USC: Michael Reardon

Offensive line still struggling

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
6:00
PM PT
Lane Kiffin thought he was starting to get his offensive line figured out when he penciled in Kevin Graf at right tackle to join Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes and moved mammoth freshman Aundrey Walker over to right guard last week.

Not so fast, coach.

The Trojans' offensive line, the team's biggest weakness, struggled mightily in Sunday's three-hour scrimmage at the Coliseum -- even Graf, who Kiffin had previously complimented earlier in camp. They allowed sacks, they failed to create significant room for running backs to roam and altogether hardly ever dominated, even when going as a first-string unit head-to-head against second-stringers.

“Same story,” Kiffin said when asked about his line. ”The center and left tackle are playing well. The right tackle was a little shaky today, as you saw out there. He gave up a sack and one or two false starts.”

The guards were the weakest link, Kiffin said. Walker started at right guard and didn't do particularly well, and the next player to earn a shot at left guard, Abe Markowitz, didn't either. And backups John Martinez and Martin Coleman also weren't on top of their games.

“It didn’t feel or look like anybody played well at guard,” Kiffin said. "They’re just not performing consistent. It’s kind of expected from Aundrey (Walker) for a guy that’s not only a true freshman but just moved positions five days ago.

"We just have to continue to improve.”

This isn't a surprise, of course. Kiffin has long known picking his guards would be an issue, especially when Michael Reardon retired early this offseason and Tyron Smith left early for the draft, forcing Graf to play right tackle. But did he anticipate it being this difficult?

We don't know, but we do know this: the Trojans have fewer than 20 days left before their season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3. At this point, it appears like it will be two of four players who win those spots -- the same four, Markowitz, Walker, Coleman and Martinez, who played extensively in Sunday's scrimmage.

Juco transfer Jeremy Galten may also still have a shot, but that's about it. Freshmen Cyrus Hobbi, Marcus Martin and Cody Temple, who's been out with a back injury, never got any sort of look in camp at the guard spots, and neither did David Garness, the other juco lineman.
Every day until Friday, we’ll tackle one key question facing the USC football team in 2011 and attempt to answer it logically. Feel free to leave your potential answer in the comments section each day.

Wednesday's question involved the sanctions' likely effect on 2011 recruiting class. Today, we present the fourth of our five questions: Who will replace the two departed players for the NFL at DT and RT? Will they be able to approach Jurrell Casey and Tyron Smith's effectiveness?

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIJurrell Casey is entering the NFL Draft, but the Trojans might not lose too much.

USC had two players named to the All-Pac-10 First Team -- defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and right tackle Tyron Smith.

How fitting it is, then, that the two are the Trojans' only two players to choose to depart school early and enter the 2011 NFL Draft. But such is life when you're dealing with talented junior players, and, although both players had said they were 50-50 on their decisions after the season finale, it's certainly not a head-scratcher to see both of them decide to go.

Now, the question is this: How do you replace your two best players who you hadn't counted on losing?

There's no easy answer, and, especially in Smith's case, there may be no answer for a long while. But finding reasonable solutions at both positions, sooner rather than later, is key to USC's 2011 success.

First, Casey.

(Read full post)

Game-time updates: Notre Dame

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
4:53
PM PT
We're just about set to go at the Coliseum for USC-Notre Dame.

Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before the Trojans attempt to top Notre Dame and extend their series winning streak to nine games:
  • Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who suffered a left high-ankle sprain last week against Oregon State, will not start today's game, according to the pregame starting lineups announced on the Coliseum video board. In his place will be backup Mitch Mustain, who hasn't started a game since Nov. 4, 2006. That day, he started for Arkansas against South Carolina but lasted only one series, throwing an interception
  • More injury updates: Safety Jawanza Starling (hamstring) is dressed for the first time since the Arizona State game earlier this month, but he's still not starting. Redshirt junior Marshall Jones will join T.J. McDonald in the secondary for the third straight week. Torin Harris (shoulder) is not dressed and will not play, meaning the Trojans will either stick to nickel formations or play a walk-on as their fourth-courner in dime packages. Chris Galippo, who missed most of the Oregon State game because of a first-quarter concussion, is in the starting lineup at middle linebacker despite not practicing fully all week.
  • Right tackle Tyron Smith will not start at right tackle, with senior guard/tackle Butch Lewis announced in his place in the pregame starting lineups. Lewis lost his job as the starter at left guard two-plus weeks ago to Michael Reardon and hasn't started a game since but practiced a lot this week at right tackle. He started five games at the spot in 2008.

