USC: Joe McKnight

Former USC commit Polk a star at UW

November, 9, 2011
It's funny how things work out sometimes.

When now-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was an assistant at USC last decade, he recruited now-Washington running back Chris Polk heavily out of local Redlands East Valley High. Back then, Polk was a top-100 prospect, and he committed to USC to compete with Joe McKnight and Co. for carries in the Trojans' backfield, but he ended up going against the grain and choosing coach Tyrone Willingham and the down-on-their-luck Washington Huskies.

Then Willingham was fired after Polk's freshman season when the Huskies went 0-12, Sarkisian was hired after grooming Mark Sanchez into an NFL first-round selection, and soon Sarkisian was Polk's college coach.

And now the 5-11, 222-pound Polk, a fourth-year junior, is Sarkisian's biggest weapon as the third-year Washington coach attempts to pull off an upset over USC for the third straight season this Saturday at the Coliseum. Considered a potential first-round selection in the NFL draft, he's been flat-out dynamic this year, averaging more than 120 rushing yards and another 30-plus receiving yards per game. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards last month for the third time in his college career.

"He’s big and physical, and he’s really good in the passing game too," now-Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said this week. "So he’s really kind of the complete package."

Polk's stat lines the last two seasons against USC include 235 yards from scrimmage and a TD. He's proven to provide a tough challenge for the Trojans' defense, perhaps the toughest challenge over the last couple of years outside of LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers.

But USC is trying to keep it simple in devising a game plan to stop him this week, following what the Oregon Ducks did in holding him to 3.3 yards per carry in their 34-17 win over the Huskies last weekend.

"It's not real complicated," Kiffin said this week. "Tackle the guy really well and don't let him fall forward. Just look no further than what happened on Saturday night. Oregon tackled great the whole game.

"They swarmed to the ball, they tackled really well, they knocked the power back."

But, even then, Polk found a way to accumulate 114 yards out of the backfield. It's been almost a year since he's failed to reach the century mark in yards from scrimmage.

With him, it's more of a case of trying to limit his production than trying to make him completely unproductive -- and, of course, trying not to remember that he could very easily have been doing the same thing for the Trojans right now.

McNeal to start at RB

November, 2, 2011
Whether or not Marc Tyler is able to suit up Friday against Colorado with his dislocated shoulder, Curtis McNeal will make the first start of his college career at running back against the Buffaloes, coach Lane Kiffin announced Wednesday.

The decision comes on the heels of McNeal's career-high 145-yard performance against Stanford on Saturday, in which he scored two touchdowns but fumbled the ball on the goal line in the third overtime to give the Cardinal the ball and the victory. Tyler started the game but got hurt on the first play from scrimmage and did not return.

(Read the full story here.)

Thursday practice report: Breakdown

October, 7, 2010
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice follow. For news on assistant coach Ed Orgeron, who was absent from practice because of an infection, go here.
  • Allen Bradford will start Saturday's game against Stanford, USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Thursday's practice. Bradford, a 6-foot, 235-pound redshirt senior, has started only one other game in his USC career -- the Emerald Bowl win over Boston College last December. But his super-impressive numbers this season -- 100 rushing yards per game, 9.8 yards per carry -- apparently convinced Kiffin he was worthy of the spot. Bradford was the projected starter for much of spring and fall camp until Marc Tyler overtook him in late August, and he was the Trojans' second-leading rusher in 2009, trailing only Joe McKnight.
  • Eight of 22 USC starters missed some or all of practice. Here's the full injury report: defensive end Nick Perry (ankle), cornerbacks Brian Baucham and Shareece Wright (ankle), fullback Stanley Havili (shoulder), receiver Robert Woods and offensive linemen Khaled Holmes, Butch Lewis and Kristofer O'Dowd (shoulder) were all limited, and defensive end Wes Horton (back) and linebacker Simione Vehikite (neck) did not practice at all. Horton has not suited up all week and looks to be a longshot to play against Stanford.
  • Dillon Baxter agreed with Kiffin's assessment from Wednesday that this has been his best week of practice in a while. Again Thursday, he seemed to be a focal point of the USC offense, catching and carrying a lot of balls and looking sharp doing it. But although Kiffin mostly dismissed the concept when asked Wednesday, Baxter said Thursday that the USC defense does indeed appear to be keying on him during practice. Safety Jawanza Starling said Wednesday it was because Baxter has the potential to embarrass defenders while running the ball, as he did many times during spring practices, and Baxter agreed."It seems like when I shake someone, the whole defense just gets mad and tries to hit me or something," he said. "[I'm] the one getting picked on."
  • Kiffin said he was happier with Thursday's performance from his two competing kickers -- Joe Houston and Jake Harfman combined to go a respectable 8-for-10 -- but indicated that a lot more work still must be done. Neither Houston nor Harfman attempted a field goal from more than 33 or 34 yards. Joked Kiffin: "Hopefully, they'll let us not wear pads and kick the ball with the wind at our back." Despite special teams coach John Baxter's comments earlier in the week that Houston has been chosen as the kicker for this week, Kiffin reiterated Thursday that no decision has been made. Baxter spoke cryptically about the position battle Thursday, saying only that the kickers are "both good players."
  • Sophomore safety T.J. McDonald was asked about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's running ability as compared to the quarterback the Trojans faced last week, Washington's Jake Locker. "With Andrew Luck, when he scrambles, you gotta make sure that you stay on your guy -- because he can scramble, keep his head up and still find a guy. They're both good quarterbacks, so we're gonna have our hands full this week."
  • Final notes: The Trojans have an early afternoon walk-through scheduled for Friday before they depart for the Bay Area. ... Stanford is dealing with a number of injuries as well. Both Cardinal receivers -- Ryan Whalen, who went to high school with injured USC safety Drew McAllister, and Chris Owusu, an Oaks Christian High product -- could miss Saturday's game, although both have said they plan to play. Cornerback Richard Sherman, who has tormented the Trojans in the past, has missed practice this week.


