NCF Nation: Kevin Ellison

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It surely passed through most USC observers minds while watching Allen Bradford (finally) have his breakout game against Oregon State last weekend. As Bradford and his 235 pounds ran over and around the Beavers defense for 147 yards on 15 carries, the potential metaphor and then comparison was obvious.

He's thunder to speedy Joe McKnight's lightning.

 
  Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 USC running back Allen Bradford finally had a breakout game last Saturday against Oregon State.
He's LenDale White to McKnight's Reggie Bush.

Bradford, a redshirt junior, has waited a long time for that many touches in a game. And it's been a frustrating wait. So maybe it's understandable that he's not eager to embrace a metaphor or a comparison. He'd just -- please and thanks -- like to keep getting opportunities to do his thing.

"Me and Joe will never be Reggie and LenDale," Bradford said. "All we can be is Joe and Allen, so that's what we're going to be."

Oregon coach Chip Kelly is fairly impressed with Joe and Allen. His Ducks are playing well on defense, but the Trojans will bring a lot of weapons to their trick-or-treat road trip to Autzen Stadium on Saturday night (8 p.m. EST, ABC).

Thunder and lightning?

"With their stable of running backs, they've got thunder and lightning and hurricane, typhoon -- you name any storm, they've got it," Kelly said.

It's a good line -- Kelly has at least one of those a week -- but it's not completely true. At least not presently. After all the talk the previous few years about the Trojans embarrassment of riches at tailback, a recession has hit Heritage Hall.

Stafon Johnson suffered a season-ending throat injury in a weight room accident. Marc Tyler is out for the season with a toe injury. Curtis McNeal has been riddled with injuries. C.J. Gable, who started 11 games last year, has been nicked up and in the doghouse for unexplained reasons. Fullback Stanley Havili is questionable for Saturday with a shoulder injury.

McKnight always seems to be nursing some woe, too. He severely cut his hand against Oregon State.

Still, no matter why Bradford got his opportunity, he's glad he got it. And, yes, it was an inspired performance.

"(Receiver) Damian Williams just looked at me in my eyes (before the game) and said, 'Are you ready! Let's ball out!'" Bradford said, describing the pregame scene. "He saw the look on my face. He knew something was going to happen. Then we see Stafon -- we have this handshake we do before every game -- and it made me think about how blessed I am and how unfortunate it is for Stafon to go through that."

The 147 yards was a career-high for Bradford, as were the 15 carries, which are more carries than he's had during any of his previous two seasons. He appeared poised to make his mark in 2008, but a hip injury ended that possibility after two games and he took a redshirt year.

What Bradford has mostly done throughout his career is look impressive in his uniform -- he's built like a crate of bricks -- and impressive in practice. The reporters who regularly cover USC spend plenty of their downtime debating the relative merits of USC's running backs, and Bradford's remarkable runs during practices often earned him high marks.

But reporters don't make the depth chart.

"He's always had bright spots but he's really showed great consistency the last few weeks," coach Pete Carroll said.

Now that he's (finally) getting the ball, it might not be surprising that Bradford is disinclined to complain. He's not real clear on how often he asked the coaches why he wasn't getting playing time, though word is it happened on a regular basis. Early in his career, there was talk of him moving to fullback or even linebacker.

And, yes, Bradford, a Parade Magazine and USA Today first-team prep All-American in 2005, admits his eye did wander.

"Yeah, I thought about transferring plenty of times," he said.

But a number of current and former teammates, such as linebacker Thomas Williams and safety Kevin Ellison, talked him out of it.

And Bradford knew there were some areas where he fell short. Top of the list: blocking. A running back who can't stay in the game to block on a passing play is a liability -- it's a tell for an opposing defensive coordinator.

It might seem strange that a physically imposing player would struggle with blocking -- the 205-pound Gable, for example, is better at it than Bradford -- but it's actually not about muscle. Or even want-to. To make the right block, a running back has to be able to read the defense, sniff out a blitz and then used the proper technique to meet the on-coming charge.

"There's a lot of technical aspects to it," Carroll said. "It's not just being big and tough. It's much more than that."

Bradford's blocking is still a work in progress. But it's better.

