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Trojan makeover

USC deals with life after Bush, Leinart; spring notes

Posted: Tuesday April 11, 2006 10:22AM; Updated: Tuesday April 11, 2006 2:22PM
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USC's John David Booty missed much of the spring after having surgery on a bulging disk, but the QB should be ready to go in the fall.
USC's John David Booty missed much of the spring after having surgery on a bulging disk, but the QB should be ready to go in the fall.
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Welcome to Lane Kiffin's spring.

Already faced with the unprecedented task of replacing two Heisman Trophy winners (Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart) and a 1,000-yard rusher (LenDale White) from the same backfield, USC's offensive coordinator has watched as two of their projected replacements, junior quarterback John David Booty and fifth-year senior tailback Hershel Dennis, went down with injuries. Booty, who had surgery to repair a bulging disc in his back, should be back for fall camp, but Dennis, the Trojans' starting tailback in 2003, is expected to miss his second straight season after suffering his second ACL injury in the past 16 months.

So, Lane, did this happen to make your job ... how shall we say it? ... close to impossible this spring?

"Not at all," said the perpetually upbeat 30-year-old. "It gave us a chance to see some different guys."

That's one way of putting it.

Between Dennis' injury and the iffy status of fellow tailbacks Desmond Reed (knee injury), Chauncey Washington (academics) and Michael Coleman (hip surgery), the only available ballcarriers for the Trojans' spring game last Sunday were four fullbacks.

The good news: Ryan Powdrell, a 260-pound converted linebacker, looked so impressive running the ball (10 carries, 81 yards) that head coach Pete Carroll said he could start at tailback if the Trojans' first game was today.

The bad news: Powdrell and his cohorts fumbled four times.

Such is the work in progress that is the USC offense these days, a far cry from the Leinart-Bush-White outfit that racked up 580 yards per game last season. Carroll, however, has never been one to let a few personnel setbacks change his terminally sunny disposition. Having assembled five straight top-five recruiting classes (the last four ranked No. 1 by at least one major scouting service), the mantra around Heritage Hall is that no one is irreplaceable.

Prior to the start of spring practice, Carroll said of this year's squad, "It has the feel of the 2003 season, when we lost Carson [Palmer], Troy [Polamalu] and all those running backs. We regrouped and had a real nice season.... I don't see it being any different this season."

He has a point. The Trojans not only "regrouped" that year after losing a Heisman quarterback, an All-America safety and 87 percent of the previous season's rushing yardage, they also went 12-1 and won a national championship. (The Trojans were voted No. 1 by the AP, while LSU won the BCS title.) However, with all due respect to Sultan McCullough, Justin Fargas and Malaefou MacKenzie, losing them is not quite the same thing as losing a pair of players like Bush and White, who accounted for 20.8 points and 339.3 all-purpose yards per game.

With Washington being the only one of the sidelined tailbacks with a chance of figuring in the mix this fall (Kiffin said "it doesn't look good" for the speedy Reed to make it back from his ACL tear this season, and Coleman was never a serious contender), it's almost guaranteed that the Trojans' running game will revolve around one or more of their touted incoming freshmen: Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable (who was originally slotted as a defensive back), Emmanuel Moody and Kenny Ashley.

While certainly not unprecedented -- Bush and White contributed heavily as freshmen in 2003, and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, Michigan's Mike Hart and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton all racked up huge yardage as recent first-year tailbacks -- one never knows which freshmen will take longer than others to make the adjustment to college.

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