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April 28, 2009

Trojan Huddle report card

It's always difficult to put an entire set of spring practices in perspective based on the spring game, but for the most part this year's Trojan Huddle was reflective of the spring with a few notable exceptions. Though it was a bit of a lackluster scrimmage offensively, featuring four field goals and four turnovers, the defense did it part and showed little drop off from last year.

With finals coming up for all of the Trojans, we looked at the Trojan Huddle and graded how they did on their final exam before fall camp.

Quarterbacks: B

There was nothing flashy from the quarterbacks, mostly ho-hum, which was somewhat unexpected from based on how they played this spring. Protection problems were a big reason why there were some struggles, but overall, the group didn't do anything to demolish the reputation each had built up during the spring. Matt Barkley threw two picks but showed an amazing arm and accuracy on throws to Brice Butler and Damian Williams.

High-flyer: Aaron Corp, 14-23, 157 yards and 1 TD

If there was one thing to say about Corp's performance in the scrimmage, it would be he that met expectations. He didn't throw the ball extremely well, throwing high to several receivers, but he handled the offense fairly well by converting several third downs and moving the chains with his feet. I'm still worried about his mechanics, as he seems to rush throws and seems to throw a really bad ball every once and awhile and has been lucky enough for it not to be picked off.

Sliding down: Mitch Mustain, 7-12, 85 yards, 1 INT

Any hope Mustain had of building momentum heading into the summer was quickly dispelled on his first drive, going backwards all three plays. At halftime he was 1-2 for -2 yards - ouch. He consistently held onto the ball too long and didn't seem to go through his reads quick enough. Protection was a bit of an issue, but it's clear he is the number three guy and hasn't done anything to change it.

Running Backs: B-

Like the rest of the offense, the running back group had a mediocre day. C.J. Gable made a nice 45-yard run on a toss to the right (thanks to a great seal block by the tight end), but then he had 4 carries for just 8 yards. It was nice to see a little bit of everyone (except for Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford), but this group needs to look to run more north south instead of trying to bounce everything outside.

High-flyer: Marc Tyler, 7 carries for 44 yards

Tyler looked good by running through some big holes and going vertical while lowering his shoulder and keeping his feet moving to get an extra yard or two. He did a good job of making cuts on the off-tackle zone plays and cutting it up for 10 to 12 yards.

Sliding down: Curtis McNeal, 8 carries for 7 yards

Moody didn't show anything special, getting trapped going east west instead of turning it up (he had a few bad play calls though). He also fumbled and always seemed to be swarmed by defenders before he could make a cut. It might just have been an off day for him, but Jeremy Bates did not try and run Moody on an off tackle play to see if he could make the cut and turn it up like he had been doing in practice.

Wide receivers: B+

Like the running backs, no one shined, but it was a just a solid effort overall from the group. If anything, the wideouts were hurt by the quarterbacks not having enough time to throw. They did an excellent job of route running and creating separation on everything but the fly pattern.

High flyers: Brice Butler, 5 catches, 50 yards and Travon Patterson, 7 catches for 57 yards

Butler certainly showed off his route-running ability by breaking off several routes to find the spot in the zone and slowed down on some drags to allow the quarterback to zip the ball in. Patterson also did a good job using his speed to create separation, looking the ball in and then turning and running.

Sliding down: David Ausberry, 0 catches

Although he might have already locked up the No. 3 receiver spot before the scrimmage, Butler, Patterson and Jordan Cameron had to be happy to see Ausberry struggle. He never seemed involved in the offense and dropped a well-thrown ball from Barkley. It will be interesting to see if the coaches read too much into this performance.

Offensive Line: C-

It was tough to tell if the offensive line, which has been hammered by injuries, didn't do a good job or if the d-line just did that great. Every play, there were at least two defenders in the pocket/backfield and the tackles especially (Averell Spicer and Jurrell Casey) were getting penetration and manhandled the guards. On the outside, the tackles just couldn't get their drop step back quickly enough, and the ends had a field day getting to the quarterback. Run blocking on zone plays wasn't that bad, but this unit should do better when healthy.

Kickers: B

Nothing special here outside of Joe Houston showing some leg (43 yard FG). Both kickers looked fairly accurate in about 15mph gusts swirling around the Coliseum. Punter Billy O'Malley had a decent 40 yarder but also shanked one that barely went 20. I think this is still Jake Harfman's competition to lose based on the inconsistency everyone has shown in practice.

Defensive Line: A-

It was hard not to see any weaknesses in the d-line's play this spring, and the scrimmage was no exception. The tackles did a much better job of shedding their block and getting penetration than they have in any of the other scrimmages. Just about every defensive end got a sack, and they all showed a very quick first step. Pete Carroll didn't know if this was his deepest group at USC, but it looks like it is definitely his fastest.

High Flyer: Nick Perry, 7 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks

After a few weeks of little noise, Perry really turned it on this last week of spring culminating, in the Trojan Huddle. He displayed a quick takeoff and beat the tackles inside as well as rushing around the edge. He went down the line well on backside pursuit, and I was really impressed with his play recognition, as he was in the right place at the right time just about every play.

Linebackers: B

Hard to tell how the linebackers did with so many injuries (Luthur Brown and Michael Morgan) out, but the two healthy starters, Chris Galippo and Malcolm Smith, looked fine. They seemed to play back a little bit thanks to the defensive line, but Smith and especially Galippo looked good in coverage.

High Flyer: Jordan Campbell, 3 tackles, 1 TFL

Campbell has looked good throughout spring and should be a solid backup able to fill in when needed, like Saturday. He didn't standout by any means thanks to everyone flying around on defense, but he played well, reading the offense fairly well. Galippo and Smith might have had better days, but Campbell showed he has a knack and deserves some playing time come fall.

Secondary: B+

This unit is one of the most experienced USC has had coming back and had only one mediocre performance by Josh Pinkard. The defensive backs were very close to the receivers and did a great job of keeping their eyes on the ball and breaking up a lot of passes. The corners had a great day, and we saw glimpses of Taylor Mays in the box. All I can just say - opponents be warned.

High flyers: T.J. Bryant, 5 tackles, 1 Fumble Recovery, 1 INT, Marshall Jones 7 tackles, 1 INT and Kevin Thomas 7 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 pass deflections

All three corners smothered their wide receivers and had active hands. TJ Bryant solidified himself as the number 3 corner/nickel back with a diving interception and a fumble recovery. Marshall Jones showed his transformation to corner is complete, showing off speed, good hips and anticipation for a big day. Kevin Thomas seemed to swat away everything that came near him and should have had an interception to boot.

Sliding down: Josh Pinkard, 3 tackles

Not a good day in an area where Pinkard is known for: coverage. Several times he was caught out of position, such as a big play by Rhett Ellison over the middle. It might have just been an off day but with Taylor Mays playing more in the box, Pinkard should have been a better center fielder. I think it's nothing to worry with so many years of experience but it wasn't anything to call home about either.

The Trojan Huddle was the last time we'll get to see the players put on the pads and the Coaching staff has to be happy that they answered a lot of the questions everyone had coming into the spring like quarterback, defensive line and linebacker. The defense is clearly ahead of the offense, with the front seven showing little drop off from last year's unit (who knew!). The offense was inconsistent, with many drives ending in field goals instead of touchdowns and they suffered from some average play calling that seemed scripted throughout instead of adapting to what was going on between the lines.

For now the Trojans will look forward to the summer to get healthy and get stronger before fall camp. It remains to be seen how much the incoming class can contribute but the Trojans certainly look like they can contend for another Pac-10 title and even the National Championship.


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