He seems comfortable with the new attention. And carries. Another big performance inside raucous Autzen Stadium in a game that features Rose Bowl and potential national championship implications might become more than a breakout.

It could thunder an arrival.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A quiet day out there in linkville.

  • It was a good day at the combine for several NFL prospects who balled at Oregon and Oregon State. 
  • Jon Wilner is skeptical about Stanford's supposed wealth at quarterback.
  • Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez helped himself at the NFL combine, while Kevin Ellison perhaps should consider a position change.
  • Former Washington assistant coaches under Tyrone Willingham aren't having trouble finding new jobs.
  • More on the arrest of Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Three days until the next Pac-10 bowl game. Be strong.

  • Miami couldn't stop California's Jahvid Best, and a Miami columnist raises an eyebrow at the Bears' play calling. Jake Curtis does an outstanding job tying a bow on Cal's season and Emerald Bowl win.
  • Oregon and Oklahoma State are similar in one way: They both benefit hugely from a sugar daddy booster. Good news for the Ducks: Running back Jeremiah Johnson returned to practice.
  • With no Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State needs Ryan McCants to step up. Big. And there's little question where the Beavers' defense will be focused.
  • It appears USC won't have fullback Stanley Havili or safety Kevin Ellison for the Rose Bowl, which is two big hits.  Here's a reason for quarterback Mark Sanchez to return for his senior season. Know how USC has, at times, struggled against mobile quarterbacks? Interesting tidbit from this story on Penn State:

With backup quarterback Pat Devlin's departure to Division I-AA Delaware earlier this month, [quarterback Daryll] Clark likely won't run as much against USC. If he were to be injured in the Rose Bowl, the Lions would be down to wide receiver Derrick Williams, who has taken direct snaps from the shotgun in the Wildcat formation, and Paul Cianciolo, who has played in just three games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Some of these links are nice. Others are naughty. I prefer the naughty ones, but you may be concerned about Santa repercussions.

  • What's the price tag on Arizona's first bowl game since 1998? Let's just say it ain't cheap. Is Mike Stoops a candidate for the Iowa State job? And does that mean he should get a raise from Arizona? It might help if the Wildcats prove they can win a close game.
  • Four signees will get an early start at Arizona State and will participate in spring practices.
  • California won't face Miami's starting quarterback, who was suspended from the Emerald Bowl. But Robert Marve had been splitting time with backup Jacory Harris anyway. This Cal notebook has some interesting items, including news on a recruit snagged from Washington.
  • Taking a look at Oregon's Holiday Bowl foe, Oklahoma State. And is a talented freshman thinking about transferring?
  • Guess who's doing the Sun Bowl halftime show ... a bunch of macho men!
  • USC injury update.
  • Follow the rumors surrounding potential new Washington assistant coaches under Steve Sarkisian.
  • A look at the Pac-10 bowl season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

These links are like celery. They have negative calories.

  • The Civil War quarterbacks have a lot in common. And what are the bowl ramifications for the Oregon-Oregon State clash? There's cash on the line for the coaches. And this is a great column from John Canzano -- it will give you chills.
  • Looking at Arizona's bowl options. Those prospects looked better a few weeks ago, so it's hard to say whether the Wildcats season is a success or not.
  • UCLA's visit to Arizona State is about one team keeping its bowl hopes alive and another knowing it will have a losing season. Remember defensive end Dexter Davis? He's been playing well, though without much fanfare.
  • UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel responds to comments from Tom Craft on the treatment of his son, quarterback Kevin Craft. Considering the matchup with the Sun Devils.
  • USC's Clay Matthews, despite his football pedigree, wasn't a typical Trojans five-star recruit. Injury update -- safety Kevin Ellison won't play against Notre Dame.
  • Updates on Washington's coaching search. Lots of names, but the search is beginning to feel like a potential slog, with supposed front-runners saying thanks, but no thanks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

I love links. Linky, link, link. Here it goes down, down into my belly.

  • Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood doesn't seem to be pointing a finger at coach Mike Stoops, but he admits it's troubling how often the Wildcats lose close games.
  • Arizona State's Paul Fanaika is a walk-on who made good.
  • California coach Jeff Tedford is reminding his team that, as bad as Washington is, the Huskies rushed for 360 yards in a 2007 victory over the Bears.
  • A challenge for Oregon to step up against the rising Beavers. This Civil War, however, the Ducks' offense is set, though running back LeGarrette Blount is ill.
  • What will Oregon State do without running back Jacquizz Rodgers?
  • Tom Craft, former San Diego State coach and father of UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft, defends his son. But it's possible backup Chris Forcier could see action at Arizona State.
  • USC safety Kevin Ellison has been cleared to play against Notre Dame. The Trojans have a different plan for the tailback-by-committee approach.
  • Critical blown coverage in Apple Cup still hurting Washington safety.
  • It's a Hawaii homecoming for this Cougar.
  • Jon Wilner's BCS bowl projections.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Sooner rather than later you should begin gathering and storing some links for your winter hibernation.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- It's raining here just like last weekend at California. Raining sunshine!

Weather will not be a factor.

What will?

Just looking over the two teams depth charts, it seems that California's best -- perhaps only chance -- is decisively winning the turnover battle. Or, at least, winning it like the Bears did last week against Oregon, when Ducks turnovers were catastrophic, accounting for 16 of the Bears 26 points.

That means Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, who will start over the injured Kevin Riley (concussion), will need to play flawlessly, something he rarely does.

That means the Bears defense, which leads the nation with 17 interceptions, needs to rattle USC's Mark Sanchez, who is nursing a tweaked ankle.

There is no way Cal consistently moves the ball on the USC defense. But that doesn't mean it can't be opportunistic and take a few shots downfield and see if it can get Jahvid Best into open space and let him get creative.

Speaking of creative: Might Jeff Tedford have a few trick plays up his sleave? That used to be one of his staples.

Perhaps the Trojans defense will show a weakness with the absence of safety Kevin Ellison, the unit's glue player?

And what if the star-crossed Longshore finds some fairy dust and turns in a dynamic performance -- the sort many expected to see from him on a regular basis after he threw for 3,000 yards as a sophomore?

If that happens, and he leads the upset, the Bears would then be three wins away from their first Rose Bowl berth since 1959.

As for USC, the Trojans have played in four Rose Bowls in five years after winning six consecutive Pac-10 titles. They actually are still eyeballing a trip to Miami.

That's a longshot hope. To make it less long, though, they're going to have to notch some style points.

That means laying a whipping on the Bears.

That's not beyond the realm of possibility. Since losing 27-21 at Oregon State, USC has won five in a row by the count of 214-20. Even with a couple of patsies in that slate, that's pretty darn extraordinary.

With Penn State losing today and Alabama on the ropes, the door may be open a crack.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Apparently Arizona's invasion of Washington on Saturday is serious business -- see below.

  • Rested and healthy, Arizona is taking Washington State seriously. Probably because recording a sixth win Saturday almost guarantees the program its first bowl berth since 1998.
  • And Arizona State is... Taking Washington seriously, too. Probably because they want to avoid a school-record seventh consecutive defeat.
  • Is this the Bay Area's biggest weekend of college football ever (even though California and Stanford are on the road)?
  • Checking in with Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny about television, Ducks coach Mike Bellotti and whether Washington wants to talk to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.
  • Does Oregon State coach Mike Riley have a UCLA jinx? The latest on quarterback Lyle Moevao.
  • UCLA is thinking bowl push, but it's still tinkering with its offensive line. Notebook also has item about a big recruiting commitment.
  • Is this USC's best defense? Safety Kevin Ellison is trying to come back quickly from his knee injury.
  • Will the easier portion of the schedule provide Washington its first victory?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

These links have Mora.

