Lamar Dawson's return is key

USC middle linebacker Lamar Dawson, a true freshman, got back on the practice field Friday for the first time since he sprained his left ankle late in the Syracuse game nearly three weeks ago, maybe the most important development of Friday's session.

Dawson's a backup, but he's probably the most valuable backup on this Trojan team. Without him, starter Chris Galippo struggled mightily to keep up with opposing offenses for 80 or 90 snaps a game the last two weeks and the USC defense struggled as a whole as a result.

He did only individual activities Friday and sat out of team drills, but it put him on pace to return in six days against Cal, which would give Galippo a break and allow him to play a more manageable amount of snaps. And after he played 91 snaps against Arizona last Saturday and fell completely apart in the fourth quarter, that'd be a welcome addition.

"I'm not making excuses for him, but a guy can't play 91 snaps of football in one day," linebackers coach Joe Barry said of Galippo's poor play. "A guy can't do that.

"If we ever get in that situation again, there's a big difference between a player to play 60 plays a game and getting 91. So if we can just give him a few breaks here and there, it's going to help him in the long run -- especially in the fourth quarter."

It wasn't as bad the previous week against Arizona State, but it was still bad. Galippo played most of the second half fatigued. After that game, head coach Lane Kiffin implied that the Trojans would insert someone else in as his backup for the Arizona game if Dawson wasn't ready to play, but they never did that.

Now, it's an order. If the 6-2, 235-pound Dawson is not ready, someone else is definitely going to play in his place -- whether that's Will Andrew, the former walk-on third-stringer, or an outside 'backer is still to be determined. But it won't be all Galippo again.

"If Lamar's healthy, great," Barry said Friday. "But we also have a bunch of able linebackers besides Lamar Dawson.

"If he's still not ready this week, then we'll get someone in there to give Chris a blow."