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March 25, 2010

Holdovers vs. new guys at wide receiver

USC's Trojans return lots of wide receivers -- and their coach.



But other than senior speedster Ronald Johnson, hoping for a healthy final go-round, can any of them do what it is Lane Kiffin's Trojan team needs this year especially without the lone threat from 2009, Damian Williams.

Or will it fall to the four freshmen, two in school this semester, and two more due in the fall, to give USC the quality wide receivers past Trojans teams have become used to. And can they do so as rookies?

"We'll see,'' says wide receivers coach John Morton, one of only two of Pete Carroll's coaches retained, of a position group that returns 10 of 11 to a spring practice that will allow them to make their cases.

Johnson, who's gotten his 40-yard dash time down to 4.3 seconds, has impressed with his work in winter workouts, catching everything and improving on his precise pattern running.

He's the deep threat USC hasn't taken much advantage of in recent seasons. Missing four games a year ago with a shoulder injury, he still managed 34 catches for 378 yards, an 11.1 average, good for three touchdowns while returning 13 kickoffs for a 20.3-yard average.

Next in line is senior David Ausberry, who filled in for Johnson with a modest 12 catches for 123 yards. Perhaps he'll also get the chance to line up at tight end where his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame wouldn't be all that out of place as a receiver.

Sophomore Brice Butler, with 20 receptions for 292 yards, a 14.6 average, and two touchdowns, has the best of the statistics for the rest of the returnees. Between them, junior Brandon Carswell and senior Travon Patterson had a mere eight receptions for 29 yards so they've a long way to go. Sophomore De'Von Flournoy, a speedster like Patterson who had difficulty figuring out the offense, is another possibility.

Five walk-ons, Scott Stephens, Spencer Vigoren, Drew Ness, Robbie Boyer and Steve Blackhart, fill out the roster but they have yet to catch a pass.

That probably won't be the case for the two early arrivals, 6-foot-5 Kyle Prater and all-purpose Dillon Baxter, both among the nation's top-ranked prep prospects. Baxter, who could line up almost anywhere and is being mentioned as the next Reggie Bush for more than just his San Diego roots.

Prater will need to get past some hamstring issues that have kept him from going all-out in the winter.

They'll be joined in the fall by another pair of prep All-Americans, Georgian Markeith Ambles and local guy Robert Woods from Gardena and Serra High School.


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