May 6, 2008

Players ready to step up and fill voids

Let's face it; Pete Carroll and the USC football team have some problems.

Once again, the Trojan roster suffered major turnover, with 10 players being selected in the NFL Draft.

There's more talent than most coaches would know what to do with. Running backs coach Todd McNair has a stable of backs, all of which have the pedigree to be feature backs.

These are good problems to have - the kind of issues that only appear when you're winning recruiting battles, developing talent and winning games.

With the 10 players moving on to the NFL, 10 spots have opened up. With spring practices done, here's a look at some possible replacements.

Defensive line

Maybe the biggest hole, literally, is because of nose tackle Sedrick Ellis' departure. The Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the Saints' selection with the No. 7 selection.

Averell Spicer's right at the top of the depth chart even though the junior didn't participate in spring practice due to a knee injury that required surgery.

In Spicer's absence, sophomore Christian Tupou stepped up and had one of the most eye opening springs on the defensive side of the ball.

Ellis wasn't the only Trojan defensive lineman plucked in the first round. Seattle selected defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

Jackson gave the Trojans plenty of production, but the biggest loss could be in the locker room where he was an unquestioned leader.

Without Jackson, the Trojans will look to Kyle Moore and Everson Griffin for increased production rushing the passer. Clay Matthews will play the elephant position, roaming between the defensive line and linebacking crew.

Linebacker

Keith Rivers patrolled the weakside for the Trojans over the past three seasons, and he certainly leaves some large shoes to fill.

Senior Kaluka Maiva will likely replace Rivers, the Trojans' second-leading tackler a year ago. Maiva appeared in all 13 games last season, recording 44 tackles and two sacks. Maiva started one game at weakside linebacker last season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected backup linebacker Thomas Williams. Williams provided valuable depth at all three linebacker spots, something Luther Brown could provide this season.

Offensive line

Sam Baker and Chilo Rachal both were first-day selections. Baker moved into the first round when Atlanta traded up to the No. 21 spot to select the former Trojan tackle. Rachal, the lone USC junior in the draft, went to the San Francisco 49ers in the second round.

In their absence, offensive line coach Pat Reul will have to pick from a group of capable players, all with some experience.

The question becomes who will play where.

Sophomore Kristofer O'Dowd seems to be entrenched at center, and Jeff Byers returns to left guard. From there, things get a little tricky.

Either Zach Heberer or Thomas Herring will start at right guard, and Butch Lewis and Charles Brown will play tackle, though it's not set in stone which side of center either will line up.

Matt Kallil and Tyron Smith highlight the 2008 class that boasts five offensive linemen.

Tight End

The Trojans' top pass catcher, Fred Davis, will suit up for the Washington Redskins after being selected in the second round.

Anthony McCoy's been in the system long enough to step in, but he caught just two passes last season - 60 less than Davis.

The Trojans will be looking for continued development from Rhett Ellison and could even turn to Blake Ayers - to No. 2-ranked tight end in the 2008 recruiting class.

Cornerbacks

The New York Giants selected Terrell Thomas, a two-time member of the all-Pac-10 second team. Thomas took on some of the Pac-10's best receivers, but despite losing him to the NFL, USC shouldn't be too worried.

Shareece Wright, Kevin Thomas and Josh Pinkard all have plenty of experience, and all three will give the Trojans significant depth on the outside.

Quarterback

With John David Booty in Minnesota, Carroll and the Trojan staff opened things up this spring to Mark Sanchez, Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp.

Sanchez appears to have won the job for now, as he led the first team in the Trojan Huddle. Sanchez went 2-1 as a starter last year.

Corp had a great afternoon in the spring game and threw the winning touchdown pass in overtime. Mustain, while at Arkansas, helped lead the Razorbacks to eight-straight wins as a starter.

Running back

This is no knock on Chauncey Washington, but there's little room for concern here.

C.J. Gable, Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford and seemingly every other four- or five-start prospect West of the Rocky Mountains is in the Trojan backfield.


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