Be sure to follow Trojans Live! on ESPNLA.com as Arash Markazi, Mark Saxon and I keep you updated throughout the game.

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
11:20
AM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
  • Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions were, in Lane Kiffin's eyes, probably the Trojans' two best combined practices of the season -- and Wednesday was the best practice of the year for quarterback Mitch Mustain as he prepares for a likely start against Notre Dame, Kiffin said. "It probably says a lot for a guy who’s had a chance to prepare now for two days," the coach said of Mustain. "He did almost all the number one snaps in there and you can see him taking advantage of it. And he seems to be doing his best off the field as well. He was up in there by himself extremely late last night, watching film."
  • As for the signal-caller Mustain is expected to replace on Saturday, quarterback Matt Barkley was out of the walking boot he had previously sported on his sprained left ankle and walking sans crutches at Wednesday's practice, but he continued to sit out in sweats and observe practice. By his estimation, he had rehabbed for a good four hours during the day Wednesday and was set to visit a trainer directly after practice. See what Barkley had to say about the chances of him actually playing against the Irish further down in this post.
  • Injury report: Cornerback Torin Harris (shoulder), guard Butch Lewis, right tackle Tyron Smith, center Abe Markowitz (foot) and Barkley did not practice. Safety Jawanza Starling (hamstring), guard Michael Reardon, tight end Blake Ayles (concussion) and linebackers Chris Galippo (concussion)and Devon Kennard were limited. Reardon left practice early after apparently being hit in the mouth during scrimmage drills; O'Dowd also left the field for a stretch but returned and finished the session off appearing fine.
  • Kiffin talked for a little while about frshman Dillon Baxter, who was reinstated by the NCAA Wednesday. The coach took a step back and looked at the running back's season as a whole, evidently considering Baxter's suspension for the season opener against Hawaii and the turf toe injury that forced him to miss the Cal game: “It’s been an up and down season with him, in general," Kiffin said. "He obviously gives us some things that other guys don’t, and hopefully he can put it together. I go back to some of it is his fault and some of it is bad luck." Kiffin also said it was "disappointing" and said Baxter should consider it his fault, "even if some of it is bad luck."
  • Said Mustain, who started eight games during his freshman season in 2006 at Arkansas and won all eight of them but hasn't started since, of the opportunity to make his debut as a starter for USC in a big rivalry game against Notre Dame: "It's another game. The tradition doesn't really mean a whole lot to us in the moment. I'm sure when the years go by it'll be nice, but right now it's just another week. He continued: "It means a lot. It's something that we all play for, we all want that shot. It just happened to come up on this week and, like I said, I think as the years go by it'll mean a lot more but right now it's just a matter of getting that win. I'm happy it's against Notre Dame, happy it's on Thanksgiving weekend, but we still have to play."
  • Final notes: Receiver Robert Woods did his best Jesse Scroggins impression for a portion of scout-team drills, wearing the fellow freshman's No. 15 as teammates jokingly called him. Said Woods of Scroggins: "I'm guessing he was impressed a little bit."...Kiffin said senior cornerback Shareece Wright is hosting a Thanksgiving Day dinner for a number of Trojans on Thursday. USC will practice at 11 a.m. in the hope of allowing local players to make it home in time for dinner. Wright hails from Colton, roughly 60 miles east of USC.

***

Kiffin spoke to the media after Wednesday's practice and addressed the Baxter situation some more, whether playing a rivalry game changes the way he coaches and more.

See all of what he had to say:



***

Barkley talked to the media just before heading to visit the trainer and again spoke very positively about his injury -- saying he still had plans to play Saturday, even if others didn't expect him to.

