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2010 USC Preview – Offense
USC QB Matt Barkley
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - USC Trojan Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What you need to know:
With Lane Kiffin back in Los Angeles, USC is aiming to become a more assertive running team that takes a few extra shots downfield than in recent years. New coordinator Kennedy Pola inherits a predictable bundle of talent, but also an offense that’s underachieved since his last stint with the Trojans. All eyes will be on the continued development of QB Matt Barkley, whose up-and-down debut did little to impact his enormous upside potential. His primary supporters at the skill positions will be RB Allen Bradford, who’s set to explode, and speedy WR Ronald Johnson. If Kiffin’s lone Tennessee team is any indication, Bradford could expect to get 25 touches a game. The offensive line will be Troy’s biggest hurdle to success this fall, especially if injuries remain a concern. It harbors a who’s who of former high school All-Americans, but getting them to work together as a cohesive unit will be a full-time job for the coaches.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Allen Bradford
Passing: Matt Barkley
211-352, 2,735 yds, 15 TDs, 14 INTs
Rushing: Allen Bradford
115 carries, 668 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Ronald Johnson
34 catches, 378 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Matt Barkley
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Matt Kalil
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Ronald Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bradford, 2) Senior C Kristofer O’Dowd, 3) Johnson
Strength of the offense: Speed, running back, quarterback depth
Weakness of the offense: Line depth, consistency at receiver, tight end, third down conversions
Projected Starter: After shocking everyone by becoming the first Trojan true freshman to start a season at quarterback, 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Matt Barkley is determined to elevate his overall game. Naturally, he mixed in some mistakes along with the flashes of brilliance, throwing a pick in each of the last nine games and finishing 211-of-352 for 2,735 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. However, few doubt that he has at least as much upside potential as any second-year quarterback in America. His arm strength, mechanics, and football IQ for such a young athlete are rare at this level. With a full season running the offense and dealing with the pressures of being the USC franchise, expect a much more polished product in 2010.
Projected Top Reserves: Now that Aaron Corp is a Richmond Spider, 6-3, 200-pound senior Mitch Mustain has moved one step closer to the top of the depth chart. He also gives the Trojans a wily veteran off the bench, an underrated luxury. Following a high-profile transfer out of Arkansas, he’s played sparingly for Troy, hardly moving off the sidelines in 2009. Still, he has more experience than your average No. 2, has a good feel for the offense, and looked rejuvenated in the spring.
You want a project? How about 6-5, 230-pound redshirt freshman James Boyd , who’s making the unorthodox move from defensive end to quarterback. While naturally raw at the position, he has a tremendous mix of physical gifts that could make him Barkley’s successor at some point down the road. For now, he’ll keep working and try to fend off incoming freshman Jesse Scroggins for the No. 3 spot.
Watch Out For .... the new offense to make better use of Barkley’s considerable arm strength. The Trojans plan to take more chances vertically, maximizing the sophomore’s physical tools, especially now that he has a full season of experience behind him. Look for him to occasionally stretch defenses, opening things up for the underneath stuff.
Strength: Barkley. There are few things more exciting in this sport than a young hurler, with his best days ahead of him. Barkley is one of those players. After scratching the surface of his enormous potential, he’s ready to take the next big step toward super-stardom.
Weakness: Consistency. It should come, but for now it’s a concern since Barkley is still just a little over a year removed from high school. While improvement is expected, how much remains uncertain. This is still a young player, who threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in 2009 and went through periods of ineptitude down the stretch.
Outlook: Didn’t it seem as if some folks grew disinterested in Barkley, when he didn’t instantly become the second coming of Carson Palmer? Big mistake. He was just getting started in 2009, putting down a stable foundation in his first season. Returning a lot wiser and in much better shape, he’ll refresh memories why he was such a coveted prospect exiting high school.
Projected Starters: The usual logjam at running back is a little less crowded than in the past. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. With Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson gone, the door could open for 5-11, 235-pound senior Allen Bradford to deliver quite an audition for pro scouts. With his first good opportunity for playing time, he impressed by rambling for 668 yards and eight touchdowns on 115 carries, highlighted by a career-best 147 yards and two scores in the win over Oregon State. A modern-day version of former Trojan LenDale White, he’s a punishing, bruising runner, with just enough explosiveness and leg drive to have a monster final year at Troy.
Senior Stanley Havili might be the most unconventional—and talented—fullback in the country. Not your every day lead blocker, he can carry in short yardage, is explosive in space, and has the soft hands of an H-back. A year ago, carried 21 times for 138 yards and added 22 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns. A fourth-year starter at the position, he’s caught 10 touchdown passes in his career, yet is still an effective lead blocker as a more traditional fullback.
