Pac-12: Averell Spicer

Strong & weak: USC

March, 10, 2010
The eighth of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.


Strong: Front seven

Why it's a strength: USC listed 24 front-seven players on its 2009 defensive depth chart, and just four are not returning: end Everson Griffen, tackle Averell Spicer and linebackers Nick Garratt and Uona Kaveinga. Only Griffen was a starter. That sort of experience is certainly a strength, one that in past years might have struck fear into future opponents. The Trojans, however, were not dominant up front last year, ranking fifth in the Pac-10 against the run. Still, despite a sub-par year by USC's standards, the defense still ranked first in the conference in scoring (19.8 points per game). Moreover, 16 of these returning front-seven players were freshmen or sophomores last fall. There should be significant improvement with new coordinator Monte Kiffin and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Players like junior tackle Jurrell Casey, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard, sophomore end Nick Perry and junior tackle/end Armond Armstead could take a step toward stardom.

Weak: The secondary

Why it's a weakness: The Trojans are replacing all four starters -- multi-year starters at that -- including free safety Taylor Mays. That's four of the top seven tacklers. Moreover, the leader to replace Mays, Drew McAllister, will miss the spring due to hip surgery. Of course, the Trojans are hardly devoid of talent, particularly with the return of cornerback Shareece Wright. Wright, widely regarded as the team's best cover corner, would have started last year but he was academically ineligible. And there are plenty of promising youngsters on the depth chart who have already seen action, including corners T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham and safety T.J.McDonald. Still, this is a unit in transition that will face an outstanding crew of experienced Pac-10 quarterbacks.

USC rules three academically ineligible

December, 21, 2009
The notion that USC merely reloads talent ad infinitum despite the departure of a bevy of starters was cast into doubt this season, and it will be tested further -- unexpectedly -- in the Emerald Bowl on Saturday.

With starting running back Joe McKnight's eligibility for the bowl game against Boston College already in question due to an alleged NCAA rules violation, the school announced Tuesday that tight end Anthony McCoy, offensive tackle Tyron Smith and defensive tackle Averell Spicer have been ruled academically ineligible.

McCoy and Smith are both starters and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Spicer is a key reserve. McCoy and Spicer are both seniors, so their USC careers are over.

"We're really disappointed these guys didn't come through," USC coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. "They had all the help in the world to get it done and they didn't do it."

How many times do you read a statement from a coach that was released through the school and sense genuine chagrin? In that single sentence, you can feel Carroll's disappointment.

So, if USC isn't able to resolve the McKnight situation over the next couple of days -- and expect an athletic department already under NCAA investigation to be as cautious as possible -- the Trojans will face Boston College down three starters and a reserve on their defensive line.

Not good for any team, even USC.

McCoy will be replaced by sophomore Rhett Ellison -- USC is already thin at tight end because of Blake Ayles' knee injury. Redshirt freshman Matt Kalil will replace Smith, a sophomore. Kalil is a major talent -- his older brother Ryan was was an All-American center for USC and now plays for the Carolina Panthers -- and he is expected to be fill one of the three vacancies on the Trojans offensive line next year.

As if USC falling from seven-time Pac-10 champion to four-loss Emerald Bowl team wasn't enough, the Trojans are now burdened with major off-field issues, which are forcing key players out of the lineup.

Heading into the bowl season, the main question was how motivated and focused USC would be against Boston College in a mid-level bowl game. That question is even more relevant now.

When a team is down and caught in a whirlwind of issues, it can either tear apart or come together.

Many will be curious to see what USC will do on Saturday against a BC team that surely sees blood in the water.

Ups and downs on USC's injury list

November, 11, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

USC is banged up, but it may be a bit healthier when Stanford comes to town on Saturday.

Fullback Stanley Havili, who saw limited action at Arizona State, will start. He first hurt his shoulder on Oct. 17 at Notre Dame, and his absence has been felt in both the running and passing game.

The news is not so certain with tight end Anthony McCoy. The good news is McCoy has been cleared to practice. The bad news is McCoy told the LA Times that his ankle "feels like hell." Consider McCoy questionable.

Receiver Damian Williams suffered a high-ankle sprain at Arizona State and is doubtful.

As for the defense, end Everson Griffen (toe), linebacker Chris Galippo (knee, stinger) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (shoulder) have returned to practice. Defensive tackle Averell Spicer (calf) remains out.

