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July 23, 2009
Pre-camp Preview: Wide receivers
Whoever prevails as USC's new No. 1 quarterback won't have to look too hard for capable talent to catch passes.
The Trojans have one of the nation's deepest receiving corps, and their guys have a very wide array of different talents to keep defenses from getting comfortable.
Whether it's big, strong targets on the outside, stout tight ends over the middle or speedy, shifty guys in the slot, the Trojan receivers are primed for a big year.
Trojan fans waited years for Patrick Turner to become the big target they hoped for since he signed with USC, and in 2008, they got what they wanted.
Turner emerged as USC's primary target near the end zone, and he didn't disappoint, using his size to catch a team-best 10 touchdowns. Turner was second on the team with 49 catches and 741 yards.
Vidal Hazelton began the season as USC's No. 2 receiver, but after an injury, Damian Williams quickly took ownership of the spot.
Hazelton ended up transferring before the season was over, and Williams went on to blossom into a star. The Arkansas transfer led USC with 58 catches and with 869 receiving yards. He also grabbed nine touchdowns.
Ronald Johnson also has a breakout season, catching 33 passes for 570 yards (a 17.3-yard average). RoJo became USC's top deep threat on his way to grabbing eight touchdowns.
Anthony McCoy took on the unenviable task of replacing Fred Davis, and while he didn't put up as big of numbers, McCoy did grab 22 balls for 256 yards and a touchdown.
Travon Patterson, David Ausberry, Blake Ayles, Rhett Ellison and Brandon Carswell all caught balls last season as well.
Without Turner to command double teams, Williams will be the focal point of opposing cornerbacks. A polished all-around receiver, Williams has also taken on leadership responsibilities and has begun to mentor incoming freshman De'Von Flournoy.
"The new guys always really take to the coaching from the players. It's one thing getting coached by a coach when they throw a lot of information at you, but it's another when a teammate takes the time to actually show a new guy how to do something," Williams said. "When we get to see stuff, we know how the defense is playing them. The coaches know the schemes, but they don't know exactly how the players are playing. When we get a chance to get them out here for 11-on-11s and seven-on-sevens, we can actually teach them. And they learn.
"I want to help coach up these guys. I know this offense pretty well. I know the ins and the outs. I just like teaching the younger guys the stuff that I know."
While Williams is now the No. 1 receiver, Johnson steps up to the No. 2 spot.
"I'm glad that people might just look at me (as just a speed receiver) because they're going to be surprised," Johnson said. "This year, I'm going to show people what I can do. I just can't wait to go out there on the field and prove to everybody how good I am.
"Now, I'm more of an all-around player."
One of the most interesting battles this spring is for the No. 3 receiver, and with his size and speed, Ausberry could be the guy.
"Anytime you're on the field is a chance to compete and a chance to step your game up," Ausberry said. "That's how I look at things."
Battling with Ausberry, Travon Patterson is set to take on a bigger role.
"I think I'm in pretty good standing," Patterson said. "I just have to be focused on myself and the plays. I've already got that down. I know this offense."
If Patterson can help in the slot, Cameron can help in the red zone. After exploding onto the scene last fall camp, an injury slowed Cameron's progress and kept him off the field. He wants to change that.
"I need to get myself the opportunity to get on the field, whatever that means and however I can," he said. "I have to get the fades and win the jump balls if that's what they want. Whatever the coaches need from me, I'm going to work my butt off this camp and show my skills."
Brice Butler is also in the mix, mostly because of his precision running routes. After not playing last season, he's ready to make in impact sooner than later.
"It was tough in the beginning. The first two months, I was mad at everybody. I didn't go out. I didn't talk to anybody. I was pissed. I was really upset," Butler said. "But I got hurt for a reason. I was a little too bigheaded when I came in. Being redshirted was key. With all the guys we had last year, I wouldn't have played.
"I wasn't physically or mentally prepared."
At tight end, McCoy held off Ayles last season, and he seems primed for a big year in Jeremy Bates' offense.
"It's always good to have good players behind you. If the players behind you aren't ready to compete, this wouldn't be as much fun out here. You want to better yourself, but if you feel comfortable, you won't have the right approach," McCoy said. "What I like about here, you can't ever be comfortable. A touchdown pass for Blake could've gone to me if I had practiced better.
"It's all about how you approach everything, and that's what the coaches look at."
And Ayles is hoping to finally be 100 percent healthy after suffering a knee injury that slowed him for most of last year, forcing him to the sidelines.
"Just seeing the guys compete already, seeing Anthony McCoy out there and Rhett Ellison out there, I'm just trying to get healthy. I want to get out there so bad and be 100 percent right now," he said. "That's the problem. When we first started, I really wanted to get after it. That's what caused this process really to lengthen. I just have to hang back for a little bit, and then I can get after it."
Ellison should also be in the mix at tight end with Ayles and McCoy, and he could even see time as an H-back.
What will be
This should be pretty simple. Williams will be an all-American-caliber receiver. Johnson will continue to evolve into more than a deep threat. Patterson, Ausberry, Butler and Cameron will all contribute at one point or another.
Brandon Carswell could play his way into the rotation with a strong fall.
At tight end, McCoy could become one of the best on the West coast with his size and pass-catching ability. Ayles and Ellison give USC excellent depth at the position.
On the whole, the Trojan quarterbacks are lucky to have so many capable targets.