Practice No. 10 tidbits + video
April, 12, 2011
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Two main stories out of USC's Tuesday practice: Markeith Ambles returned to practice after skipping Saturday's session in what he termed a "poor decision," and running backs Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan stepped it up in the absence of the Trojans' top two runners. Here's the rest of what went on at Howard Jones Field on Tuesday, with more coming on freshman fullback Soma Vainuku on Wednesday:
Watching the scrimmage tape
After every Saturday practice, when the Trojans scrimmage more than on a usual practice day, coach Lane Kiffin and his staff watch the film extra closely to get updated gauges on how their players are doing. Kiffin frequently mentions on Saturdays that he's excited to go in and watch the video of his team practicing.
Then, Tuesday, he gives an updated assessment of his roster based on what he saw. What'd he see this time?
"We've got a really good receiver, a really good quarterback, a really good left tackle, a good tight end and a lot of holes to fill," Kiffin said simply, referencing his offensive unit in particular.
So it's Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, Rhett Ellison and everybody else in Kiffin's eyes, apparently.
A leader at backup QB
Kiffin has so far stuck to the line this spring that the race to be Barkley's backup at quarterback is even, but he provided a bit of a look-see into his thinking Tuesday when asked about when he would prefer to make a decision on No. 2 player at the position -- basically, are the Trojans going to decide on it at the end of spring or sometime in fall?
"We hope to, but I don't know that we will," Kiffin said. "Someone's gotta really distance themselves for us to do that. It's a much more complicated situation than normal, because two guys have not used their redshirt year."
He also finally gave one of the trio of Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek the upper hand.
"I would say Jesse's in the lead," Kiffin said Tuesday. "Jesse has played well, his numbers have been good, and he's getting a better command of the offense.
"Jesse's probably been one of the most improved guys in camp."
No leader at backup TE
The competition to back up Ellison is even tighter apparently, with sophomore Christian Thomas and redshirt freshman Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble all competing for valuable time next season as the No. 2 tight end.
It sounds as if this battle will be a tougher one to judge.
"They're just really different," Kiffin said. "Xavier's the best blocker, Randall's in the middle and Christian's the best deep threat. It's a really exciting group to have. It's one of the few positions where we have four guys and three guys in our first year."
Thomas returned to practice Tuesday after sitting out of Saturday's scrimmage with a minor academic issue. USC does have two different tight end spots, though, in that the position Grimble will likely play when he sees is the field is much more of a blocking-based spot and the position Thomas and Telfer will play is more of a slot-receiver spot.
Dillon Baxter (ankle) and Marc Tyler (concussion) sat out of practice because of injuries suffered in Saturday's scrimmage. Grimble saw a doctor Sunday after experiencing chest and shoulder pains and also sat out of Tuesday.
"Nothing severe, we just had to limit his contact today," Kiffin said of Grimble. "Hopefully he'll be back later this week."
Junior safety T.J. McDonald had a tooth knocked out during the scrimmage and had to have dentists remove the tooth and stitch up the wound over the weekend, so he didn't practice either.