USC Football Set To Begin Spring Practice

    March 21, 2011


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    As second-year USC head football coach Lane Kiffin and his Trojans embark upon 2011 spring practice, which begins on Tuesday (March 22) on campus and runs 15 days through the April 23 Spring Football Game in the Coliseum, they understand hard work and patience is needed to build and revamp the program.

    The first step came last year, with modest success. USC posted an 8-5 overall record in 2010, with 2 of those losses coming on field goals at the gun in consecutive games (and another loss coming on a touchdown with 2:23 to play). The Trojans tied for third in the Pac-10 at 5-4, but were ineligible for post-season play because of an NCAA penalty for violations dating to the previous coaching era. USC was left short on personnel when players transferred once the sanctions were announced. The Trojans had just 72 players on scholarship in 2010 (13 shy of the NCAA limit) and 17 of them didn't see action.

    USC has appealed for relief from those NCAA sanctions that included a 2-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships over a 3-year period and a 4-year probationary period.

    In 2011, Kiffin can call upon 13 returning starters (6 on offense and 7 on defense, but no specialists). Some 78 squadmen are back from last year, but only 38 saw action in 2010 (all but 2 of the 38 were letter winners and 25 were on USC's season-ending 2-deep). Alarmingly, 47 players on USC's 86-man spring roster have never taken a collegiate snap and only 14 Trojans have started at least 10 times.

    To bolster this lack of depth, Kiffin and his coaching staff put together a 2011 recruiting class that experts ranked among the best in the country. USC hauled in 31 new players (4 came from junior college), including 8 signees who enrolled at USC this semester in order to participate in 2011 spring practice.

    Adding to this year's challenge, these Trojans will be competing in the newly-expanded Pacific-12 Conference, as Utah and Colorado join the league in 2011.

    With Kiffin calling the plays last year, USC's offensive production increased appreciably from 2009 (by 42 yards and 5 points per game).

    This year's offense features a pair of players who are among the nation's best at their positions: quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver-returner Robert Woods. Barkley, a 2-year starter and 2-time Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist who figures to be mentioned among the Heisman Trophy hopefuls, already is sixth on USC's career passing chart and seventh on the total offense list. He completed 63% of his passes last year with 26 touchdowns (including a pair of 5-TD outings). The exciting Woods was a 2010 Freshman All-American and the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year while leading USC in receptions (65), all-purpose yards (a USC freshman record 1,817) and kickoff returns (a USC season yardage record 971).

    Other offensive starters returning are tailback Marc Tyler, USC's 2010 rushing leader (913 yards with 9 TDs), tight end Rhett Ellison (21 catches in 2010), tackle Matt Kalil and guard Khaled Holmes. Wide receiver Brandon Carswell and tailback Dillon Baxter are others back with limited starts to their name.

    The Trojan defense took a beating last year, allowing more total yards per game (400) than ever, and it was especially vulnerable late in games (allowing 118 fourth-quarter points).

    The defense's strength in 2011 should be the line, which returns 5 players with significant starting experience: ends Nick Perry (7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks in 2010) and Wes Horton (5.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks in 2010) and tackles Christian Tupou (a 2-year starter who redshirted in 2010 while recuperating from a knee injury), Armond Armstead (43 tackles in 2010) and DaJohn Harris (5.5 tackles for loss in 2010).

    Both starting safeties--USC's 2010 tackle leader and All-Pac-10 second teamer T.J. McDonald (89 tackles, 3 interceptions) and Jawanza Starling (37 tackles in 2010)--return, as do 2 starting linebackers, Chris Galippo (29 tackles, 3 forced fumbles in 2010) and Devon Kennard (72 tackles, 7 for a loss in 2010), and cornerback Nickell Robey (a team-best 4 interceptions in 2010).

    Others on the 2011 roster with defensive starting experience are linebacker Shane Horton and safeties Marshall Jones, Tony Burnett (a walk-on who earned a scholarship this spring) and Drew McAllister (he redshirted in 2010 with a hip injury).

    USC's special teams performed better in 2010 than they had in years. The Trojans blocked 7 kicks and punts, returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns, scored 5 times on 2-point conversions, had a defensive PAT and ran a successful fake punt and field goal. Although USC must replace its punter and placekicker in 2011, many of the components from last year's special teams are back.

