Monday, April 5, 2010
Bigger shoes than you think: USC
By ESPN.com staff
Eighth in a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.
Everybody is talking about: Rebuilding the entire secondary, which loses all four starters, including free safety Taylor Mays.
Bigger shoes than you think: Receiver Damian Williams
Receiver is like any other position at USC after years of elite recruiting: On paper, it looks like there's a surfeit of talent ready for its close-up. But ask yourself this: When was the last time USC actually scared people with a downfield passing game (other than the 2009 Rose Bowl pummeling of Penn State)? Probably back when a guy named Leinart was the quarterback. We're completely aware that Williams was first-team All-Pac-10 and is hardly an unknown. What often doesn't seen to come across, though, is to what extent he WAS the Trojans receiving corps last year. Williams caught 70 passes for 1,010 yards with six touchdowns last year. That's twice as many receptions and TDs as any other receiver. In fact, the combined receiving yards for every other wideout -- not tight ends or running backs -- was a meager 822 yards. Fact is, no matter how fast and big the receivers look running around in practice, there's no mistaking the fact the actual on-field production for the returning crew has been unimpressive. Sure, Ronald Johnson got hurt and missed four games, but for all his talent, the rising senior has only caught 12 career touchdown passes.
Who's stepping in: Johnson is eager to prove he's more than just a fast guy, and he's got high expectations for himself. With quarterback Matt Barkley owning a year of seasoning, there's no reason Johnson can't be a 1,000-yard receiver. Sophomore Brice Butler also may be poised for a breakthrough. He ranked third behind Williams and Johnson with 20 receptions in 2009. There's considerable buzz surrounding true freshman Kyle Prater, whose 6-foot-5 frame suggests Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams. What the Trojans really need, of course, is multiple threats on the perimeter, not just a single go-to guy as Williams was.