After earning his first start last week against Arizona State, freshman defensive end Devon Kennard was given a surprising reward — a position change.
Kennard has only been playing strongside linebacker since Monday but could start for the Trojans if linebacker Michael Morgan is unable to play. Morgan sprained his right wrist and is wearing a cast. His backup, Jarvis Jones, has been ruled out of the game with a neck injury.
USC coach Pete Carroll said even if Morgan starts, Kennard will see plenty of playing time.
“He’s played on the edge a lot for us, but he’s shown that he’s paying attention in the meetings,” Carroll said. “He’s a hammer out there.”
At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, Kennard would be USC’s biggest linebacker. The position switch has forced the freshman to embrace his new responsibilities.
“I don’t feel like there’s too much difference from the position I was playing before, just a little bit more dropping [into coverage],” Kennard said. “There’s a little more thinking as well, so there’s a learning curve. But I’ve gotten better and more comfortable every day.”
Kennard said he did not know whether the position switch would be temporary or permanent, but he was happy to have the chance to play more often. Junior Everson Griffen is slated to return this week at defensive end, which would relegate Kennard to a backup role.
The adjustment has gone well so far, Carroll said.
“It’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but he’s very well-equipped at that spot,” he said.
Morgan is still limited by his cast, Carroll said, but still hopes to play against Stanford.
“We’re trying to find out how comfortable he is playing with the cast,” Carroll said. “He practiced most of the time today, so I think he’s in good shape.”
Quarterbacks coach and offensive playcaller Jeremy Bates said Thursday that the USC offense would have to get back to basics if the unit wanted to get past its struggles.
The Trojans’ offense could only muster one touchdown last week against Arizona State and converted just two of 13 third-down attempts. The team has spent twice as much as normal this week on fixing its third-down woes, Carroll said.
Bates said he believed the offense had to establish a rhythm to avoid facing too many daunting situations.
“We need to get some simple completions and keep driving the ball,” Bates said. “We kept stopping ourselves and never were in sync.”
Carroll echoed those sentiments.
“You hope to go with the things you can really count on in critical situations,” he said.
Fourth-year wide receiver Damian Williams did not practice again Thursday. Carroll said the decision would “go all the way to the end of the week.”