From the top down, it won't the same at USC this spring.
Lane Kiffin is roaming the practice field instead of Pete Carroll -- off to new adventures with the Seattle Seahawks -- although the new coach promises to keep the same fun-yet-ultra-competitive vibe that helped make Carroll so successful.
In terms of personnel, the Trojans lose nine starters, including three players who left early for the NFL -- DE Everson Griffen, WR Damian Williams and RB Joe McKnight.
USC loses a total of four first-team All-Pac-10 players, and four second-team all-conference players, including special teams specialist Garrett Green. Put it this way: USC doesn't return one first-team or second-team all-league player from last season.
So, yes, there is a fair amount of starting over for Trojans, without the familiar safety net of Carroll's coaching staff. But Kiffin flexed his muscles in recruiting -- pulling in the No. 1 ranked class, according to Rivals.com -- so there is enviable talent on hand as the Trojans try to reclaim the Pac-10 title after they went 5-4 in conference games, tied for fifth.
As for that competition, Kiffin says it's an all-jobs-are-open kind of approach. More specifically, what will that mean for the quarterback position? Carroll raved on true freshman Matt Barkley all of last season. He was OK, finishing well in the Emerald Bowl against Boston College.
For the season, he completed 211 of 352 passes for 2,735 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The interceptions were an issue; he threw at least one in each of his last nine games.
There is a new quarterbacks coach (Clay Helton) and the new head coach, so Barkley just won't be handed the keys. Senior Mitch Mustain is still around to compete, although backup Aaron Corp decided to transfer.
"This is a position that lacks substantial depth, but there are two quarterbacks who have played in lots of big-time games," Kiffin said in the Orange County Register. "I'm looking forward to continuing their development in our offense."NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The quarterback position could be interesting. Even more so should be what happens at wide receiver. Damian Williams -- first-team all-conference as a receiver and returner -- is gone, leaving speedy senior Ronald Johnson to be the leader. He missed the first five games of last season because of a broken collarbone, finishing with 34 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. Sophomore Brice Butler and senior David Ausberry are among a group that needs to assert itself this spring. "This is one of the most important position groups for us to figure out throughout spring practice," Kiffin said in the Orange County Register. "We're counting on Johnson to be the leader of this group."
Kiffin says there will be some mixing and matching done on the offensive line this spring to find the best unit, with one of the key battles being at guard between Zack Heberer and Khaled Holmes.
BUILDING BLOCKS: USC has veteran tailbacks Allen Bradford (team-high 596 rushing yards last season) and C.J. Gable, as well as all-around fullback Stanley Havili. There is still ample depth and incoming talent. The defensive line, with DT Jurrell Casey (nine tackles for loss) and DE Nick Perry (eight sacks) should be a strength, and the starting linebackers, led by Malcolm Smith (72 tackles) and Chris Galippo (70) return intact.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have now been fortunate for the last two years to have our staff sign the nation's No. 1 player. This signing is once again indicative of the power of USC and what it means to play here. We are very proud to have Seantrel as a member of the Trojan family." -- Coach Lane Kiffin, on signing OL Seantrel Henderson in mid-march. A year earlier, Kiffin and his staff at Tennessee signed RB Bryce Brown, who was rated No. 1 by some recruiting services.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Is USC still USC without Pete Carroll? After seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and consistently challenging for the national title, the Trojans took a step back last season, sputtering on offense and failing to be an elite shut-down unit on defense. USC returns 13 starters but lacks the sure-fire All-American talent to which it has become accustomed. Thing is, presumed Pac-10 favorite Oregon has had a miserable offseason, so the Trojans could enter the season as at least co-favorite in the conference, although without its usual high national ranking.
OL Seantrel Henderson -- The nation's top offensive lineman -- arguably the top recruit -- finally signed in mid-March. Do the Trojans need him to start? Not really. But if Lane Kiffin is like Pete Carroll, if a recruit is good enough to be a backup, he'll play.
WR Kyle Prater, Maywood, Ill. -- Enrolled at USC after graduating early and earning all the major All-American honors. He was rated the nation's No. 3 overall prospect by Rivals.com. The 6-5 wideout caught 64 passes for 1,151 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. With Prater, plus recruits Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles, USC has all kinds of potential at the wide receiver position.
RB Dillon Baxter -- Baxter was the EA Sports Mr. Football USA and the Max Preps National Player of the Year, in addition to many, many honors. He was a quarterback, receiver and running back at Mission Bay High School, and could be the best playmaker in the entire national recruiting class. He is enrolled at USC, so the coaches will get to tinker with his position flexibility in the spring as he could see time at running back, receiver and as a Wildcat quarterback.
--DB Marshall Jones, who missed last season because of a neck injury, has been cleared for spring ball. He is moving from cornerback to safety.
--Junior CB Shareece Wright, who was academically ineligible during the regular season, started in the Emerald Bowl and figures to hold down that spot in 2010.
--Backup RB Marc Tyler figures to miss some or all of spring ball because of a toe injury.
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Previous Report: 03/25/2010