  • Seattle Seahawks supposed head coach-in-waiting Jim Mora made himself a leading candidate to be Washington's next head coach by refusing to talk about the Huskies post. The well-coifed Danny O'Neil points out Mora's silence is a stupid strategy.
  • Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson doesn't want his team to play tight just because it's riding a five-game losing streak into Oregon State.
  • Things are worse, not better on the injury front for California's offensive line.
  • Oregon knows who California's best weapon is. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli isn't nervous about his homecoming.
  • Oregon State knows that Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter is still dangerous.
  • Is touted UCLA freshman running Aundre Dean back thinking about transferring?
  • Updates on USC safety Kevin Ellison's and running back Joe McKnight's injuries.
  • This Cougar is a Huskies fans.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. California OTs vs. Oregon DEs: The California offensive line is expected to be missing three injured starters and a backup who would have started Saturday against Oregon. While left tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a steady performer all year, the redshirt freshman will have his hands full with Nick Reed, the Ducks' relentless pass rusher. On the other side, Donovan Edwards, a JC transfer who signed in the late summer, will make his first start and will square off against the underrated Will Tukuafu, who has six sacks. Oh, by the way, it also appears that redshirt freshman Justin Cheadle will be stepping in for Noris Malele at right guard.

2. Mark Sanchez will have his way with the Washington pass defense: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent this year, particularly on the road -- see his uneven effort at Arizona. But he's not on the road Saturday, and visiting Washington will offer him the most inviting pass defense of any BCS conference team. Moreover, the Huskies probably will be missing injured starting cornerback Mesphin Forrester. Sanchez should put up big numbers and then sit out the second half.

3. Will Washington State open up the offense for quarterback Kevin Lopina?: Lopina completed just 6 of 9 passes for 28 yards against USC in a 69-0 humiliation. It seemed like the Cougars coaches opted for a noticeably conservative game plan because they were worried about getting Lopina hurt and didn't want to risk him re-injuring his back in a game they weren't going to win. With the decision to no longer redshirt J.T. Levenseller -- coach Paul Wulff said Levenseller would play at Stanford -- perhaps the handcuffs will be off Lopina and he will run the entire offense.

4. Does Rudy have any magic left? Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his 39th consecutive start at Oregon State with a bum ankle, no running game and a decimated receiving corps. Last year, he was brilliant in leading the Sun Devils back from a 19-0 deficit against OSU, passing for 361 yards with four touchdowns in a 44-32 victory. It's hard to imagine things will go as well in Corvallis against a high-pressure Beavers defense that probably wants redemption.

5. USC's defense will miss safety Kevin Ellison: Ellison, our midseason defensive MVP, is out two-to-four weeks with a torn MCL, so the nation's best defense is without its headiest player for a few games. That won't matter against the Huskies, but it could in upcoming games with California and Notre Dame. Ellison, who will be replaced by junior Will Harris, is the second starter to go down in the Trojans secondary. Earlier, top cover cornerback Shareece Wright was lost to a season-ending neck injury.

6. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard will regain his form against Washington State: Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard was mostly awful in the loss to UCLA, completed just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Enter the Washington State defense, which makes everyone look good. While the Cougars are incompetent stopping the run -- 266 yards per game -- their likely attempt to gang up against Stanford's power running game will mean opportunities for Pritchard in the passing game.

7. Moevao and Rodgers: First-team All-Pac-10? Why the heck not? If true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers and quarterback Lyle Moevao, the conference's most improved player, continue to put up big numbers, why wouldn't this pair lead the All-Pac-10 team? Rodgers, in fact, with a conference-leading 116 yards rushing per game, is almost a shoo-in. Moevao leads the conference with 254 yards passing per game, but he likely will need to outplay Arizona's Willie Tuitama and USC's Mark Sanchez down the stretch. But if the Beavers make a run at the Rose Bowl, who's to say he won't?

8. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli may need to throw to beat Cal: It's been a mostly dry fall in Eugene -- as we all know it NEVER RAINS IN AUTZEN STADIUM! -- but it looks like it's going to be a wet one Saturday in Berkeley. While such conditions may not encourage passing, the Ducks' run-heavy, spread-option offense may find the going tough if it is one-dimensional vs. Cal's 3-4 defense. This is a homecoming for Masoli anyway, so know that he'll want to put the ball in the air to impress family and friends.

