Since Mark Sanchez led the Trojans to Rose Bowl triumph, the big news at USC has made a complete shift to covering the Matt Barkley saga.
The headlines have looked something like this:
Matt Barkley joins USC early to learn the playbook. Matt Barkley is in a competition to start. Matt Barkley falls to second to Aaron Corp. Aaron Corp gets injured, and Matt Barkley is given another chance.
It is obvious that Barkley has a legitimate chance to become the first ever true freshman starter in a USC opener. To the sports world, that is a very exciting opportunity and one worth following.
But what about the other players?
After all, USC has thrilling developments not involving Barkley, and several troubling uncertainties. Over this week, I will highlight five important topics that will likely transition from the practice field to Saturday afternoons. This is the second:
For the first time ever, the Cardinal and Gold have hired a full-time Special teams coach. 37-year-old Brian Schneider left the Oakland Raiders, where he had two years of NFL experience, to join the Trojans. Taking advantage of this new presence of the coaching staff will be returners Stafon Johnson and Ronald Johnson.
Last year, Ronald Johnson led the Trojan special teams to a nation-leading season in kickoff returns (second in the nation with an average 26.5 yards). While the punt return game left a bit to be desired, both return games look to improve on the performances of last year, bolstered by both added experience and Schneider’s constant presence.
However, not all areas of special teams have returning players. At the beginning of preseason, Pete Carroll and his staff were still searching for a holder, kicker, and punter. Replacing the performance of First Team All-Pac 10 kicker David Buehler will be difficult, but as always, the Trojans seem to pull talent out of thin air.
Jacob Harfman, a Junior College All-American, looks to fill the void at punter. At this point, the depth chart leaders for kicker and holder (respectively) are former Nebraska Cornhusker Jordan Congdon, and senior fourth string quarterback Garrett Green.
All the newcomers must gel together and find rhythm quickly, or the Trojans will have a gaping hole in a very important aspect of football. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to expect Pete Carroll not to force chemistry upon his Special Teams unit. Having a permanent presence in Brian Schneider will also contribute to the rapid development of these vital parts.