USC: Willie Mack Garza

Spring position preview: CBs

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
7:27
PM PT
We’re doing position previews in the weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down one group’s depth chart each day, paying special attention to things that can change in the spring.

We’ve looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers so far. Today, we analyze the cornerbacks.

Here's an honest truth: USC didn't have a real cornerbacks coach last season.

Once secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigned just before the start of the regular season last September, graduate assistant Sammy Knight took over for him and did a commendable job, according to Lane Kiffin and his players. But Knight was a college and NFL safety and a true safeties' specialist, and he had very little experience coaching corners, if any at all.

That ended up hurting the Trojans significantly. Torin Harris and Tony Burnett both struggled last season and showed little week-to-week improvement. Junior-college transfer Isiah Wiley took longer to develop than USC envisioned.

Both of those things can be directly traced to the absence of a true cornerbacks coach. That, however, will no longer be an issue in 2012, not with new defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders now in the fold.

Sanders has a reputation as an elite corners coach. He's had a number of his players at that position drafted high over the years, including Prince Amukamara last year and Alfonzo Dennard this year.

What kind of impact can he make on USC's cornerback group?

There's certainly a lot of talent. This spring alone, he'll be able to work with two-year starter Nickell Robey, Wiley, Burnett and senior Brian Baucham -- plus redshirt freshman Ryan Henderson, one of the most athletic prospects across the country in the Class of 2011.

Burnett will be splitting his time with track, but Sanders could also have Florida transfer Josh Shaw, who will play either safety or corner. And Harris and Anthony Brown are expected back from season-ending surgeries at some point soon.

It isn't as necessary to find the second starting corner over the next month and a half as much as it's necessary to find a top four of sorts. Wiley will be in that mix and Brown probably will be too when he's healthy, but who else can Sanders and the Trojans count on as a reliable nickel-corner type to defend the passing offenses of the Pac-12?

Check back Friday for the safeties and Monday as we conclude our series with the special-teamers.

One-on-one with Marvin Sanders

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
10:31
AM PT
New USC defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders was just getting used to his new job at Florida Atlantic when the Trojans came calling earlier this month, but he found he couldn't resist Lane Kiffin's recruiting efforts. Kiffin had initially looked at the former Nebraska assistant for the DBs vacancy when Willie Mack Garza resigned last September, since Sanders had left the Huskers in February.

After taking the full 2011 season off, Sanders then signed on to be the defensive coordinator at FAU under Carl Pelini in December, but he quickly scrapped those plans and will now coach Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald and the USC secondary.

Here's an ESPNLosAngeles.com interview with the 44-year-old coach following a Trojan throwing session last week.

Question: So you're probably an expert in getting acclimated to new jobs by now, right?

Answer: I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's a little bit of both, I think. You have to understand that's part of the profession. Any time you have an opportunity like USC, whatever it takes to get here is easy.

Q: New receivers coach Tee Martin told me he turned down Lane's offer at first and then eventually changed his mind. What was your thought process like?

A: You get a chance to talk to Lane and you realize why he's the head coach at 'SC at such a young age. He just has so much -- I don't know if talent's the right word -- but there's something about him that you know he's going to be successful. He can really sell USC football.

Q: Had you ever talked to him before?

A: Briefly. And I had a good relationship with his dad, who's a Nebraska guy as well. It was just kind of a good fit for us.

Q: When you take a new job, how much of the decision whether or not to take it depends on the coaches and infrastructure in place and how much depends on the players currently there? Which one's more important?

A: It's a combination of a whole lot of things. It's a combination of being the right fit for your family, No. 1, and the right fit for coaching staffs both ways -- me to them and them to me. And talent plays a factor in it, too. You want to be in a situation where you can win a lot of games and compete at the highest level. At USC, you have that every time you step on the field.

(Read full post)

USC announces Sanders, Hazelton hirings

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
5:04
PM PT
USC head coach Lane Kiffin has officially filled two of three assistant coaching vacancies, hiring former Nebraska assistant Marvin Sanders to coach defensive backs and ex-North Dakota State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton to coach linebackers.

Sanders was hired as Florida Atlantic's defensive coordinator in December after three seasons as Nebraska's defensive backs coach. Hazelton has never coached at the FBS level but won the FCS championship at NDSU in 2011.

