LOS ANGELES – With quarterback Matt Barkley flanking him for the second straight year, USC coach Lane Kiffin appeared at Pac-12 media day Tuesday and did the best U.S. Senate impersonation he could, controlling the floor from the podium with an long opening statement that resembled a Washington D.C. filibuster.
Kiffin went through his team position-by-position and provided his own unprompted answers to the biggest questions surrounding the Trojans. By the time he stopped talking for a few seconds, it was almost time for the Utah contingent to take the floor.
“With that, I've eaten up all the time,” Kiffin said, smiling. “So there are no hard questions you can ask me right now. We only have a minute left, and Matt’s going to announce that he’s coming back for his senior year.”
He was joking, obviously. There was a lot of joking going on between the two USC representatives, and most of the Pac-12 delegates in attendance at media day Tuesday, held for the first time at the Fox Studio Lot in L.A.
Running back Marc Tyler, USC’s leading rusher in 2010 and projected starter in 2011, made news earlier this month when he made reference to getting paid to play for the Trojans in a video released on celebrity news site TMZ.com.
USC swiftly responded to the video by almost immediately suspending Tyler for the season opener against Minnesota. Kiffin and athletic director Pat Haden, who briefly attended Tuesday’s festivities, condemned Tyler’s actions in a university release and said there may still be more punishment to come for the senior running back, whether it comes from outside or inside the athletic department.
Tyler still awaits a ruling from USC’s student judicial affairs and community stands board on two alcohol-related issues from earlier in the offseason. In June, Tyler said the punishment on those cases could end up being as strict as an expulsion from school.
As for a timeline of the July incident: the video was filmed outside a West Hollywood club late in the night on Thursday, July 14 and released by TMZ.com the next evening. Kiffin first saw the video Saturday morning while in the Florida Keys for a friend’s wedding and was immediately disgusted by it, he said. He spoke to athletic director Pat Haden over the weekend and then, after arriving back in L.A. late Sunday, met with Haden in Heritage Hall on Monday morning to decide the specifics of the suspension.
Kiffin was asked at lunch Tuesday if this was strictly a case of the video leading to the suspension or if Tyler’s previous actions played a role in the decision.
“With our players, everything you do counts,” Kiffin said. “We’ve taken everything into account ever since we’ve been around here. But, in watching that video, regardless of anything else over our time with him, I think we’ve would’ve taken the same steps.
“It’s just so not what we’re about at USC, and to see it gave myself and a lot of people a really bad feeling.”
Kiffin went on to call the content of the video “dirty.” He said Tyler alone will determine when and/or if he returns to the field for the Trojans.
“He may never be back,” Kiffin said. “But we do hope that he’s back, because that means he’s got everything in order.”
Barkley was asked only three questions at the podium. The first was related to the receiving corps he has in place around him this season, his third as USC’s starting quarterback.
He jumped on it right away and effusively praised a number of his offensive teammates.
“I have quite the arsenal at my disposal this year,” Barkley said. “Robert [Woods]will be back. And like coach said, we'll be open for more to him this year. And George Farmer is a special receiver too, taller and bigger and I would say faster than Robert Woods.”
“The list keeps going on and on about guys who can help us out.”
It does: There’s Woods and Farmer, high school teammates at Gardena Serra along with fellow newcomer Marqise Lee. Then there’s returning upperclassmen Brice Butler and Brandon Carswell, redshirt freshmen Kyle Prater and Markeith Ambles and even the sometimes-forgotten De’Von Flournoy and incoming freshman Victor Blackwell -- plus tight end Rhett Ellison and his three capable backups.
In short, if Barkley doesn’t produce the sort of numbers he is hoping for, it won’t be because of a lack of talent. There’s not a ton of experience there, but there’s enough, and there’s plenty of sheer talent.
“We have all this skill and all these players, and I think we'll finally turn that into production,” Barkley said. “And these off-season workouts have been great to get timing, but we have a special group on our hands."
Projecting the offensive line
Only two of the five offensive line spots have clear-cut starters, with left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes. The other three are all open for the taking.
Tuesday, Kiffin provided some insight as to the line’s potential arrangement come September: He’s not entirely opposed to starting two true freshmen, he said, as long as they’re not lining up next to each other on the field.
“Well, you wouldn’t like to, especially in our offense,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think it’s a real easy offense for linemen to play in right away, because of the pass protections, but we may have to.”
What that means is, if touted freshmen Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker do both end up in the starting unit, it won’t be at right guard and right tackle. The more likely layout would have Hobbi at left guard, redshirt sophomore Kevin Graf at right guard and Walker at right tackle.
Or Walker could not win the outside spot and Graf could start at right tackle with some combination of Hobbi, Walker and returnees John Martinez, Giovanni Di Poalo and Martin Coleman on the inside.
“We’re gonna look at him at right tackle, just because it’s easier to go from outside to inside,” Kiffin said of Walker, the 6-6, 375-pound behemoth. “If he can’t play at right tackle or if Graf’s playing great out there, then we’ll move him inside.
“But we’re gonna keep him at right tackle at first.”
Four 2011 signees have not yet completed their high-school coursework to qualify to begin classes at USC, plus tight end Junior Pomee, who took classes at USC in the first summer session and then went back to Moreno Valley this month to finish a final summer-school class at Rancho Verde High.
The four players are, presumably: running back Javorious ‘Buck’ Allen, defensive end Greg Townsend Jr., linebacker Tre Madden and athlete J.R. Tavai.
Other issues USC is still waiting on include the academic eligibility of redshirt junior running back Curtis McNeal and the medical clearance of defensive tackle Armond Armstead.
McNeal missed all of last season while ineligible; Armstead missed the spring after he was hospitalized in March because of an unspecified medical condition.
“I think he’s gonna make it, but you never know for sure,” Kiffin said of McNeal, who is currently taking one final class in USC’s second summer session to finalize his situation.
Armstead, a starter last season, has not practiced fully with the team since December.
“Armond’s is still an ongoing situation,” Kiffin said. “Really what’s happened is that nothing’s changed. They’re still doing tests, but they haven’t gotten to the point to clear him and they haven’t gotten to the point to say he’s out for the season.
“So it’s an ongoing process.”
Kiffin made a point to mention that the Trojans faced 630 snaps against three- or four-receiver sets last season, an average of more than 48 per game and nearly 72 percent of the total snaps they saw. That may help explain why USC’s yards-allowed numbers were the highest in school history in 2010…Redshirt junior defensive end Nick Perry, a projected starter on the line, could move inside to defensive tackle in passing situations, Kiffin said Tuesday. The idea would be to allow newly-converted end Devon Kennard, Wes Horton and Perry to all be on the field at the same time...Said Kiffin of his June meeting with NCAA investigators in Indianapolis concerning allegations of violations he allegedly committed while at Tennessee in 2009: “I feel very confident in the process. I think the hearing went very well. It seemed to be very fair at the time. That’s all I know."