9. Will Washington play hard for lame-duck coach Tyrone Willingham? It might not matter if the winless Huskies give USC their best shot -- the Trojans are better at every position. Yet it will be fairly obvious in the early-going how much Willingham's players still care. Will they show some pride and fight for themselves and their outgoing coach? A season's best performance might cause some to wonder where the effort was when it could still help Willingham, but if that is indeed what happens know that a team is tipping its helmet to its coach.

10. Quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will keep Cal in the game with Oregon: It's safe to assume Cal's makeshift offensive line won't be able to consistently handle the Ducks defensive front. If slow-footed Nate Longshore were the Bears quarterback, that would be a huge issue. But Riley can make plays with his feet -- both with rollouts and with scrambles. If the conditions are sloppy, Riley's improvisation skills could become a key element in the game.

Pac-10 midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 at midseason could be described as embarrassed and defensive.

Embarrassed because a conference that typically distinguishes itself in nonconference play is just 13-15, and will almost certainly finish with a losing mark considering two of the three remaining out-of-conference games feature weak, woeful and wobbling Washington and Washington State.

Oh, and how could anyone forget the 1-6 mark vs. the Mountain West Conference?

Defensive?

Well, much of the nation won't listen as Pac-10 adherents note that eight of those nonconference defeats came on the road, or that no other conference can claim to have played teams presently ranked Nos. 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 20 in nonconference play. And won twice.

No other conference even comes close.

The Big 12, for example, has played three nonconference foes who are presently ranked. Record? 0-3.

The mighty SEC? It's 0-2 against nonconference teams that are currently ranked.

And Pac-10 adherents wonder why USC's loss at Oregon State, which has won four consecutive bowl games and 19 games over the previous two seasons, doesn't signify conference depth, while Florida's loss at home to Ole Miss, which has won 14 games over the past four years, means there are no days off in the SEC.

Sigh.

Furthering the frustration are injuries, particularly at quarterback. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Washington State have each lost their projected starting quarterback. The Ducks, Bruins and Cougars have, in fact, at some point turned the ball over to the No. 3 -- or deeper -- guy on their depth chart.

The good news -- yes, there is some -- is that USC is still in good position to play its way into the BCS title game if it wins out, and No. 25 California could play its way into the top-half of the polls before it visits USC on Nov. 8.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- A full day's worth of notes and quotes as coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel talked to reporters on both ends of the USC-Ohio State showdown.

RECRUITING BATTLE

Carroll and Tressel don't know each other personally but that doesn't mean they don't know each other.

"We know them through recruiting," Carroll said.

They don't steal prospects from each other's states very often -- Ohio State has three players from California, USC one from Ohio -- but both programs recruit nationally.

Tressel noticed some familiar names when he looked over the USC roster.

"Gosh -- all of those guys were on our wish list," he said.

He then ticked off some of those names: center Kristofer O'Dowd, tight end Blake Ayles, receiver Ronald Johnson, quarterback Mark Sanchez and offensive guard Jeff Byers.

USC hasn't always won recruiting the recruiting battles either -- see Chris Wells and Ted Ginn, Jr.

CARROLL AND WOODY

The best anecdote of the day was Carroll talking about his year as an Ohio State assistant coach under Earle Bruce.

It just so happens that it was 1979, the season Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl to USC and Charles White.

But Carroll's biggest thrill was looking out a window and seeing former coach Woody Hayes as he walked down the sidewalk.

"I had never seen him before," Carroll said. "So I dropped everything and took off across the parking lot and met him and I introduced myself."

Carroll said it was especially gratifying that Hayes knew who he was. They, of course, talked football.

"To me that was a really special moment," Carroll said.

QUOTABLE

Tressel to an L.A. audience about the poor performance in the 26-14 victory over Ohio on Saturday: "I've tried not to spend too much time looking back at that... We survived, I guess."

Carroll on the Ohio State-Ohio game:
"I don't think that has anything to do with it... They just won that game a little differently than everybody wanted them to and expected them to."

Tressel on the comments from Ohio State WR Ray Small suggesting that there is a "class" difference between the two schools: "It's disappointing when anyone talks... The only thing I can say about Ray is Ray doesn't have a malicious bone in his body and has no ill-intention... Those of us who speak to the press at times can error... Obviously it wasn't a good thing but he's a good kid."