“We are delighted to add Marvin and Scottie to the Trojan Family,” Kiffin said in a statement released Thursday. “Both not only have made their marks while coaching their respective positions, but both have been collegiate defensive coordinators and that should help us tremendously.

“Marvin had great success coaching the defensive backs at Nebraska and we believe that will translate well to our secondary, which is the most critical area we need to improve upon in 2012. Scottie is coming to us after helping North Dakota State win the NCAA FCS championship and coordinating a defense that led the nation in scoring defense in 2011, after it was 90th in that category before he took it over just two years ago.”

Kiffin initially announced the hirings at USC's annual Junior Day on Sunday, telling recruits both Sanders and Hazelton were coming aboard to be new position coaches.

Sanders replaces Willie Mack Garza, who resigned on the eve of the regular season last September. Hazelton takes over for Joe Barry, who left for the NFL's San Diego Chargers earlier this month.

Kiffin also convinced Kentucky assistant Tee Martin to become the Trojans' new receivers coach on Wednesday night; that hiring has yet to become official.

Source: Martin agrees to become WRs coach

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
8:43
PM PT
USC coach Lane Kiffin has filled out his staff, hiring former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin as the Trojans' new receivers coach on Wednesday, a program source confirmed to ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Martin had served as the receivers coach for Kentucky for the last two seasons, taking on the additional duties of passing game coordinator last year. He's known as a top recruiter but has only two years of experience coaching wideouts at any level.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley broke the news on Twitter Wednesday evening, writing, "Excited to welcome @TeeMartin17 to the Trojan Family as our new WR coach! Gonna be a great year!"

A USC spokesperson said he could not confirm Martin's hiring. Kiffin was not available for comment.

The school has not officially announced the two other assistant hirings made this week. Former Nebraska assistant Marvin Sanders filled the spot vacated by Willie Mack Garza as the Trojans' defensive backs coach and Scottie Hazelton replaced Joe Barry as the team's linebackers coach.

Kiffin, making an appearance at the USC-Stanford basketball game Sunday, declined to comment about the hirings.

Martin, 33, led Tennessee to the national championship in 1998 and is well-respected in Knoxville. He had some interesting comments about his new boss' departure from Tennessee to USC in January 2010, writing a column in the Sporting News that said he never expected Kiffin to leave the Volunteers after just one season.

"We were led to believe that Lane Kiffin was going to be the next Phillip Fulmer, but he left a year later," Martin wrote at the time. "Frankly, I'm embarrassed by the timing of it all. Lane Kiffin was hired to do a job for the University of Tennessee. He wanted everyone to buy into what he was selling, and then he left after one year."

Martin will coach perhaps the nation's most talented group of receivers in 2012, with returning 1,000-yard men Robert Woods and Marqise Lee as well as former five-star George Farmer, among others.

Examining the candidates for the WRs coach opening

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
9:34
AM PT
True to his word, USC coach Lane Kiffin has gotten right to work on filling up the three assistant coaching slots created with the departures of Willie Mack Garza, Joe Barry and Ted Gilmore over the last five months.

After saying he hoped to find replacements for all three men by the end of the upcoming week, Kiffin reportedly got Marvin Sanders to replace Garza as the defensive backs coach and Scottie Hazelton to replace Barry as the linebackers coach on Sunday.

Now he has five days left to meet his initial goal by hiring on a receivers coach and giving the new hire ample time to get to know his players before spring practice begins March 6. Let's take a look at who some of the potential candidates are, listed in alphabetical order.

-- Arizona State receivers coach/passing game coordinator DelVaughn Alexander

Alexander might make the most sense of any of the candidates. A former USC receiver and graduate assistant, he's qualified for the post and familiar with the area. Known as an above-average recruiter, he could jump right in and start that part of that job before spring practice even starts.

One potential problem: He just signed on at Arizona State last month under new coach Todd Graham. But that obviously wasn't too much of a deterrent for Kiffin in hiring Sanders, who just latched on at Florida Atlantic in December.

-- Former USC receiver and graduate assistant Keary Colbert

The sentimental choice, a number of current USC players have been campaigning on Twitter for Colbert to get the job.