Projected Top Reserves: For a change-of-pace to Bradford, USC will likely turn to 6-0, 205-pound senior C.J. Gable, the most experienced of the backs. Lost in the shuffle recently, it’s easy to forget that he started five games as a true freshman and rushed for 617 yards and eight scores in 2008. However, he was limited to just 102 yards on 24 carries a year ago and could be vulnerable to the young kids sharing similar qualities. A slasher, he hits the hole quickly and uses his vision and change of direction to navigate opposing defenses.
The battle to fill out the balance of the depth chart is going to be intense. Sophomore Curtis McNeal brings some dash and unexpected toughness to the backfield. Despite being just 5-8 and 190 pounds, he’ll run through tackles and continue to crank his legs for more yards. Primarily a special teamer in 2009, he carried the ball six times for 33 yards, most coming in the blowout of Washington State.
As a contrast to McNeal off the bench, 6-0, 225-pound junior Marc Tyler is a bruiser, who’ll do a lot of his work between the tackles. A top recruit coming out of high school, injuries have prevented him from ever getting on track. Last season, for instance, he was slated to play a key role in the rotation and played well versus San Jose State, but wound up missing the rest of the year following toe surgery.
No backup has generated more excitement than 6-0, 205-pound true freshman Dillon Baxter, who became an instant You Tube sensation with some of his spring runs. Drawing comparisons to a young Reggie Bush for his explosiveness, smooth moves, and balance, even a loaded backfield might not be enough to keep him on the sidelines. Mature beyond on his years, he’s the future at the position in Los Angeles.
Watch Out For … an end to the backfield-by-committee. Lane Kiffin has already expressed an interest at having a feature runner, who can develop a rhythm as the game progresses. That’s great news for Bradford, the primary candidate to land 20-25 carries a game and the output that’ll come with them.
Strength: Depth. It’s an old answer, but it still rings true. Even with the departures of McKnight and Johnson, USC is flush with former four and five-star recruits. Bradford appears more than capable of being an every-down runner, and his supporting cast, including Havili at fullback, is as good as any in the Pac-10.
Weakness: A breakaway threat. Maybe Baxter fills the big-play void left by McKnight, or maybe he still needs some ripening in his first year. Neither Bradford nor Gable are considered true gamebreakers, which could leave the Trojans searching for some flash out of the backfield this fall.
Outlook: USC is loaded once again, and there might finally be some sanity and order to this group. Bradford will be the workhorse. Havili will be used liberally as a receiver. And Baxter is going to command more snaps as the season progresses. Everyone else will contribute on special teams and stay ready in the event of an injury.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: With Damian Williams taking his game to the NFL, 6-0, 190-pound senior Ronald Johnson is set to take over as the Trojans’ top threat of the corps at flanker. No longer just the fast guy, he’s fine-tuned his overall game over the last two seasons, returning from a broken collarbone to catch 34 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. A classic field-stretcher, with world-class speed, he’s improved his hands and ability to adjust to balls, making him a viable target on more than just fly patterns.
At split end, 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Brice Butler is making a concerted effort to land a feature role very early in his career. A top prospect in 2008, he laid the foundation for his career by catching 20 balls for 292 yards and two touchdowns as a reserve. Still raw and vulnerable to be overtaken, he’s a quality route-runner, with a long frame, long arms, and the wide catch radius that gives quarterbacks a greater margin for error.
Although it’s subject to change, anyone looking to win the tight end job will have to unseat 6-5, 220-pound senior Jordan Cameron. A reserve wide receiver a year ago, who failed to catch a pass in five games, he’s had a colorful past that includes stops with BYU, Ventura (Calif.) College, and the USC basketball team. While he’s proven to have the size, hands, and athleticism to handle the pass-catching aspect of the job, holding up as a run blocker is still going to be a tall order.
Projected Top Reserves: The future at wide receiver belongs to 6-5, 215-pound true freshman Kyle Prater , one of the most sought-after recruits at any position this past February. The next in a long line of physically imposing Trojan receivers, he has a gigantic wingspan, displays uncommon body control, and shows a tendency to high-point passes. He was going to contribute no matter what, but that became even more of a certainty after he graduated early and impressed in spring drills.
With the transfer of Travon Patterson to Colorado, 6-0, 185-pound sophomore De’Von Flournoy is rising up the charts at flanker. While still a little raw and inexperienced, he possesses the burst and elusiveness in the open field to evolve into a playmaker once he earns more reps. After appearing in just a handful of games, he’s being counted on to bolster a suddenly thin corps of receivers.
Although no one knows for sure if 6-4, 235-pound senior David Ausberry will be providing depth at tight end or wide receiver, he should be a factor in the passing game in some capacity. A starter in 2009 for six games before suffering a stress fracture in his leg, he caught a dozen passes for 123 yards. His size, strength, and ability to make the difficult grab have long been enticing, but consistency has eluded him throughout his career.
