Trojans tinker with huddle alignment

LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin has never shied away from making changes in his program, even at the expense of cardinal and gold gridiron traditions.

Although some traditions are less visible than others, the head coach has departed in the past from longtime institutions like changing late afternoon practices into early morning sessions, replacing the traditional black cleats with those glitzy cardinal and gold cleats, barring the media from in-season practices, and last summer’s maelstrom surrounding the possible change in look and style of the Trojans storied uniforms.

After careful reevaluation, some of these changes have been rescinded. This season, Kiffin’s Trojans are returning to afternoon practices, will once again wear their traditional black cleats, and there is currently no such talk about uniforms adjustments.

But just when you think the tinkering is over, in the immortal words of ESPN’s Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Take a good, hard look when the Trojans assemble in their first offensive huddle of the 2013 season. Instead of the traditional rectangle or circle huddle with the quarterback on one knee looking into the huddle, the Trojans will assemble in what is termed a “choir huddle” and is employed by many other programs.

The Trojans version of the choir huddle is two rows of players with the offensive linemen standing behind the skill players with all their backs to the line of scrimmage while the Trojans quarterback stands facing his teammates with direct vision of the line of scrimmage.

Sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler said that the formation was used during his prep career and pointed out the new huddle’s positives.

“We changed huddles over the spring because it’s just easier,” Kessler said. “In a circle huddle, it kind of mixes everybody up, but in this new huddle, it’s easier because we just put the receivers on the outside, tight ends on the inside, and the backs in the middle. It’s just easier for the quarterback to get right to the line of scrimmage.”

So whose idea was it to change the tradition of the huddle?

“I don’t remember, I honestly don’t,” Kessler said. “Overall, it was the offensive coaching staff’s decision, and we tried it in the spring and we liked it and it was a lot more easy and a lot more organized.”

Since the Trojans skill players go by letters, the new huddle identifies any potential problems before the quarterback calls a play, and this can avoid a potential formation and play-execution calamity.

“It helps a lot because it goes X, F, R, or, Y, Z, so that you know if someone is missing from a spot,” Kessler said. “If we need a Z or in the third spot we need an F, it’s a lot easier to recognize for us who’s in, who’s not, and what we need.”

And it the quarterback in addressing the team.

“It’s easier, too, for communication because when you’re in a circle (huddle), you have to swing your head back and forth for everybody to hear you. Now, when all 10 players are in front of you, you can just talk right down the middle and everybody is close enough to hear you.”

Then there are the positives from the prospective of Kessler’s teammates that are facing him in the huddle.

“It’s easier for the offensive line because we’re already in the right spots when we break the huddle,” said senior John Martinez, a two-year starter at right guard.

According to Martinez, the choir huddle makes clarity from the quarterback much better, and he supports Kessler’s evidence that this new huddle has more accountability.

“The quarterback is more singled out, and it’s easier to see and hear him,” Martinez said. “If somebody is missing, like the little (skill) guys, we know it.”

Now if you’re thinking that Kiffin is again copying the Oregon Ducks, who practice in the early morning and wear funky uniforms and cleats, cut the Trojans head coach some slack. There’s no way he took this from the folks in Eugene since the Ducks never huddle anyway.