See all of what the sophomore had to say:

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
9:42
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
  • Arizona's Nick Foles -- or, more specifically, Arizona's Nick Foles and the Wildcats' pass-quick offense -- will present some problems for the Trojans on Saturday. "They do a really good job. People think about them for their defensive play, but [they have] the No. 1 pass offense in the conference and a great receiver, someone that's very hard to handle. We're gonna have our hands full, and obviously the air has been a big issue for us on defense this year." The great receiver Kiffin's referring to is junior Juron Criner, who he later called an "NFL-type" guy. Foles has started seven games this year and completed better than 70 percent of his passes in five of those seven. Wednesday, Kiffin attributed that to Arizona designing short outside routes that allow him to distribute the ball quickly.
  • Injury report: defensive tackle Hebron 'Loni' Fangupo, safety Jawanza Starling, left tackle Matt Kalil, center Abe Markowitz (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles did not practice. Cornerback Brian Baucham, receiver Robert Woods (back) and running back Marc Tyler (ankle) were limited. Right tackle Tyron Smith returned to action and played most of the snaps at his spot for the first time in nearly a month. Woods, Kiffin said, "didn't do everything, but did do a bunch of stuff." The coach also said it was "imperative" to have Woods back for the game, given that the squad obviously suffered with him limited against Arizona State.

(Read full post)

Unseated starters talk about competition

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
2:05
PM PT
Lane Kiffin said Sunday that two positions -- mystery ones, as he declined to name them -- would be re-opened to competition this week after poor play over the weekend against Oregon.

Tuesday, he revealed those spots to be strong safety and left guard, where Jawanza Starling and Butch Lewis had each started the first eight games. And, saying Starling's spot was "definitely" open and calling Lewis' play "completely unacceptable," he also announced the official challengers as safety Marshall Jones and guard Michael Reardon.

Neither Jones nor Starling has visibly pulled ahead at safety, with each player looking a bit tentative in tackling drills and underwhelming in team scrimmages. At guard, Lewis has turned up his energy -- he was lackadaisical Saturday, clearly -- and Reardon has continued his charge to start.

We've had comments from both of the challengers this week on the blog -- Jones Tuesday, Reardon Wednesday -- and, today, we have videos with the two unseated starters.

See what Starling and Lewis had to say:

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
11:20
PM PT
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.

(Read full post)

Tuesday practice report: Breakdown

November, 2, 2010
11/02/10
10:27
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Tuesday's practice:
  • The big news out of Howard Jones Field: two positions, strong safety and left guard, have officially been opened up for competition. Coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday that Marshall Jones and incumbent Jawanza Starling will split reps at safety for the rest of the week, adding that Starling's spot is "definitely" up for grabs. And at guard, redshirt junior Michael Reardon will get every chance this week to unseat Butch Lewis. Kiffin called Lewis' performance against Oregon "completely unacceptable."
  • Lewis, a senior, has started at least three games during each of his four seasons at USC. Interestingly, though, he has never kept his starting spot for an entire season and has twice lost it after starting the first several games of a season. Asked if he agreed with Kiffin's decision to re-open the battle at his spot, Lewis made his opinion clear. "Absolutely," he said. "There's been shades of good and bad and this last game was really bad, so it's time to really buckle down and get back to fundamentals." This is Reardon's first season as a guard. He spent portions of his first three years at USC working as an offensive tackle, center and tight end.
  • Jones, a redshirt junior, has never started a game at USC. In fact, the 25 or so snaps he earned Saturday against Oregon are likely the most he has played as a Trojan. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder spent the 2009 season at cornerback and played sparingly before seriously injuring his neck in late September against Washington State. He would go on to sit out the rest of the year and earn medical redshirt status. He missed 2010 spring practice because of complications from the injury. Now, he's healthy but will be playing a bit out of position, as he said he feels more comfortable at the opposite spot -- free safety, where T.J. McDonald appears entrenched. Still, he's glad to have the opportunity. "The best players will play," Jones said. "That's what the coaches always say." Starling had started the first eight games of this season after seeing limited time as a backup last year.

