The pads came on and USC offensive linemen went off the field Saturday, pushing an already thin group near the breaking point.
Even with the return of center Kris O'Dowd, three more Trojans were nicked up. Zack Heberer aggravated a previously sprained ankle, Martin Coleman hurt an ankle and Matt Kalil suffered a minor hip injury.
Coach Lane Kiffin said the MASH unit wouldn't alter the team's approach until "we get to four and can't play. We'll continue to go through our scheduled reps until we get to that. Hopefully we won't."
"We try to make it as game-like as we can, as physical as we can. We need to find out who can play through pain and who can be there in the fourth quarter for us."
"They're handling it and it's a good test for them," offensive line coach James Cregg said. "It is a good chance to see them under hard conditions. They are fighting through it."
Out of the mix-and-match front five, Cregg singled out redshirt sophomore guard Khaled Holmes.
"I've really been impressed with Khaled," he said. "He's really versatile, can play both guard positions and even center if we needed him to. He's impressed me with his knowledge of the game."
Walk-on Abe Markowitz also drew praise, sparking flashbacks to last season on Rocky Top.
"It's funny because when I was at Tennessee last year, we played with a walk-on center," Cregg said. "Seeing Abe, it resembles a little bit of what the kid last year brought to the table with toughness and durability."
Defensive line impresses
"[Defensive coordinator Ed] Orgeron came to me halfway through practice and said we're not going to be a good defensive line, we're going to be a dominant defensive line," Kiffin said.
"I take my hat off to them," running back Allen Bradford said. "They're playing way harder."
With the possibility of starting three linemen that weigh 295 pounds or more, Kiffin likes the idea of having that kind of bulk against Pac-10 foes.
"This conference has changed, it's a running conference," he said.
Injuries piling up
Offensive linemen weren't the only ones to spend much of the afternoon sidelined, with more than 10 players suffering injuries of various degrees.
Most troubling was defensive back Marshall Jones, who returned to Howard Jones Field just before the end of practice in a neck brace. The redshirt junior missed most of last season with a sprained neck.
"Matt would have an edge over Mitch right now from what we've seen," he said.
What gives the sophomore the early advantage?
"Just based on accuracy and handling of the offense, getting to his second and third reads," Kiffin said.
Woods, a USC verbal commit, walked off the field talking with Orgeron.
-Associate head coach John Baxter carried an oversized novelty golf club during the start of practice, but senior kicker Joe Houston said it had a purpose, to demonstrate proper follow-through on field goal and extra point attempts.
Armond Armstead is a key member of the defensive line that has impressed the new staff.
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