Fall Camp: Healthy Graf stepping up

After playing all last season with a completely torn labrum in his shoulder, redshirt sophomore Kevin Graf showed coaches he can persevere.

LOS ANGELES – Kevin Graf knew his shoulder needed to be fixed, but it wasn't until after more than three hours of surgery that he found out he had played the entire 2010 season with a completely torn labrum in his shoulder.

"I knew there was something (wrong), but I didn't know that much," Graf said.

His right shoulder would pop out of place several times several times a day every day, forcing him to play left tackle with only one arm. As Graf said, "It's kind of hard to block" under those circumstances.

So it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Graf, now running with the first unit at right tackle, has been one of the most improved players in fall camp, with USC head coach Lane Kiffin almost ready to anoint him as an offensive lineman he has complete confidence in, joining left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes.

"Kevin is completely different than a year ago. He looks like a completely different guy. He's changed his body fat, he's changed his speed, strength," Kiffin said of Graf, who is down to 290 pounds and 18 percent body fat.

Since being cleared for contact in June, Graf prepared for the upcoming season by working against defensive end Devon Kennard. He also got to go through summer conditioning drills, where he was able to rebuild his body.

"I see a new player," Graf said. "I see myself firing off the ball, doing things I didn't do last year."

That Graf was able to practice all last season, let alone see action as a backup, seems almost impossible in retrospect. But the redshirt sophomore believes his effort earned the respect of coaches.

"Even with my shoulder problem, I still worked hard," Graf said. "I think that's what I think they really notice more, that I was working through my pain and my problems and it impressed them more."

It helps that Graf has performed well against a deep, talented rotation of defensive ends through the first week, but it won't be until Monday in the Coliseum he and the Trojans will get their first chance to work in full pads. The only difference between it and a real game will be the lack of cutting by the offense line.

"Tomorrow night will be their first big test," Kiffin said. "We'll tackle the entire time, probably be over there three hours and see where we are at."

It will also be the first test of those challenging for the vacant guard spots. Considering the four contenders – John Martinez, Martin Coleman, junior college transfer Jeremy Galten and true freshman Cyrus Hobbi – for those two spots have never started a game, Graf is an unquestioned veteran by comparison. He is trying to embrace that role.

"Kalil and Khaled are older than me, but I also find myself as a leader too. I'm in there trying to help out the younger guys just as much as they are. I'm trying to get this line pumped up," Graf said.

"It's a team effort, it's not just two guys trying to lead the O-line. It's all of us and I'm trying to get in there and really give it my all and get this line ready to go."

Quick Hits
-Defensive tackle Christian Tupou (knee) and tight end Christian Thomas (hip) were held out of practice, but both should be available Monday. Cornerbacks Torin Harris (concussion) and Brian Baucham (hamstring) also missed practice.

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