(Read full post)

Thursday practice report: Breakdown

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
9:28
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice:
  • One news item of note: Running back Allen Bradford, USC's leading rusher the last two games, sat out of practice for undisclosed reasons. Coach Lane Kiffin refused to elaborate on any possible reasons, although Bradford appeared fine while watching practice from the sidelines. His status for the Washington game is not yet known.
  • More injuries: Defensive end Wes Horton and cornerback T.J. Bryant were both listed as limited. Horton's injury dates to the Washington State game, when he was accidentally kicked in the back by fellow linemen Nick Perry; the specifics of Bryant's injury are not known. Kiffin said he remains hopeful Horton -- the Trojans' leader in sacks this season -- will play Saturday.
  • As for practice itself, the effort seemed to be a significant improvement compared to the first two days this week -- but it still wasn't enough to entirely please Kiffin, who again seemed fairly disappointed with his team's performance, while admitting that his team did take to heart his critiques of the earlier efforts. "We continue to make some mistakes," Kiffin said Thursday. "But hopefully we're correcting those and our players are understanding the magnitude of making sure they've got everything down on every play and every assignment, because this is gonna be a very physical game for us."
  • All the talk this week has been about Washington quarterback Jake Locker, and that didn't change Thursday. Linebackers coach Joe Barry had high praise for the Huskies passer when asked if he will be the focus of middle linebacker Devon Kennard's game on Saturday, saying that the entire Trojans' defense will be keyed on Locker -- not just Kennard. "He stresses all 11 guys on the defense," Barry said. "The guy is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, runs like a running back, but then he can throw the ball like John Elway. He can kill you with his arm and he can kill you with his feet." He continued: "Any time you play a great quarterback, it stresses your defense. It's like when you play a great linebacker. It doesn't just stress the quarterback, it stresses the offensive line, it stresses the running backs. Jake is no different. He's going to stress all of us."
  • Freshman Dillon Baxter got 15 carries in last week's win over Washington State and looked sharp, but he admittedly has not had the best week of practice in preparation for Washington, getting manhandled by the USC defense on Wednesday and looking a bit tentative in making his cuts Thursday. Kiffin was noncommittal when asked how big of a role Baxter would play in his offensive gameplan for the Huskies."I don't know," Kiffin said. "We'll see as the game goes on. Hopefully Dillon continues to progress throughout the season and especially this week as he gets the chance to play at home again and hopefully do some good things for us." We'll have more on Baxter on Friday, including his thoughts on Steve Sarkisian and Washington's defense.
  • Final notes: That's it for the Trojans as far as practicing is concerned -- three, Tuesday-Thursday, and out. The team will still conduct meetings and a walk-through Friday, but practices are over. ... Offensive lineman Michael Reardon returned to practice Thursday after missing all of Wednesday's workouts. Reardon played a substantial amount against the Cougars while backing up Butch Lewis at left guard.

***

Kiffin addressed the media after Thursday's practice with an even-briefer-than-normal 15-second opening statement, after which he pretended to finish the session when no reporters fired questions at him.

See what he had to say after that, when the questions started flowing:



***

Quarterback Matt Barkley spoke to the media after practice. He was quickly asked about his counterpart at Washington, the ever-present Locker, and relayed a funny story about the times the two spent together on the Pac-10 media tour in New York City and Bristol, Conn.

"We didn't have any deep conversations, but I think he's a great guy," Barkley said. "He did tell me a story, though, that he wanted to play safety. If he could rewind, he would've stuck with being a safety and hitting people. I didn't know that about him before that, which was kinda interesting, but he's definitely a competitor."

See what else USC's sophomore signal-caller had to say on Thursday, including more on Locker:

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

September, 29, 2010
9/29/10
10:18
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
  • Coach Lane Kiffin called practice "sloppy" -- never a good word to be thrown around by a head coach, especially during game week. But that's exactly what the Trojans were Wednesday, with near-turnovers across the board from the offense and the defense appearing to lack discipline on a number of occasions.
  • Injury report: Defensive end Wes Horton (back) and cornerback T.J. Bryant (undisclosed) were listed as "limited" after practice and offensive lineman Michael Reardon was out. Bryant appeared fine as he participated in a good amount of defensive drills, but Horton spent most of practice on the sideline.
  • Two big practice plays: Walk-on linebacker Will Andrew lit up freshman running back Dillon Baxter after he caught the ball in first-team offense vs. second-team defense drills and tight end Blake Ayles viciously juked safety Marshall Jones on his way to scoring a touchdown. Andrew's hit was only one of several times that Baxter was hit -- hard -- by the defense Wednesday, prompting jokes on the sideline that USC's no-tackling mantra applied to everyone except the true freshman. After Jones was beaten by Ayles, safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight gave all the members of the secondary a lecture on the sidelines, appearing to say that other players were out of position on the play and thus left Jones hung out to dry.
  • Backup quarterback Mitch Mustain has been the Trojans' holder so far this season, getting quite a few chances to make something out of the point-after attempt with Kiffin's many calls to go for two. But even though Baxter would seem to be a natural choice if USC wants a dynamic player at that spot, Kiffin said Wednesday that Baxter will stay away from the spot for the time being. "We’re just trying to get Dillon to go to class, line up right and not fumble,” Kiffin said. “The last thing we’re going to do is let him do all our field-goal plays. There’s a lot of audibles that go with that. That’s why Mitch is in there.”
  • The majority of the talk -- from players, coaches and the media alike -- in advance of this weekend's game has been centered on quarterback Jake Locker and coach Steve Sarkisian's ties to the USC program. But Kiffin tried to shift some of that over to rest of the Huskies squad Wednesday. Said Kiffin: "As we continue to watch film, we continue to see how dangerous these guys can be, obviously because of the quarterback, running back and receiver on offense but on defense because...they bring people from everywhere."
  • About Locker, freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins continues to portray the Washington senior in scout-team drills this week. Scroggins said Wednesday that he has learned through the process that the Washington senior is very competitive -- and very smart. "It's a privilege," Scroggins said of being chosen to play as Locker. "Basically, (the coaches) are giving you this role because they think you can play this role. To give it to a specific person, I think that's wonderful." We'll have more on Scroggins on Thursday.
  • Final notes: One more practice this week -- Thursday at 4 p.m. ... Neither Marc Tyler nor Allen Bradford have received word that they will start this week's game at running back, Kiffin said, and the players are still listed as co-starters on the depth chart. Last week, you may remember, the starting role at the position actually went to fullback Stanley Havili -- who took the game's first carry as a single back and rumbled 59 yards for a score.

***

Kiffin spoke to the media after practice, talking over the Trojans' jump in the rankings, that lack of discipline and how to fix it and a number of other topics.

See what he had to say:



***

Defensive end Armond Armstead missed the Washington State game because of a shoulder injury -- the same shoulder injury he played with against Minnesota the previous week.

Armstead said Wednesday that he would've played had it been a bigger game, and he also assessed the status of the defensive line at this point in the season.

See what he had to say:

