USC had what many pundits consider the best offense in the history of college football in 2005. There were two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield and a pair of dynamic wide receivers. Two tailbacks ran for more than 1,300 yards apiece. The offensive line was experienced and the offensive attack was as balanced as it was prolific. That team averaged nearly 50 points per game. Even the week before the 2006 BCS national title game, ESPN ran a weeklong series comparing the Trojans’ offensive unit to some of the best in the history of the sport.Man in charge · Senior quarterback Matt Barkley returns to lead an offense that averaged 35.8 points per game in 2011. Barkley threw a conference record 39 touchdowns and completed 69.1 percent of his passes. – Carlo Acenas | Daily TrojanFast forward to 2012, and the expectation for many around Los Angeles is this: USC might have as good an offense, if not better, than what fans saw seven seasons ago.Leading the USC offense will be its aerial assault, and the leader of that charge will be senior quarterback Matt Barkley. Last year, Barkley had one of the best seasons in conference history, throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. He set a school single season record for completion percentage at 69.1 percent.Though Barkley’s success is largely because of his own ability, the overall success of the passing game will depend on his receivers: junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee. While Lee is at full strength, Woods has a lingering ankle injury that has limited his practice time and forced him to sit out for all of spring practice.Woods set a conference record for catches in 2011 with 111, totaling 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns, being named a first team All-American in the process. Woods’ high school teammate Lee had 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns during his freshman season.But if Woods is not healthy, the situation behind the two Biletnikoff Award candidates is rather murky. With no established third receiver, several young players will be competing for playing time, including sophomore George Farmer and incoming freshman Nelson Agholor.“He’s constantly banged up,” Woods said of Farmer, who was the top receiver recruit in the country coming out of high school.If healthy, though, Woods believes Farmer can play a key role for the Trojans.The other question mark for the passing game is the left tackle position. Gone is All-American Matt Kalil, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Taking his place will be sophomore Aundrey Walker, standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 300 pounds who is slated to start at left tackle and to protect Barkley’s blind side. He has lost roughly 70 pounds since last season and is preparing himself for the rigors of the left side and of replacing a star.“Everything’s been good,” Walker said. “Practice, the last practice has been great. Just losing the weight, I feel great. I don’t know what it is, but when I was 360 [pounds], it really didn’t work; I was too slow off the ball.”This is no longer a problem, though, and Walker is excited for the possibilities. He is confident that the offense is right on track and sees a lot of potential with the group.“[The] offense is doing pretty good. We got a great group of guys [starting],” Walker said. “[There is] a lot of chemistry throughout the whole team.”The passing game was an obvious strength last season, as the Trojans averaged more than 294 yards per game, good for 15th in the country.For the 2012 Trojans to reach the heights of the 2005 team, however, the running game will have to hold up its end of the deal and must complement the passing game.Last season, the Trojans ran for 162.6 yards per game, which ranked near the middle of the pack in the college football world. Returning is senior tailback Curtis McNeal, who ran for 1,005 yards. Joining him is Penn State transfer Silas Redd.McNeal said he expects this offensive unit to put up some big numbers this season.“It could be really good,” McNeal said. “We just got to go out there everyday and get our game plan that the coaches make for us, and we just got to make plays.”He knows that the running back competition is going to make for a better unit overall.“It’s been good,” McNeal said. “All the running backs, we’re just out here competing, making each other better … and just providing the best running game that we can for the team.”McNeal believes that the work the team put in during the offseason is going to make this edition of the Trojans better than the one fans saw last year, perhaps making the comparisons to the Leinart-led Trojans not too far off.“A lot of players have just stepped up, basically the whole team just stepped up and we worked our butts off in the offseason so we can perform at our peak every game,” McNeal said. “That’s the attitude that we have, and we’re pushing it everyday.