Pete Carroll has never been afraid to play multiple players in a rotation at the tailback position, using each back in a defined role, and 2008 isn't going to be any different. Coming into Fall Camp, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight will be the top three running backs in the rotation with Johnson and Gable getting a sizable chunk of the carries while Joe McKnight will be featured in the passing game, as well as on the ground much like Reggie Bush was in years past.
Stafon Johnson broke onto the scene early last season with a big game against Nebraska, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Just as Johnson was really hitting his stride he was slowed by a bruised left foot that he suffered in the Trojans victory over Washington. Hampered by the injury for most of the year he still managed to rush for 673 yards and five touchdowns on 98 carries in 2007.
Redshirt sophomore C.J. Gable started the first two games of the 2007 season, averaging 11 yards per carry but received a medical redshirt after suffering a strained abdomen in the third game of the season. Gable returned to the practice field healthy this spring and didn't miss a beat making plays from the first snap to the last whistle.
"I just want to get back in the starting lineup and contribute for the whole game like I know how to do," Gable said during spring practice. "I'm going to just give everything that I got and leave it on the field this year."
Coach Carroll raves about Gable's all-around ability and has said that he is the best blocker of all the tailbacks on the roster. Along with his blocking ability, Gable also has good hands so look for him and Joe McKnight to be used in obvious passing situations.
The electrifying Joe McKnight has been compared to Reggie Bush several times in his young career, and this season he will be used as a weapon in the passing game as well as the running game, much like Bush was when he was member of the USC backfield.
"We're trying to fit him into that role, because when you can fit him into that role, you create the most versatile player on the football field," Carroll said of using McKnight like Reggie Bush. "That causes problems for your opponents."
McKnight ended the season on a high note and gave the college football world a glimpse of his potential, rushing for 125 yards and catching six passes in the Trojans 49-17 victory over Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
This offseason McKnight has added weight to his frame and looks poised to have a breakout year.
Allen Bradford was the pleasant surprise of spring practice for the Trojans. The junior tailback arrived at camp noticeably thinner, with a newfound focus and played his way up the depth chart.
Bradford had only 15 carries in 2007 but his strong performance in the spring has him listed on the depth chart as a co-starter along with Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, and Joe McKnight.
The 5-11, 225-pound back is anxious to get Fall Camp underway so he can build on the success he had this spring.
"I can't wait. I think I am a lot more focused this past year than I was my first two years," Bradford said after the last offseason workout. "I am ready to continue because I know what I have to do. I'm real hungry this year."
The Trojans have a pair of highly-touted redshirt freshmen that came in with high expectations in 2007 but were limited due to injuries. Marc Tyler spent most of the season recovering from a leg injury that he suffered in his senior season at Oaks
At 6-3, 235 pounds, Broderick Green is a big, bruising back that has looked good in the inside running game and could be used in goal line and short yardage situations. Green also possesses good speed for a back his size and could develop into an every down back in time but will probably have a limited role in 2008.
Marc Tyler is finally healthy and performed well at the Trojans' offseason workouts. After being sidelined in 2007, he has the tough task of climbing a depth chart that is filled with talented backs, but Tyler certainly has all the tools and is hungry to show his skills this season.
"It's good to be able to workout this offseason because last year I was hurting so much that I didn't do much," Tyler said. "I feel like I am in shape and ready to go."
Joe McKnight celebrates with his teammates after scoring a touchdown.
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