Kiffin spoke to the media after Thursday's practice. He addressed the Orgeron situation and provided his assessment of USC quarterback Matt Barkley's week of practice.

See what else Kiffin had to say, including continued praise of the Cardinal's physicality and up-tempo offense:


Baxter was a non-factor against Washington last week -- even as the Trojans broke out the Wildcat offense for the first time -- but looks ready for a much bigger role for the Stanford game.

See what he said about that possibility and a number of topics after Thursday's practice:

Summer workouts: Bradford's new developments

June, 17, 2010
USC running back Allen Bradford has a lot on his mind this summer, with his newfound duties as the Trojans' clear No. 1 option in the backfield and status as the de facto quiet leader of the team in this, his redshirt senior season.

That's not to mention the sanctions that hit the USC program a week ago and have given juniors and seniors an out to play immediately at another school if they choose to transfer.

Well, there's one more thing that's about to take up a lot of his time: Bradford and his longtime girlfriend have a daughter due next month, on July 15.

She's to be named Malia.

Bradford, 21, is the fourth member of the USC backfield in the last two seasons to become a father; 2009 fullback Adam Goodman and running Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson all had children as well.

Bradford talked this week about what it would be like for him this Sunday on Father's Day but also reiterated his desire to stay at USC and talked about the need for the Trojans to stick together during the current hardships.

"Bowl games, scholarships — things like that happen," he said.

Here's the full video with Bradford, who continues to lead the Trojans during seven-on-seven passing drills this summer:

Three Trojans selected Saturday

April, 24, 2010
Three USC players rounded out the Trojans' seven-man draft class Saturday.

Defensive end Everson Griffen came off the board first, as the second pick in the fourth round to the Minnesota Vikings, and the New York Jets soon selected running back Joe McKnight after trading up in the fourth round. Former USC coach Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks selected tight end Anthony McCoy in the sixth round.

Griffen enters into an interesting situation in Minnesota, where he'll be able to learn behind one of the game's best defensive ends in Jared Allen. Former USC defensive end Kenechi Udeze was a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2003. McKnight will have a tougher time cracking the rotation in New York, where the Jets already have running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. The Seahawks already have John Carlson and Chris Baker at tight end.

Undrafted Trojans included running back Stafon Johnson, offensive lineman Jeff Byers and Alex Parsons, defensive tackle Averell Spicer and defensive backs Will Harris and Josh Pinkard. After the draft, Johnson signed with the Titans; Byers, Harris and Pinkard reportedly signed with Carroll and the Seahawks and Parsons signed with the Raiders. Spicer is still unsigned.

Some final statistics on the draft: USC didn't have a player selected in the first round for the second time in the last four years, UCLA had a player selected (defensive tackle Brian Price) before USC for the first time since 2002, and the seven Trojans selected were USC's fewest since 2007, when five ex-Trojans were picked.

More analysis here.

No Trojans selected in first round

April, 22, 2010
The first 32 picks of the 2010 NFL Draft came and went Thursday, and no USC players were picked.

NFL teams passed on the likes of safety Taylor Mays, defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive tackle Charles Brown — all of whom had been projected by some experts to be first-round material. Instead, the Trojans are sitting and waiting for the second round to begin Friday at 3 p.m..

Tweeted outgoing USC receiver Damian Williams, commony projected as a second-rounder: "Not gonna lie pretty upset right now but it's all good. Me and T Mays got 31 reasons to ball this year. Whoever gets us we starving!!! Night."