There's even more Trojans injury information here.

Armstead back, but USC D-line still hurting

October, 14, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Armond Armstead's return doesn't mean USC's defensive line is suddenly healthy.

Armstead, who broke his foot in the preseason, is not only on track to play his first game of the season at Notre Dame, he was running with the first-team defense on Tuesday -- inside at tackle, instead of the end position he played before he got hurt.

Two tackles -- Christian Tupou (knee) and Averell Spicer (ankle) -- are nursing injuries. Also banged up is end Nick Perry (bruised knee), who leads the Trojans with six sacks.

USC's O'Dowd will have to win his job back

September, 7, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- This is how USC is different: The questionable health of an All-American center is greeted with a shrug even before a marquee game with national championship implications.

Kristofer O'Dowd practiced Monday for the first time since dislocating his knee cap three weeks ago, but there's no rush to push him back into the starting lineup Saturday when the Trojans visit Ohio State.

"We won't play him unless we feel like we're going to be fine," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're not going to play Kris just to play him. We're going to play him because we feel right about him and he's all right ... We're fine with the guys we have."

With O'Dowd out last weekend against San Jose State, sixth-year senior Jeff Byers moved over to center from guard and Butch Lewis and Alex Parsons played guard. Both Lewis and Parsons started last year -- Lewis at right tackle -- so the drop-off was minimal.

The Trojans rushed for 342 yards against the Spartans.

Moreover, while Carroll didn't say this, true freshman Matt Barkley made his surge to be the starting quarterback while taking snaps exclusively from Byers, so there is some issue of continuity.

O'Dowd, of course, is having none of that.

"I'm definitely going to be back for this game," he said. "I'm not going to settle for second string. That's not what I'm shooting for."

So USC's competition Tuesday is going to be just that for O'Dowd -- he's got to compete, prove his knee is 100 percent and win his job back.

In other injury news, the Trojans got one D-lineman back while another was missing.

Tackle Jurrell Casey missed practice because he was ill, while Averell Spicer practiced after sitting out the San Jose State game with a sprained ankle.

"He looked pretty good," Carroll said.

Pac-10 injury update

August, 31, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.

TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable

Arizona State
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out

RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable

WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable

Oregon State
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable

OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out

OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable

CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out

CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful

Washington State
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable

Quick hits: USC DT Spicer out 2-3 weeks

August, 13, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Handful of notes from Thursday's practices.

  • USC starting defensive tackle Averell Spicer will be out two to three weeks with a high ankle sprain, which could put in jeopardy his start on Sept. 5 vs. San Jose State. While junior Derek Simmons is listed behind him on the depth chart, 330-pound JC transfer Hebron Fangupo has been impressive in camp thus far.
  • Also at USC, tight end Blake Ayles will undergo further testing for an irregular heartbeat, though Ayles told the Orange County Register he expects to practice Friday. Meanwhile, No. 1 cornerback Shareece Wright's bruised knee swelled up and may require an MRI.
  • At Washington, coach Steve Sarkisian said cornerback Dominique Gaisie is unlikely to be academically cleared. That means three of the Huskies' six JC transfers -- Johnny Tivao and Daniel Mafoe are the other two -- won't make it into school.
  • Stanford linebacker Clinton Snyder suffered a "stinger" at practice, while guard Chris Marinelli continues to sit out with a shoulder problem.
  • At Washington State, DT Bernard Wolfgramm and LB Myron Beck, who are both coming back from back surgery, sat out.

Corp could be out as long as three weeks

August, 13, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

USC coach Pete Carroll added another week to quarterback Aaron Corp's potential down time -- now three weeks with a cracked fibula -- which means Matt Barkley could win the starting job for the opener against San Jose State by default.

The opener, after all, is three weeks and two days away.

The LA Times weighs in on the matter.

It shows how obsessed we media folks are with USC's quarterback situation that a potentially significant injury to a starting defensive tackle -- Averell Spicer needed to be helped off the field after spraining his ankle -- gets pushed to the back burner.

Of course, this is USC, so the Trojans will just plug 330-pound JC transfer Hebron Fangupo into Spicer's spot. Carroll on Fangupo to the LA Times: "He's as potentially good as anyone we've had play the three-technique spot."

