Pac-12: Lane Kiffin 2012 offseason Q&A

Q&A: Lane Kiffin, part two

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
1:00
PM ET
USC head coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball and likely a lofty preseason ranking to back it up. Kiffin took a few minutes to chat about this year's recruiting class, the few holes on offense and defense that have to be filled and what he can do to cut down on quarterback-center exchange fumbles.

Here's part one of the Q&A.

Looking at the defense, you have the entire back seven coming back. Everyone talks about offense in this conference, but you have to be able to play defense. What's the next step for them as a unit?

Lane Kiffin: We've got to get better at pass defense. You look at our numbers two years ago, they were terrible. We've improved a little bit. But we still have a long ways to go in pass defense. We were good against the run last year. We improved in the red zone. But we've got to do a better job against the pass. This conference is so good. So many good quarterbacks and receivers, you can't just stop the run in this conference so we have to improve there. It's exciting to have the whole back seven back -- we actually even have Torin Harris coming back. I almost feel like it's the back eight. Torin Harris was our starting corner and was playing as well as anybody prior to losing him for the season.

Not everyone understands just how important a really good fullback is. How much will Rhett Ellison be missed?

LK: Really, I think outside of Matt Kalil, we don't lose very much except for one person. Everyone is really back except for Matt -- obviously a talented player and a top-five pick. And Rhett. Now he won't be that high of a draft pick, but he was so valuable on special teams and for us as a fullback. He played tight end, too. He gave defenses a lot of problems by not knowing where in the huddle he's going to line up and what formation we're going to end up in.

Speaking of Matt, is that left tackle spot the marquee position battle to keep an eye on in the spring?

LK: We don't know exactly how it's going to work. We're going to let Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker, right now our top two tackles, both play right and left and see how it goes early on.

How big of an adjustment is it for Kevin to make the move from right to left?

LK: He used to play left tackle when he was younger so that helps. There is an adjustment period. It's fortunate we're looking at it in the spring and don't have to wait until the fall.

On the defensive line, do you move Wes Horton or Devon Kennard to the opposite side to replace Nick Perry, or do you fill that slot with someone else and keep depth?

LK: We're looking at a couple of things. Probably leaning toward playing Wes at right and Devon at left. But we'll figure it out this spring.

Defensive line is the spot where it seems you have the most holes. Is this an opportunity for some of the pups to come in and start, or would you rather defer to experience?

LK: What's good is you look at the 30 guys we signed a year ago, there were some guys that could have helped us that we let redshirt, so that would divide that class of 30 and knock some of those guys back into this next class. A number of those guys were defensive linemen. What's good is those guys have been in our program a year already. Even though they haven't played, it's like they are in this class right here with a year under their belt.

Q&A: Lane Kiffin, part one

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
12:00
PM ET
USC head coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball and likely a lofty preseason ranking to back it up. Kiffin took a few minutes to chat about this year's recruiting class, the few holes on offense and defense that have to be filled and what he can do to cut down on quarterback-center exchange fumbles.

Here's part one of the Q&A.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Cashore/US PresswireLane Kiffin has the No. 1-rated quarterback and the No. 1-rated center returning to the Trojans this season.
Now that you've had a couple of weeks to digest it all, what are your thoughts on the recruiting class?

Lane Kiffin: I think it was very critical for us to improve our offensive line depth. We were able to get four offensive linemen -- including Chad Wheeler as a mid-year who was already here training with us. That was very big. After that, it was very important just to make sure we were adding the best players we could. Not necessarily by position. We didn't want to reach at all. We wanted to make sure that we did not go below our standards of what we think great players are. And if we didn't get them all, like you usually don't, then save whatever we had for next year's class to balance out the numbers so now we have the ability to sign 18 next year instead of just 15.

Given those circumstances, was that part of the plan of going after all-around athletes and not necessarily targeting positions?

LK: Yeah. With the limited numbers you can't just sign a bunch of guys and load them up. You have to be very specific. What we didn't want to do was take a guy that's a good player just to fill a number need at a position. We wanted to make sure we were getting the best players. Everyone we signed we felt will eventually be in our starting lineup.

Is Nelson Agholor penciled in at wide receiver, or could we see him somewhere else?

LK: He'll be on offense. We can see him at receiver, No. 1 and then maybe at running back with some of our depth issues there. But he'll definitely be on offense and potentially in the return games.

Switching to the current roster, have you noticed anything different about Matt Barkley -- be it his preparation or his attitude -- since announcing his return?

LK: No. He's always been so professional and so mature for his age. He's exactly what you'd expect in an NFL veteran quarterback and somehow he's figured that out at the age of 21. He's so great for other players to see.

You have the No. 1 rated quarterback and the No. 1 rated center (Khaled Holmes). Who is better at what they do?

LK: Oh, that's a tough question. I think they are very similar guys. Both very smart guys. Very mature. They are No. 1 and No. 2 on our team in GPA. I think that says a lot about them. They both came from the same high school. They are very similar in what they do. They are talented and athletic, but they play above their athleticism because of their football IQ.

Which one has the higher GPA?

LK: Khaled is one and Barkley is two.

What's the over-under on quarterback-center exchange fumbles?

LK: If the head coach doesn't screw it up and try to audible from the sideline and have the quarterback look over like we did two years ago against Oregon and then he snaps it, I would say none if I don't screw it up.

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