At nearly every practice this fall USC freshman Nickell Robey has made a play that has caught the attention of the coaching staff. Like Thursday night, when the 5-8, 165-pound cornerback went up high to intercept a pass while covering Kyle Prater, who stands almost an entire foot taller at 6-5.
Robey's aggressive style of play, knowledge of the game and knack for making big plays on the practice field this fall have earned him immediate praise from the coaching staff and players.
It has also earned him a possible spot in the starting lineup when the Trojans' open the season at Hawaii on Sept. 2nd.
"Nickell has jumped ahead as our starting corner across from Shareece," Lane Kiffin said on Friday.
Some coaches would never think of starting a true freshman at cornerback, but Kiffin doesn't seem too concerned.
"As you always heard me say, we are always going to play the best players no matter where they are from, no matter what year they are, no matter how highly or lowly they were recruited," he said. "He has been the most productive so he is the frontrunner right now."
The versatile playmaker could also make an impact on special teams, where he is in the mix to be the starting kickoff and punt returner.
"He's kind of the defensive version of Dillon as far as he can do so many things for us," Kiffin said. "I think he's going to be a really special player for us."
Waiting on the NCAA
It seems that every year at this time, one or two freshmen are forced to miss practice while waiting to be cleared by the NCAA.
"After their 14 day period they have to go home," Kiffin said. "The NCAA sends them home until they are deemed final qualifiers through the clearinghouse.
"The way they make the rules, you have 14 days that they are here while they are still under review to be deemed final qualifiers. We had a couple of kids that were just cleared in the last three days."
Kiffin was hopeful that both players would be cleared in the near future.
"Two guys that we felt were doing extremely well for us," he said. "Hopefully that will be resolved very quickly and we will get them back."
Demetrius Wright has been moved to safety, where he has provided depth at a very thin position. Scroggins, a quarterback, is expected to redshirt this season.
"They just thought that his knee got banged around there," Kiffin said. "They brought him over to the side and didn't think it was a big deal."
- USC freshman fullback signee Soma Vainuku still has some classes to finish before he can be cleared by the NCAA and may not be available until next spring, Kiffin said.
- Kiffin said he would like to have the depth chart mostly settled following Saturday's scrimmage.
"We would like to have a great feel after Saturday of where we are at," he said. "That's the right thing to do for your team. Get them moving in the right spots and right packages."
The position battles that remain undecided are middle linebacker, left guard, the starting X receiver and backup tight end and wide receiver roles.
- Saturday's scrimmage will have limited tackle because of injury and depth concerns.
- Kiffin singled out the secondary as a group that had a solid week of practice.
"It's a pretty good looking DB group," he said.
- Rhett Ellison is expected to be the starting tight end. Kiffin said he is easily the most complete player at the position.
Freshman Jesse Scroggins is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA.
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