Thursday practice report: Breakdown

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
10:34
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice, the Trojans' last before departing for Washington State on Friday:
  • Somewhat surprisingly, energy was up at Howard Jones Field -- not down, as some might expect when considering USC's recent history with Thursday practices and looking ahead to a game against a team the caliber of the Cougars. "Guys were upbeat," quarterback Matt Barkley said after practice. "I'm trying to spice it up with a little more energy, a little more pep -- and that seems to carry over to the rest of the team. I liked how guys were hustling about and getting in and out of the huddle. You could see a difference."
  • For the second consecutive day, cornerback T.J. Bryant came up with an interception on the final play of team scrimmage drills. Wednesday, the pick came on a tipped ball that Bryant was fairly lucky to grab. Thursday, he simply outsmarted backup quarterback Mitch Mustain, jumping a route and taking the ball back the other way for a pick six.
  • There are two things to note about that play. For one, it symbolized that the Trojans were indeed significantly improved in the whole forcing-turnovers aspect of the game this week in practice. The real challenge -- doing so in games -- still remains. "It starts at practice," cornerback Shareece Wright said Thursday. "And this was a good week. We got a lot more interceptions this week. So now we've just gotta execute that on Saturday and hopefully it works out that way." USC has recorded just three interceptions in three games this season, with one of those coming in garbage time late in last week's win over Minnesota.
  • And, for another, Bryant himself had a great week and has solidified his nickelback spot for the Washington State, per Kiffin. That means that freshman Nickell Robey has not lost his spot and will continue to start opposite Wright for the Trojans, with Torin Harris and Brian Baucham apparently competing for time as the dime back.
  • Center Kristofer O'Dowd and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo got into a bit of a skirmish toward the end of practice after the two lined up opposite each other on a run play. The fight was quickly broken up -- middle linebacker Devon Kennard and coach Monte Kiffin looked to be the main peace-keepers -- and O'Dowd and Fangupo were benched for the rest of the practice.
  • Injury report: linebacker Michael Morgan, running back Marc Tyler (hip), defensive linemen Nick Perry (ankle) and Armond Armstead (shoulder) were listed as limited. Linebacker Simione Vehikite and tight end Blake Ayles did not participate in practice.
  • Tyler appeared to get more work with the first team than he had on Wednesday, although he is still somewhat limited with a hip flexor injury. Allen Bradford continued to take first-team snaps and performed up to par. Kiffin has still not made a decision, indicating it would probably come tomorrow. On the topic of position battles, Kiffin added an interesting note when he was asked if he sees the value in telling players they have been chosen as the starter in a given week before the day of the game. Not so much, he answered -- although he does think it's important to tell the guy who doesn't win the job, in an effort to keep his confidence up. He said telling Bradford early last week that he would not be starting helped him prepare for his role -- and you know how that ended up working out. Kiffin did say that he expects both backs to get carries against the Cougars.
  • Final notes: At left guard, both starter Butch Lewis and backup Michael Reardon will play after Reardon had a good week of practice when presented the opportunity to challenge for Lewis' spot, Kiffin said. But Lewis also upped his play with the pressure supplied by Reardon. ...This week marks the first time this season the Trojans will not leave two days in advance for a road game. USC won't have to deal with any time-zone changes this time.

***

Kiffin spoke to the media following Thursday's practice, providing context on the running-back situation and offering up some of his thoughts in advance of the trip up to Pullman, Wash.

See what else the Trojans' coach had to say:

Sunday practice report: Breakdown

August, 29, 2010
8/29/10
4:13
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Sunday's practice:
  • A fairly light practice was also a fairly good one for the Trojans on Sunday, as the energy that seemingly had been lacking earlier in the week was palpable on Howard Jones Field. Coach Lane Kiffin indicated it was largely because of the closeness of the season opener -- only four days away -- and said he was particularly impressed because the squad had just completed what he termed a "heavy lift" before heading out to the field in shorts and completing a solid practice. "I think they're really turning towards the game, getting their minds right," Kiffin said.
  • Freshman defensive back Patrick Hall has been suspended indefinitely from the Trojans for unspecified reasons. Said Kiffin of the situation: "We have a team of 99 percent of the guys right now that are fully committed to being a championship student-athlete on the field and off the field,” Kiffin said. “We didn’t feel like Patrick was doing that."
  • Redshirt sophomore receiver Brice Butler was the standout player on the day, pulling down three touchdown catches with another scoring catch called back because of a questionable offensive pass interference call. Said Kiffin of Butler: "He had a great day. By far the best day since I've been here -- easily. He was all over the place making big-time catches." Kiffin went on to compare Butler's situation to running back Allen Bradford's, in that both players were expected to start at their positions at the beginning of fall camp and lost out to surprise candidates but have responded well to the inherent challenge in losing their starting spot.
  • Injury update: left guard Butch Lewis was again the only player characterized as "full" in Kiffin's new injury report system. A host of players were termed "limited," those being right guard Khaled Holmes, defensive end Nick Perry, cornerback T.J. Bryant, safety Drew McAllister, quarterback Mitch Mustain, and running back D.J. Morgan. Out were linebackers Hayes Pullard and Marquis Simmons, tight end Xavier Grimble and -- in a surprise -- offensive guard Michael Reardon. Reardon's injury was not disclosed, but he was considered the probable starter if Holmes (neck) is unable to start against Hawaii.
  • Kiffin, on whether he will have his father (and assistant head coach) Monte Kiffin observe games and call plays from the press box or the field: "We're still looking at that. We've had some conversations about the differences. You come down in the NFL because the press box is of basically no value because you have the pictures of the sidelines. Here you don't. He actually went up in preseason game four to experiment with it, so we'll decide here shortly."
  • Final notes: The Trojans will practice twice more before leaving for Hawaii -- Monday at 4 p.m. (in what probably will be their last Monday practice of the 2010 season) and Tuesday at 2 p.m. ... Kiffin said the Trojans voted on team captains during a Sunday morning team meeting. The selections have not been finalized yet, he said, and will be announced tonight or Monday. ... Music played during certain sessions of practice on Howard Jones Field featured an unusual addition Sunday: crosstown rival UCLA's fight song.

