LOS ANGELES -- Spring ball is the time to try new things. There are no games waiting to played each week in spring, so it’s always a great opportunity to look at different combinations or at players in new roles to see how they will respond.
Lane Kiffin and the Trojans are certainly taking advantage of that, and this week is a great example of how Kiffin is willing to use this time of the year for experimentation.
The biggest splash this week came with the news that Tre Madden would get a look at running back. Madden had been singled out during the first week of spring for his terrific play on defense, specifically in the first full-pads practice, when he took reps with the first unit at strong side linebacker with Dion Bailey out due to injury.
When the Trojans took the field earlier this week, however, Madden was lined up on offense as a tailback. The logic behind the look is solid, Madden offers a combination of size (226 pounds) and speed (Kiffin said he ran a 4.5 electronic-timed 40 recently) which is currently not found in the Trojans backfield.
Kiffin has made no secret of his desire to establish more of a dynamic power running game, so Madden will get a look to see if he can fit that role. If it doesn’t work out, Madden will go back to linebacker and not much will have been lost. If it does work out, the Trojans will have found a new weapon to add to the offensive arsenal.
There was also an interesting move along the offensive line this week as the tackle spots were flipped. Kevin Graf -- who had been lined up at left tackle to begin spring -- was at right tackle while Aundrey Walker was moved from the right side to the left side.
Kiffin made sure to emphasize the fact that this had nothing to do with any perceived issues with Graf at left tackle during the opening week of practice. Instead, it is simply covering the bases to make sure they aren’t missing a potential lineup that would work better.
The best combination for the Trojans may well be Graf at left tackle and Walker at right - it certainly looked good during the first week – but it makes sense to at least spend a week judging Walker on the left side. The coaches know Graf can succeed on the right side based on his performance last season, but they don’t know how Walker would handle the left side. Walker may turn out to have all-world potential as a left tackle or the coaches may quickly decide he looks better on the right side. The point is, they won’t know for sure unless they take a look, which is what they are doing this week.
There were also a couple different looks on the defensive side of the ball this week.
Greg Townsend Jr. spent Tuesday working with the first unit at defensive tackle as George Uko was being punished for “loafing” on too many plays during an earlier practice session. Townsend was only recently moved inside after spending last season at defensive end, so the coaches are wasting no time in finding out just where he stands in the middle. Is this a switch that could be considered full-time or does Townsend work better on the outside? No sense waiting around to find out, as the coaches are putting him out there now to answer that question.
Demetrius Wright worked with the first unit at strong safety ahead of incumbent starter Jawanza Starling. Wright hasn’t beaten Starling out, he’s just getting an opportunity to take reps with the first unit to see how he responds. Wright has a lot of talent but it hasn’t come together for him lately, so the coaches want to give him this chance to see what he does with it.
These are the kind of moves you make during spring because you have the luxury of time to experiment, something which is not always available during the season. Don’t be at all surprised if Kiffin tinkers even more as spring goes along.