Fall Camp: Robey earns high praise

Sophomore corner Nickell Robey earns high praise from coaches as much for his work ethic as he does for on-the-field performance.

LOS ANGELES – It was a rare mistake by cornerback Nickell Robey, dropping an easy pick-six of quarterback Matt Barkley on Saturday. But the diminutive sophomore made amends just a few plays later, again stepping in front of a Barkley pass and taking this one into the end zone.

One year after arriving in Los Angeles from Frostproof, Fla., Robey has emerged not only as one of USC's top players and its premier defensive back but as the embodiment of the kind of program head coach Lane Kiffin is trying to build.

Kiffin even went as far as comparing Robey to All-American safety Troy Polamalu in terms of work ethic and determination.

"I think he's just exactly the way we describe a Trojan, what we're looking for. From everything – from academics to handling himself off the field to weight room to training to nutrition to practice habits. I could be mistaken, but I can't recall the last time he even missed a rep. Every day you guys come out here, he's one of the first guys out here, one of the last guys to leave," Kiffin said.

Defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza was equally unrestrained in his praise of Robey.

"He is a coach's dream. He is a very good player, but more than that he is a very good person," Garza said.

Robey had a team-best four interceptions last season after starting every game as a true freshman, but has played even better in fall camp after focusing on his footwork. He has also bulked up to 172 pounds, which should allow the 5-foot-8 Robey to better handle the likes of Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Arizona's Juron Criner.

"He is physical," Garza said of Robey. "He plays big, but there are big wideouts and a couple of times they hooked him on the perimeter and were able to get outside of him."

The new weight has also allowed Robey to be more forceful as a tackler.

"It feels a lot better, knowing when I do make impact with players, they do feel the blow," he said.

Wide Focus For Second Scrimmage
Asked what position groups he would be focusing on during the second scrimmage of fall camp tomorrow at the Coliseum, Kiffin replied, "The receivers after Robert (Woods), the young tight ends, both guard spots, all tailbacks, linebackers, the other safety and the other corner."

Oh is that all?

The Trojans do have plenty to figure out with three weeks until the season opener and only two more live scrimmages left to make those decisions before hosting Minnesota.

"This will decide a lot about where we are as far as starters, where we are as far as travel roster, as far as who's coming back when school starts, all those things. This will be big. … You start making a few little moves after the first one. This will show more," Kiffin said.

Some key players, including safety T.J. McDonald, linebacker Dion Bailey and cornerbacks Tony Burnett and Torin Harris, will be available after returning to practice Saturday. However, linebacker Chris Galippo (shoulder) and wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) are unlikely to participate in the scrimmage.

The absence of Woods does have an upside, Kiffin said, freeing up more reps to clear up the rotation behind the sophomore and redshirt senior Brandon Carswell.

"Carswell has really distanced himself from everyone else. If we were going to play today, he would be the No. 2," Kiffin said "And then I think it's all washed up in there. These next two games are going to be very big for all those guys after those two."

As for who will be throwing them the ball, freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will be competing for the wide-open backup job, but Kiffin just as interested in how the incumbent Barkley performs.

The junior has struggled this week, beginning Monday night in the Coliseum, when he was 10-of-20 for 82 yards, one touchdown and one interception, all in the first half.

"As we look at it over camp, the two freshmen are leading our team in completion percentage," Kiffin said. "That's them being really safe and conservative and him being aggressive at times. We really want to see him complete the balls tomorrow – really come out of this game at 70 percent or better."

Quick Hits
-Tight end Rhett Ellison needed stitches after cutting his thumb in a punt blocking drill.

-Kiffin is not optimistic that sophomore wide receiver Markeith Ambles will be academically eligible to play this season. Ambles was not at practice Saturday.

-Freshman Charles Burks has been working at defensive end for the past few days after starting out camp at fullback.

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