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March 21, 2010

By the numbers: USC spring football

It's obvious USC fans have been thinking about this for some time. They must have been. In barely three days after asking, we had 74 spring gameplans jamming our email box.

Heck of a job. That's almost one per scholarship player.

In many areas, there's lots of agreement.

But in others, not so much. Here's a quick look.

Things USC must do this spring

You want the Trojans to get that old swagger back, to toughen up and pound people, but play under control, with efficient precision and above all, without those careless penalties. And that's just for starters when USC hits the field March 30 for spring practice under new coach Lane Kiffin and staff.

Get that chip back on your shoulder and find out who you are on offense . . . Remember last season -- and how bad it felt.

You want this team disciplined, but attacking aggressively on defense. Practice with fire, you say, and open up the competition at all positions.

Even quarterback. Give fifth-year Mitch Mustain a chance win the job. That will send just the right message to this team, you figure, if even Matt Barkley has to compete for his spot.

You'd like the Trojans more creative on offense, but also able to pound the ball with power on the ground when they need to, and throw it deep, off play-action, preferably to 4.3 senior speedster Ronald Johnson, when they've set it up with the run the way the Trojans used to.

A lot more physicality on the offensive line, please . . . Line up and knock people off the ball. You know, like USC teams are supposed to do . . . Finesse is fine, but only after you out-physical people.

Run the ball . . . And stop the run.

You really want to see 235-pound Allen Bradford finally get his chance to show what he can do more than a couple of plays at a time. Ditto for C.J. Gable, another fifth-year senior who's earned the chance. And you'd like to see what a healthy Marc Tyler can do running the ball.

You don't care if you never see another bubble screen but you sure hope the coaches find a way to get the freshman trio of Dillon Baxter, Kyle Prater and Robert Woods on the field and the ball into their hands.

Block, tackle, focus on fundamentals, show some heart, play with intensity, hit somebody, don't just lie there when you're knocked down, get up and get back in the play so you can finish what you started . . . Dominate people.

Find linebackers who will do what USC backers are supposed to do, you say. Finish plays. Figure out the way you want the front seven to work. And get the back seven squared away. Do you really want that soft a cushion even with a relatively inexperienced group there? Is there not a way for a defensive lineman to beat a one-on-one for a sack?

Get your turnover margin mojo back from wherever it's been the last four or five seasons . . . And come up with a couple of go-to receivers . . . Find a tight end, then figure out how to throw the ball to him.

Of the 125 separate prescriptions you offered for spring practice, 70 sounded like they were basic fundamental stuff, general principles straight from a John McKay coaching clinic. "Toughen up," you said. "Develop an identity," "Find that swagger," "Compete," "Play as a team," and do so with "discipline" and "intensity."

"Hit people," "Earn the respect back," "block" and "tackle."

Not that there weren't some finer points. Getting the receivers on the same page with the quarterback would be good, you said, as would synching-up the backs running the ball with the linemen blocking for them. Deep-six those no-gain first down plays.

You think the special teams will be much improved under former Fresno State guru John Baxter and you like the idea of Kiffin calling the plays. He's shown at Oakland and Tennessee that he can commit to the run and realistically, you ask, how can he not be an upgrade over last year's grab-bag approach.

But you do not want him popping off. This isn't the SEC. Just coach and keep your cool.

You trust Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron to figure out what to do for a defense that needs shoring up even if you're not sure what that is exactly and who they'll do it with.

So that's your overall look at what you think USC must do this spring. Now for how you see the individual players fitting into all of this.

Strongest Position

We asked you for USC's "strongest position(s)."

There's a clear winner here, running back, with 50 of 136 votes looking favorably on the combo of Bradford, C.J. Gable and Tyler. That's 54 if you count fullback with Stanley Havili and D.J. Shoemate.

There's also a clear side of the ball where the top talent resides in fans' minds: the offense.

Quarterback with Barkley and senior Mustain was second with 23 votes while the defensive line just edged out wide receivers, 20-19, in a poll that broke down with 106 votes for offensive positions, just 28 for the defense.

You'll not be surprised to know that defensive coordinator Orgeron, back after five seasons away from USC, agrees with that breakdown.

"There's some real talent here," he said going over the entire Trojans roster this week, "although most of it seems to be on offense."

The rest of the numbers go like this: offensive line (11), linebackers (7) with tight ends and defensive backs getting just one each.