USC was also held out of the first round in 2007. In that draft, receiver Dwayne Jarrett was the first Trojan picked, at No. 45 by the Panthers. But the consensus this year seemed to be that at least two of the Mays-Griffen-Brown triumvirate would go among the top 32 — and if not two, then at least one.

But NFL teams had other plans. Still, the Trojans have plenty of hope. Brown, Griffen, Mays and Williams are all likely to be selected early in the second round Friday. And running back Joe McKnight, cornerback Kevin Thomas and tight end Anthony McCoy have solid chances to go in the second or third round. Rounds 4-7 — where ex-Trojans like Jeff Byers and Stafon Johnson are likely to be picked — starts up Saturday at 7 a.m.

"I think we're gonna do pretty good," current USC receiver Ronald Johnson said earlier Thursday of the Trojans' collective draft hopes. "We have a lot people that could go first round and a lot of people that could go late first round or early second round."

McKnight, Johnson talk NFL

March, 31, 2010
USC running backs Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson had slightly different ends to their final seasons in Troy — with McKnight running for 1,014 yards in 12 games and staying healthy throughout the year and Johnson suffering a tragic throat injury that ended his season after just four games. But both backs are in the same position now, attempting to prove to NFL personnel they are worthy of being selected early in the draft.

McKnight, who struggled in shuttle drills but did split out wide and catch some passes in receiver workouts, said it was a thought-out decision to refrain from running the 40. He also said he was willing to play any position in the NFL:

Johnson, who still talks with a raspy whisper, said his 40 time (officially 4.62) wasn't exactly what he hoped for, but said he heard some scouts had it in the 4.5's. He also talked generally about his NFL hopes:

Pro Day notes

March, 31, 2010
We'll have video interviews from a number of Trojans who participated in Wednesday's Pro Day soon, but here are a few highlights to carry you through the wait:
  • The fastest Trojan was cornerback Kevin Thomas, who registered an official 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash. Other impressive times came from defensive end Everson Griffen (4.59, significantly better than his 4.66 at the NFL Combine) and offensive lineman Alex Parsons (4.90, would have been the third-best time for a lineman at the combine). Safety Taylor Mays didn't run the 40.
  • Mays did perform favorably in individual workouts, though, making several plays in defensive back drills. His ball skills have been questioned, and he admitted that in interviews with the media afterward. He also said — to questions that he may isolate himself as a player and not be "coachable" at the next level — that he was always receptive to coaching at USC.
  • Impressive strength performances: 38 reps of 225 pounds from offensive lineman Nick Howell, 35 from safety Will Harris and 32 from defensive tackle Averell Spicer, who looked particularly good.
  • Justin Hart and Adam Goodman also did timed drills and individual workouts. Other participants who didn't play for USC last year included Hershel Dennis, Omar Nazel, Ryan Powdrell, and Michael Coleman. Dennis also appeared at Pro Day last year. He ran a 4.65 40 today.
  • Running back Joe McKnight struggled in both the short and long shuttles, tripping up twice on the latter version. He said his camp decided he had no need to run the 40 this time after recording a 4.47 at the combine. Receiver Damian Williams didn't participate in the short shuttle but impressed scouts in attendance with his long shuttle performance.
  • Speaking of scouts, there were significantly less NFL crowding Cromwell Field this year as compared to previous years. The likely reason? Texas, boasting prospects like Colt McCoy and Sergio Kindle, held its Pro Day today as well. The only head coach spotted was Carolina's John Fox, who was also reportedly at UCLA's Pro Day on Tuesday.
  • Harris wasn't invited to the combine. He said he took it as a slight and came into Pro Day with a chip on his shoulder. He ran a 4.59 40 and impressed in other workouts. "I'm very happy with my performance," he said.
  • Offensive lineman Charles Brownhurt his hamstring on his second 40-yard dash attempt and didn't take part in anything else. His official 40 time was a 5.25; Howell, a reserve on the line in 2009, ran a 5.07. His father, former USC great Pat Howell, was in attendance. Offensive guard Jeff Byers ran a 5.09 and looked decent.
  • In a stark contrast from last year, when former coach Pete Carroll was all over the field motivating players and talking to NFL personnel, new head coach Lane Kiffin was nowhere to be seen.

