Practice Report: Tailback Talk

Practice report from the Trojans' Saturday scrimmage, including coaches Kiffin and Polamalu addressing the lack of depth at tailback.

The Trojans' scrimmage Saturday was a bit of a paradox.

Using three tailbacks in Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morgan newly healthy Buck Allen and relying heavily on Soma Vainuku, one unfamiliar with the USC team would hardly guess the program lacks depth in the backfield.

A day after the university announced that newly anointed tailback Tre Madden would miss the 2012 season after tearing a ligament in his left knee, quarterbacks Matt Barkley, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek barely aired it out for the entire 1.5 hour practice.

Allen was the surprise of the day. After redshirting in 2011, a pulled hamstring has sidelined the freshman much of spring. Saturday was his first day back in weeks and he looked fast and played physical.

"You gotta remember that Curtis has been with me now for two years, (I've been) with D.J. for two years. Buck has got a ways," running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu said. "And we're going to bring him along. This is a great opportunity for him because of bad luck for Tre. And he's healthy now. Now it's time. These next three practices we're going to rep the heck out of him."

Someone who also looks greatly improved is Vainuku, who grabbed a 6-yard pass in the flat from Wittek. It one of the team's two touchdowns on the day.

"It's basically he's seeing the game, he's seeing all the moving parts, he's seeing patterns better. He understands what the coverage fits are going to be. And once you know and see the game, everything else slows down," Polamalu said.

Vainuku said he feels more comfortable and his hands have greatly improved since 2011. Polamalu said where Vainuku is now is where Allen needs to be, saying they are in opposite places right now.

"Buck is seeing everything move and he thinks he's got to answer. What Soma has done is he's playing the percentages now. He knows that, ‘hey I have an 80 percent (chance) of catching this ball. The ball is going to come to me.' Buck doesn't think the ball is ever going to come to him because he's worried about this protection and that. Soma knows the spacing and everything that's going on in our system."

Scroggins Speaks About Situation

As Barkley worked with the "ones," Wittek and Kessler switched off under center the series following No. 7. Another quarterback, Jesse Scroggins, attended Saturday's scrimmage but did not attend the week's practices because he had to finish up a take-home midterm.

And Scroggins said he's still not healthy, anyway.

"I'm about 90 percent. There's still some motion that's not there. Dropping back I can't shuffle and stuff like that but everything is pretty good."

Scroggins said he's not worried about competing for the Trojans' backup spot because there is still a long way until the season begins.

"I'm not concerned at all," he said. "You've still got the whole of summer when there's no school. It's a long process."

As for the staff's opinion of him, Scroggins said he doesn't know where they are at but is trying to be optimistic.

"I don't know if they trust me," Scroggins said. "I don't really want to have a gut on that one. I can't really explain that. I hope they trust me deep down as a player." The redshirt sophomore said he will be at practices for the team's final week of spring football.

Final Thoughts

Offensive lineman Kevin Graf said he feels "more comfortable at left tackle" but is fully supportive of the coaching staff's decision. He plans to still compete for the left spot and hope the coaches will make a change down the line.

Coach Kiffin said Tre Madden will definitely stay at running back when he returns.

"We have a lot of great players but sometimes we have some guys that are similar to them – we don't have anybody like (Tre) nor do we have anybody coming in really like him," Kiffin said." "So to have a big guy that was running a 4.5 (40-yard dash) electronic with his hands, it was just really unique and it was a great experiment and unfortunately he won't be here this year for us."

Kiffin said Agholor will likely get a look at running back immediately upon his enrollment, as will fullback Jahleel Pinner.

Brian Baucham intercepted Kessler, making it his second thrown pick in two practices. Nickell Robey also had an interception Saturday, picking off Barkley.


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