He, of course, spent the 2010 season as a graduate assistant for the Trojans, coaching the tight ends. He could've kept the same job last year but chose to pursue an NFL comeback -- which he successfully completed, sticking with the Kansas City Chiefs for most of the 2011 season.

Colbert is completely unproven as a recruiter but provides reason to believe he could become a good one.

(Read full post)

LB, DB coaching positions filled

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
6:03
PM PT
USC coach Lane Kiffin announced the hiring of two assistant coaches at Sunday's Junior Day, according to multiple media reports.

Marvin Sanders will coach defensive backs and Scottie Hazelton will coach linebackers. A program source told ESPNLosAngeles.com the hirings were being finalized Sunday and would be formally announced at some point Monday.

Sanders was hired in December by Florida Atlantic after taking the 2011 season off, resigning from Nebraska last February for "personal and family reasons." In coming to USC, he fills an opening created by Willie Mack Garza's September resignation; grad assistant Sammy Knight had served as the interim position coach during the 2011 season but wasn't seriously considered for the full-time vacancy.

Hazelton has never played or coached at the FBS level but spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator at North Dakota State. At a previous stop at the school, he worked with Gus Bradley, who worked with Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay and now works as the defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

Hazelton replaces Joe Barry, who left for the NFL's San Diego Chargers earlier this month. Both Hazelton and Sanders have worked extensively with the Cover-2 defense.

USC now has only one opening to fill -- wide receivers coach -- before spring practice starts March 6. Ted Gilmore left for the NFL's Oakland Raiders last week.

Potential candidates for that job are believed to include former USC receiver and grad assistant Keary Colbert, former UCLA interim head coach Mike Johnson, Arizona State receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and Clemson receivers coach Jeff Scott, among others.

Kiffin told ESPN.com's Ted Miller last week he hoped to fill all three openings by the end of the upcoming week.

More tidbits from signing day

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
7:21
PM PT
One of the benefits to getting USC coach Lane Kiffin in a room for 30 minutes where he's obligated to listen to a never-ending stream of questions and answer most of them is it equals an opportunity to get some long-standing questions answered. Here are notes going off of his most interesting answers:

Scholarship count

By now, it's well-known that the Trojans have to be at 75 total scholarships or fewer by the time fall camp comes around in August. Kiffin has said it over and over in recent months as a reminder that his USC team is still very much under sanctions.

But he refuses to reveal where his squad is at right now, after taking on 12 more signees this week and five as January enrollees. The only hint he would give to the team's roster status was telling a reporter who asked about it Wednesday that it's not quite as grim as he might imagine.

Luckily, we can do the math and get a tentative number for where the Trojans stand right now.

With the 17 new players added to the 60 scholarship returners, USC has 77 players on scholarship as of now, as far as we know. That number does not include players like Armond Armstead but does include the former walk-ons who were given scholarships, like linebacker Will Andrew.

We'll get into who else is no longer part of the program further down. But 77 is a manageable number.

Scroggins' future?

It might end up being 76 if Jesse Scroggins can't get his academics together. The redshirt sophomore quarterback from nearby Lakewood High has "fallen behind" in school, per Kiffin, and "has a lot of work to do" to become eligible for the 2012 season.

Of course, the Trojans also put on a huge late recruiting push for Colorado prep quarterback Cyler Miles, a similar signal-caller to Scroggins. So it's obvious that USC isn't exactly counting on Scroggins being a part of the team in the long term.

And, in front of him on the depth chart Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, who are both a year younger too. That could be an issue.

(Read full post)

Kiffin denies knowing of Garza payment

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
1:18
PM PT
USC coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday that he did not know anything about former assistant Willie Mack Garza's alleged payment to recruit Lache Seastrunk in 2009 while the two were at the University of Tennessee, as Yahoo! Sports reported Monday night.

Garza, who worked under Kiffin at Tennessee and at USC, resigned earlier this month, citing "personal issues unrelated to USC." In the Yahoo! report, street agent Will Lyles claimed that Garza had wired him $1,500 to cover the cost of airfare for an unofficial visit to Tennessee for Seastrunk, an apparent NCAA violation.

