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Trojans to Start Spring Gleaning

Departures, not all of them expected, create numerous issues for USC as spring football practice begins.

March 06, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC football players are tentatively scheduled to receive 2003 national championship rings next week.

They will be honored at the White House on March 23.

As they eagerly await those rewards for last season's success, the Trojans will try to put 2003 behind them when they open spring practice today at Howard Jones Field.

USC is scheduled to practice 15 times between today and April 10. The annual Trojan Huddle scrimmage will be played April 3 at the Coliseum.

Much has changed since the Trojans defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl to cap a 12-1 season that earned USC a share of its first national title in 25 years.

Three members of the coaching staff left, two for NFL assistant jobs, one to become a college head coach. Last week, All-American wide receiver Mike Williams took advantage of the Maurice Clarett ruling and made himself available for the NFL draft after his sophomore season, but not before criticizing teammates in a story in the campus newspaper.

On Friday, the school announced that starting offensive tackle Winston Justice would miss spring practice because of an unspecified student conduct issue.

"The matter is now being reviewed and he will be out indefinitely," Michael Jackson, USC's vice president of student affairs, said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Coach Pete Carroll said the Trojans were prepared to move ahead regardless of coaching changes and Williams' unexpected exit.

"This is a new team with new leadership," Carroll said. "The program has always been about competition. There have been changes since the end of last season and we have to recapture that.

"That's the No. 1 objective of spring by far."

Finding a replacement for No. 1 -- the jersey number worn by Williams for two record-setting seasons -- is one of several key personnel issues facing the Trojans.

Steve Smith caught 17 passes as a freshman and is now the dean of a receiving corps that also lost Keary Colbert, the school's all-time receptions leader.

Players competing to replace Williams and Colbert and work themselves into the rotation include sophomore Whitney Lewis, freshman Fred Davis, senior Jason Mitchell, sophomore Chris McFoy and junior William Buchanon. Freshmen Dwayne Jarrett and Derrick Jones arrive in the fall.

Less high profile, but perhaps more pressing, is the need to replace three starting offensive lineman.

Center Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker and Drew Radovich are among the candidates to replace center Norm Katnik, left guard Lenny Vandermade and All-American tackle Jacob Rogers.

Unlike last spring, when the quarterback job was wide open, Matt Leinart is entrenched as the starter ahead of sophomore John David Booty and senior Brandon Hance. Carl Smith has replaced Steve Sarkisian as quarterback coach.

"Without a doubt, this is Matt's team," Booty said. "I have to get myself playing to a level where if something was to happen to Matt, I could start and we could still be playing at the same level as a team."

Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and Reggie Bush alternated at tailback last season, but Carroll did not rule out changing the approach if one of the players dominated during spring and fall workouts. Chauncey Washington is still recovering from an ankle injury and will probably not participate in spring drills. Todd McNair has replaced Kennedy Pola as running back coach.

On defense, tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson are established starters on a line that lost ends Kenechi Udeze and Omar Nazel. Frostee Rucker started nearly half of last season in place of Nazel. Van Brown, LaJuan Ramsey, Lawrence Jackson and Manuel Wright also will compete for playing time.

Linebacker Matt Grootegoed, who missed most of last season because of torn ligaments in his ankle, will move from the strong side to the weak side. Dallas Sartz will play on the strong side and will also work at safety. With Nick Holt now head coach at Idaho, the linebackers are coached by Rocky Seto and graduate assistant Ken Norton Jr.

Sixth-year senior Kevin Arbet and senior Ronald Nunn are the probable starting cornerbacks, but they will be challenged by Justin Wyatt, Eric Wright, Terrell Thomas and John Walker among others.

Senior Jason Leach and sophomore Darnell Bing are returning starters at safety, a position lacking depth. JC transfer Scott Ware will enroll in the fall.

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