LOS ANGELES -- Watched USC practice Thursday, so here are some quick observations.
Lots has been written about how much better a slimmed-down Matt Barkley is moving. It was just one practice, but that also was my impression. Barkley seemed comfortable rolling out of the pocket and throwing downfield, which was not a big part of his game last fall.
USC will have the best defensive line in the Pac-10. That's an opinion that feels pretty close to a fact you can write down in ink. Why? Lots of talent and the return of Ed Orgeron, who will provide a huge coaching upgrade. There's simply no way for players to slack off around his mega-intensity. Ends Armond Armstead, Nick Perry, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson and tackles Jurrell Casey, Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris, Hebron Fangupo and Derek Simmons give the Trojans a deep, big and athletic group of nine guys.
Hard to believe the Trojans won't be better on special teams this year. For one, John Baxter is widely considered one of the nation's best special teams coaches. Second, the first 20-30 minutes of practice are dedicated to special teams, which often includes some quirky drills Baxter brought from Fresno State.
Easy to see why folks are excited about Devon Kennard's move to middle linebacker, where he might displace Chris Galippo as the starter. He's got size and speed and apparently good instincts. A couple of his hits, including one in the backfield on running back Marc Tyler, inspired hoots of appreciation from his teammates.
Coach Lane Kiffin said Ronald Johnson is playing faster than any previous Trojans receiver, at least in recent memory.
What's not helping the offense: Only six offensive linemen are healthy.
Kiffin said there's no pecking order at running back, and he's not a fan of using the three-plus-man committee the Trojans used in the past. He wants one or two guys, but said he hasn't decided who's in and who's out. Here's a guess that one of the guys will be Allen Bradford, and fancy true freshman Dillon Baxter seems almost certain to get touches.
Quarterback competition with Barkley and Mitch Mustain? Not really. Barkley will be the starter. "Matt is playing really, really well," Kiffin said. "Mitch is playing good."
Two spots in the secondary appear set: Shareece Wright is by far the best cover cornerback, and coaches are raving about Jawanza Starling at safety.
There are still a lot of people watching practice, but the difference from the completely open practices of the Pete Carroll era is that USC officials know everybody who is on hand.
Among those at practice: Former USC coach John Robinson.