"All I can say is that the alleged incident, I had no knowledge of, or knowledge of a relationship at all," Kiffin said. "I have always been committed, wherever we've been, to doing things the NCAA right way and operating with the NCAA. That's all I got on it."

Seastrunk signed with Oregon in the class of 2010 but transferred to Baylor last month and is sitting out this season. Kiffin, who had been under NCAA investigation for potential recruiting violations while with the Volunteers, said he could not go into any detail on why he didn't know about Garza's alleged payment.

"I can't respond in any way to any of those questions," he said. "I said what I said about not knowing anything about it or anything having to do with that relationship or any of the things that are alleged."

Kiffin said he did not know whether it was normal for head coaches to be unaware of what their assistants were doing on the recruiting trail.

He was also asked if he'd be surprised if the NCAA re-opened an investigation against him and his staff dating back to his time at Tennessee. Previously, the athletics governing body had ruled that Kiffin's staff had committed only secondary violations.

"That's not for me to judge," Kiffin said.

Video: Monte Kiffin assesses the defense

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
6:57
AM PT
Here's USC assistant head coach Monte Kiffin discussing his defense's 2011 debut after practice Tuesday, including his assessments of freshman Hayes Pullard, where the defense in general must go from here and other topics.

See the video here with the 70-year-old defensive specialist, who will take on more duties this year with the defensive backs in the absence of Willie Mack Garza:

Tuesday practice quick hits

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
5:39
PM PT
More notes and quotes from Tuesday's practice at USC:
  • Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin announced that safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight and assistant coach Monte Kiffin will officially be splitting the secondary coach duties for the rest of the season, just as they did last week after Willie Mack Garza resigned Thursday citing personal reasons. Knight, a former USC safety and NFL Pro-Bowler, is in his second season as a USC staffer but has never been a full-time coach. The elder Kiffin will help him out with different, unexpected situations, but it sounds like it'll mostly be Knight's job for the rest of the year. "We have a lot of confidence in Sammy," Lane Kiffin said. "He's been with us now two years and he's done a real good job. He's never really coached before as far as running a room, so my dad will help him with that and I think together they'll do well back there. I know the players like Sammy a lot."
  • Practicing with the first team at left guard for much of practice was senior Martin Coleman, who could unseat Jeremy Galten if it turns out Abe Markowitz isn't ready to start Saturday against Utah. Coleman had an opportunity to win the starting job during camp but couldn't beat out Galten, but the coaches clearly weren't overly pleased with how the juco transfer's debut went. Of course, Kiffin has repeatedly referred to Markowitz as the starter, so when he does get back from his foot injury, it's safe to assume he'll be the No. 1 guy.
  • Tallahassee, Fla. running back Javorious "Buck" Allen practiced for the first time with the Trojans on Tuesday after arriving on campus late last Thursday and then beginning classes Friday, just one week before the school-wide deadline to enroll. Allen was on the sidelines for Saturday's game against Minnesota but is considered a sure bet to redshirt.
  • USC dropped out of the AP Top 25 poll released Tuesday as one of two teams to fall out of the rankings despite winning their opener. The other team? Reigning national champion Auburn, who started at No. 23 but struggled to beat Utah State at home, 42-38. The Trojans had started at No. 25 and fell to what equates to 28th, as the team with the third-most votes not in the Top 25. Pac-12 South rival Arizona State, who USC faces in less than three weeks in Tempe, has the most votes of any team not in the Top 25.
  • The powder-blue and gold jerseys USC scout-team members wore during Thursday's practice were back Tuesday, but they weren't used. Instead they simply stayed out on the Howard Jones Field grass for the duration of the session and were picked up by the team managers following the end of practice.

Postgame video extras

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
8:35
PM PT
We'll have more coverage looking back at USC's season-opening 19-17 win over Minnesota on Sunday and Monday, but this will be for it tonight. Mark Saxon looked at the two-man game between Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, Arash Markazi handed out some extra points and we also looked at Torin Harris' game-saving interception and the in-game effects of Willie Mack Garza's absence. We also had video of Lane Kiffin's postgame news conference and our postgame grades on the blog.

Here are video interviews with two of the most important players from Saturday's game to tide you over until Sunday.

