Calling all contingency plans, players

The contingency planning is in full swing after the loss of Jabari Ruffin to an ACL injury Sunday starting with Quinton Powell moving up and Su'a Cravens maybe moving down -- or over.

Jabari Ruffin's season-ending ACL injury was very much a part of Monday's USC practice -- and then it wasn't.

That's how it has to be. You feel for the junior outside linebacker just about to step up to something he'd worked so hard for, Steve Sarkisian said. How "disappointing it is" for it to happen now after all his hard work is about to pay off.

That's on a personal level for Jabari. It was a sentiment echoed over and over Monday by his coaches and teammates. And yet, so was this, also from Sark..

"How we respond is critical," Sark said. "We have a good plan in place."

A plan that was in play Monday. For Quinton Powell. And Su'a Cravens.

As well as for Sark not to mention USC fans, even AD Pat Haden, who talked about how encouraged he was about the upcoming Trojans football season "if you can guarantee me we won't have any more serious injuries."

More about that later. But first the plan -- and the people implementing it. Start with Sark, who noted to his coaches Sunday night after learning what had originally been thought to be a minor injury for Ruffin after an interception and then hard tackle that morning would cost the Trojans a starting linebacker -- and that linebacker his first season as a starter.

"Jabari could have gotten hurt three plays into the season and we wouldn't have had any chance to get ready for this," Sark said. Now they do. Powell is the first part of that. "I'm ready to take it on," the high school teammate of Leonard Williams from Daytona Beach, Fla., said.

At the same time, "I'm going to be there every day to support my brother, Jabari." But not giving in on the competition they had going for the spot. Each had already pulled in one interception the first week. And Powell said he "was right there" with Ruffin for that starter's role.

"He'll just get more reps," Sark said. And that's fine with Powell. "It's a dream come true," Powell said, encouraged that the SAM linebacker spot is exactly what he played in high school unlike going inside at the WILL spot where he was as a freshman last fall.

"I'm more explosive," he says now, even if he's at just 207 pounds after being sick and losing weight in the preseason. He expects to play at 215, Powell says. "I've looked at a lot of film," and is ready to go opposite Scott Starr (now Felix) and J.R. Tavai.

But he won't be alone. Cravens took on a bit of a new role as a "nickel SAM" -- something he said was similar to how Sark & Co. used Shaq Thompson at Washington last year, lining up on the line of scrimmage.

"It's not new position," Cravens said, "but when Jabari went down . . . We talked about it last spring but didn't do it." Monday they did with Su'a getting "two sacks against Cody" right away with an interception he turned into a Pick Six on a ball off George Farmer's.

Down six pounds to 225, Su'a says "Jabari was going to be a great player and we're all looking to Quinton to step up." He says he's staying with the defensive backs.

"I just like to make plays and be near the ball," he said. "I told Sark to put me in as a receiver or a running back but I think he knows what he's doing."

What he's doing, Sark says, is what most everybody else in college football is doing, only with fewer players thanks to the NCAA scholarship limitations on USC. "We're a little nicked up but," as Sark told his players, "nobody feels sorry for us."

So rather than engage in recriminations against the ridiculously wrong and mean-spirited NCAA penalties that seem clearly to be putting the remaining players in harm's way, Sark says his job now is to exercise "contingency planning." Which is where Su'a as the "nickel SAM" comes in.

"It depends on who we're playing," Sark said, describing "big guys" contingency planning as well as ones for Gerald Bowman and Su'a, who will at times be "playing in the box and making tackles."

But it's hard for those around USC but outside the team to ignore the way the NCAA sanctions -- specifically the 15 new scholarship awards a year -- have the Trojans down to 66 originally recruited and healthy enough to play bodies a little more than two weeks before the opener against Fresno State. That brings back reminders of last season when the Trojans went into games with as few as 47 originally recruited players available to pay.

Haden had some thoughts about how this happened including Ruffin "probably having to play too many plays." Seems pretty basic. But Haden also said after making three attempts last year with the NCAA to rework the penalties because of the injury impact from lower numbers, USC was rebuffed at every turn.

And yet, Haden still is willing to give the NCAA the benefit of the doubt about their motives saying "I don't think anybody at the NCAA" really wanted to see that happen. He meant that no one at the NCAA realized how the lower numbers, especially at a program like USC's where this year's schedule is rated as the sixth-toughest in college football, would produce the kinds of injury numbers like last year's 19 players unable to participate in spring practice.

Which of course doesn't let the NCAA off the hook. The best take here is that they stupidly stumbled into a situation where they over-penalized a program (we won't get into the details of the majorly flawed decision) where they harmed players through a failure to understand what they were doing.

And that's the generous interpretation. Ours is they wanted this to happen with the numbers, knowing USC would drop to the mid-60s, and consciously avoided doing their due diligence as to the impact of the numbers drop in a contact/collision sport like football. Malicious malfeasance by the Committee on Infractions that has refused to take another look at the situation.

Despicable stuff on the NCAA's part, but then what else is new.

And yet, the one best answer -- save future legal action -- is to keep adjusting, keep contingency planning and keep having guys like Quinton and Su'a stepping up to make plays and win football games.


Trojans got back into action Monday afternoon at Howard Jones in a helmets-and-shoulder-pads workout . . . They'll follow with another at 2:30 today at Howard Jones . . . Monday's injury list started with Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Antwaun Woods (elbow) who were both here, both in uniform -- except for BLW's camo bucket hat and Antwaun's baseball cap they wore for the walkthrough, while Adoree Jackson (foot) and Darreus Rogers (achilles) both were out of pads as was Anthony Brown, who had his left arm in a sling. Woods didn't have his elbow in a sling. And Aundrey Walker (ankle) did some work in a yellow jersey with Sark saying he expects him to be out of the yellow jersey Tuesday. Cravens finished up limping but said it was fine and he'll be back Tuesday ready to go.

For a complete wrapup of Monday's practice, check out MONDAY GHOST NOTES, FALL PRACTICE 8. Top Stories