May 3, 2009

The more we know: Part Three

It's time to continue my look back at the 15 things I learned this spring by watching the USC Trojans battle on Howard Jones Field and inside the Coliseum.

In part one, I looked at the team's depth - and in the linebackers' case, lack of depth - and Taylor Mays. In part two, I mentioned the USC quarterback situation.

Now, in part three, it's time to examine a group of players who went through the spring for the very first time - the 2008 recruiting class.

Lesson seven:Pete Carroll loves this class.

During the regular season, Carroll and I spoke after a practice inside Heritage Hall, and I asked him if he had begun to get a feel for his latest crop of freshman.

Carroll said he felt like he and the staff had gotten it right on each member of the class.

After watching this spring, I'm thinking he's right.

The highly touted guys like Tyron Smith and Armond Armstead are being groomed for stardom on the offensive and defensive line, respectively. Jurrell Casey is too good to keep off the field. Wes Horton and Malik Jackson each made big plays by getting to the quarterback on almost a daily basis. Nick Perry starred during the Trojan Huddle.

Cornerbacks T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham caught Carroll's eye this spring, and both will push for play time.

The list goes on and on, with one exception.

Lesson eight:Blake Ayles needs to stay healthy and stay consistent.

Heading into fall camp last season, Ayles seemed like the most likely freshman to make an immediate impact, and he looked good early on, catching a touchdown pass against Ohio State.

Ayles never made the next step, though, and after injuring his knee, he effectively disappeared for the rest of the season.

Ayles didn't play this spring, and he lost ground to Anthony McCoy (who would be very, very difficult to overtake) and Rhett Ellison.

Now, he's got to get healthy and play with consistent effort all summer and fall. He's certainly very talented, but he's falling behind by not showing it;.

Lesson nine:T.J. Bryant isn't too small.

Bryant's got plenty of height to spare at cornerback, but he came to the West Coast a little on the slender side. Just by looking at him, you had to wonder how well he could tackle.

If you asked D.J. Shoemate how Bryant can tackle, he'd probably answer favorably - if he could remember. Bryant leveled Shoemate in the open field on more than one occasion this spring, answering questions about his tackling with a loud thud.

Bryant just throws his body at the ball, and that kind of reckless indifference for his own wellbeing is what makes him such a capable tackler. He's also shown good form in wrapping up, but it's the big hits that have stood out the most.

He's going to play for USC this year even with a talented secondary class coming to USC this summer. Expect big thins from Bryant this fall; he's looked like he'll certainly be a factor.


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