LOS ANGELES -- The football program generated some buzz Wednesday with the news that this weekend’s scrimmage in the Coliseum will be open to the public. But USC fans planning to attend may be forced to temper their expectations a bit, as Lane Kiffin backed away slightly from the promise of a scrimmage. With so many skill position players missing time due to nagging injuries, Saturday might be the second time this spring that a scheduled scrimmage is dialed down to a regular practice.
After Thursday’s practice, Kiffin simply said he didn’t know if the scrimmage would proceed as planned.
“There are so many guys in question,” he said. “We may just practice like we did last Saturday…The problem right now is the offensive skill doesn’t allow us to practice the way we would like, but we’re going to make the best of it.”
The top culprit on the list right now is tight end. Christian Thomas was already going to miss spring practice while recovering from hip surgery, but Xavier Grimble went down early with a toe injury and Randall Telfer followed with an injury to his hamstring. Junior Pomee came back from an early hamstring injury, but sustained an injury on Thursday to the same foot he broke during last fall camp. Kiffin said he didn’t know the severity of the injury, but when it occurred, it left the Trojans without a scholarship tight end for much of the practice. As a result, Kiffin, as well as tight ends coach Justin Mesa, have had to split duties lining the walk-on tight ends up in the correct places on virtually every snap.
“Unfortunately, we can’t seem to keep a tight end healthy,” Kiffin said.
Things have only been slightly better at wide receiver, where Robert Woods will miss the rest of spring practice while recovering from ankle surgery, and George Farmer has been slowed in every practice but the first one with hamstring troubles. Victor Blackwell, De’Von Flournoy and Marqise Lee have taken virtually every rep on the outside, but Lee won’t be there Saturday, as he will compete in the long jump at the Texas Invitational.
Farmer and Telfer join tailback Buck Allen as well as several other players who have missed time this spring due to hamstrings, and that point isn’t lost on Kiffin.
“I’m a little disappointed in the hamstrings taking so long with a bunch of guys we’d really like to be looking at,” Kiffin said.
Despite all the injuries, Saturday’s practice remains open, and Kiffin said it’s a small step toward getting things back to normal at USC.
“The sanctions put so much on us as far as 48 hours in advance and only immediate family,” said Kiffin of a policy that forced all guests to register at least two days prior to the practice they would attend. “These players have a lot of people that want to see them that never get to see them, so we were told that we were able to make it open. It’s good for everybody.”
McAllister came out during practice. Kiffin believes Holmes is nearly ready to return from his calf strain.
• Marqise Lee continues to be a story during every practice, as he fuels so much of the offensive right now. He has had an exceptional spring, balancing football and track.
• “Marqise is doing great,” Kiffin said. “We’re so hurt, and so we move him around so much that he has to play every position. But it’s good for him, anytime you have to play all the spots. And we really try to wear him out when we get him. We try to maximize the practices he’s at.”
Kiffin said the decision for Lee to attend the track meet this weekend was made between the two of them.
“He really wanted to do it and he’s a good kid,” Kiffin said. “He does really well in school. The majority of the track team already left, but he stayed so he could practice today.”
Safety Tony Burnett will also compete at the event this weekend, although the triple jump takes place Friday, which will allow Burnett to fly back in time for Saturday’s football practice.
• Matt Barkley’s interceptions this spring haven’t been alarming, but they have been noticeable. Any other year, without a certain starter and two inexperienced backups, this is something that could develop into a spring story. On Thursday, Kiffin simultaneously gave some credence to the issue as well as downplayed it.
“It is abnormal for him,” Kiffin said of Barkley’s seven interceptions in eight practices. “We had that out of him. Part of it is him getting a little bit bored. He scrambles out and gets frustrated because he doesn’t have his normal guys in there. We’ll get him back out of it. We don’t like it. It’s not the end of the world, but as we get closer to game time, we’ll get him back to normal.”
• Curtis McNeal authored a nice touchdown run early in practice. With so much talk about Allen not being available and Madden’s move from linebacker, attention on McNeal has been softened a bit. But he has been out there every day and looks very comfortable as the No. 1 back for the Trojans.
• Wide receiver Flournoy made another big catch on Brian Kennedy Field, hauling in a touchdown over good coverage from two defenders.
• Madden fumbled again during run drills. It’s not even close to time to sound the alarm, but just something to note as his time on offense grows.
• Pomee might have left practice due to an injury, but he left his mark on the field before that, hauling in two nice receptions during 7-on-7 work. He hasn’t yet been able to put together any sort of extended time on the field, but he has certainly flashed in the limited time he has been out there.
• Jawanza Starling put a big hit on Flournoy as the redshirt junior went over the middle and high for a pass. After initially looking like he’d made the catch, Starling’s hit jarred the ball loose.
• The defensive highlight of the day was authored by Demetrius Wright, who was thrown a gift by Barkley down the middle. The pass was well overthrown toward Flournoy, and Wright made the easy interception. On the return, walk-on wide receiver and team favorite Cody Skene had a big collision with Brian Baucham as the cornerback looked to make a block.
• The defensive line made a handful of plays, as Antwaun Woods and Wes Horton each recorded sacks. Horton and Devon Kennard then combined on a tackle for loss. Morgan Breslin finished practice by nearly coming up with an interception after dropping into coverage.
• Practice visitors Thursday included USC quarterback recruit Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), who will visit USC from Thursday through Saturday, as well as Encino (Calif.) Crespi head football coach Jon Mack.