***

Kiffin addressed the media following Sunday's practice, giving his new, streamlined injury updates, talking on the Hall situation, and praising his players for an energetic practice performance.

Hear what the coach had to say:



***

Left tackle Matt Kalil missed the first five practices of fall camp because of a lingering hamstring injury suffered during summer throwing sessions. Since his return, he has been a rock as a bookend blocker for quarterback Matt Barkley.

Kalil talked after Sunday's practice about the offensive line as a whole and also shed some light on the running back situation behind him, with Marc Tyler beating out Bradford and co. to start against Hawaii.

Hear what the redshirt sophomore had to say Sunday:

Friday morning practice report

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
1:04
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Friday's morning practice:
  • Practice was light, once again -- especially with the extra-early 8 a.m. start time. The switch from the normal 8:45 start was made to allow the evening practice to be moved up and allow proper recovery time before Saturday's scrimmage.
  • Freshman cornerback Nickell Robey has taken the lead to start at corner across from Shareece Wright, Kiffin said. Robey will slide over to the slot in nickel situations and Torin Harris and Brian Baucham will compete to be the third corner.
  • Defensive back Demetrius Wright and quarterback Jesse Scroggins -- both incoming freshmen -- were unable to practice because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues. The two players were allotted 14 days of practice time while the NCAA reviewed their cases but have not been cleared to continue practicing with the team "Hopefully that will be resolved very quickly and they will come back," Kiffin said. "They were two guys who we thought were doing really well for us."
  • Fullback Soma Vainuku, who signed with USC earlier this year but has yet to enroll, may not come to school until the spring semester. Kiffin said he still has classes he has to take care of this fall. The loss of Vainuku would put the Trojans' 2010 recruiting class at 17 players.
  • The left guard position is still decimated by injuries, with Khaled Holmes (neck stinger) still day-to-day and many of the other players competing to start at the position recovering from injuries. Michael Reardon participated Friday. Kiffin said that the injury situation is making it very difficult to pick a starter at the spot -- something the coaching staff is hoping to do shortly after Saturday's scrimmage.
  • Final notes: The Trojans will return to the field at 4:15 p.m. for the evening portion of two-a-days...Saturday's 4 p.m. scrimmage will precede another off day Sunday before the fall semester starts for all the players...Backup quarterback Mitch Mustain spent the majority of practice doing up-downs and other one-man drills as a penalty for an unspecified violation.

***


Kiffin addressed the media after Friday's practice, talking about the decision to put Robey in the lead to start at corner, growing injury issues and more. Hear what the coach had to say:

Wednesday morning practice report

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
3:56
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday morning's practice:
  • Big news: all-everything freshman running back Dillon Baxter spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension earlier this month. Highlights from that conversation are here, with video of it below.
  • Other than that, very little went down on Howard Jones Field during the 2 1/2-hour session. As coach Lane Kiffin put it when meeting with the media afterward: "Not a lot to report."
  • Injury update: freshman tight end Xavier Grimble was wearing a walking boot on his right foot as he walked off the practice field. Defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo did not participate in practice; neither did defensive end James Boyd, who will also sit out of tonight's. Offensive guard Zack Heberer is day-to-day because of a concussion and was unable to suit up as well, leaving the Trojans very shorthanded at the position with Butch Lewis temporarily out and Michael Reardon questionable for tonight's practice. "We've got to figure out that left guard spot," Kiffin said. "It's really confusing to us right now. We feel like the line's coming together pretty well at four of the five spots, so we're trying to figure that out. Health reasons are helping very much."
  • Kiffin, on his preferred backfield system: "Ideally, you'd like to be a two-tailback team because of the wear and tear of the season. We'd like to find two guys that are different in styles, that aren't the same, but you never know. It could be one, it could be three, but we would not like to be in a four- or five-back system because I just don't know how you can get your rhythm that way."
  • Final notes: Tonight's practice was moved up to 6 p.m. from 6:45. The Trojans have an off day Thursday -- only their third of camp so far -- before resuming practice Friday with the last set of two-a-days...Kiffin said a potential new practice policy, revised to include new regulations for scouts and media members, is still a "work in progress."