Corp vs. Barkley and more from USC scrimmage

April, 20, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

With five days until its "Trojan Huddle" spring game, it's a good bet that Aaron Corp will emerge from USC's spring practices as the No. 1 quarterback.

But it's becoming more apparent with each passing practice that recruiting gurus were right about Matt Barkley: He's special.

Still, the LA Times called Corp's effort in Saturday's scrimmage his "best all-around performance of the spring."

Corp completed 13 of 18 passes for 170 yards and rushed for 33 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown pass but he threw downfield a number of times and led three scoring drives.

And particularly noteworthy: Corp has yet to throw an interception the entire spring. This seems to be the most important detail at this point of the competition, according to the LA Daily News:

If there is a difference between the two quarterbacks, Barkley has thrown an interception in each of the three scrimmages. USC coach Pete Carroll referred to it as a "bone-head pick that we threw."

On the plus side for the true freshman, Barkley came back and played well afterwards, showing an ability to shake off an error.

Beyond the quarterbacks, there were some other noteworthy nuggets.

  • Before the Rose Bowl, the Pac-10 blog asked a Trojans beat reporter, "Who's that stumpy running back?" It was Curtis McNeal, a redshirt freshman who continues to make a case that he'll need touches next fall. McNeal (10 carries, 62 yards) and Marc Tyler (9 for 49) have taken advantage of injuries at that notoriously deep position to showcase their talents.
  • Defensive end Everson Griffen and tackle Averell Spicer are playing their way out of the doghouse. Griffen has 3.5 sacks in Saturday's scrimmage, which caused coach Pete Carroll to note that no one could block him. A focused and driven Griffen might be the best pass-rusher in the nation. Spicer, meanwhile, was last seen nationally getting flagged for critical personal fouls on consecutive plays in the Trojans' loss to Oregon State last fall. He had 1.5 sacks in the scrimmage and appears to have played his way back onto the first-team defense.
  • What might be motivating both Griffen and Spicer is a lot of young and hungry talent on the defensive line. Malik Jackson, who returned a Barkley interception on a screen pass for a 42-yard touchdown, is pushing Griffen, which is only a good thing.

Revisiting our defensive tackle rankings

March, 11, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Turns out the post on Pac-10 defensive tackles doesn't fit our present format either. Drat.

So let's take another look.

Great shape

  • Arizona: Earl Mitchell leads a crew of five returning tackles from the 2008 depth chart, not to mention the return from suspension of former starter Lolomana Mikaele.
  • Oregon State: Stephen Paea had five sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2008. He's a load. Junior Mitchel Hunt is the frontrunner for the other tackle, and the depth chart features four or five guys who can play.
  • UCLA: Brian Price's 14 tackles for a loss led all conference interior defensive linemen. If he sharpens up against the run, he could become an All-American. Jerzy Siewierski and Jess Ward will battle for the spot next to Price. Both have seen significant action.
  • USC: Fili Moala is gone, but four of the top five tackles from 2008 are back, including returning starter Christian Tupou. Sophomores Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead look like the next great Trojan DTs.

Good shape

  • Arizona State: Lawrence Guy earned Freshman All-American honors and Saia Falahola and Jonathan English have both seen a lot of action. In the fall, 292-pound touted freshman Corey Adams arrives.
  • Stanford: Ekom Udofia, Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua and Brian Bulcke give the Cardinal an effective, experienced crew inside. They combined for 12.5 tackles for a loss in 2008.
  • California: A 3-4 defense obviously means fewer tackles, but the Bears top two nose tackles -- Derrick Hill, who will miss spring after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and Kendrick Payne -- should be solid.

We'll see

  • Oregon: Both starters need to be replaced. Tonio Celotto, who battled nagging injuries last year, and Blake Ferras appear to have the inside track, but newcomers will have to help immediately.
  • Washington: Everyone is back, but no one stood out in 2008. The thinking is sophomores Alameda Ta'amu and Senio Kelemete should be much better after being prematurely thrown into action. There's also junior Cameron Elisara and Johnny Tivao, a 5-foot-10, 350-pound JC transfer.
  • Washington State: Three of their top four tackles on the season-ending depth chart are gone, but maybe that's the good news. Junior Toby Turpin, who had 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, will man one spot and Bernard Wolfgramm is the frontrunner for the other.

