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Trojan Spring

An exodus of topflight assistants has forced national champ USC to adjust to a radically rebuilt coaching staff

It was as if someone had turned down the volume at USC's Howard Jones Field. Not that the national champions lacked intensity during spring practice last Friday. There was still plenty of shouting going on. It simply didn't compare to the daily eardrum assault that once issued from the lungs of offensive line coach Tim Davis and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Those guys--along with quarterbacks coach Carl Smith and offensive coordinator Norm Chow--have taken better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Yes, the Trojans lost five starters on defense, including four All-Americas. Yes, injuries and legal problems have left them with one scholarship cornerback this spring. Still, coach Pete Carroll knows his biggest challenge is to get his new staff to function as effectively as his old one.

Early signs are good. The feeling is that Carroll has upgraded from Davis (now with the Miami Dolphins) by hiring Pat Ruel, 54, from the New York Giants. A 31-year coaching veteran, Ruel is more cerebral than Davis, whose nickname was Frank the Tank. The linemen say that where Davis emphasized intensity, Ruel is teaching them football's finer points. "His big thing is footwork," says left tackle Sam Baker. "That's our focus this spring."

The volcanic Orgeron, now head coach at Ole Miss, has been replaced by Jethro Franklin, formerly of the Green Bay Packers. While Franklin is excitable--"Bust through those cones!" he shouted on Friday. "Finish the damn drill!"--he's a step down in terms of "insane, relentless yelling," reports sophomore end Jeff Schweiger. "He's more willing to explain things, rather than having you learn by watching the older players."

Carroll tends to look to the NFL to fill his staffing needs, for the cutting-edge minds and as a recruiting tool. The blue-chip schoolboys the Trojans pursue have pro ambitions. A position coach with an NFL pedigree, they figure, can better help them realize those ambitions.

Steve Sarkisian, late of the Oakland Raiders, replaces Smith, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's a homecoming for Sark, who was Carroll's QBs coach in 2002 and '03, and he and Heisman-winner Matt Leinart already have a comfort level with each other, which takes some of the sting out of Chow's departure.

Indeed, USC's most scrutinized assistant is not a new hire. Chow, who left for the Tennessee Titans, has been replaced by Lane Kiffin, a five-year Trojans assistant. He says he's unfazed by the big headphones he must fill. "There aren't going to be any drastic changes," he says. "We're going to run the same things we've run every year." The truth is, the Trojans offense is so loaded, its starting QB so seasoned, that they'd be fine with Leinart's pal Jessica Simpson calling the plays. The question is, Can the revamped defense stop people?

Early in Friday's practice, Ken Norton Jr., recently promoted from graduate assistant to linebackers coach, turned his attention to some offensive linemen moving past his drill. Finding their plodding pace unbearable, Norton sprinted over to harangue them: "Let's get running! What's this walking? Hustle!"

Some of the hogs broke into a jog. Not Taitusi Lutui. The 6'6" 370-pound senior tackle kept right on walking as he told Norton, "Go fix your defense." ■

Lined Up Behind Leinart

Barring disaster, Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart (who's recovering from January elbow surgery) will direct the Trojans' offense in '05. Who'll get the keys after that? The candidates:

John David Booty Leinart's decision to return for a fifth year had to bum out the 6'3", 195-pound sophomore, who graduated from high school a year early to enroll at USC in 2003. In a clear-cut battle for the No. 2 spot this spring, Booty has outplayed redshirt freshman ...

Rocky Hinds The 6'4", 225-pound lefty is USC's strongest running threat at quarterback, but he tended to spray the ball this spring and may end up at a different position after the arrival of ...

Mark Sanchez One of the prized recruits of 2005, the 6'4", 215-pound Mission Viejo (Calif.) High product (who's expected to redshirt this year) has stood behind the huddle virtually every day of spring practice, soaking up the offense and looking forward to '06.




John David Booty (10), Leinart's spring fill-in, led an unchanged offense for Carroll.