Lots of work to be done on USC's back seven, say our fans. And it's hard to disagree.

Help wanted

As you might guess, our "Help Wanted" question gave us a reverse image of the first question. The top three here were all on defense.

Linebacker was all alone on top with 53 votes after an agonizing year waiting for someone to step up and in for the four departed NFL starters. But it didn't really happen.

With 24 votes, a mostly returning defensive line still edged out the secondary, which earned 21 nods despite having just one starter of any kind back in fifth-year senior Shareece Wright. But that is a 1-2-3 sweep for a needy defense that picked up 97 of the 145 votes with the offense getting 46 and special teams two.

Here are the rest of the numbers of most need: offensive line (20), wide receivers (11), tight end (10), running backs (4), special teams (2) and quarterback (1).

Must step up

There's some consensus here and again it focuses on the defense.

Junior middle linebacker Chris Galippo, so highly touted and limited since he's been here by a pair of back surgeries, is the man who must make his move. That's how 24 of 107 votes were marked after you'd watched USC's linebackers look like they were on their own little islands much of last season.

Speedy senior wide receiver Johnson, with 15, beat out cornerback Wright and center Kristofer O'Dowd, each with 11. All three, like Galippo last season, are coming back from injuries.

Wide receiver David Ausberry heads the next bunch with six followed by tackle Tyron Smith, Barkley and Bradford, with five each.

3 Trojans to watch

We asked you for three Trojans to watch, you gave us 34 -- 33 players and Kiffin.

Not even Hollywood can fit that many names on a marquee. But some of them will.

No surprises at the top. Barkley (39 votes), Bradford (23) and RoJo (21) caught the most eyes. Galippo was next (17).

But there are some new names in the next bunch with second-year safety T.J. McDonald, all-purpose freshman early-enrollee Baxter, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard all at 10 votes while freshman WR Prater next at nine apiece while sophomore DE Nick Perry equals Casey with eight votes.

By the numbers: USC spring football

Strongest Position

1) Running back: 50
2) Quarterback: 23
3) Defensive line: 20
4) Wide receivers: 19
5) Offensive line: 11
6) Linebackers: 7
7) Tight ends: 1
Defensive backs: 1
(Numbers are votes submitted by poll respondents)

Help wanted

1) Linebacker: 53
2) Defensive line: 24
3) Defensive backs: 21
4) Offensive line: 20
5) Wide receivers: 11
6) Tight ends: 10
7) Running backs: 4
8) Special teams: 2
9) Quarterback: 1

3 Trojans to watch

1) Matt Barkley: 39
2) Allen Bradford: 23
3) Ronald Johnson: 21
4) Chris Galippo: 17
5) T.J. McDonald: 10
Dillon Baxter: 10
Devon Kennard: 10
8) Kyle Prater: 9
9) Nick Perry: 8
Jurrell Casey:8
Shareece Wright: 8
12) C.J. Gable: 7
13) Marc Tyler: 5
T.J. Bryant: 5
Drew McAlister: 5
Matt Kalil: 5
17) Tyron Smith: 4
David Ausberry: 4
Kristofer O'Dowd: 4
Brice Butler: 4
21) Stanley Havili: 3
Loni Fangupo: 3
Patrick Hall: 3
Lane Kiffin: 3
Devon Kennard: 3
Blake Ayles: 3
27) Xavier Grimble: 2
De'Von Flournoy: 2
Curtis McNeal: 2
Armond Armstead: 2
Robert Woods: 2
Jacob Harfman: 2
Houston, Joe: 2
34) Jarvis Jones: 1

Must step up

1) Chris Galippo: 24
2) Ronald Johnson: 15
3) Shareece Wright: 11
Kristofer O'Dowd: 11
5) David Ausberry: 5
7) Tyron Smith: 5
Matt Barkley: 5
Allen Bradford: 5
9) Michael Morgan: 4
10) Blake Ayles: 3
Brice Butler: 3
Armond Armstead: 3
13) Loni Fangupo: 1
Jacob Harfman: 1
Butch Lewis: 1
C.J. Gable: 1
Stanley Havili: 1
Brandon Carswell: 1
Rhett Ellison: 1
T.J. McDonald: 1
Martin Coleman: 1
T.J. Bryant: 1
Jurrell Casey: 1
Lane Kiffin: 1

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFOOTBALL.COM. You can reach him at [email protected].

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