Whose defense is stacked inside?

February, 16, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

You're going to hear a lot of talk over the coming weeks heading into the NFL draft about how important defensive tackles are and how rare the dominant ones are.

The recent history with defensive tackles in the Pac-10, outside of USC, of course, isn't great. Not counting the Trojans, the only conference defensive tackle picked in the first round since the 2000 draft was Oregon's Haloti Ngata in 2006.

That may change in either 2010 or 2011 with UCLA's Brian Price, a rising junior and the top returning interior defensive lineman in the conference.

Here's our list of the top returning tackles heading into spring practices, followed by notes on where each team stands at the position.

  1. Brian Price, UCLA: 4.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss led all conference interior defensive linemen.
  2. Stephen Paea, Oregon State: He's a load who's also productive, see five sacks, 11 tackles for a loss.
  3. Lawrence Guy, Arizona State: 10 tackles for a loss as a true freshman. Hello upside.
  4. Earl Mitchell, Arizona: 40 tackles, 5.5 for a loss after switching from H-back.
  5. Christian Tupou, USC: Sure, he only had 12 tackles last year, but he started for the nation's best defense, which counts for a lot.
  6. Derrick Hill, California: Mostly platooned with Mika Kane last year, but he's got the talent to break through as a junior.

Some notes:

Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back all five tackles listed on their 2008 depth chart and are expected to reinstate suspended former starter Lolomana Mikaele. Toss in marquee, 21-year-old JC transfer Jonathan Hollins, and the Wildcats probably have more depth at the position than any other team in the conference.

Arizona State: The biggest question is will 292-pound incoming freshman Corey Adams start beside Guy from day one. Saia Falahola and Jonathan English have both seen a lot of action, so it's not a sure thing.

California: A 3-4 defense obviously means fewer DT-types play. The question for the Bears is the pecking order behind Hill: Cody Jones and Kendrick Payne both missed last season with injuries, and is rising sophomore Trevor Guyton a big end or nose tackle?

Oregon: The interior d-line is probably the Ducks biggest question mark, seeing that both starters need to be replaced. There are high expectations for Tonio Celotto, who battled nagging injuries last year, but there is little to no experience. A pair of incoming JC tackles are expected to help immediately.

Oregon State: Paea can be a force when healthy, and there are experienced players competing to replace Pernnell Booth. The spring focus will be mostly on replacing both defensive ends.

Stanford: Brian Bulcke and Sione Fua give the Cardinal a quietly effective combination inside. They combined for seven sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Matt Masifilo leads the depth, which will be at issue this spring. [Edit: As a reader pointed out in an email, starting DT Ekom Udofia will be back in 2009. So the Cardinal D figures to be fairly solid in the interior].

UCLA: Price will demand two blockers next year, particularly with the departure of the solid Brigham Harwell. The Bruins will be fairly experienced inside, but will any other player step forward to complement -- and take the focus off -- Price?

USC: Sure, Fili Moala is a big loss, but the Trojans will still will boast the strongest interior defensive lineup in the conference. Start with Tupou and the player he beat out in 2008, Averell Spicer. Then toss in Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead, who both were impressive in limited action as true freshmen last year. USC actually might be STRONGER at tackle than 2008. Seriously.

Washington: Good news is just about everyone is back. Bad news is the Huskies got pushed around up the middle last year. Still, if rising sophomores Alameda Ta'amu and Senio Kelemete have big off-seasons in the weight room, they could form a solid troika with Cameron Elisara. And incoming JC transfer Johnny Tivao is listed at 5 foot 10, 350 pounds, so that's something.

Washington State: Lots of questions here for the Cougars, who will be young inside with the departure of three of their top four tackles on the season-ending depth chart. Rising junior Toby Turpin, who had 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, will man one spot and Bernard Wolfgramm is the frontrunner for the other. And might the Cougs consider adopting a 3-4 scheme?

As the Trojans Turn: Lots of stuff going on at USC

October, 7, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Things are never simple at USC, and that's particularly the case this week with Arizona State set to visit the Coliseum on Saturday.

Hope we're not leaving anything out...