USC safety Kevin Ellison, who was injured most of the 2005 season, on comparing OSU QB Terrelle Pryor to Vince Young: "I couldn't compare them right now. Vince Young was a totally different level. Terrelle Pryor is a freshman. I'm sure he'll be good a couple of years down the line. But you're talking about Vince Young, the second pick of the NFL draft."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- It's clear that Pete Carroll needs our help. The USC coach acts like he's content listing six tailbacks on his depth chart -- four loosely connected to the first team by an ambiguous "or" -- but that can't possibly be right.

Obviously, he's just going through a Hamlet phase -- he can't make a decision. That must be why he's running the quintessential backfield by committee.

"There's no committee," Carroll said. "We don't talk like that."

Then what should Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford be called? A backfield by ensemble? Free-form jazz backfield? The Sybil Backfield?

Sure, the four combined for 202 yards in the 52-7 win at Virginia. Sure, Carroll's approach to coaching seems to work fairly well, with all those conference and national championships and whatever.

But there's a simple way to resolve this.

Talk to the Trojans defenders. They know who The Man really is.

They see these guys every day, and on competition Tuesdays, both sides go full-speed trying to make the other look bad.

So, Fili Moala, what do you think?

"Pick your poison," Moala said. "Do you want to get shook out of your jock strap or do you want to get run over?"

Recalling some jock strap issues during preseason camp, we're glad that Moala went with the latter.

The defensive tackle picked the 225-pound Bradford as the hardest to handle.

"He's very capable of running you clean over and just applying his will on you," Moala said. "You've got to hit Allen before he hits you."

Considering that Bradford has made up the most ground in the on-going competition, that sounds like a good pick.

Safety Kevin Ellison tips his cap to Bradford, too.

But then he goes with C.J. Gable, whose 73 yards on nine carries topped the Virginia stat sheet.

"All our backs got something different," Ellison said.

Fine. So, let's break the tie. Kyle Moore: Bradford or Gable?

"Joe [McKnight] gives me a little problem because he's so elusive," Moore said.

McKnight had 60 yards on six carries against Virginia, his 10 yards-per-tote average leading the Trojans, and he also caught four passes for 24 yards.

Hmm. These guys must have gotten together and talked in order to ruin this survey.

Perhaps Ohio State coach Jim Tressel can help. He first described the list of backs thusly: "On and on and on."

But then, probably just to spite our survey, he threw in the name of fullback Stanley Havili.

"What I love about them is you never hear of them complaining that they need the ball more," Tressel said.

Well, how could he hear that? He's Ohio State's coach. And he claims to never read the papers. Still, he's got a point. There have only been the merest whispers of complaint since these guys arrived over the past three seasons.

How can that be? These guys are competitive. They all were hyped high school recruits. How can they not complain, at least just a little behind the scenes? For example, how does it feel to be Allen Bradford, after an impressive spring and preseason, sitting on the sidelines watching McKnight or Gable or Johnson pilfering balls that he should be carrying? Surely that makes him want to lash out.

"I get real anxious," Bradford said. "I'll be on the sideline seeing Joe, Stafon and C.J. get carries and it just makes me want to go out there and work harder."

"Work harder"? That's not the colorful, controversial sort of comment we were looking for.

The Four Horsemen of the Apportion give each other plenty of grief, Bradford said, but they understand the system. Each has a package of plays that accentuates their strengths.

Yes, Bradford admitted, there are moments in running backs meetings when he wants to hoot down discussions of his backfield mates plays. But not during the serious business of a game.

"If it's your number, then we go," he said. "If not, then you've just got to wait until your number is called."

It appears, to be serious for a moment, that the buy-in for the approach operates well for a number of reasons. The players trust the system because they keep winning. They also feel like even without 20 touches a game, they will be able to showcase their skills enough to impress NFL scouts. And building an unselfish, team-first reputation probably won't hurt them at the next level, either.

Carroll seems to find it amusing that reporters are so obsessed with his backfield. He just doesn't see anything terribly complicated about it.

"We try to find niches for them within our scheme," he said. "It has nothing to do with anything else other than we're trying to win."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

One week and it begins...

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