With Toby Gerhart and the power running attack of Stanford coming to town, the undersized USC linebacking corps received an infusion of size this week, with freshman defensive end Devon Kennard making the move to Sam linebacker.
Kennard, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound freshman, has played the Sam linebacker spot all week in practice and could get the start in place of Mike Morgan, who has been playing with a cast this week because of a chip in his right wrist.
"He will start if Mikey (Morgan) can't go and we will see what happens with Mike," Pete Carroll said. "For sure Devon is going to play."
Morgan practiced on Wednesday and will likely be able to start with a cast on his injured wrist.
"We are trying to figure out how comfortable he is playing with a cast and playing with it. He looks like he is ready to go," Carroll said. "We will go through tomorrow and see how he is but he did a lot of stuff today and practiced most of the time. I think he is in good shape."
Even if Morgan is healthy enough to start, Kennard will likely get playing time at the Sam linebacker spot, according to Carroll.
"He was there on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, all three days, and he just picked it up," Carroll said. "He has played on the edge a lot for us, so a lot of things were similar, but he showed that he has been paying attention in the meetings and really picked things up really well this week.
"He's a hammer out there, 250 something pounds at SAM backer. He looked very good so we are very fortunate. It's a lot to learn in a short amount of time, however, he's very well equipped at that spot."
Kennard has never played linebacker in his football career but said there are plenty of similarities between his natural defensive end position and playing outside linebacker.
"There's a little more dropping and a little more thinking with the position, but besides that, it's pretty similar to Leo," he said. "It's not a far jump, but there's a kind of learning curve. I feel like that's one thing I'm good at. I can pick up things kind of quick, and I've been able to do that so far."
The versatile freshman was approached by the coaching staff on Monday about making the move, that appears to be a temporary switch, and is excited to contribute in his role.
"In the meetings on Monday, they told me a couple of guys were banged up and they wanted to see what I had at the spot," he said. "I was like, ‘let's go.' I did it Monday, and I've been doing it since. It's been good.
"There's definitely a lot of positives to it. I don't know if it's long term or, to my understanding, it may be just this week. I'm just doing what I have to do. I'm supposed to have a good opportunity to play this week at the position. I'm just trying to get ready for the game."
"A lot of guys got out and got some work today," Carroll said. "Everson worked really well today. He is ready to play if everything holds up through tomorrow.
"Malcolm looks like he is ready to go as well. He got enough work that we could use him. He's not 100 percent right now but the doctors feel like he is good enough to play. He will be available to us.
"Anthony got enough work early on which is what we hoped to do today, so he will practice again tomorrow, and if all goes well tomorrow then he will be ready to play as well. It's a pretty good sign on those guys."
- Wide receiver Brandon Carswell also returned to practice today.
- Damian Williams watched practice with a boot on his right ankle and it appears less likely with each passing day that he will be available for the Stanford game.
- Senior safety Will Harris suffered a shoulder stinger and missed the end of practice but said he would be fine.
- Tight end Blake Ayles had his leg rolled up on during practice and limped off the field but Carroll didn't think Ayles injury was too serious.
"He got rolled up on a little bit," Carroll said. "But he felt like he was OK, he just got in an awkward situation for a minute there. We lucked out I think on that."
- Despite struggling the past two weeks, and completing just 28 of his past 60 pass attempts, quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said the coaches remain very high on the play of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.
"Stats are for someone that just looks at the stat sheet. We're watching the film, we're watching what he does on the field, we're grading him every play," Bates said. "We're extremely excited that he's our quarterback."
- After going 6-of-27 the last two weeks on third down conversions, the Trojans have spent extra time on that aspect of the game this week.
"We spent twice as much time as we normally do on third downs this week. We'll do it again tomorrow," Carroll said. "It's just to double up on the opportunities to make sure we're repping it out properly. It calls for at least that amount of attention at this point."
Everson Griffen practiced on Wednesday and is on track to play. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
*Discuss more on the SCPlaybook.com message boards
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at email@example.com