  • Who's the quarterback? Starter Mark Sanchez sat out practice (bruised knee) while Mitch Mustain, now the backup after sinking to No. 4 on the depth chart just two weeks ago, appears ready to start against the Sun Devils.
  • Running back Allen Bradford asked for the ball, now he's hurt? Yep. And he may redshirt. That seems to narrow the logjam at tailback to Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight.
  • What about McKnight's struggles returning punts? Johnson may take over for McKnight on punt returns, too.
  • What's up with receiver Vidal Hazelton? He's apparently having ankle trouble and wants to redshirt. The coaches don't want that. Hazelton has slipped behind Patrick Turner, Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson and probably David Ausberry in the pecking order. The LA Daily News suggests in the linked story that he might be a candidate to transfer.
  • Will linebacker Rey Maualuga be back in the lineup? Still up in the air. But if he can't go, it looks like Brian Cushing will again move from outside to Maualuga's inside spot.
  • Hey, is USC's defense moving guys around up front? With all this other stuff going on, it seems a fairly dramatic experiment with the Trojans defense slipped mostly toward the bottom of a notebook. Per the LA Daily News: "USC juggled its defensive line Monday, with Kyle Moore moving inside to tackle while Clay Matthews and Everson Griffen played defensive end. Fili Moala played nose tackle. Moore's played defensive end most of his career." This seems to mean the coaches aren't terribly happy with the performance of nose tackles Averell Spicer and Christian Tupou.

What statement will USC, Oregon make?

October, 4, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon should feel right at home tonight. It's cloudy and cool (68 degrees) with a chance of showers. Just like it is much of the year in Eugene.


The winner tonight between No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-10) and No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0), however, figures to feel pretty sunny. That team will walk away as the Pac-10 front-runner, though California, a future foe for both, might have something to say about that.

Oregon does boast a 5-3 record in its last eight meetings against the Trojans, including a 24-17 win last year.

The last time the Ducks visited the Coliseum in 2006, though, they got thudded 35-10. The Trojans were coming off a loss to Oregon State then, too. The last time USC coach Pete Carroll lost consecutive games against Pac-10 foes?


He's also 7-0 against conference teams that beat him the year before, delivering retribution by a 248-114 count. A team hasn't won two in a row against the the Trojans since 2001-02 (Kansas State), Carroll's first two seasons at Troy. Carroll's first season, when USC finished 6-6, is also the last time the Trojans lost consecutive games.

USC is riding a 25-game winning streak in the Coliseum.

And the Oregon programs haven't swept USC since 1957.

So, in other words, there are plenty of trends and factoids that suggest USC will make a statement to the nation tonight that it is premature to count the Trojans out of the national title hunt.

(Read full post)

Execution, not anger will redeem USC vs. Oregon

October, 2, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

The general consensus is that USC is angry and the Oregon Ducks, to paraphrase Bruce Banner, aren't going to like the Trojans when they are angry.

That's the run-up to Saturday's clash in the L.A. Coliseum: Exit Dr. Banner (the USC team that looked woeful at Oregon State last Thursday) and enter an angry green -- make that Cardinal and Gold -- Hulk (the Trojans who've spent a long week-plus hearing a nation crow about their embarrassing loss).

"I don't know if they are angry but they are going to be ready," said an unusually terse Pete Carroll.

USC defensive end Kyle Moore is typically a go-to guy for reporters who regularly cover USC. He's smart and outgoing but, most important, he's good for a colorful quote. But not this week. Moore's colorful personality turned beige when asked what happened to USC's defense against the Beavers.

"We're past that game," he said. "We can't go back and replay it."

True. But is he bothered by how the national media pounded the Trojans after they lost?

"People can jump on whatever bandwagon they want," Moore said. "One week they love us. One week they hate us."

So, sure, there's some "grrrr" there.

Of course, Oregon faced a similar situation last year when it was headed to Michigan, which was supposed to be beside itself after it lost at home to Appalachian State, an FCS school, and subsequently got pilloried as victims of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

All the Ducks did in Ann Arbor, though, was roll up 624 yards of offense and deliver one of the worst whippings the Wolverines had ever taken, 39-7.

Therefore, pardon Oregon coach Mike Bellotti for finding the "anger" angle a little amusing. "It was going to be a challenging game anyway," he noted.

(Read full post)

Pac-10 lunch links: Sad sacks, obsessions and benched nose tackles

October, 2, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Eat, link and be merry.