the running backs, as well as the Trojan’s leading ground gainer.
Gable along with Allen Bradford are redshirt juniors. Like Gable, Bradford has been hobbled by injuries during his career, the latest being a hip injury that required surgery.
However, during summer workouts, Bradford has shown that he is fully recovered and ready to put in his bid for playing time. The other thing that he has shown is a great pair of hands. The way he is able to grab passes and make those all-important yards after the catch should give play-caller Jeremy Bates a lot of options.
Junior speedster Joe McKnight missed spring practice with four dislocated toes suffered in the Rose Bowl. But he is definitely back. During the first day of Fall Camp on Saturday, McKnight juked and rambled for two long runs. One went 75 yards for a score.
With both McKnight and Bradford missing spring practice, two other running backs got to show their wares. Redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal had a very impressive spring and caught everything thrown his way during the summer workouts.
Redshirt sophomore Marc Tyler, who suffered a broken leg at the tail end of his senior season in high school, also had a solid spring and looks to put in his bid for more playing time.
Barring injury, redshirt junior and two-year starter Stanley Havili has the fullback spot nailed down. Last year, Havili showed that he was an able pass catcher as well as a blocker and rusher.
This season Havili will be backed up by a versatile sophomore, D.J Shoemate, along with senior Adam Goodman. Shoemate is another back who had an impressive spring after switching to the fullback spot.
With a new starter at quarterback, the Trojans are very likely to depend more on the running game than they have in the past few seasons. Opposing defensive coordinators will have their hands full trying to game plan for six running backs plus Havili and Shoemate, all with game-breaking capabilities.
The situation at wide receiver is pretty much the same as running back. Redshirt junior Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson last year’s Nos. 1 and two with 58 and 33 catches respectively, have those spots locked down.
However, there is a veritable log jam of receivers behind them including Travon Patterson, David Ausberry, Jordan Cameron, Brandon Carswell, and redshirt freshman Brice Butler. Add to that mix incoming freshman DeVon Flournoy, who was very impressive in both team drills and one-on-one competition on the first day of Fall Camp.
With this group of running backs and wide receivers, the Trojans are deeper on offense than they have ever been. Their passing attack can cover any distance—short, medium, or long range—from anywhere on the field.
But what really makes this super-charged offense go is not the backfield or the wide receivers. It’s right up front. This is the strongest offensive line that Pete Carroll has had during his tenure at USC.
The offense is anchored by sixth-year senior, Jeff Byers, at left guard. In the middle is center Kris O’Dowd who returns to that spot after shoulder surgery. Byers replaced O’Dowd all during spring practice, but now that O’Dowd has returned O-line coach Pat Ruel seems pleased with the prospects for 2009.
Next to Byers is redshirt senior Charles Brown at left tackle. On O’Dowd’s right are senior Alex Parsons at guard and sophomore Tyron Smith at tackle. Ready to give those three stiff competition this fall are experienced backups Butch Lewis, Zach Heberer, and Nick Howell.
The tight end spot is also very strong with returning starter Anthony McCoy ready to make a run at the Mackey Award. Back up Rhett Ellison is another dependable pass catcher who can make good yardage after the catch, and is an excellent blocker.
The only question mark at tight end is sophomore Blake Ayles, who has been nagged by hip and groin problems. But even without Ayles, the Trojans should get plenty of offense from McCoy and Ellison.
In Part Three of Trojan Football, the 2009 Edition, I will take a look at the Troy defense.