August 6, 2008

USCFootball.com staff talking camp

This is an actual transcript of emails traded the day before the start of fall camp.

DW

In an effort to showcase the diverse opinions of myself and my boss (Mr. Ryan Abraham), we're going to trade emails throughout the day Tuesday in regards to the opening of USC fall camp on Wednesday.

The back-and-forth should hopefully provide you guys with some unedited opinions from the man who signs my checks and the person who gladly cashes them. The responses will not be edited for grammar, brevity and, in most cases, sailor-esque vulgarity.

Probably the best place to start here has to do with our concerns, and I'll gladly kick things off.

I think the greatest single concern has to be the offensive line. This is a group with just one returning starter (really) in Jeff Byers. Sure, guys like Kristofer O'Dowd, Butch Lewis and Zack Heberer picked up starts last season, but spot duty cannot simulate the season-long grind that playing up front comes with.

Plus, the depth here is very young, which is also a concern. There are versatile guys like Alex Parsons and Nick Howell, and Thomas Herring's been around, but after that, it's a very young group.

The key to an improved offensive season most definitely is providing Mark Sanchez lots of time in the pocket and creating wide lines for the myriad of running backs to get through.

Any thoughts my older, wiser, volleyball-loving, young, attractive women-hiring friend?

RA

You had me until you referred to me as a "friend."

Just kidding, as I do not agree with your offensive line analysis either. One thing you have to remember about the offensive line is that they have to work together like 5 toes on a foot or 5 White Sox fans trying to screw in a light bulb.

This group of young players has plenty of experience together, just not as much as a "starting" unit. Most of them saw extended time later in games when starters nursed injuries on the bench. And Kris O'Dowd started the first four games of his career before going down with an injury. I think Byers and O'Dowd next to each other is a great nucleus that rest of the line can play off of.

Plus five of the six tailbacks are Rivals.com 5-star studs. How hard can it be to block for that crew?

I would say my biggest concern is the receivers. I watched them kick butt all last summer only to under perform in the games. This group is even larger than last season and of course more experienced. Too much talent can be a good problem to have, but sometimes it is still a problem.

Which one of these players will rise to the top and become the Dwayne Jarrett or Mike Williams-type security blanket for Mark Sanchez? Someone needs to if this offense is to return to the point that Trojan fans got used to a couple of years back.

DW

You stole my thunder with your receiver question.

That's another group definitely on my radar this fall, but I think it's much easier to plug in one or two guys at receiver than on the offensive line (and boom goes the dynamite).

If you're looking for a guy who can be a consistent target with good size, good speed and good hands, Damian Williams is your man.

He's impressed me throughout camp with his ability to run crisp routes, catch the ball in the middle of the field or on the sidelines.

Another thing I like about Williams is that he had to sit out a year. Because he was practicing the whole time, he never got rusty. If anything, the time away from the field made him even hungrier.

He's ready to get on the field and make plays.

Also, maybe this is the year Patrick Turner realizes his potential. He came in with Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett-type expectations. Maybe PT's the kind of guy who truly needs to be down to his last chance to fulfill all that promise.

He certainly has the tools to be a great receiver.

Really, these guys are all just holding things down until Brice Butler is ready. He looks like a stud out there - long arms, great feet and super soft hands.

Speaking of the frosh, who do you see getting on the field most this season?

RA

Beware of the player who kicks ass on the service team the previous year. Two years ago David Ausberry was en fuego for the scout team playing against the starting defense. Then last season the expectations were extremely high for Aus, but he only finished 5th on the team with 26 grabs behind fullback Stanley Havili's 34.

Damian Williams looked amazing last year on the scout team and looked great again this summer. I do agree with you that he has the potential to be the real deal when Sanchez loads up with live ammunition and starts looking for targets. We shall see if he can separate himself from the pack and become a star on offense.

One of the most interesting aspects of this team is that they lost the most as far as the NFL Draft is concerned. 10 guys picked, four first rounders and seven on the first day.

They also signed a ridiculous recruiting class so there is plenty of talent coming in to help replace what was lost.

Yet, you could argue that this team needs NONE of the incoming freshmen to compete on an elite level.

Having said that, the players I feel have the best shot to see the most playing time are tight end Blake Ayles and defensive tackle Armond Armstead.

DW

Mentioning Armstead leads right into my next question for you. Who is the one guy this team absolutely, positively cannot afford to lose.

I think this is a no-brainer. It's Fili Moala.

His experience and reputation force teams to scheme for him up front, opening up so much more for the rest of the front seven.

I think an injury to him would absolutely devastate the defense.

Any thoughts?

RA

On defense I would say Fili for sure for exactly the reasons you stated. And with Averell Spicer being out for spring it makes Moala that much more important to the defense.

On offense Mark Sanchez has shown exceptional leadership skills and I think him being gone would be a major blow. Not that they could not recover, but his fingerprints are everywhere now and losing him would affect a lot of people.

DW

Sure, Sanchez is important, but Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp are both capable. I think if the offense gets off to a fast start, it becomes more and more important to keep Sanchez on the field.

Guys like Sanchez and Moala are no doubt important, but there are some other guys who need to step up.

Who do you think has the most to prove this fall?

I'm going to pull a name out of the air here and say Clay Matthews. He's coming off a great spring, but he still needs work in the hybrid LB/DE role.

Learning and mastering one position is tough enough.

With the team's perceived (and pretty real) lack of depth at defensive end, Matthews should get a look there through ought the season in pass rushing situations.

But despite seemingly fitting in, even Pete Carroll said he needs to get another look at him.

What do you think?

RA

Player wise, Patrick Turner has the most to prove. If he can keep from getting his bell rung in practice I think he is going to have a really nice year.

Steve Sarkisian also has a lot to prove, especially with Norm Chow setting up shop across town. This offense used to be extremely fun to watch. Lately it has been hit and miss.

I wouldn't say Clay Matthews has a lot to prove. I mean he was a walk-on and worked his way up through the system. I think he is already playing with house money and everything he does this year is gravy.

He just seems like the kind of player who will succeed when you give him a job to perform. He will add depth and if necessary come in for Brian Cushing if he is injured or tired.

DW

I like that you went after a coach there. I think I just heard my credential getting torn up.

Maybe I didn't word the question right, but Matthews might have the most to gain with a camp close to what he did during the spring.

Let's get to wrapping this up. How good can this team be come Aug. 30?

I think with some key guys returning from injuries (like Travon Patterson, Averell Spicer, Kevin Thomas and Josh Pinkard), the sky's really the limit.

If the running game can get together by opening day, it should make things easier on every other aspect of the game.

RA

Honestly I figured you would have not only been banned from USC but kicked out of Los Angeles by now. Bravo for sticking around this long Dan!

This team will be as good as they let themselves be. The defense is has talent everywhere and if they play smart they could be dominant. The offense could be anywhere from great to slightly above average (and I don't expect to be able to tell until after the Ohio State game).

I do expect a demolition of Virginia. Carroll just knows how to win those huge road openers and Virginia is not that strong.

DW

I'll happily grab the chance for the last word here.

There's no question about the amount of talent on this team. The Trojans are the consensus most talented team in the country.

There are questions, sure, but for the most part, things are in pretty good shape around Heritage Hall. There's a tough schedule, sure, but the toughest games will be in The Coliseum.

This is a team that will contend for a national title.

Oh, and Ryan, when do I get a raise for being so right?

Sincerely,

Dan Woike

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