Left tackle Matt Kalil was pleased with the offensive line's performance in what was essentially their trial run as one unit, although he wasn't happy with the false-start penalty he committed late in the game. See what he had to say about that, plus his first-quarter blocked field-goal attempt:



Running back D.J. Morgan found out that he'd be starting Saturday's game less than 24 hours before kickoff, learning the news from coach Lane Kiffin in a 2 p.m. meeting Friday. While he didn't have a breakout game, the redshirt freshman from Woodland Hills Taft said he thought he did well in his collegiate debut. See the video here:

Replacing Willie Mack Garza

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
8:14
PM PT


On Friday, USC's two leaders in its secondary, T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey, pulled their teammates aside during the transition between meetings at the Trojans' downtown hotel and shared with them a simple message.

Yes, the defensive backs had lost the services of their position coach, Willie Mack Garza, 48 hours before the 2011 season opener Saturday against Minnesota. (Garza resigned Thursday for personal reasons). No, McDonald and Robey told the group of a dozen or so, they would not let it affect their play against the Gophers.

And, where Garza would normally be Saturday, in pregame warmups and on the sidelines, the Trojans had two ready-made replacements in safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight and assistant coach Monte Kiffin. The two men have shared Garza's typical duties over the last two days and plan to do so in the immediate future.

"If you think about it, we're in a great situation," said McDonald, who clearly did think about it, admitting he was at first shocked when he found out about Garza. "Not to take anything away from Coach Garza, but Monte Kiffin is a legend in himself and Sammy Knight played 12, 13 years in the NFL. I know we have good coaches, so I'm not worried about it."

"Of course it's something that you don't want to have to deal with, if you're a few days before the game. But for us, really, it didn't matter."

McDonald's comments are no surprise. The junior safety is a team captain and is media-savvy. What was somewhat of a surprise: It really didn't look as if the Trojans missed Garza at all. Saturday's performance by the defensive backs would rank above-average compared to last year's 13 games.

(Read full post)

Game-time updates: Minnesota

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
12:09
PM PT

Pedro Moura/ESPNLA.com
Rumors leading up to Saturday's opener had it that the brand-new widescreen video board in the Coliseum's west end wouldn't be ready in time for kickoff, but it looked fine an hour before the start.

We're just about set to go at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the Trojans' 2011 season opener against Minnesota. Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before kickoff:
  • As you can see in the photo above, the brand-new video board in the West End of the Coliseum is officially functioning, and it's very, very loud. Some stats on it: it's approximately 40 feet high and 150 feet long, reportedly ranking it the second-largest in the country at the college level. It's 792p and covers the distance of approximately 1,686 37-inch flat-panel TVs.
  • An important on-field update: Redshirt freshman running back D.J. Morgan will get the start for the Trojans over Dillon Baxter and Curtis McNeal, and he'll also be wearing a new number. He's now No. 30 after wearing No. 34 for his first year-plus at USC. In other news, defensive lineman Armond Armstead has not been medically cleared and will not play.
  • As expected, safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight is taking control of the defensive backs in pre-game warmups in place of the resigned Willie Mack Garza. Knight played at USC from 1993-1996 and earned All-Pac-10 honors his senior year.

Join us here on the USC Report on ESPNLA.com at 12:30 p.m. PT as Arash Markazi, Mark Saxon and I will keep you updated throughout the game in Trojans Live!, a full-blown interactive chat.

Where Garza's departure leaves the DBs

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
6:28
PM PT
Willie Mack Garza is officially gone, just more than 18 months into his tenure at USC, having resigned Thursday due to personal reasons.

He'll presumably be replaced in the interim by safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight, the former Trojan All-Conference performer who spent 11 years in the NFL despite being undrafted out of college. Monte Kiffin could also assist him, although he's not known as a defensive back specialist.

But, more importantly, where does this leave the Trojans with fewer than 48 hours until kickoff for Saturday's season opener against Minnesota and counting?

Well, first of all, it clearly jolted the team, a bad sign this close to kickoff. The announcement was made after practice, so head coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans weren't available for comment, but safety T.J. McDonald tweeted simply "Wow" just as the announcement was being released by the school. Then, two hours later, he wrote longer: "For those worried we are going to be just fine!"

