LOS ANGELES ? Along with looking for a quarterback and a tailback, the USC Trojans apparently have spent much of the spring trying to find a personality.
After Sunday's Trojan Huddle football spring game ? won 22-19 by Offense II over Offense I ? redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez , a possible successor to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, asserted the search is almost complete.
"It's starting to come around," Sanchez said. "The personality we've known for this team is to be a champion, and that's what we tried to do. The offense looked great and the defense challenged us on every snap. That's what the spring is all about ? to get a taste for the fall and come back and hit the ground running."
Hit the ground running. That's an interesting choice of words because if Sunday's scrimmage was any indication the USC tailbacks, who have been so spectacularly productive with Reggie Bush and LenDale White the last couple of seasons, will be hitting the ground much more than running next fall.
Now that Bush and White are headed for the NFL and Herschel Dennis is injured the Trojans' tailback depth is so depleted not even the most optimistic among the estimated crowd of 15,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum would argue otherwise. Ryan Powdrell , a 260-pound converted fullback, rushed 10 times for 81 yards for Offense I and broke off a 51-yard run, but few other running attempts gained more than 2 or 3 yards. Brandon Hancock and John Griffin combined for 47 yards on 15 carries ? and that included Hancock's 15-yard touchdown run. Also, the Trojans had four fumbles.
"We're waiting to see what will happen with the running back spot," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll , who was unfazed by the turnovers. "I loved the (fumbles) for our defensive side. The last week they've really gotten after it."
An Inside Look
Old reliable: Offensive line. A half dozen sacks aren't uncommon at most spring games, but USC quarterbacks were sacked just once. The running game wasn't impressive, but that problem might not be with the guys up front. Anybody really believe the Trojans won't have one of the nation's best lines next season?
Promising newcomer: Walker Ashley. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound freshman has the markings of something special. Though getting no sacks, he was credited with a stop when Sanchez scrambled for a yard, deflected a pass after a strong rush and later forced Sanchez into an intentional grounding penalty.
Solid unit: Wide receivers. One All-American caliber receiver is scary. Two is terrifying. Biletnikoff Award finalist Dwayne Jarrett and semifinalist Steve Smith are the nation's best tandem, and neither was the most productive wideout on Sunday. Sophomore Patrick Turner, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound target, caught six passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Unit that needs work: Running backs. The departures of Reggie Bush and LenDale White and the knee injury Herschel Dennis suffered last week leave this position unusually tenuous. But, hey, USC still has the tools with which to work. Chauncey Washington is academically ineligible this spring, but could be the answer if he gets enough answers correct on his exams. If no one else steps forward, heralded freshmen Stafon Johnson (Rivals.com five-star prospect) and Emmanuel Moody (four-star prospect) will arrive in the fall.
Bush league?: Was that Reggie Bush weaving through coverage and zig-zagging across the field on a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown? No, but Ryan Ting did a rather admirable impersonation. Bush's absence will certainly hurt, but at least on special teams Ting might soften the blow.
So, maybe the running backs really weren't so ordinary. Maybe they were just upstaged by a defense that is improving and opportunistic. No doubt, the linebackers were extremely active as Rey Maualuga and Kaluka Maiava had nine tackles, Keith Rivers had seven, and Oscar Lua had five.
No matter the answer, the Trojans need another productive quarterback and for now they are looking to Sanchez, who became the focal point this spring after junior John David Booty suffered a back injury.
Leading Offense I, Sanchez completed 13 of 21 passes for 146 yards and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Turner . Sanchez was actually outgunned by Offense II quarterback Michael McDonald , who completed 19 of 27 for 191 yards and three touchdowns, but Carroll was satisfied with Sanchez's effort.
"I thought Mark Sanchez handled himself real well," Carroll said. "He had a very solid day."
That's a significant step down from the spectacular days under Leinart, but with a new quarterback and a team seeking its personality you have to start somewhere.
Notes from the Trojan Huddle:
? The best hit of the spring game was recorded by Oscar Lua , who blasted Jim Abbott on punt coverage.
? On one play midway through the second quarter the Trojan Huddle could have been mistaken for Old Timer's Day. Linebacker Clay Matthews ' interception of Michael McDonald might have spawned memories for some more mature Trojans fans who recalled Matthews' dad, Clay, and McDonald's father, Paul, played for the Trojans at the same positions.
? The final 22-19 score did not include eight points that were tallied on special teams. The Offense I was not credited with Ryan Ting 's 75-yard punt return nor did Offense II get two points for a safety on an errant snap to the punter that went out of the end zone.
? While most head coaches spend the spring games in the press box or sidelines, Pete Carroll , wearing a headset, was on the field giving face-to-face instruction throughout the Trojan Huddle.
? Ryan Powdrell , who had a 51-yard run to highlight his 81-yard day, is now in the mix at tailback, but the converted fullback said he's not limited. "I'll play wherever they need me to play," he said. "I think I really have had a good spring. I think I showed I can run the football."
Making the Grade
Quarterback: 7.0 Mark Sanchez and Michael McDonald combined to complete 32 of 48 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. Hmm. Sounds like a Matt Leinart day.
The grade could rise in the fall as Sanchez gets more experience or John David Booty comes back from injury to take the job.
Running back: 5.0
Any where but Troy, this could be time to panic. Herschel Dennis tore knee ligaments last week, leaving the Trojans without a reliable
tailback. Why worry? There is a next great back at USC, the question is who will it be and when will he emerge? Converted fullback Ryan
Powdrell was powerful in the Trojan Huddle spring game and Chauncey Washington could be a LenDale White clone when/if he returns from academic
exile. If neither works out the Trojans will simply wait for the fall arrivals of heralded freshmen Stafon Johnson and Emmanuel Moody.
Wide receiver: 9.5
Only Arizona has a better pair of receivers than Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. And by Arizona we mean the Cardinals, and we're still not
sure about theirs being better.
Tight end: 7.0
They're all very big, especially 6-foot-6, 255-pound junior Gerald Washington, and showed nice hands. Fred Davis made a nice catch reaching
back and also made a 10-yard touchdown grab.
Offensive line: 8.0 Ryan Kalil is one of the best centers in America. Sam Baker is an All-American at one tackle and Kyle Williams looked solid on the other side.
The guards must develop into solid starters for USC's line to remain dominant. Here's a bet that they will.
Defensive line: 8.0
Junior end Lawrence Jackson is proven, and freshman Walker Ashley looks like he has star potential. Sophomore Kyle Moore (6-7, 265), who
deflected a pass, made a nice showing in the spring game. So did tackle Sedrick Ellis, who got a sack and forced a fumble, and end Jeff Schweiger. The grade could climb higher if the young guys play to their ability.
This has become the defense's deepest area, and not even Oscar Lua, last season's leading tackler, has a secure job because Rey Maualuga has been that impressive this spring. Consider that Clay Matthews had one of the best showings in the spring game with a forced fumble, an interception and a few tackles, yet might have trouble getting on the field.
Special teams: 8.0
Last season Mario Danelo missed just one field goal. That's still his only miss. He was perfect from 30 and 38 yards. Ryan Ting's touchdown
return raised eyebrows, but a snap that sailed over the punter's head and went out of the end zone lowered them.
For more coverage of Southern Cal Spring practice, check out USCFootball.com.