May 4, 2009

The more we know: Part Four

As we near the end of this not-so-epic five-part series, a few big-time playmakers have been ignored. That ends now.

We've talked about the great depth of the team, the thin linebacker corps, the USC quarterbacks and the 2008 recruiting class.

Now, it's time to look at the breakout star from spring ball, the breakout star from the Rose Bowl and a pair of weapons the Trojans will look to in the 2009 season.

Lesson 10: Pete Carroll will need to find a time to play Curtis McNeal.

During the 2008 season, McNeal started to show that he could be a special player while working with the USC scout team. This spring, McNeal continued to shine while giving Carroll a serious look.

With some injuries, McNeal got a boatload of carries this spring, and with the exception of the Trojan Huddle, he made the most of them. His short, stocky frame makes him tough to tackle, and he's got plenty of moves to make defenders look lost out in space.

McNeal looked like the Trojans' biggest homerun threat in the backfield this spring, but it could be difficult to find a place for him with everyone returning in the backfield.

Still, players and coaches both know that if McNeal continues to perform like he did this spring, he'll have to play sooner than later.

Lesson 11: Damian Williams is on his way to being a star.

Williams was USC's best receiver last season, something the country found out when Williams caught 10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. This spring, he looked like he might be the best player on the entire offense.

Williams can make plays in a number of ways, and look for the Trojans to get him the ball quick off the line of scrimmage so he can make plays with his feet.

He also is a superb route runner, and he can adjust his body to get open down the field. I think an all-American season could be in the mix for the former Arkansas transfer.

Lesson 12: Jeremy Bates will use the USC fullbacks effectively.

One of the more subtle tendencies in the Trojan offense this spring was how often Bates decided to call on Stanley Havili or D.J. Shoemate.

In the pair of fullbacks, Bates has versatile offensive weapons that can either run or catch. The Trojans used Havili as a runner on a fairly regular basis this spring, and the junior fullback ran with great vision and toughness.

Shoemate is a polished receiver, and the Trojans can line him up on the outside or in the backfield, He's got great hands, and his versatility will make him difficult to account for.

The challenge for Bates, with so many offensive weapons, will be the distribute the plays to best utilize his guys in the best possible situations.

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