After previewing the defense yesterday, it was obvious that there aren't many question marks on the defensive side of the ball. However, as most of you already know, that is not the case offensively. First of all, there have been a couple of changes to the coaching staff. Steve Sarkisian steps in as USC's new offensive coordinator - though he and Lane Kiffin served as "co-offensive coordinators" the past two seasons, it was actually Kiffin who called the plays - and John Morton was brought in to serve as passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach. I am very excited to see Sarkisian's play-calling style, since I was often very critical of Kiffin's. I think he's ready for the challenge and will do just fine. Morton was a key (and under the radar) addition to the staff, and will not only bring some new ideas to the passing game, but should help develop and mentor the young WR's this season.
What we know: All-world Left Tackle Sam Baker returns for his senior season and junior Chilo Rachal is back at Right Guard. Junior Jeff Byers appears to be healthy and will likely start at Left Guard, which means senior Drew Radovich - last year's starter at LG - will move to Right Tackle. That leaves senior Matt Spanos at Center, who is finally eligible after missing all of last season due to academic issues.
Fall Questions: (1) How much will USC miss Ryan Kalil, who was a three year starter at Center and team captain. A guy like Kalil is irreplaceable, but hopefully the return of Byers and Spanos can help offset his loss.
(2) How will Radovich perform at Right Tackle? Radovich struggled at times last season, so maybe he's better suited to play tackle instead of guard.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
What we know: Junior WR Patrick Turner is the only returning player with any significant game experience at WR. Senior TE Fred Davis enters this season as one of the leading candidates for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's best tight end.
Fall Questions: (1) How in the heck will this young group of wide outs match the production and consistency of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith? The one advantage this group has is that they have a veteran QB who can get them the ball. The best of the bunch right now is Turner. He and redshirt freshman David Ausberry certainly have the size (6'5") to dominate games, but Ausberry is not a great route-runner and lacks experience. Ausberry played very well in the spring game though and is getting better every day. Sophomore Vidal Hazleton is penciled in as the starter opposite of Turner, but is his game as big as his ego? To his credit, Hazleton has looked really sharp in summer workouts and is coming off a great spring, so he just might be as good as he proclaims. Sophomore Travon Patterson and redshirt freshman Jamere Holland have the speed to really stretch the field, though Holland can't seem to stay healthy. Patterson had a breakout performance in the spring game, but does he have the size and toughness to catch passes across the middle? The X-factor is freshman Ronald Johnson. From what I've seen, he looks to have great acceleration and change of direction, runs crisp routes, and has very soft hands. RoJo will get a chance to play right away, so we'll know early on in camp if he's for real.
(2) Is there any depth at TE behind Fred Davis? Senior Dale Thompson, junior Jimmy Miller, and sophomore Anthony McCoy will need to show that they can contribute whenever USC lines up in a multiple tight end formation, or even become serviceable backups should anything happen to Davis.
What we know: No running backs are lost from last season, but the addition of 3 highly touted freshmen means that there is an even bigger log-jam at tailback. There are 1o players vying for carries and playing time this season: Seniors Chauncey Washington, Hershel Dennis, and Desmond Reed; Sophomores C.J. Gable, Emmanuel Moody, Allen Bradford, and Stafon Johnson; Freshmen Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler, and Broderick Green. At the conclusion of spring drills, Washington and Gable were listed as co-1st teamers at RB, with Stanley Havili listed as the #1 fullback (who also had an amazing spring).
Fall Questions: (1) Who will separate themselves from the rest of the pack at running back, and who will end up switching positions or transferring? With the exception of Stafon Johnson, we've seen all of the backs in action and have a pretty good idea as to what each of them can do. Johnson and the 3 freshmen need to be given a chance early on to see if they can become the game-breaker that USC's offense was lacking at RB last season. Chauncey showed he can be a workhorse, and Hersh looks like his old self before the injuries. I feel really good about both of those guys. Gable, Moody, and Bradford just didn't show me enough last season and may still be a year away from being ready.
(2) Will Stanley Havili remain healthy? The fullback position is very important to the USC offense. It's a position that has been ravaged by injuries the past couple seasons. Havili has shown wonderful abilities in practices and will have a big role this season. He can catch, block, and runs very well.
What we know: There is no quarterback controversy this season, as senior John David Booty appears to be the front-runner for this year's Heisman. He had a very good season last year, especially when you consider that it was his first as a starter, and USC's inabililty to find a consistent running game. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be even better this year. Redshirt sophomore Mark Sanchez should be ready to fill in as a backup, if needed.
Hope this was enough information to get everyone ready for what should be a very fun and entertaining fall camp.