    "Having been part of the championship years at USC last decade, I understand that our performance last year was not up to the standards we all expect here," said Kiffin, who won more games in his Trojan coaching debut than all but Howard Jones and John Robinson (he was the first coach since 1951 to begin his USC career with a 4-0 mark). "Every day in practice this spring and fall, we will dedicate ourselves to getting back to that expected level of championship-caliber play. We have an outstanding coaching staff and a group of very talented and hungry players. They all realize that USC is a special place unlike any other, both academically and athletically. They have a resolve to be the best, no matter what challenges are presented to us. I love that they have that attitude."

    USC's personnel losses from the 2010 roster were most significant on offense. Gone are All-Pac-10 second team wide receiver-returner Ronald Johnson, who had 64 catches with 8 TDs last fall and was 12th nationally in punt returns (he is tied for 10th on USC's career receptions ladder with 138 and is fifth on the kickoff return list with 1,351 yards), and 4-year starting fullback Stanley Havili, who caught more passes (116) than any Trojan fullback, as well as 4 players who started on the line last year: All-Pac-10 first team tackle Tyron Smith, a 2-year starter who won the Pac-10 Morris Trophy, center Kristofer O'Dowd and guard Butch Lewis (both 3-year starters) and guard Michael Reardon.

    Others gone who had started at times are tailbacks Allen Bradford (he had 1,585 career rushing yards, including 794 in 2010 when he averaged 7.2 yards per carry) and C.J. Gable (he had 1,549 rushing yards while starting 18 times in his career and is also sixth on USC's all-time kickoff return list with 1,196 yards), wide receivers David Ausberry (64 career receptions) and Brice Butler, guard Zack Heberer and quarterback Mitch Mustain.

    On defense, USC is without 4 starters from 2010: All-Pac-10 first team tackle Jurrell Casey (67 tackles, 11 for loss, 4.5 sacks in 2010), cornerback Shareece Wright (73 tackles, 10 deflections in 2010) and linebackers Malcolm Smith (78 tackles in 2010) and Michael Morgan (57 tackles in 2010). Casey, Smith and Morgan were 2-year starters.

    USC's punter--Jacob Harfman (41.1 average in 2010), who also kicked off--and placekicker--Joe Houston (perfect on 43 PATs and 10-of-16 on field goals in 2010)--have graduated.

    There is only 1 new fulltime assistant coach on Kiffin's 2011 staff: Ted Gilmore, who will handle the wide receivers after doing so most recently at Nebraska (where he also was the recruiting coordinator). The rest of the offensive staff remains intact: Kennedy Pola (offensive coordinator/running backs), Clay Helton (quarterbacks) and James Cregg (offensive line). The defense continues to be staffed by Ed Orgeron (defensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator/defensive line), Monte Kiffin (assistant head coach), Joe Barry (linebackers) and Willie Mack Garza (secondary). John Baxter returns as the associate head coach/special teams coordinator. Justin Mesa re-assumes a graduate assistant spot (handling tight end) after a year as an administrative assistant and he joins holdover Sammy Knight (safeties).

    USC's 2011 schedule includes 7 teams that played in bowls last year. For the first time since 2000, the Trojans will play 7 home games (including their first 3 contests of the season). Coming to the Coliseum are Minnesota with its new coaching staff for the season opener on Sept. 3, Utah on Sept. 10 for the first football game in Pac-12 history, Syracuse the next week in a rare Los Angeles visit by a Big East foe, Arizona (Oct. 1) and Stanford (Oct. 29) with talented quarterbacks Nick Foles and Andrew Luck, former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian's Washington club on Nov. 12 and crosstown rival UCLA in the Nov. 26 regular season ender. The Trojans' road slate takes them to Arizona State on Sept. 24, to San Francisco's AT&T Park to play California for a Thursday night game (Oct. 13), to longtime intersectional foe Notre Dame on Oct. 22, to new Pac-12 opponent Colorado on Nov. 5 and to defending league champion Oregon on Nov. 19.

    "We're very excited to be involved in the first year of Pac-12 play and to be part of the most competitive conference in college football," said Kiffin. "Nobody can take a Saturday off in this league and now that we've welcomed Utah and Colorado to the Pac-12, that's even more evident."