Watch Out For … Johnson to emerge as the clear-cut go-to guy in the passing game. He’s come a long way over the past couple of seasons, honing his route-running and pass-catching skills to become a complete player. Now that Williams is gone, Johnson will increase his output and earn a spot on the all-conference team.
Strength: Winning the jump balls. With this collection of skyscrapers, USC has no excuses for not improving its red zone efficiency. From the two-deep alone, Butler, Cameron, Prater, and Ausberry are all at least 6-3 and can jump, which is going to cause fits for opposing defensive backs.
Weakness: Consistency. Dangerous athletes? Yes. Dangerous receivers? Not always. Particularly without Williams, the Trojans can be an inconsistent bunch that drops a few too many passes and doesn’t always run the sharpest routes. Unless some of the up-and-down players come through, Johnson could wind up being a solo act.
Outlook: The potential is always there, but will it reach the surface? While you can bank on Johnson, the rest of the receivers and tight ends are question marks. They’ll no doubt make a fair amount of big plays, but they’ll also disappear at times, which could cause problems for the passing game.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: The Trojans have concerns up front that are sure to trickle into the summer. For beginners, the group needs to replace Charles Brown and Jeff Byers, its two All-Pac-10 first teamers. Moving into Brown’s old left tackle spot will be 6-6, 295-pound sophomore Matt Kalil, who was mostly a reserve and a special teamer last year. A mega-recruit from the 2008 class, he has some lofty expectations that need to be reached. Don’t be shocked if he starts getting there right away, using a powerful upper body and long arms to keep edge rushers in their place.
Over at right tackle, 6-6, 285-pound junior Tyron Smith returns for a second season as the starter, looking to build on an All-Pac-10 honorable mention campaign. Another decorated recruit from 2008, he is a phenomenal athlete for such a big player, exploding out of his stance and sliding effortlessly down the line. While still a little raw with his technique, few doubt he has the potential and total package to someday be a high NFL draft choice.
The enigma of the group is 6-5, 300-pound senior C Kristofer O’Dowd. An immense talent at the pivot, he’s been slowed by injuries recently and was limited to just seven starts in 2009. Yet, just two years ago, he was All-Pac-10 first team and considered one of the premier players in the nation at the position. When playing at full strength, he’s the total package here, blending light feet and power with the leadership, toughness, and communication skills of a long-time starter. The Trojans need him to be at his best this fall.
One of the brightest futures along the line belongs to 6-4, 300-pound sophomore Khaled Holmes, who’s closing in on the right guard job. After playing in just three games last season, he really turned the corner in the spring, impressing the staff with his athleticism, fundamentals, and nasty streak. Although he’ll continue to get stronger in the weight room, he’ll still a powerful run blocker, with the leg drive to be especially effective at opening holes for the backs.
The competition at left guard will be one of the hottest topics this summer. The incumbent, 6-5 and 285-pound senior Butch Lewis, sat out the spring and still has a lot to prove to a new staff. Easily one of the most versatile members of this group, he can play tackle or guard, giving the staff plenty of flexibility in how he’s used. A quality athlete up front, he started eight games in 2009 and earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
Projected Top Reserves: Bucking to keep Lewis out of the lineup at left guard is 6-6, 315-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Graf, who took snaps with the first team this spring. A much bigger and more physical option at the position, he has the frame and the feet to play tackle, yet will maul opposing linemen with all of the force of a guard. He has a great future as a Trojan, which could be set in motion as early as this season.
The steady and experienced veteran behind Holmes at right guard will be 6-5, 290-pound senior Zack Heberer, a three-time letterman and a three-game starter in 2008. One of the strongest and toughest of the linemen, he’s tough at the point of attack and never takes a play off. An ideal insurance policy for the unit, his most important goal will be to finally stay healthy for an entire season.
Watch Out For … O’Dowd to rebound with authority. He was never quite right a year ago, but his talent and experience are undeniable. Plus, as NFL scouts start to really break down the senior, you can rest assured that he’ll be playing with a little extra motivation in 2010.
Strength: Run blocking. The Trojans have the talent and the edict from the new staff that this team is going to run the ball with more authority and physicality this fall. When healthy, they have enough size and proven veterans to move teams off the ball and create daylight for the gifted backs.
Weakness: Durability. The coaches are worried about the numbers here because so many USC linemen have been banged up during their careers. If everyone stays healthy, depth won’t be an issue. History, however, says otherwise for a unit that spends too much time in the trainer’s room.
Outlook: Obviously, USC has recruited this position exceedingly well forever, but how will young kids, like Holmes, Kalil, and Graf, adapt to expanded roles? If everyone comes together and stays healthy, the Trojans are capable of dominating. A more likely scenario has the group struggling at times to find its way, and delivering the occasional clunker versus talented fronts.
Unit Rating: 8