Pro Day preview

March, 31, 2010
We'll have full reports later on in the day, but in the meantime, here's what to watch for in today's USC Pro Day, which is scheduled to start at around 11 a.m. on Cromwell Field — rain or shine:
  • Thirteen Trojans from last year's squad with NFL Draft hopes will participate. If past years are any indication, we'll also see a number of former players come out of the woodwork to appear in minor roles. Last March, former tight end Dominique Byrd appeared at Pro Day and caught passes from Mark Sanchez in workouts and signed with the Arizona Cardinals two months later. As for 2009 Trojans, well:
  • Safeties Taylor Mays and Will Harris will gather a lot of interest — for different reasons. Mays was a polarizing figure at the NFL Combine last month with his 40-yard dash time and impressive performances in the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump, but somewhat disappointing showing in individual workouts. His scouting report reads: "He can be inconsistent with his angles and technique but relies on his great athleticism to recover and make the play." A good performance in safety-specific workouts would help him. Mays said Tuesday he would not run the 40 at today's event. Harris started all of last season and some of 2008 but didn't get an invitation to the combine. He could impress scouts in a workout setting.
  • Offensive linemen Charles Brown, Jeff Byers, Nick Howell and Alex Parsons will all work out. Brown has a reasonable shot at going in the first round of the NFL Draft, but is perceived by some as being somewhat soft. He could help himself by displaying a mean streak in workouts and in the weight room today. Any boosts in athleticism and/or agility Byers shows will benefit his reputation as a slower, older prospect. Parsons didn't shine in any workout areas at the combine. If he could show excellence in any specific activity or workout, it would help his draft prospects significantly. Howell was not invited to the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game but did play in the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game. He will need a marquee performance to get drafted in April.
  • Cornerbacks Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas face similar questions. Pinkard has great size but likely needs a sub 4.6 40-yard dash time to be thought of as a corner at the next level rather than a safety. At 6-foot and 192 pounds, Thomas has fine size but would do well to display improved footwork in workouts.
  • Receiver Damian Williams has nothing to prove when it comes to route-running — scouts know him as a premier receiver in that aspect. Where he could help himself out would be in the 40. At just 197 pounds, Williams could go a long way toward soothing scouts' thoughts that he is a little too slow for his small frame to succeed in the NFL if he were to run under 4.50 in the 40-yard dash.
  • Running backs Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson are in different spots. Johnson is fully recovered from the tragic throat injury that derailed his 2009 season and performed decently at the combine. His size and speed combination is projectable to the next level, but right now he stands as a mid-round pick. McKnight ran a 4.47 at the combine, so the speed is there. He put up solid numbers receiving in his time at USC, and will likely display that pass-catching ability today, which could entice scouts.
  • The story with tight end Anthony McCoy is that he will always put up great numbers and measurables — but not great production. He had just 46 catches in his four-year USC career. Reads his scouting report: "McCoy is a good looking tight end that does not quite play up to his numbers." His initial quickness on routes is also a question mark.
  • Defensive end Everson Griffen doesn't have much to prove. He's a known workout warrior; what scouts worry about is his game film. While his scouting report terms him "not an impact player" as a pass rusher, he needs to show today that he is in fact just that as a defensive end. If he does so, a first-round selection could be in his future.

McKnight leaves

January, 8, 2010
There's big news today in the world of USC football.

First, Joe McKnight announced he intends to declare for the NFL draft, saying he didn't want to risk injury by returning for his senior season.

"The time is right," McKnight told our Joe Schad. "This was my first healthy season and I really don't want to come back and risk injury."

It entirely contradicts what he told the Los Angeles Times in late November, when he appeared set on returning.

"I feel like right now is not the right time to drop everything and leave," McKnight said then. "I feel like I'm not ready for it."

Of course, in between those two comments McKnight began to be investigated by the university for allegations that he was driving an SUV that didn't belong to him — a violation of NCAA rules, if true.

McKnight has denied any improper activity, but the university investigation continues. McKnight was not allowed to play in the Emerald Bowl because of the ongoing probe.

But perhaps the most telling comment from McKnight was this one: "If I would have come back it would have been to pursue the Heisman."

That remark doesn't shine a good light on McKnight as he finishes a tumultuous three-year career at USC. A mention of personal achievement, but no mention of the pursuit of a Pac-10 or national title?

Trojans prepare for BC amid McKnight investigation

December, 20, 2009
LOS ANGELES — USC junior tailback Joe McKnight is under investigation on allegations he broke the NCAA’s “extra benefits” rule by driving a sport utility vehicle he isn’t paying for.

The charge involves a Santa Monica-area businessman, Scott Schenter, and the use of a SUV registered to him.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that McKnight has been seen driving the vehicle “several times in the last couple of weeks.”

If McKnight is found to be in violation, he could be declared ineligible to play against Boston College on Saturday, and the university might face further repercussions.

USC coach Pete Carroll said after practice Friday that the university’s compliance office was examining the situation and had it under “full review.”

"We'll have to wait and see what happens with that," Carroll said. "I don't really know anything more than that."

McKnight was unavailable for interviews after practice.

Fourth-year junior receiver Damian Williams said the team wouldn’t let the situation bother their Emerald Bowl preparation.

“We’re used to seeing stuff in the media all the time about our school,” Williams said. “Reggie Bush’s been [under investigation] for three, four years now, so you’re used to seeing it. But that’s not to say we’re not gonna miss him if it is true.”



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