***

Kiffin shed some light on the Trojans' problems with concussions during fall camp, the Baxter situation and plenty more topics in his meeting with the media after practice:



***

Baxter appeared sincere and contrite when talking to the media Wednesday, proving just as composed as he was during such sessions in the spring. Hear everything he had to say -- including the use of the word "knucklehead" to describe himself:

Loss of Henderson leaves offensive line depth-free

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
10:52
PM PT
Seantrel Henderson is — in all likehood, of course — gone, leaving USC is now dangerously, dangerously thin at the two offensive tackle spots.

The depth chart released by first-year coach Lane Kiffin at the end of his first spring practice with the squad featured just three scholarship tackles — and only two healthy ones, redshirt sophomore Matt Kalil and junior Tyron Smith.

The other tackle on the depth chart, redshirt junior Martin Coleman, has suffered from a variety of nagging injuries throughout his USC career and is unlikely to see the field for any meaningful snaps this season. In two seasons, he's appeared in one game for the Trojans — then as a reserve offensive guard.

Another option at tackle, redshirt freshman Kevin Graf, spent the spring working at offensive guard due to injuries there and appeared as the starter at left guard in front of the injured Butch Lewis on the end-of-spring depth chart.

Assuming Graf transitions back to tackle in fall camp, he will be the Trojans' only real backup for Kalil and Smith at the bookend line positions and one of only six scholarship backups across the entire offensive line.

Compounding the problem, only one of those players — undersized redshirt freshman guard/center John Martinez — stayed healthy for the duration of 2010 spring practice.

The tandem of Kalil and Smith carries a total of 13 starts, essentially one full season. Smith started the first 12 games at right tackle across before becoming academically ineligible for USC's Emerald Bowl game against Boston College. Kalil then started that game — his first as a Trojan — and performed well in USC's win.

It's worth mentioning, also, that Smith had thumb surgery prior to spring practice and that Kalil missed considerable time during his redshirt season in 2008 due to a sprained knee, and missed some of spring practice this April.

In the past, USC has prided itself on versatility among its players, especially among the offensive line. But the current depth chart on the line seems to have a limited amount of that attribute.

Yes, Martinez can play either of the three spots in the middle of the line and Lewis started seven games at right tackle in 2008. But, other than those two, the other linemen tend to stick to their positions.

Redshirt junior center Michael Reardon worked at tackle during his first year at USC but was never a serious threat for playing time, similar to Coleman. Redshirt senior Zack Heberer has spent the duration of his Trojan career at guard, as has redshirt sophomore Khaled Holmes, a likely starter in 2010. Senior Kristofer O'Dowd started the first game of his career at center in 2007 and has never played another position for the Trojans.

What does this all mean for next season?

Firstly, USC's lone class of 2010 offensive line recruit — sizably undersized center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo — probably will not redshirt. Di Poalo, a three-star recruit and the 38th-ranked guard in the class by ESPNU, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He'll need to bulk up immediately.

Secondly, the Trojans will simply need to avoid injuries. Counting Di Poalo, James Cregg's group will have 11 scholarship players — plus capable walk-on Abe Markowitz — available for 2010. An injury or two would put USC at only two-deep or worse for every spot, not an enviable position.

Fans will likely be reminded of spring practice, when Kiffin frequently had only six or seven linemen available for use and was forced to adjust his offensive gameplan accordingly. It wasn't a pretty sight in intra-squad scrimmages, and it surely won't be a pretty sight in Pac-10 play.

We won't know the exact extent of the depth issues until September, but we already know one thing for sure: It'll be interesting.

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