Other players who keep their accounts private were decidedly less positive, although Knight is known as a positive presence in the locker room.

As far as on the field, the secondary's starters are already all planned out, even if they haven't been officially announced yet: cornerback Tony Burnett will start across from Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling will start across from McDonald. That means this defensive backfield is a lot more similar to last year's than people realize, with the only true personnel difference being Burnett replacing the departed Shareece Wright. It also looks like Torin Harris will be the full-time nickel back, as he was for parts of last year.

Burnett's coverage skills are a a sizable question mark leading into the opener. He won the job primarily based off of his tackling ability, and that's also how he even got in the conversation to start at first, after Monte Kiffin noticed him pulling players down with regularity on special-teams plays. But can he tackle in game situations?

We don't know. And Robey, for all of his precociousness as a 5-8 sophomore, still can't tackle with the best of them. He can hold his own, now, but he won't be winning any awards for his ability to bring people down. His strengths come in the form of balls in the air.

What happens Saturday and what happens in the immediate future with this secondary is largely on the shoulders of one person: McDonald, the leader of the DB's and the leader of the defense, really. It'll be up to him to keep the back four intact and working together through a unexpected patch of adversity.

Robey a real force

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
11:42
AM PT


Great seasons from true freshmen in the high-stakes world of college football are rare, especially at big-time programs like USC.

Even more rare: True freshmen following up surprise debut performances with superb sophomore seasons.

USC sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey is rare.

Robey, all 5-8 and 172 pounds of him, has spent the eight months since the end of his freshman season working on refining certain aspects of his game to silence critics and prove to Trojans coach Lane Kiffin and his staff that he can be not just a capable college corner but a certifiable star.

Through two weeks-plus of fall camp, both parties say he’s succeeded. Robey tackles differently now, with more focus on the task at hand and better angles to the ball. He was always a student of the game, but he’s an honor student now, one with an interest in all subjects. He’s not an incredible tackler just yet, but he’s improving – and he’ll keep improving, too.

“Tightening up all those little things made me take my game to another level,” Robey said Wednesday. “And it’s about the little things and paying attention to detail, going in the film room and studying more film, getting in a relationship with the younger guys and making sure they understand what they have to do.

“But as far as me stepping up my role, I feel like I’ve made an impression on other guys and that’s what made me step up.”

Robey was always the type of player who took noticeable enjoyment in the teaching and learning process. By this point in last year’s camp, former USC corner Shareece Wright was already enamored with his then-roommate’s acute interest in the playbook and ability to pick it up right upon his arrival.

"Nickell Robey's been extremely good," says his position coach, Willie Mack Garza. "He comes to work every day, pushes himself and pushes the other guys around him up to his standard. He's got great leadership skills in dealing with guys like Ryan Henderson and Isiah Wiley.

“He's just a complete young man -- outside of football, even."

Most players who experience success at the college level are also promoted for their commendable character, whether or not it’s actually true. Some players are deserving of that praise; some aren’t.

Robey clearly is.

"I'm not saying he's the player Troy Polamalu was, but he has the same attitude and the same work ethic," Kiffin said of Robey last week, in what made for of the more memorable quotes of his tenure at USC. “I think he’s just exactly the way we describe a Trojan, what we’re looking for — from academics to handling himself off the field to weight room to training to nutrition to practice habits,” Kiffin said.

“I could be mistaken, but I can’t recall the last time he even missed a rep. He’s one of the first guys out here, one of the last guys to leave.”

As of Wednesday, Robey said he couldn’t remember a missed rep either. But he could remember other mistakes he’s made easily, and that’s another thing Robey’s always done: work on his weaknesses.

“I know I have to get better in my tackling,” Robey said. “We have to do a greater job tackling because that’s what we struggled on last year, so we really emphasized that – myself personally and the secondary in general.”

Those tend to come hand in hand. This USC Trojans secondary will depend heavily on the success of Robey and junior safety T.J. McDonald this season, and that’s not an issue.

Garza expects that to pay off, surely and quickly.

"Nickell is unique," Garza said this week. "I mean, I'm sure there are some guys like him, but I think that Nickell Robey is a unique, special young man with special qualities.

“He's doing an unbelievable job, and I don't think you find that very often, especially in this day and age.”

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