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. >> Another spring injury will likely sideline Andre Ethier at the start of the season for the second consecutive year.An MRI on Ethier’s back Monday revealed a mild herniation of a disc, according to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Ethier had been limited by pain in his lower back for most of two weeks before getting the exam.Ethier received an epidural injection to treat the back issue and will be out of camp until later this week. Roberts said the Dodgers have not determined a timetable for when Ethier might get back on the field, let alone in games.“As far as timetable, we really don’t have one right now,” Roberts said. “ I just know we’re going to have a week to 10 days where we’re going to let it calm down, let that epidural take. We’ll kind of re-evaluate then.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Toles had a double in Tuesday’s game and is batting .316 (12 for 38) in Cactus League games this spring.“Obviously ’Dre was expected to be on our roster,” Roberts said. “So there’s still opportunities. We still have guys in camp. We’re evaluating every day. I don’t want to name specific names but there’s still an opportunity. And that’s obviously contingent on ’Dre.”Game timeFor the first time since he injured an oblique muscle on his right side on March 3, shortstop Corey Seager was back in a game – a minor-league game on the far side of the Camelback Ranch complex.Seager batted only and did not play defense. In three times up, he grounded out once and struck out twice.“It never really bothered me swinging,” Seager said of the injury, which occurred while he was making an off-balance throw. “But this was good. It was finally something where I couldn’t baby it. I couldn’t hold back.”Seager said the plan is for him to play five innings on defense and bat each inning in another minor-league game on Thursday.Kazmir workLeft-hander Scott Kazmir appeared in the same minor-league game as Seager and pitched 4 2/3 innings – one inning was rolled over with two outs after a pair of errors (one by Kazmir on a pickoff throw) and two walks inflated his pitch count.Kazmir allowed one unearned run on three hits (two singles and a double), walked two and struck out three. Afterward, Kazmir spent additional time in the bullpen area, working on his delivery with guest instructor Eric Gagne.“It’s still a matter of syncing everything up,” Kazmir said. “It’s getting better.”Roberts was not on the minor-league side of the complex for Kazmir’s outing but said he was told his velocity had improved and “got up to 87 (mph), I think.” While throwing to hitters in a simulated-game setting last week, Kazmir rarely exceeded 82-83 mph.Roberts said the Dodgers would like to see Kazmir pitch in a Cactus League game on his next scheduled day. He has thrown just 2 2/3 innings in two aborted starts this spring.“I think you want to see it against major-league hitters,” Roberts said. “Today, it was a couple clicks up. But, yeah, you want to see it in a major-league game.”AlsoThe Dodgers sent five players to the minor leagues following Tuesday’s game – outfielders Alex Verdugo and Brett Eibner, second baseman Willie Calhoun and Jose Miguel Fernandez and utilityman Darnell Sweeney. That leaves 46 players in camp (plus right-hander Yimi Garcia who is already on the 60-day DL). With opening day less than two weeks away, it seems certain Ethier (who has only had 19 plate appearances in Cactus League action) will open the season on the DL for the second consecutive year. Last spring, he suffered a spiral fracture in his tibia when he fouled a ball off his shin in a Cactus League game and was sidelined until September.“I don’t think we’re there yet as far as even thinking of opening day for us. It’s just contingent upon how he responds in this next week,” Roberts said. “I don’t know the number for Andre as far as how many at-bats he feels he needs to be ready. He’s a veteran player so we’re definitely not closing that door. But it’s going to be tough.”Last June, left-hander Clayton Kershaw was also diagnosed with a mildly herniated disc in his back. Kershaw spent 75 days on the DL with that injury. Roberts said his understanding is that Ethier’s disc herniation is not as severe as Kershaw’s injury.“The No. 1 thing is we need to get him back healthy and feeling good,” Roberts said. “So whenever that day is – if it’s prior to opening day or not – then that’s our goal.”With Ethier almost certainly out of the picture for an extended time, the door opens to one of the other outfielders jockeying for position. If the Dodgers stick with their plan to platoon a left-handed hitter with veteran Franklin Gutierrez in left field, Andrew Toles is the only candidate. The other reserve outfielders (Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson and Brett Eibner) as well as the trio fighting for a utility spot (Kiké Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Charlie Culberson) all hit right-handed.