Fullback Stanley Havili is arguably the Trojans' best offensive player and certainly their biggest mismatch. He has proven to be a stabilizing force when the offense bogs down. Yet the senior has only seen five touches through USC's first two games.
Coach Lane Kiffin said Havili's limited workload has been by design.
"I kind of had gone into these first few games, knowing there's no scholarship backup fullback, trying to limit his touches," Kiffin said "He's a really good player."
"It's just a new way of having to think and it almost backfired."
Havili caught three passes for 22 yards against Virginia after rushing once for seven yards and catching one pass for 49 yards at Hawaii.
"We haven't given him the ball very much, there's times we could have," said Kiffin, pointing to Havili's skills as a running back, notably in two-minute drills. "I was just trying to make it through the game thinking we could be explosive enough at other positions and once we got going in the season use him more because he's so valuable for us."
Taking advantage of an NCAA bylaw that allowed upperclassmen to transfer and play immediately, Havili's backup, D.J. Shoemate, transferred to Connecticut in July.
Tight end Rhett Ellison would likely have to move to fullback if Havili were injured. That has created a trickledown effect in an effort to protect Havili and keep him fresh.
"He's probably our best special teams player but we don't put him on special teams," Kiffin said.
Regarded as the strongest and deepest position on the team entering the season, the defensive line was taxed Tuesday with defensive end Armond Armstead and Nick Perry limited.
Even defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron has been hobbled with a broken foot.
"It was classic Orgeron and I know he was thinking of (legendary assistant coach) Marv (Goux) when he was doing it," Kiffin said. "His foot was broken during the game and he still ran out of the tunnel with a broken foot. He refused to walk. I watched him do it and I know he would be thinking that Marv would be proud of him for running with a broken foot."
True freshman Christian Thomas, who started fall camp at tight end, saw extensive work and Kiffin said little-used Kevin Greene could see playing time at Minnesota.
"It's an opportunity for some other guys," Kiffin said. "We have not played very many defensive linemen through the first two games. We need to develop depth. That's a position that normally teams rotate two groups in there, seven or eight guys throughout the game, especially early in the years. We haven't been able to do that and we need to start."
While Thomas has already seen game action this season, freshman tackle George Uko will not play this season, barring a rash of injuries.
"We'd really like to redshirt him," Kiffin said. "He's a good player now, he's going to be a really good player for us. We've just got to find a way to redshirt some of these guys for what's coming (with scholarship reductions)."
-Linebacker Marquis Simmons (appendix) practiced in full.
Kiffin said he was hopeful Simmons could provide much needed depth.
"I hope he can help us on special teams and eventually help us at linebacker," Kiffin said. "We've played three guys the whole entire time. In the last game we didn't play a backup one snap, so it would good."
-Ellison has been cleared by the Pac-10 to play Saturday at Minnesota. He could have faced further punishment after being ejected in the closing moments against Virginia.