Posted: Tuesday August 23, 2005 12:13PM; Updated: Tuesday August 23, 2005 1:47PM
One of the trademarks of Pete Carroll's tenure at USC has been his willingness to let true freshmen play significant roles. Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Mike Williams, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Darnell Bing and Dwayne Jarrett all shone as true freshmen, and several others have started games in their first season. Which member of the Trojans' latest heralded haul are most likely to have an impact in 2005?
Patrick Turner, WR, Nashville, Tenn
The big (6-foot-5), fast (4.4) athletic specimen -- rated the No. 1 receiver prospect in the country by Scout.com -- has been making highlight-reel catches from the first day of fall camp and figures to be USC's No. 3 receiver behind Steve Smith and Jarrett.
Brian Cushing, LB, Oradell, N.J.
With starting strongside LB Dallas Sartz sidelined for part of fall practices, Cushing stepped in and made his presence felt, intercepting a pass in the Trojans' first scrimmage and making plays throughout. He should be the top reserve outside linebacker.
Luthur Brown, LB, Lakewood, Calif.
With middle linebacker arguably USC's biggest question mark, either Brown or classmate Rey Maualuga has a chance to win the starting job. Brown was the Trojans' leading tackler (seven) in their recent public scrimmage at the Coliseum.
Kyle Moore, DE, Warner Robbins, Ga.
The less-heralded Moore surprised coaches with his impressive early showing, notching three sacks in one scrimmage. His emergence may help ease the loss of top reserve Jeff Schweiger, who is out through at least September with a foot injury.
Rey Maualuga, LB, Eureka, Calif.
Like Brown, Maualuga, Scout.com's No. 2-ranked linebacker prospect last year, is in the mix for the starting middle linebacker job, but neither freshman has been able to unseat experienced but injury-plagued redshirt junior Oscar Lua just yet.
Note: USC's most touted freshman of all, top-rated QB Mark Sanchez, has been impressive as well, but with the return of both Leinart and John David Booty, Sanchez is expected to redshirt.
Kiffin and Sarkisian hammered that point home with their offensive players the night before the start of fall practices. With the memory of a seemingly effortless 55-19 Orange Bowl rout of Oklahoma still fresh in their minds, with both Bush and Heisman-winning quarterback Matt Leinart in their presence -- not to mention a freshman All-America receiver (Dwayne Jarrett), a gifted tight end (Dominique Byrd) and five returning starting linemen -- the coaches offered a friendly reminder: "It was not easy last season."
Yes, the Trojans went 13-0, extending their current winning streak to 22 games, but as Sarkisian, who returned to the staff last winter after a season with the Oakland Raiders, is quick to point out, "You go back and look at last season, they were down at halftime against Virginia Tech, in a dogfight, on the road in a hostile environment. They're losing to Stanford to start the fourth quarter. They're losing to Oregon State midway through the third quarter. UCLA's got the ball with two-and-a-half minutes left, down five.
"They're not going out and scoring 40, 50 points in those football games. That's not the way it works."
Maybe not, but that's certainly the way it looks at one of USC's early practices. While most offenses take nearly all of August -- and sometimes September -- to work out the kinks, the Trojans execute as crisply as they did that January night in Ft. Lauderdale. Leinart, who spent the offseason studying tape of NFL defenses, delivers his completions with mechanical precision, making the right read on seemingly every play. With top running backs Bush and White sitting out with minor injuries, third-stringer Desmond Reed hits a massive hole created by the line and dashes for a 20-yard gain. Freshman receiver Patrick Turner, who bears a striking resemblance to former Trojans star Mike Williams in both size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and jersey number (1), leaps high in the air to make an astonishing grab for a guy participating in just his third official practice.
"Everyone's back from last year, everyone knows their assignments," said Leinart, who completed 20-of-31 attempts for 323 yards and three touchdowns during his first two scrimmages. "It's pretty easy for me. I just get to sit back there and have fun and pick defenses apart."
The offense's success, however, raises obvious questions about the defense, which, for the first time in four years, has no Shaun Cody or Mike Patterson at defensive tackle. Gone, too, are star linebackers Matt Grotegood and Lofa Tatupu and two experienced cornerbacks. In their place talented but unproven underclassmen such as defensive tackles Sedrick Ellis and LaJuan Ramsey, linebacker Oscar Lua and a bevy of cornerback candidates are taking their lumps while assuming greater roles. Carroll, however, stresses that the Trojans have overcome daunting personnel losses (Heisman QB Carson Palmer, All-America safety Troy Polamalu and the top three running backs prior to their first title season; star receivers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert and four starting offensive lineman going into last year) and will do so again. "We always have issues," said Carroll. "If everything was just right, it wouldn't be fun."
Same goes for the heavy coaching-staff turnover. Losing four assistants -- Chow (now the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator), defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss' head coach), offensive line coach Tim Davis (Miami Dolphins' O-line coach) and QB coach Carl Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator) -- would be viewed as a death knell for some programs.