Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
Lane Kiffin said earlier in the week that two positions -- strong safety and left guard -- were up for grabs this week, but it appears that another spot, middle linebacker, is also a re-opened competition. Devon Kennard has started the first eight games of the season at the spot but has had "some ups and downs," in Kiffin's words. Thus, Chris Galippo, who started the last two games at weakside linebacker in Malcolm Smith's place, has been granted an opportunity to compete for the Mike spot this week. "He's played well at times," Kiffin said of Kennard, adding that the sophomore hasn't been fully healthy in a few weeks. "It’s kind of been a work in progress." More on this further down, including Kennard's comments on the decision.
At safety, incumbent Jawanza Starling continues to battle backup Marshall Jones for the right to start Saturday against Arizona State. Starling, a true sophomore who struggled mightily against the rampant play-action fakes Oregon used last week, said he has embraced the challenge: "Competition breeds the best in people, or the worst in people," he said after Wednesday's practice. "It's up to me now just to get better."
At guard, Michael Reardon, a converted center, is challenging Butch Lewis for the starting spot. Lewis, we noted Tuesday, has lost his starting spot at USC in each of the last four seasons -- truly a remarkable note. Reardon said Wednesday that offensive line coach James Cregg pulled him aside Tuesday and told him to seize his opportunity, as he would be playing with the starters in practice. "You always strive to be a [starter]," he said. "And if the opportunity comes, you can't look back." Meanwhile, Lewis, still rotating in at both right tackle and left guard, appeared to play a lot more spirited than he did against Oregon, when he was largely manhandled by a much-smaller Ducks defensive line.
Injury report: Defensive tackle Hebron 'Loni' Fangupo, tight end Blake Ayles and cornerback Nickell Robey did not practice. Defensive end Nick Perry (ankle), linebackers Galippo and Kennard (hip), center Abe Markowitz (foot), right tackle Tyron Smith (knee/ankle) and running backs C.J. Gable (knee) and Marc Tyler were limited. Running back Allen Bradford also sat out because of a personal issue Kiffin deemed "nothing major at all." Robey was at practice but not dressed; the reason for his non-participation was later announced as a toothache. It was Markowitz' first time listed on the injury report since he broke his foot during preparation for the Hawaii game in August. His presence as the only other center on the roster is what gave USC more freedom in allowing Reardon to slide over to guard.
The defense again worked on tackling in practice, with linebacker Shane Horton shining as the dominant player. Horton had 11 tackles against Oregon as he subbed in for Galippo on many series. Said Kiffin of his team's tackling against the Ducks and how the tackling drills done in recent weeks reflected on it: “As strange as it sounds, giving up the points and yards that we did, we actually missed less tackles last week than in games before. We did see some improvement after the two weeks of working individual tackling drills with them. We’ll continue to work on it and continue to improve hopefully.”
Final notes: reserve cornerback Brian Baucham has had an impressive week of practice so far, with a key interception in team drills Tuesday and a solid tackling day Wednesday. He and fellow reserves T.J. Bryant and Torin Harris have all rotated between the nickel and dime spots so far this season. ... One more open practice this week for USC: Thursday at 4 p.m.
Kiffin spoke to the media after practice and addressed Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, his concerns with the matchup against the Sun Devils and more.
See what he had to say:
Kennard noted after practice that next week will mark a full year for him at linebacker, as he switched over from defensive end to strongside last season before the Stanford game.
He says he believes he has made "huge strides" this season after moving to the middle spot during winter workouts but added that he has a lot of work to do with his game. Asked what specifically he needed to work on, he said, "everything, not necessarily anything specific."
With some tightness in his hip the past few games, Kennard's play has slipped and Galippo has again come on as a viable option at that spot.
See all of what Kennard had to say about that and other topics Wednesday: