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March 30, 2010Under new coach John Baxter, USC's special teams will have a new direction -- and a new meaning.
And the focus won't just be on a punter, place-kicker, or punt and kickoff returners, even.
It'll be on all the cover guys, and the blockers who'll set up the wall. But you won't need a program to identify these folks.
Just check the depth chart. Starters need not apply for these spots. They'll have their names already pencilled in, same as for those starting spots. These jobs will go to USC's best athletes.
The goal is to get some consistency and production, as Baxter did at Fresno State, where his special teams scored 39 TD's with three safeties. USC meanwhile, found that while its punt return and coverage teams were ninth in returns (13.6-yard average) and third in return coverage (2.1), the Trojans were in the bottom 10 in kickoff returns (18.9 yards) and coverage (24.6).
The kickoff returners are back, at least.
"I really want to run some kickoffs back," said senior Ronald Johnson, who just may, entering the year as USC's all-time No. 5 kick returner (52 for 1,264 yards, a 24.3 average including a longest one of 75 yards). That's just ahead of fellow senior C.J. Gable (44, 1010, 23.0 average with one long TD of 93 yards), who's No. 6 and redshirt sophomore Curtis McNeal, who returned 13 kicks for 242 yards.
But the pair who handled all punts, Damian Williams and Joe McKnight, have left for the NFL. So there will definitely be someone new there. Start with all three kickoff return men and throw freshman Dillon Baxter into the mix.
Back also are strong-legged punter Jacob Harfman, also a candidate for the place-kicking job with the departure of sure-legged Jordan Congdon. He'll battle senior walk-on Joe Houston for the field goal spot.
Both long snapper Cooper Stephenson and short snapper Chris Pousson return for their third seasons, but holder Garrett Green is gone. Stephenson and walk-on sophomore wide receiver Robbie Boyer appear to be the early candidates.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFOOTBALL.COM. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.